Patriot militias had arrived from New Hampshire, Connecticut and Rhode Island to help the Massachusetts militiamen surround the 4,000 British troops bottled up in Boston. Patriots were as eager to leave Boston as Loyalists were eager to move into the city for their own safety.
General Thomas Gage was surprised by the tenacity with which the patriots held the city. “The rebels are not the despicable rabble too many have supposed them to be,” he wrote. “In all their wars against the French they never showed such conduct, attention, and perseverance as they do now.”
Gage didn’t want patriot weapons moving into or out of the city. He eventually agreed to let people out of the city if they had no weapons, but as the letter below shows he didn’t quite stick to his agreement — at least right away. Over time, most of the patriot residents would leave the city.
This letter from an anonymous writer to ‘a gentleman in Philadelphia’ was written from Boston on May 21, 1775:
You request my writing freely, which I must be cautious of, for reasons which will naturally occur to you. As to the inhabitants removing, they are suffered to go out under certain restrictions. This liberty was obtained after many town meetings, and several conferences between their Committee and General Gage. The terms mutually agreed to were, “that the inhabitants should deliver up all their arms to the Selectmen.” This was generally done, though it took up some days. On this occasion the inhabitants were to have had liberty to remove out of Town, with their effects, and during this, to have free egress and regress. But mark the event: the arms being delivered, orders were issued by the General, that those who inclined to remove must give in their names to the Selectmen, to be by them returned to the Military Town Major, who was then to write a pass for the person or family applying, to go through the lines, or over the ferry; but all merchandise was forbid; after a while, all provisions were forbid; and now all merchandise, provisions, and medicine. Guards are appointed to examine all trunks, boxes, beds, and every thing else to be carried out; these have proceeded such extremities, as to take from the poor people a single loaf of bread, and half pound of chocolate; so that no one is allowed to carry out a mouthful of provisions; but all is submitted to quietly. The anxiety indeed is so great to get out of Town, that even were we obliged to go naked, it would not hinder us. But there are so many obstructions thrown in the way, that I do not think, those who are most anxious will be all out in less than two or three months — vastly different from what was expected, for the General at first proposed, unasked, to procure the Admiral’ s boats to assist the inhabitants in the transportation of their effects, which is not done, and there are but two ferry-boats allowed to cross. They have their designs in this, which you may easily guess at. We suffer much for want of fresh meat.