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Bristol Bombarded

From Diary of the American Revolution, Vol I. Compiled by Frank Moore and published in 1859.

October 8. –Yesterday afternoon appeared in sight of Bristol harbor 1 a very formidable fleet, consisting of sixteen sail, viz.: three men-of-war, one bomb ketch, and other armed vessels, all of which, excepting the Glasgow, which ran ashore at Papaquash point, drew up in a line of battle from one end of the town to the other. Soon after they had moored, a barge came from the Rose to the head of a wharf, with the lieutenant, who asked if there were any gentlemen on the wharf? William Bradford being present, answered yes; whereupon the lieutenant informed him Captain Wallace had a demand to make on the town, and desired that two or three of the principal men, or magistrates, of the town, would go on board his ship, within an hour, and hear his proposals; otherwise hostilities would be commenced against the town. The above gentleman replied, as a magistrate, that, in his opinion, Captain Wallace was under a greater obligation to come ashore and make his demands known to the town, than for the magistrates to go on board his ship to hear them; and added, that if Captain Wallace would come to the head of the wharf the next morning, he should be treated as a gentleman, and the town would consider of his demands. With this answer the lieutenant returned on board the Rose. The inhabitants being made acquainted with the above association, repaired to the wharf and waited with the utmost impatience for a reply from Captain Wallace, till an hour had expired, when the whole fleet began a most heavy cannonading, and the bomb vessel to bombard and heave shells and carcases into the town; which continued, without intermission an hour and a half.

In the mean time, Colonel Potter, in the hottest of the fire, went upon the head of the wharf, hailed the Rose, went on board, and requested a cessation of hostilities, till the inhabitants might choose a committee to go on board and treat with Captain Wallace; which request was complied with; and six hours were allowed for the above purpose. Colonel Potter returned and made a report to the committee of inspection, who chose a select committee to hear Captain Wallace’s demands, which, after they had gone on board, Captain Wallace informed them were a supply of two hundred sheep and thirty fat cattle. This demand, the committee replied, it was impossible to comply with; for the country people had been in and driven off their stock, saving a few sheep and some milch cows.

After some hours had expired, during the negotiation, without coming to any agreement, Captain Wallace told them: “I have this one proposal to make: if you will promise to supply me with forty sheep, at or before twelve o’clock, I will assure you that another gun shall not be discharged.” The committee, seeing themselves reduced to the distressing alternative, either to supply their most inveterate enemy with provisions, or to devote to the flames the town, with all the goods, besides near one hundred sick persons, who could not be removed without the utmost hazard of their lives; I say, seeing themselves reduced to this dreadful dilemma of two evils, reluctantly chose the least, by agreeing to supply them with forty sheep at the time appointed, which was punctually performed.

The Reverend Mr. John Burt, having been confined to his house by the camp distemper, when the cannonading began, left his habitation to seek some place of safety, and to-day was found dead in a neighboring field. 2 It is conjectured that, being overcome with fear and fatigue, he fell down and was unable to raise himself up, and so expired. A child of Captain Timothy Ingraham, having been removed in the rain, is also dead.

What equally challenges our admiration and gratitude to God is, that no more lives were lost, or persons hurt, by such an incessant and hot fire; the streets being full of men, women, and children, the whole time. The shrieks of the women, the cries of the children, and groans of the sick, would have extorted a tear from even the eye of a Nero. 3

 

1 In Rhode Island.
2 The Reverend Mr. Burt was born in Boston, and received a liberal education at Harvard College, graduating from that institution in 1736. He was, on the 13th of May, 1741, ordained pastor of the Congregational Church in Bristol, where he labored in the work of the ministry thirty-four years. He was a gentleman of a respectable character. —Gaine’s Mercury, October 23.
3 Extract of a letter from Bristol, in the New York Gazette, October 23.