Thursday, May 17, 2018
John Young, 5th Regiment, Sees a Shot Fired in Boston
A shot was fired in Boston at the British soldiers garrisoned there. It was not the celebrated "shot heard 'round the world" fired in Concord, Massachusetts on 19 April 1775, but a pointed show of disdain towards the military force that had been sent to enforce the Coercive Acts, the punitive measures imposed upon the Massachusetts colony after the Boston Tea Party.
Several British regiments arrived in Boston in the early summer of 1774 and encamped on the common, the largest military force that had been assembled in America since the French and Indian War. Citizens of Boston and neighboring towns took umbrage at this martial imposition, as military posts were established and guards marched regularly through the town. They found ways to harass the soldiers, inveigled them to desert, sometimes plying them with cheap liquor and spiriting them out of town. On 18 July, a shot was fired.
The incident was recorded by a young officer of the 43rd Regiment, Lieutenant Alexander Robertson. He was in command of the guard on Boston Neck that night, the narrow stretch of land that connected peninsular Boston to the mainland. He wrote a report about what happened:
On the 18th July 1774, having the Command of the Guard posted at the Neck, and at sun sett after examining the arms &c of the Guard as usual, the Men were standing in a group upon the Neck about Ten or Twelve paces from the Guard room, when they heard the Report of a Gun, and imediatly called out that it was a Ball that was fired, for they distinctly heard it whiz, and observed it fired from a Boat loitring off the Neck with three People in it, and the Centinel ( - Young of the 5th Regt and in Earl Percy's Company) who was posted upon the Wall call'd out, that he saw the Ball strike the Water about Twenty yards from where the Group of Soldiers were standing and in a direct line with them, and about Ten yards from the Wall where he was posted.
I was at the time looking at the Boat, saw the smoke & heard the Report and firmly believe it was in a direct line with the Soldiers who were talking together, and after the gun was fired I observ'd the Boat row off, with the utmost expidition towards the Town, and imediatly sent a soldier to watch its motions, who return'd & told me he saw it row towards the centre of the Town. A. Robertson Lieut. 43d. Regt. Boston Camp 19th July 1774
Nothing came of the incident. No investigation, no arrests; most importantly, no further gunshots. If Lt. Robertson had not put it in writing, there would probably be no record of the event at all.
As for the soldier who saw the bullet splash, John Young would see more gunfire in the coming years. He served with his regiment throughout the occupation of Boston including the outbreak of war on 19 April 1775 and the battle of Bunker Hill the following June. He took part in the rapid campaign that drove American forces out of the New York City area and across New Jersey in 1776, and that tried unsuccessfully to bring about a pivotal battle in New Jersey in 1777. Later that year he sailed up Chesapeake Bay, then marched and fought through Delaware and Pennsylvania to Philadelphia.
Not long after that city was seized by the British army, John Young saw his last shots fired. He was killed in the battle of Germantown on 4 October 1777.