The New Year’s Day Raising of the Union Flag on Prospect Hill

On New Year’s Day, Monday, January 1, 1776, British officers approached the American lines in Roxbury under a flag of truce. At least one of the men was carrying copies of a broadside for distribution among the soldiers of the Continental Army. This was King George III’s speech, delivered before Parliament back on October 27, 1775. It had been published with the hope of putting the fear of God into the rebel army.

The king declared that the colonists’  “strongest protestations of loyalty to me” were both absurd and offensive given that they were presently engaged in a “rebellious war . . . carried for the purpose of establishing an independent Empire.” The colonists must either return to the British fold or admit that they were engaged in a war of independence.

The reaction among the army was rage and indignation. The speech was burned in public by the soldiers. Its charges of traitorous rebellion and its ominous reference to “foreign assistance”, assuredly ended any hope of reconciliation or a short war. The effect of the King’s speech on George Washington was profound.

If nothing else could “satisfy a tyrant and his diabolical ministry,” he wrote to Joseph Reed, “we were determined to shake off all connections with a state so unjust and unnatural. This I would tell them, not under covert, but in words as clear as the sun in its meridian brightness.”

As it happened, Washington had already acted to strengthen the solidarity and resolve of his troops.  January 1 was the first day of “a new army, which in every point of view is entirely continental.” He stressed the hope that “the importance of the great Cause we are engaged in will be deeply impressed upon every man’s mind.” Everything “dear and valuable to freemen” was at stake.

To celebrate this event, Washington replaced the large red flag previously raised by Israel Putnam on the heights of Prospect Hill. With the crash of a 13-gun salute, he raised a new flag — a flag of thirteen red and white stripes, with the British colors (the crosses of St. George and St. Andrew) represented in the upper corner. The works at Prospect Hill were the equal of any fortification in Boston being situated on a large outcropping with a commanding view of the Mystic River and all of Boston Harbor.  Prospect Hill

Soon after the Battle of Chelsea Creek, Israel Putnam’s men had transformed the British schooner Diana’s seventy-five foot mainmast into a flag pole, and it was from this tar-stained pine that the Union flag of the Continental Army proudly waved. When the British in Boston saw it flying from Prospect Hill, they at first mistook it for a flag of surrender.

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Prospect Hill and the Union Flag today. 

It has been argued that the Somerville, Massachusetts annual New Year’s Day flag ceremony on Prospect Hill commemorates something that never really happened. There are others who claim it is accurate.

Resources:

https://patch.com/massachusetts/somerville/research-upholds-traditional-prospect-hill-flag-story

Philbrick, Nathaniel. Bunker Hill A City, A Siege, A Revolution. 2013Penguin Books, New York, NY.

McCullough, David. 1776. 2005: Simon & Schuster, New York, NY.

 

Lexington and Concord: The Last Days Leading up to a Revolution, Part 2

The violences committed by those who have take up arms in Massachusetts Bay have appeared to me as the acts of a rude Rabble without plan, without concert, & without conduct, and therefore I think that smaller Force now, if put to the Test, would be able to encounter them with greater probability of Success….. 

….In this view of the situation of the King’s affairs, it is the opinion of the King’s servants, in which his Majesty concurs, that the essential step to be taken toward reestablishing government would be to arrest and imprison the principle actors and abettors in the Provincial Congress (whose proceedings appear in every light to be acts of treason….

~~Lord Dartmouth to General Thomas Gage, about April 16, 1775

lord dartmouth

The Earl of Dartmouth
Secretary of State for the Colonies 1772 – 1775

This was part of Lord Dartmouth’s long awaited, cross-Atlantic response to General Gage’s admonishments, which he had written to Lord Dartmouth in late January 1775, on how to handle the rebellious acts of the colonists. Those defiant acts were seemingly endless: the illegal proceedings of the Massachusetts Provincial Congress and the Continental Congress, the Suffolk Resolves, smuggling, seizures of powder and munitions, and threats to march into Boston “like locusts and rid the town of every soldier.” (Philbrick quoting Rev. John Andrews, pg 71)

thomas gage

General Thomas Gage
Royal Governor of Massachusetts 1774 – 1775

General Gage did not consider himself a royalist, but part of his advice to Dartmouth was something he believed the King wanted to hear:

“It’s the opinion of most People, if a respectable Force is seen in the Field, the most obnoxious of the Leaders seized, and a Pardon proclaimed for all other’s, that Government will come off Victorious, and with less Opposition than was expected a few Months ago.”

By the time Lord Dartmouth’s lengthy letter of advice reached Thomas Gage, tempers among the British ministry, the loyalists, and the patriots in Massachusetts had simmered down. In fact at this point, there was growing discord among the patriots’ own ranks, rooted in a misguided optimism that once King George III saw for himself that his ministers had misled him, the king would withdrawal his troops and the demand for unfair taxes would withdraw with them, leaving New England free. That optimism was founded in the colonists’ previous experiences with protests and the king’s withdrawal of the transgressions.

If Gage had chosen to do nothing in response to Dartmouth’s letter that spring, the patriots may have had a difficult time maintaining a united front. Ironically, Dartmouth’s letter, based on information and instructions months old, arrived around the same time Gage was receiving valuable information from his British spies. Those things came together to lead Gage to make a series of decisions that would change the course of history.

Just as ironically, one of Thomas Gage’s spies was a trusted colleague among the members of the Sons of Liberty and the Provincial Congress: Dr. Benjamin Church.

benjamin church

Dr. Benjamin Church

When it came to rebel secrets and plotting; only Samuel Adams, John Hancock, and Joseph Warren were more involved than Benjamin Church. But Benjamin had an expensive mistress, and spying brought the ready cash he needed to please her. He had no qualms about betraying his fellow patriots in exchange for the means to pay for the treasures that lay between the legs of his mistress, Phoebe Yates.

Church, among other spies, assured Gage there was a stockpile of provincial armaments located in Concord. Instead of taking Dartmouth’s advice to arrest the leaders of the Provincial Congress, Thomas Gage focused on securing and destroying the rebel military stores in Concord.

Sources:

Philbrick, Nathaniel. Bunker Hill A City, A Siege, A Revolution New York: Penguin Books, 2013. Print.

Borneman, Walter R. American Spring: Lexington, Concord, and the Road to Revolution New York: Little, Brown and Company, 2014. Print.

 Dr. Joseph Warren is an important character in my novel Angels & Patriots Book One. Buy it today on Amazon in paperback or Kindle eBook. Angels & Patriots Book One