March 5, 1776, was not a good day for British General Richard Howe.
He awoke, on this anniversary of the Boston Massacre, to stare up at 60 or so of his own cannons -brought from Fort Ticonderoga by Henry Knox, loaded with Crane powder wrapped in Crane paper -pointed directly at him from Dorchester Heights.
It certainly must have been a great day for General George Washington. One can envision him looking down at his defenseless enemy with a wry smile of satisfaction. On the 26th of February, he wrote to the Massachusetts colonial government, apprising them of his intentions:
“I am preparing to take post on Dorchester Heights, to try if the enemy will be so kind as to come out to us.”
“I should think, if anything will induce them to hazard an engagement, it will be our attempting to fortify these heights, as on that event’s taking place, we shall be able to command a great part of the town, and almost the whole harbor, and to make them rather disagreeable than otherwise.”
General Howe is reported as saying: “The rebels have done more in one night than my whole army would have done in a month.” Writing to Lord Dartmouth back in England, Howe noted: “It must have been the employment of at least 12,000 men.”
With no alternative, a messenger under white flag delivered a plea from the Boston Selectmen to allow the British to withdraw without harassment, as this would result in the destruction of the town. No formal pact was agreed to, but the British made preparations for its soldiers and resident Loyalists to pack up what they could – which wasn’t much – and on the 17th of March, all set sail for Halifax.Actually it only took about 2,000 and among them were at least eight Crane men, according to Revolutionary War records.
The War for Independence, which had just been formally joined, would now leave Massachusetts for points south.
But Colonial soldiers would carry a little bit of home with them the next seven years – gun powder wrapped in paper from the Liberty Paper Mill. The mill’s ledger book shows purchases of hundreds of reams of cartridge paper – the last at the end of 1782.
(In another ironic twist of history, the monument which now stands atop Dorchester Heights was completed in 1902. In 1900, the cornerstone was laid by Massachusetts Gov. Winthrop Murray Crane, great-grandson of Stephen Crane.)