Category Archives: American Revolution

Fearless Ladies

fealess ladies

You might have noticed the asterisk next to the name of Elizabeth Russell in the previous story. I believe she was the sister of Benjamin Russell, printer of Boston’s Columbian Sentinel.

As I noted earlier, it was now personal, and Elizabeth was not the only woman to put herself on the line. They may or may not have been customers of The Liberty Paper Mill, but it’s most appropriate to appreciate and acknowledge these fearless ladies. I have endeavored to get the spellings correct, but some were very hard to read.

Catherine Thompson

Rebecca Walker

Elizabeth Clark

Mary Williams

Elizabeth Nowell

Mary Force

Charlotte Dorr

Elizabeth Greenleaf

Abigail Greenleaf

Ann Hall

Margaret Rawson

Lydia Larmon

Suzanna Renkin

Ann Nolton

Mary Alexander

Martha Park

Abigail Whitney

Suzanna Chambers

Rebecca Thomas

Elizabeth Rickard

Ruth Sinclair

Hannah Ross

Mary Angus

Sally Allen

Elizabeth Parker

Susannah Stevens

Margaret Freeman

Margaret Jepson

Bridget Bridgewater

Rebecca Edes

Ruth Thompson

Sarah Bean

Elizabeth Franklin

Eliza Smith

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Staring Into the Eye of the Tiger

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.)

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Crane Powder and Crane Paper Help Arm The American Revolution

“My friend, the child Independence is about to be born; be liberal and give him an easy delivery.”

Thomas Crane, Massachusetts colonial powder master, who would go door-to-door soliciting money, clothes and supplies for the families of local soldiers.

As Massachusetts powder master, Thomas Crane of Stoughton (Canton) was in the middle of things. We noted earlier that he had to scramble and conspire to put musket and cannon ammunition in the hands of the militia defending Breed’s Hill. It was after that famous battle that the commanding General George Washington began building a wartime infrastructure, with the full assistance of the Massachusetts colonial government.

One of their early decisions, while in session in Watertown, would create a nexus of powder and paper that would allow the war for independence to proceed with well-armed forces – a decision that would cement the importance of the Liberty Paper Mill to the American revolution.

In late 1775, the Continental Congress, as well as the Massachusetts House of Representatives, began discussions about building powder mills in Andover and Stoughton.

In January, 1776, perhaps spurred by the assurance from Col. Henry Knox that he would arrive shortly in Cambridge with the cannons from Fort Ticonderoga, the Massachusetts House of Representatives resolved:

Whereas, this Court on the 5th day of January current, passed a Resolve empowering Mr. Putnam, Mr. Crane, and Mr. Vose, to purchase the remains of a Powder-Mill at Stoughton, and land and privileges convenient to improve the same….. and they hereby are fully authorized and empowered to purchase or hire, as they shall judge meet, the Land and advantageous Stream at Stoughton, where they have, or shall agree to erect a Powder-Mill for such a term of years, and for such yearly rent as they shall, think proper, and that they, in behalf of this Colony, take a deed or lease of the same, as they shall agree to purchase or hire.

We are not sure who Mr. Putnam is, but we do know that Mr. Crane is Thomas Crane, and Mr. Vose is Daniel Vose, a partner with Stephen Crane in the Liberty Paper Mill.


Our old friend Paul Revere appears in this story as well. The Massachusetts House and the Continental Congress in Philadelphia directed Revere to travel to Pennsylvania to learn the mysteries of gunpowder manufacturing from Oswald Eve, who owned and operated the only significant powder mill in the colonies at the time.

Philada. Novr. 21st 1775 I am requested by some Honorable Members of the Congress to recommend the bearer hereof Mr. Paul Revere to you. He is just arrived from New England where it is discovered they can manufacture a good deal of Salt Petre in Consequence of which they desire to Erect a Powder Mill & Mr. Revere has been pitched upon to gain instruction & Knowledge in this branch. A Powder Mill in New England cannot in the least degree affect your Manufacture nor be of any disadvantage to you. Therefore these Gentn & myself hope You will Chearfully & from Public Spirited Motives give Mr. Revere such information as will inable him to Conduct the bussiness on his return home. I shall be glad of any opportunity to approve myself.

Sir Your very Obed Servt. Robt Morris
Evidently, Mr. Eve was indeed protective of his monopoly. He complied with the request for a tour, but gave Revere no information about how powder is made. But Revere, already an accomplished mechanic, chemist and metallurgist was able to demystify the process sufficiently to assist Crane and Vose in setting up and begin operating the mill.

Construction began in February of 1776, and was in full operation by May. Coincidentally, it was in February of 1776 that Ezekiel Cheever, Commissary of Military Stores in the Continental Army, and Richard Devens, Massachusetts Commissary General, began purchasing large amounts of cartridge paper from the Liberty Paper Mill.

Accounts of the time tell us that there was never enough specially-made cartridge paper so Cheever, Devens and others purchased thousands of pounds of less-expensive “whited brown” writing paper, likely for cannon cartridges.

The powder mill was built on the Neponset River, a ways upstream of the Liberty Paper Mill. It successfully supplied the Continental Army until October 30, 1779, when it was “blown to atoms,” as powder mills were known to do.

In 1801, as Zenas Crane was setting up his paper mill in Dalton, Revere, now 65, returned to the powder mill location and created what would become the famous Revere Copper Works.

His superintendent? Thomas Crane.

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Conserving (and making) Precious Ammunition

On June 17, 1775, as British regulars were marching up Breed’s Hill outside of Boston, a command reached the Massachusetts riflemen from Gen. Israel Putnam and Col. William Prescott: “Don’t fire until you see the whites of their eyes” to encourage soldiers to make each shot as effective as possible. This might have seemed an odd command, since most of the militia were fresh off the farm and could pick off a squirrel at 100 yards and have it dressed for supper before it hit the ground.

The problem was ammunition; actually the lack thereof. To date, the armed rebellion had taken no real course toward organized warfare. As a result, supply chains had many weak links, including those for powder and cartridge paper. It wasn’t until after the Battle of Bunker Hill that a formal system of commissaries and ordnance stores were created to support activities of a standing army.

The man in charge of procuring gun powder was Thomas Crane of Stoughton. He had the unenviable task of rounding up powder from several small operations all over New England. The man in charge of making the paper was Stephen Crane at The Liberty Paper Mill. He had made relatively small amounts of what is described as cartridge paper in the mill’s ledger, but that would change soon.

Together, though acting separately, Stephen Crane and Thomas Crane were able to deliver powder and paper to a father and son team who risked their lives making cartridges for the militia.

As early as 1773, William Burbeck was purchasing cartridge paper from the Liberty Paper Mill. Burbeck, like Henry Knox, was a self-taught expert; in this case the science of pyrotechnics. He created the fireworks used to celebrate the repeal of the Stamp Act in 1766, and was the former owner of the Green Dragon Tavern, where the Loyal Nine and Sons of Liberty regularly met. In 1769, he was appointed to serve as an artillery expert at Castle Island in Boston Harbor. In a very odd twist, in 1770, when the British took possession of the island, Burbeck stayed on as the ordnance storekeeper.

Sometime before August of 1773, Burbeck had become sufficiently restless and uneasy under the new regime, and slipped out of Castle Island to Boston,  where he continued his original occupation – that of a carver – and began making and selling cartridges for the militia. In 1774 he received an appointment through his friend Dr. Joseph Warren to superintend the “laboratory” to prepare the artillery belonging to the Colony for the expected conflict.

On April 21, two days after the Battle of Lexington and Concord, Burbeck managed to escape Boston. He described part of the experience in a deposition a year later:

These may Cartify all whome it may Concarn, that on the 21 Day of Aprl. 1775 two Days after ye Battle of Lexington; I saw Mr. Williams of Noddles Island in Boston & that after some Conoversation with him setting forth my Concern how I should git out of town, Expecting every minute that I should be sent for; to go Down to that Castle – he told me that he would Carry me over to Noddles Island if I would Resque it that he would Do the same for ye good of his Country; And am Sure that if we had been taken Crossing of water must have been confind. to this Day, or otherway more severly punished. that I owe my Escape intirely to Mr. Williams as all other Communication to ye Country was stopd. And that the Very next morning after; A party of men & Boat was sent after me And Serchd. my house & Shop to find me – that after we got to ye Isand Mr. Williams ordered one of his men to Carry me over to Chelsea by which means I am now in Cambridge.

While William was in Cambridge, his son Edward remained in British-occupied Boston undertaking the most dangerous task of making ammunition for the Colonial Militia.


The following is an excerpt from a letter written in 1892 by his 81-year-old grandson, George Henry Cook to Eward Carleton Burbeck:  “. . .he continued the business of carver after his father went to Castle Island as a gunner; that he with his family were living in Boston at the time of the Battle of Bunker Hill; that while Boston was in possession of British forces under Gen. Howe, he made cartridges for his father, who was manufacturing ammunition for Washington’s army. This he did in the night with his blinds closed, so as not to be observed by the British, and secretly managed by the milkmen, and others, to convey them to his father. But the eagle-eyed watch of the British sentries got an inkling of what he was doing, and his friends spirited him away with wife and children over the Charles River in the night, by which he escaped arrest.”

Editor’s Note:

We will see much more of powder and paper, Cranes and Burbecks, as the new Colonial Army begins to mature.

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Witness to The Boston Massacre

In October of 1768, in response to growing unrest in Boston following imposition of the Townshend Acts, a fleet of British men-of-war with two regiments on board were moored in Boston harbor. The troops were landed and marched to the Boston Common, where they were soon reinforced by two regiments from Ireland. This was an obvious attempt by the British government to – in today’s parlance – “shock and awe” the people of Boston and of all New England.

They were not well-received, with conflicts breaking out regularly. It took two years for the kettle to reach temperature, and on a cold winter day in March, it boiled over.

Long afterwards John Adams wrote of the event: “On that night the foundation of American Independence was laid.  Not the battle of Lexington or Bunker Hill, not the surrender of Burgoyne or Cornwallis were more important events in American history than the battle of King street on the 5th of March, 1770. The death of four or five persons, the most obscure and inconsiderable that could have been found upon the continent, has never yet been forgiven by any part of America.”

Daniel  Webster, speaking of the event, remarked : “There were good men trying to prevent a riot, and some assured the soldiers that they would not be hurt. Among others, Henry Knox, subsequently the general, was present, who saw nothing to justify the use of firearms, and with others remonstrated against the use of them; but Captain Preston, as he was talking with Knox, saw his men pressing the people- with their bayonets, when in great agitation he rushed in among them.”

Paul Revere's famous engraving of the Boston Massacre.

Henry Knox at the time was a 19-year-old apprentice at a book store in Boston. He would open his own store a year later, and purchased a good deal of paper from the Liberty Paper Mill through the end of 1774. History tells us that Knox devoured books about military tactics, especially about the use of artillery. In 1769, he joined a local artillery company called The Train.

Much more about Henry Knox later on. For now we have his first-hand account of what became known as The Boston Massacre from “The Trial of the Soldiers,” by Frederic Kidder, 1870.

 I, Henry Knox, of lawful age, testify and say, that between nine and ten o’clock, p.m., the fifth instant, I saw the sentry at the Custom-house charging his musket, and a number of young persons crossing from Royal Exchange to Quaker Lane; seeing him load, stopped and asked him what he meant ? and told others the sentry was going to fire. They then huzzaed and gathered round him at about ten feet distant. I then advancing, went up to him, and the sentry snapped his piece upon them, Knox told him if he fired he died. The sentry answered he did not care, or words to that purpose, damning them and saying, if they touched him, he would fire. The boys told him to fire and be damned.

Immediately on this I returned to the rest of the people and endeavored to keep every boy from going up, but finding it ineffectual, went off through the crowd and saw a detachment of about eight or nine men and a corporal, headed by Capt. Preston. I took Capt. Preston by the coat and told him for God’s sake to take his men back again, for if they fired his life must answer for the consequence; he replied he was sensible of it, or knew what he was about, or words to that purpose; and seemed in great haste and much agitated.

 While I was talking with Capt. Preston, the soldiers of his detachment had attacked the people with their bayonets. There was not the least provocation given to Capt. Preston or his party, the backs of the people being towards them when they were attacked. During the time of the attack I frequently heard the words, “Damn your blood,” and such like expressions.

 When Capt. Preston saw his party engaged he directly left me and went into the crowd, and I departed : the deponent further says that there was not present in King street above seventy or eighty people at the extent, according to his opinion.”

From "Architect of the Capitol," a fresco mural by Constantino Brumidi adorns a room at the U.S. Capitol. Crispus Attucks is shown engaging British soldiers in the center.

Two more Liberty Paper Mill customers were involved in separate incidents with British soldiers just prior to the massacre. These altercations certainly must have contributed to the actions that followed.

“Robert Pierpont, (local merchant) of lawful age, testifies and says, that going to see a sick neighbor between the hours of seven and eight on Monday evening, the fifth current, two soldiers armed, one with a broad sword, the other with a club, passed him near the hay market, going towards the Town-house, seeming in great haste. In a few minutes they returned and hollowed very loud, “Colonel.” Before the deponent reached Mr. West’s house, where he was going, they passed him again, jo’ined by another, with a blue surtout, who had a bayonet, with which he gave the deponent a back-handed stroke, apparently more to affront than hurt him.

On complaint of this treatment, he said, the deponent should hear more of it, and threatened him very hard, and further saith not.” (In addition to being an eyewitness to the massacre, Pierpont was the city’s coroner and conducted the autopsy of Crispus Attucks, one of five killed that day.

Francis Archibald Jr. was another witness, walking along with Liberty Mill customer, printer John Hicks:

“About ten minutes after nine, I saw a soldier, and a mean looking fellow with him with a cutlass in his hand; they came up to me; somebody said, “Put up your cutlass, it is not right to carry it at this time of night.”

He said “Damn you, ye Yankee boogars, what’s your business?” He came up to another that was with me and struck him. We beat him back, when seven or eight soldiers came out of the barracks, with tongs and other weapons; one aimed a blow at a young fellow, John Hicks, who knocked the soldier down. As he attempted to rise, I struck him down again, and broke his wrist, as I heard afterwards.

I went to King Street, and when the guns were all fired, I saw several persons dead.”

Boston's Old State House. The Boston Massacre took place just steps from the building. It is fitting that the Declaration of Independence was first read in Boston from this balcony by Liberty Paper Mill customer Thomas Crafts.

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