J. L. BELL is a Massachusetts writer who specializes in (among other things) the start of the American Revolution in and around Boston. He is particularly interested in the experiences of children in 1765-75. He has published scholarly papers and popular articles for both children and adults. He was consultant for an episode of History Detectives, and contributed to a display at Minute Man National Historic Park.

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Wednesday, January 10, 2018

Putnam and the Pretty Large Stone

In 1832, Jacob Francis told a story that’s been retold in many places since John C. Dann published Francis’s pension application in The Revolution Remembered.

The story isn’t about Francis. It’s about Israel Putnam during the siege of Boston:

I recollect General Putnam more particularly from a circumstance that occurred when the troops were engaged in throwing up a breastwork at Lechmere Point across the river, opposite Boston, between that and Cambridge.

The men were at work digging, about five hundred men on the fatigue at once. I was at work among them. They were divided into small bands of eight or ten together and a noncommissioned officer to oversee them.

General Putnam came riding along in uniform as an officer to look at the work. They had dug up a pretty large stone which lay on the side of the ditch. The general spoke to the corporal who was standing looking at the men at work and said to him, “My lad, throw that stone up on the middle of the breastwork.”

The corporal, touching his hat with his hand, said to the general, “Sir, I am a corporal.”

“Oh,” said the general, “I ask your pardon, sir,” and immediately got off his horse and took up the stone and threw it up on the breastwork himself and then mounted his horse and rode on, giving directions, etc.
It’s a great story. It fits with what we know from other sources about Putnam. And it’s set at a specific place and time, when we know Putnam’s division of the Continental Army was building fortifications.

TOMORROW: But that wasn’t the story that appeared in the press.

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