Soldiers Getting Paid at Year’s End
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[SIEGE OF BOSTON].
Manuscript Document Signed. Pay receipt from Samuel Leighton, 42 signatures. Cambridge, Mass., December 29, 1775.
A glimpse into the daily life of Captain Samuel Leighton’s troops during the 1775-1776 Siege of Boston. Leighton’s company of volunteers had marched down from Piscataqua, the area around Portsmouth, New Hampshire and Kittery, Maine, to Cambridge following the Battles of Lexington and Concord. This pay receipt has been signed by 42 soldiers from the company’s fifer and drummer to Lieutenant William Fernald. Some men sign for themselves, others left their marks with an X. Among the names are some of the oldest families in Maine and New Hampshire, such as Hanscom, Fernald, Leighton, and Frost.
In the wake of the April 19, 1775 Battles of Lexington and Concord, Joseph Warren, chairman of the Massachusetts Committee of Safety, sent out an urgent call to arms. Among the first to respond was Samuel Leighton, a prosperous, 35-year old farmer from the region then known as Piscataqua, (the watershed centered around Great Bay and its rivers) near Portsmouth, New Hampshire and Kittery, Maine. (Maine was part of Massachusetts at the time.) Leighton was commissioned as a captain and empowered to enlist a company of men “for the protection of American Liberty.” Leighton and his men joined the 30th Regiment commanded by Colonel James Scamman (or Scammon) and promptly marched south to Cambridge. There, they joined a growing cadre of Minutemen and militiamen sent to assist beleaguered Boston. Six months later they witnessed the end of the siege as the British sailed away, to regroup in Canada.
Biographies of Leighton frequently state that he fought at Bunker Hill, but the military record suggests that he and his men missed the June 17, 1775, battle. Due to a miscommunication, the 30th Regiment ended up on Cobble Hill at Lechmere’s Point, instead of at the action on Breed’s Hill. The regiment’s absence led to a court-martial of Colonel Scamman the next month, although he was acquitted on all charges. Drummer Henry Foss, testified that,
as we marched down Cambridge road, we met two men on horseback, who told us the regulars were landing at Lechmere-Point. We then marched very fast, towards the point where we met Gen. Whitcomb, who told Col. Scammans to go round to the hill, which hill I understood to mean the little round hill, we marched to. I was within ten feet of General Whitcomb, when these orders were given.
On July 3, 1775, George Washington arrived to take command of Continental forces. He faced the daunting task of converting the ill-trained troops into an army while at the same time trying to drive the British out of Boston. As the siege dragged on through the fall, Washington sent Henry Knox on a daring mission to retrieve captured cannon from Ticonderoga. When Knox returned with the artillery, Washington and the American army silently fortified Dorchester Heights, overlooking Boston, on the night of March 4, 1776. The British awoke to find themselves ringed by cannon. Having to choose between attacking the heavily-fortified positions or evacuate, they chose the latter, retreating to their ships on March 17 and sailing from Boston on March 27.
Goold, Nathan. History of Col. James Scamman’s Thirtieth Regiment of Foot (Portland, Maine: Thurston Print, 1899)
Jordan, Tristram Frost and Usher Parsons. Leighton Genealogy: An account of the descendants of Capt. William Leighton of Kittery, Maine (J. Munsell’s Sons, 1885)
Massachusetts Soldiers and Sailors in the War of the Revolution, Vols. I-XVII (Boston, 1896)
Revolutionary War service records, www.footnote.com