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Battle of Noddle’s Island






Battle of Noddle’s Island: Destruction of HM Schooner Diana
27/28 May 1775

On 12 May 1775, one H. Prentiss wrote to Oliver Wendell, the owner of livestock on Hog Island, in Boston Harbor, because “the people from the Men of War frequently go to the Island to buy fresh provision his own safety obliges him to sell to them on the other hand the Committee of safety have threatened if he sells anything to the army or Navy that they will take all the cattle from the Island and our folks tell him they shall handle him very roughly.”1 Most of the livestock, as well as some buildings on Noodle’s Island, were owned by one Henry Howell Williams. His chief business before the war was supplying the British with fresh provisions, a business that abruptly ceased on 19 April. Since the British were nearby and familiar with the place, it became the object of British foragers.2


The Committee  of Safety was aware of these goings on. On 14 May it “Resolved, as their opinion that all the live stock be taken from Noddle's Island Hog Island Snake Island and from that part of Chelsea near the sea coast and be driven hack and that the execution of this business be committed to the committees of correspondence and selectmen of the towns of Med ford Malden Chelsea and Lynn and that they be supplied with such a number of men as they shall need from the regiment now at Medford.”3


The attempted British raid on Grape Island on 21 May had shown the potential value to the British of the hay and livestock on the harbor islands, and the Americans planned to remove such temptation from the British. The Massachusetts Committee of Safety returned to the subject of Noodle’s Island on 24 May, resolving  “to immediately to take such order respecting the removal of the sheep and hay from Noddle's Island as they may judge proper together with the stock on the adjacent islands That the commissary general be directed to supply twenty five men of Captain Sprague’s company stationed at Chelsea.”4 The Committee of Safety recommended that the Provincial Congress take immediate steps to implement this resolve.5 It was probably about this time that Dr. Joseph Warren and General Artemas Ward, commander of the American forces surrounding Boston, inspected Noddle's Island and Hog Island.6 They found no British troops there but plenty of livestock.


Three days later (27 May) a party was detached from Cambridge Camp,7 under Colonel Ephraim Doolittle,8 with orders to remove the stock from Hog Island and Noddle’s Island, both lying on the northeast side of Boston Harbor, near Chelsea. At low tide the depth of water between Chelsea and Hog Island was only knee high, and it was possible to wade across. The same was true for the crossing from Hog to Noodle’s,9 known as Crooked Creek.10 The party was reinforced by men from the 1st New Hampshire Regiment, under Colonel John Stark, which was stationed at Medford,11 perhaps about 200 to 300 men.12


The American party marched down the road to the creek separating Hog Island from the mainland. Today the creek is known as Belle Isle Creek. During the march a farmer near the crossing informed Stark that about fifty British marines had been placed on Noddle's Island in recent days. About 1100 between twenty13 and thirty14 men crossed from Chelsea to Hog Island and then crossed to Noodle’s Island.15 The rest followed and began rounding up the stock on Hog Island16 and burning the hay there.17 The men on Noddle’s Island began collecting stock, four horses and three cows,18 and destroying the hay there.19


Perhaps unknown to the Americans, the British fleet had rented some of the buildings on Noddle’s Island to warehouse naval stores, and the Army had purchased the hay. In addition there were about 600 sheep and some cattle and horses on the island.20 A small British Marine guard of forty men was on Noddle’s Island.21 The British marines, alerted by the fires, moved out to drive off the marauders.


Admiral Graves, who had broken his new Admiral’s Pennant that morning, and received the salutes of the fleet,22 was handed a note from General Gage stating that “at this moment,” Gage had a report that the Americans were to land on Noddle's Island to destroy the stock. This note, written the previous day, was superfluous.23 By 1400 the Americans were visible from the Preston, and Graves signaled for a landing force of Marines to land on the island and drive off the Americans.  HM Schooner Diana (Lieutenant Thomas Graves),24 recently arrived in Nantasket Road,25 was sent to cut off their retreat.26


Graves  ordered Diana to sail between Noddle’s Island and the mainland, as high up as possible. Diana entered the river between 1500 and 1600, at low water.27 She  proceeded to Noddle’s Island, where she fired on the American foragers. [Documentary, 435] The Americans returned the fire from Hog Island.28


Meanwhile, the Americans on Noddle’s Island, seeing the British Marines landing, about a hundred strong,29 departed. They killed the remaining stock they had collected,30 and, about 1700,31 set fire to a barn and a farm house. They then retreated to a ditch in the marsh on the other side of Crooked Creek and concealed themselves. When the Marines approached they rose up and fired into them, killing two and wounding two, one mortally.32


About 1700 fighting began on Hog Island.33 All the Americans had retreated from Noddle’s Island to Hog Island. The Marines on Noddle’s began to fire on the Americans by platoon.34 At the British approach there was some return fire and the Americans retreated to Chelsea Neck.35


Diana (armed with four 6-pounders and twelve swivels) along with several manned barges came up and pushed into the shallow waters of Chelsea Creek, attempting to prevent the Americans evacuating Hog Island.36 The Americans formed up on Chelsea neck and sent for reinforcements of 300 men and two37 3-pounders38 or 4-pounders.39 Meanwhile the Diana and the Americans exchanged a heavy fire.40


Diana, faced with an ebb tide and the wind falling off,41 and under orders to withdraw, found she was unable to exit the creek. Lieutenant Graves got all the boats ahead to tow her off (about 1800).42 She began to exit the passage between the islands and the mainland. Admiral Graves sent eight to ten boats43 of the squadron, with Marines aboard,44 to go to her assistance.45 The Britannia (Lieutenant John Graves), a sloop tender to Somerset,46 came down from the British fleet to render more assistance.


About 2100 the Americans received their guns,47 two field pieces under Captain Thomas Waite Foster. These were planted on the ferry way.48 The Americans poured a heavy fire into the boats.49 The cannon continued to fire, although one burst, wounding four of the gun crew.50 The firing soon cleared Diana’s decks,51 and, at 2300 the fire from the schooner ceased.52


Diana quickly drifted aground53 on the Winisimmet ferry way.54 With no wind, and the tide ebbing, there was no way to save the vessel. Soon after General Israel Putnam went down to the beach and hailed the schooner. He told them that, if they struck, they would have “good quarters” (meaning quarter). The British answered with two cannon shots. The Americans fired two cannon shots back and a heavy firing began, lasting until 2300.55


Diana was soon left high, if not dry, and rolled over to port. Lieutenant Graves and his crew were unable to stand the deck, nor fight the schooner, and abandoned ship, getting aboard the armed sloop Britannia about 0300 on 28 May.56


The British, meanwhile, had landed more Marines on Noddle’s Island, along with two 3-pounders.57 They took post there for the night. About 1800 they were reinforced by 200 men and two field pieces from the garrison.58


Noddle’s Island, Hog Island, and Winisimmet, from an old chart of Boston Harbor.

 

The Americans now boarded and began plundering the Diana.59 About daybreak, 28 May, the Americans piled hay around her stern60  and set her on fire.61 The Britannia tried to intervene and kept the Americans under fire, joined in by the two cannon on Noddle’s Island. Putnam returned a heavy fire on the sloop, disabling her and, so it was thought, killing many of her crew. She was towed off by the British boats. The firing died down, except for few shots from the battery on Noddle’s Island.62 Diana soon blew up.63


An old illustration of Diana being burned. She would have been more heeled over, in my opinion. From http://www.revolutionarywararchives.org
/lawrence.html

 

The fighting ended about 0700.64 The British boats were all ready returning to the fleet. At 0600 Glasgow’s longboat and pinnace returned with one man wounded.65 Somerset received one dead and one man mortally wounded from the Britannia.66 Graves later admitted two killed and two wounded in Somerset’s boat and several wounded in the other boats.67 The Americans claimed to have taken a boat and several men prisoner.68

The Americans had five wounded, four when a gun burst.69 Other accounts list two or three wounded.70 The Americans claimed that the British had thirty killed and fifty wounded,71 but more sober accounts admit their loss was unknown.72

The Americans removed four 4-pounders from the schooner, twelve swivels, most of her rigging and sails, clothing and some money.73 Other accounts indicate the booty was twelve 4-pounders and six swivels.74 One thing was certain: the Americans had destroyed one of His Majesty’s warships, although a very small one. It was not to be the last.




1 Chamberlain, Mellen; Watts, Jenny Chamberlain; Haynes, Henry Williamson; Cutter, William Richard, A Documentary History of Chelsea Including the Boston Precincts of Winnisimmet, Rumney Marsh, and Pullen Point, 1624-1824,  Massachusetts Historical Society: Boston, 1908,  431

2 Documentary History of Chelsea, 433

3 Documentary History of Chelsea, 431, from the Journals of the Massachusetts Provincial Congress

4 Documentary History of Chelsea , 431

5 NDAR, “Minutes of the Massachusetts Committee of Safety,” I, 515

6 Documentary History of Chelsea, 433n3

7 NDAR, “A circumstantial account of the late Battle at Chelsea, Hog Island &c.,” I, 544-545

8 NDAR, “General Orders of General Artemus Ward,” I, 551-554

9 NDAR, “A circumstantial account of the late Battle at Chelsea, Hog Island &c.,” I, 544-545

10 Henry, John, “The Battle of Chelsea Creek,” at http://forbeslofts.com/articles/battle_of_chelsea_creek.pdf

11 NDAR, “Report to the Massachusetts Committee of Safety on the Battle on Noddle’s Island,” I, 545-546

12 NDAR, “A circumstantial account of the late Battle at Chelsea, Hog Island &c.,” I, 544-545

13 NDAR, “A circumstantial account of the late Battle at Chelsea, Hog Island &c.,” I, 544-545

14 NDAR, “A circumstantial account of the late Battle at Chelsea, Hog Island &c.,” I, 544-545; “Report to the Massachusetts Committee of Safety on the Battle on Noddle’s Island,” I, 545-546

15 NDAR, “A circumstantial account of the late Battle at Chelsea, Hog Island &c.,” I, 544-545

16 NDAR, “A circumstantial account of the late Battle at Chelsea, Hog Island &c.,” I, 544-545

17 NDAR, “Vice Admiral Samuel Graves to Philip Stephens,” I, 622-623

18 NDAR, “A circumstantial account of the late Battle at Chelsea, Hog Island &c.,” I, 544-545

19 NDAR, “Journal of His Majesty’s Ship Preston, Captain John Robinson, Commanding,” I, 546

20 NDAR, “Vice Admiral Samuel Graves to Philip Stephens,” I, 622-623; “Vice Admiral Samuel Graves to Philip Stephens,” I, 690-692

21 NDAR, “A circumstantial account of the late Battle at Chelsea, Hog Island &c.,” I, 544-545

22 NDAR, “Journal of His Majesty’s Ship Preston, Captain John Robinson, Commanding,” I, 546

23 NDAR, “General Thomas Gage to Vice Admiral Samuel Graves,” I, 523

24 NDAR, “Journal of His Majesty’s Ship Preston, Captain John Robinson, Commanding,” I, 546

25 NDAR, “Master’s Log of His Majesty’s Ship Mercury,” I, 547

26 NDAR, “Journal of His Majesty’s Ship Preston, Captain John Robinson, Commanding,” I, 546

27 NDAR, “Vice Admiral Samuel Graves to Philip Stephens,” I, 622-623

28 NDAR, “Vice Admiral Samuel Graves to Philip Stephens,” I, 622-623

29 NDAR, “Report to the Massachusetts Committee of Safety on the Battle on Noddle’s Island,” I, 545-546

30 NDAR, “A circumstantial account of the late Battle at Chelsea, Hog Island &c.,” I, 544-545

31 NDAR, “Journal of His Majesty’s Ship Glasgow, Tyringham Howe, Commanding,” I, 547

32 NDAR, “A circumstantial account of the late Battle at Chelsea, Hog Island &c.,” I, 544-545. Somerset admits two of her Marines wounded. NDAR, “Remarks &ca. onboard the Somerset,” I, 547.

33 NDAR, “Extract of a Letter Dated June 1, 1775, From the Provincial Camp at Cambridge,” I, 584-585

34 NDAR, “Report to the Massachusetts Committee of Safety on the Battle on Noddle’s Island,” I, 545-546

35 NDAR, “A circumstantial account of the late Battle at Chelsea, Hog Island &c.,” I, 544-545

36 NDAR, “Report to the Massachusetts Committee of Safety on the Battle on Noddle’s Island,” I, 545-546

37 NDAR, “A circumstantial account of the late Battle at Chelsea, Hog Island &c.,” I, 544-545

38 NDAR, “Report to the Massachusetts Committee of Safety on the Battle on Noddle’s Island,” I, 545-546

39 NDAR, “A circumstantial account of the late Battle at Chelsea, Hog Island &c.,” I, 544-545

40 NDAR, “Journal of His Majesty’s Ship Preston, Captain John Robinson, Commanding,” I, 546

41 NDAR, “Report to the Massachusetts Committee of Safety on the Battle on Noddle’s Island,” I, 545-546

42 NDAR, “Journal of His Majesty’s Ship Preston, Captain John Robinson, Commanding,” I, 546

43 NDAR, illustration, 553

44 NDAR, “A circumstantial account of the late Battle at Chelsea, Hog Island &c.,” I, 544-545

45 NDAR, “Vice Admiral Samuel Graves to Philip Stephens,” I, 622-623

46 NDAR, “A circumstantial account of the late Battle at Chelsea, Hog Island &c.,” I, 544-545;  “Remarks &ca. onboard the Somerset,” I, 547

47 NDAR, “A circumstantial account of the late Battle at Chelsea, Hog Island &c.,” I, 544-545

48 NDAR, “Extract of a Letter Dated June 1, 1775, From the Provincial Camp at Cambridge,” I, 584-585

49 NDAR, “Report to the Massachusetts Committee of Safety on the Battle on Noddle’s Island,” I, 545-546

50 NDAR, “A circumstantial account of the late Battle at Chelsea, Hog Island &c.,” I, 544-545

51 NDAR, “Extract of a Letter Dated June 1, 1775, From the Provincial Camp at Cambridge,” I, 584-585

52 NDAR, “A circumstantial account of the late Battle at Chelsea, Hog Island &c.,” I, 544-545

53 NDAR, “Extract of a Letter Dated June 1, 1775, From the Provincial Camp at Cambridge,” I, 584-585; “Journal of His Majesty’s Ship Preston, Captain John Robinson, Commanding,” I, 554; “Remarks &c. onboard the Somerset,” I, 554

54 NDAR, “Vice Admiral Samuel Graves to Philip Stephens,” I, 622-623

55 NDAR, “A circumstantial account of the late Battle at Chelsea, Hog Island &c.,” I, 544-545

56 NDAR, “Vice Admiral Samuel Graves to Philip Stephens,” I, 622-623;  “Journal of His Majesty’s Ship Preston, Captain John Robinson, Commanding,” I, 554

57 NDAR, “A circumstantial account of the late Battle at Chelsea, Hog Island &c.,” I, 544-545, says 12-pounders. These Marines were from HM Frigate Cerberus; her log indicates they were 3-pounders. NDAR, “Journal of His Majesty’s Ship Cerberus, James Chads, Commanding,” I, 546

58 NDAR, “Journal of His Majesty’s Ship Preston, Captain John Robinson, Commanding,” I, 554

59 NDAR, “Journal of His Majesty’s Ship Preston, Captain John Robinson, Commanding,” I, 554

60 NDAR, “A circumstantial account of the late Battle at Chelsea, Hog Island &c.,” I, 544-545

61 NDAR, “A circumstantial account of the late Battle at Chelsea, Hog Island &c.,” I, 544-545; “Remarks &c. onboard the Somerset,” I, 554

62 NDAR, “A circumstantial account of the late Battle at Chelsea, Hog Island &c.,” I, 544-545

63 NDAR, “Extract of a Letter Dated June 1, 1775, From the Provincial Camp at Cambridge,” I, 584-585; NDAR, illustration, 553

64 NDAR, “Extract of a Letter Dated June 1, 1775, From the Provincial Camp at Cambridge,” I, 584-585

65 NDAR, “Journal of His Majesty’s Ship Glasgow, Tyringham Howe, Commanding,” I, 554

66 NDAR, “Remarks &c. onboard the Somerset,” I, 554

67 NDAR, “Vice Admiral Samuel Graves to Philip Stephens,” I, 622-623

68 NDAR, “Extract of a letter from Watertown, June 4, 1775,” I, 607

69 NDAR, “A circumstantial account of the late Battle at Chelsea, Hog Island &c.,” I, 544-545

70 NDAR, “Report to the Massachusetts Committee of Safety on the Battle on Noddle’s Island,” I, 545-546

71 NDAR, “A circumstantial account of the late Battle at Chelsea, Hog Island &c.,” I, 544-545; other accounts went much higher

72 NDAR, “Report to the Massachusetts Committee of Safety on the Battle on Noddle’s Island,” I, 545-546

73 NDAR, “A circumstantial account of the late Battle at Chelsea, Hog Island &c.,” I, 544-545

74 NDAR, “Extract of a Letter Dated June 1, 1775, From the Provincial Camp at Cambridge,” I, 584-585


Posted 19 August 2009 © awiatsea.com