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Colonel Samuel Pierce (1739-1815) papers


Series VI, Colonel Samuel Pierce (1739-1815) papers, 1739-1811, undated (#1.16-1.67, OB.x.x-OB.x.x), contains account books; account sheets; agreements and contracts; bills and receipts; bonds; library catalogs; inventories; personal and professional correspondence; deeds; diaries; military certificates, commissions, and orders; military inspection reports; muster rolls and troop lists; other military records; payroll records; petitions; printed material; property records; notebooks; notes; ration lists; tax records; and related. The series is arranged in five subseries.

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Collection Name
Pierce family papers
Collection Code
1739-1811, undated
Physical Description
Personal papers
Collection Type
Description Level
Reference Code

Historical/Biographical Note

Samuel Pierce, Jr. inherited the family home and houselot from his father in 1768, but he and his wife Elizabeth (Howe) Pierce (1744-1797) had lived there with his parents since their marriage in 1765, and they continued to share the home with other family members until 1778. Samuel and Elizabeth lived in the older middle section of the house, which Pierce also began to update, adding new Georgian style woodwork and a beaufat, or china cupboard, to display some of the family's finer goods.

Eighteenth-century yeomen like Colonel Samuel Pierce performed diverse tasks on their farms and developed complex relationships with the other members of their agricultural communities, which are revealed in his journal and account book. Primarily a farmer, Pierce produced diverse crops that he traded widely, and he assisted other Dorchester farmers with their agricultural tasks and relied on them for periodic help as well. Colonel Samuel also possessed a range of other skills that he employed both within his own household and farm and within the community network of exchange.

Although, like the records he left, Colonel Samuel Pierce's major concerns focused on the patterns of daily life, he was also deeply engaged by the world around him. Pierce was an astute observer whose commentary on the American Revolutionary era brings to life the events of this crucial period in American history. Participant as well as observer, Pierce made his political sympathies clear. An early supporter of the patriot cause, he resigned his commission in the King's militia to join the Massachusetts militia and took part in what Dorchester historians view as a crucial step in the United States' war for independence: the fortification of Dorchester Heights and the forced evacuation of the British troops from Boston in March of 1776. He led his regiment for the duration of the war.

From Dorchester, Col. Samuel reported his personal politics and involvement in the town's growing support for the patriot cause. All through New England the Sons of Liberty had formed in 1765 in opposition to the Stamp Act, and Col. Samuel recorded that they met in Dorchester at a "very Grand Entertainment at mr. Lemuel Robinson's" in August 1769. The Pierce family also held patriotic events at their home, including a "spining match" held "at our house" in June of 1769. Such gatherings were part of the colonists' campaign to produce and wear their own homespun clothing rather than rely on English imported goods.

Col. Samuel observed the unfolding of events in Boston. On March 6, 1770, the day following the Boston Massacre, he noted "four kild in boston by the Soldiers." He also recorded the growing support of the Dorchester citizenry for the colonial protest, as evidenced by a town meeting in December of 1772 "to Exclaim against the Duty being Laid upon us & Judges having their Saliry paid from England &c." Pierce also followed the controversy over the Tea Act of 1773 closely. England had granted what colonial merchants termed an unfair advantage to the East India Tea Company's virtual monopoly and the fact that Parliament had levied a tax on tea in the first place. Many colonists resolved to boycott tea, but a large supply arrived in Boston late in 1773. "Boston," observed Pierce in his journal on December 11, "is full of trouble about the tee. . .," and several days later Boston radicals orchestrated the Boston Tea Party.

By June of 1774, following the passage of the Intolerable Acts, tensions between the colonists and Great Britain had increased. Colonial self-government and the judiciary were reduced, more British troops and warships arrived, and "Boston [was] in a most Deplorible Condition." In the fall of 1774 Col. Samuel Pierce and others in the provincial militia had resigned their commissions under the crown and received new appointments as officers in the colonial militia. When actual conflict broke out at Lexington and Concord in April of 1775, Col. Pierce's loyalties were evident: "April 19. this Day there was a terible battle at Lexinton & Concord between our People and the Soldiers which marcht out of Boston the Soldiers fird on our people and then the Battle Began & there was about 40 of our People kild & 190 soldiers as near as could be Recolected."

Over the spring and summer of 1775 Pierce observed and recorded activity in Boston as some Tories from surrounding towns moved into the city and patriots fled. He lamented the "Terrable battle fout at CharlesTown"--the Battle of Bunker Hill--and noted various "scirmiges" with the British regulars, particularly on the Boston harbor islands, as each side sought to establish position and to cut off the other's supply of hay. General George Washington had set up headquarters in Cambridge, with his other troops camped in Roxbury, Somerville, and Dorchester, so that the city of Boston, though held by the British, was surrounded. When the patriot officer Col. Henry Knox arrived with guns and ammunition dragged on sledges from Ft. Ticonderoga, Washington and his advisors decided to act.

Washington's plan was to fortify Dorchester Heights, now South Boston, and therefore "command a great part of the town and almost the whole harbor." After careful preparation Colonel Samuel and his troops took part in the expedition that began on the night of March 4, 1776. About 5,000 men and over 380 wagons sneaked onto Dorchester Heights, placing straw along the road to muffle the sound; the men were under orders not to speak above a whisper. The troops carried the tools, materials, and arms for their defense, including bales of hay, barrels of stone and earth, and the heavy siege guns from Ticonderoga. It was, according to Pierce, "the most work Don that Ever was Don in one Night in New England." When the British commander, General Howe, realized his predicament, he sent word to Washington that if he and his troops were allowed to leave without being fired upon, he would refrain from destroying the city. On March 17, 1776 (still observed in Boston as Evacuation Day), Howe and his troops left, wrote Col. Samuel, "like so many frited Sheep." By March 28 patriots were able to "go into boston all freely," and in Dorchester town meeting pledged in May of 1776, "america Declard Independancy from Great britain."

Record details

Pierce, Samuel, 1739-1815
Material Type
personal papers
Location Note
Folders 1.16-1.67, OB.x.x-OB.x.x

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