Today in History

Today in History: March 24

Washington’s Letter to the Continental Congress

excerpt from Washington's letter

Sir:

When I had the Honor to address you the 19th Instant, upon the evacuation of the Town of Boston by the Ministerial Army, I fully expected, as their retreat and embarkation were hurried and precipitate, that before now they would have departed the Harbour, and been far in their passage to the place of Destination.

Letter from George Washington to Continental Congress
March 24, 1776. George Washington Papers at the Library of Congress

On March 24, 1776, one week after the British troops under General William Howe evacuated Boston, General George Washington wrote a letter to the Continental Congress. General Washington expressed his "surprize and disappointment" that the British fleet had not departed the harbor and described its various exploits while still in the region.

The Continental Army had besieged the British-held city since the battles at Lexington and Concord in April 1775. The siege ended after General Washington seized Dorchester Heights and trained cannon on the city and the harbor.

In his letter of March 24, General Washington explained the precautions he had taken:

As soon as the Town was abandoned by the Enemy, I judged it advisable to secure the several heights, least they should attempt to return, and for this purpose have caused a large and strong work to be thrown up on Fort Hill, a post of great importance, as it commands the whole Harbour and when fortified, If properly supported, will greatly annoy any Fleet the Enemy may send against the Town, and render the Landing of their Troops exceedingly difficult, If not Impracticable.

Letter from George Washington to Continental Congress
March 24, 1776. George Washington Papers at the Library of Congress

Map of Boston, 1775
Boston, Its Environs and Harbour, 1775.
The American Revolution and Its Era: Maps and Charts of North America and the West Indies, 1750-1789
in Map Collections

Dorchester Heights is the peninsula shown just below center on this 1775 map. Fort Hill is shown left of center, north of Washington's position at Dorchester. Use the zoom options below the enlarged image of this map to focus on the detailed depictions of these two locations.

The Continental Congress, upon the reading of Washington's letter of March 19, 1776 describing the British evacuation, ordered that a gold medal be struck and that a letter of thanks be prepared for General Washington and the officers and soldiers under his command. The gold medal, which was made in Paris, was not presented to Washington until 1790, fourteen years after Congress' approval.  In 1876 the gold medal was purchased by a group citizens in Boston and presented to the city, to be preserved in the Boston Public Library.

General Washington, in his letter of April 18, 1776 to the Continental Congress, acknowledged receipt of the letter of thanks and expressed his devotion to the American people:

it will ever be my highest ambition to approve myself a faithful Servant of the Public…to be in any degree instrumental in procuring to my American Brethren a restitution of their just rights and Priviledges, will constitute my chief happiness.

Letter from George Washington to Continental Congress, April 18, 1776.
George Washington Papers at the Library of Congress

Map of Boston, 1873
The City of Boston, 1873.
Panoramic Maps, 1847-1929 in Map Collections

As this 1873 map demonstrates, Boston, almost a century after George Washington's March 24, 1776 letter to the Continental Congress, was enjoying its "just rights and Priviledges."