A Biography of John Howe, 1754-1835

Note: This biography is based on the biography for John Howe (loyalist) that I wrote for Wikipedia, but I have expanded it to include more background details on a number of issues, such as:
  • Information on the North American wars that affected the 13 colonies prior to the revolution
  • The full text of John Howe's article on the Boston Tea Party
  • The full text of John Howe's broadsheet on the Battle of Lexington and Concord
  • The full text of John Howe's broadsheet on the Battle of Bunker Hill
More expansion may be made in future, as I find information of interest that will add greater detail to his biography and his times.

John Howe (October 14, 1754-December 27, 1835) was a loyalist printer during the American Revolution, a printer and Postmaster in Halifax, the father of the famous Joseph Howe, a spy prior to the War of 1812, and eventually a Magistrate of the Colony of Nova Scotia. He was born in Boston, Massachusetts Bay colony, the son of Joseph Howe, a tin plate worker of Puritan ancestry, and Rebeccah Hart.12

Historical Setting

Howe was born on October 14, 1754, the same year that the French and Indian War or Seven Years' War (1754-1763) began. This was a war between the English, French, and Spanish for imperial supremacy throughout the world. It started in North America, and it resulted in important shifts in the balance of power between these imperial powers, as well as for the people of their colonies. It was the consequences of this conflict that motivated the British to demand greater taxes from, and assert greater control over, their American colonies and it was the consequences of this conflict that raised and disappointed the English-American colonists' expectations about their opportunities for expansion, all of which contributed to the colonists' determination to revolt against an increasingly costly, authoritarian, and obstructive British rule.


The French had been in North America as long as the English, with the first permanent French colony established at Québec in 1608, but they were unable to interest the French people in emigrating to New France in significant numbers, so they devised a strategy of extending their power from the major French settlements and fortifications at Louisbourg at the northern tip of present day Nova Scotia, at Québec City and Montréal on the St. Lawrence River, and at New Orleans, by establishing a network of alliances with the native peoples. These alliances were held together by a trading network that spanned from the Gulf of St. Lawrence, through the Great Lakes region, and throughout most of the Mississippi basin, including the Ohio and Tennessee river valleys. The French-Indian alliances were also held together by a common fear of, and opposition to, the large populations in the English American colonies, which the French and the natives surrounded and choked off from further expansion.

The English colonists, on the other hand, were very numerous. Colonization of North America had begun under Queen Elizabeth as business ventures that were only pale imitations of the Spanish colonial model in the Caribbean, Mexico and South America because the climate was comparatively harsh, food was comparatively scarce, and profits were comparatively minor. Yet large numbers of English settlers soon flooded into the English colonies, both to escape the religious wars and persecutions that raged back and forth between Protestants and Catholics in Britain from the death of Elizabeth in 1603 until the Glorious Revolution in 1688, and to gain the great advantage and opportunity of land, which was only available to the very wealthy and powerful in Britain. The first permanent English colony was established at Jamestown, Virginia, in 1607. The colonies were populated by middle and low income people, with very few upper class people due to the low profits returned from colonization, so the American colonies also quickly came to represent freedom from upper class oppression and exploitation. As this land-hungry population swelled, however, they soon came into violent conflict with the French traders and soldiers and the native populations that surrounded the English colonies and prevented them from continuing to claim the freely available land that they had come to expect in North America for the immigrant colonists and their children. Skirmishes between the American colonists, with their British Army and local militia protectors, on the one side and the French traders and their native allies, with their French army and upper-class French military leaders, on the other side soon escalated into a series of increasingly aggressive wars:

Note: The following material on the American colonial period wars is drawn, for now, from Wikipedia. I have done this only for background information for a better understanding of the political environment in which John Howe grew up. I will refine this material with further research at some point in the future.

The Seven Years War had won the British a huge global empire (almost all of New France, except for Louisiana, as well as winning control of a significant territory in India), yet it left them with a staggering debt: it was the first major war that Britain had fought using deficit financing. As a result of these two conditions, a new empire that they were forced to consider how to govern along with unprecedented debts, attempts were made to tax the American colonies to help pay down the war debt, as well as to house and support a new contingent of British troops that were to be permanently established there. There was also a decision to impose a greater degree of imperial control over the colonies, which had previously been left to determine their own affairs. These changes included the Sugar Act of 1764 and the Stamp Act of 1765, both of which were repealed due to the violent reactions of the American colonists. The Sugar Act inspired blatant smuggling, and the Stamp Act led to bullying and violence against the men charged with enforcing it. But then in 1767, Britain imposed some lighter taxes (in their view) known as the Townshend Duties, which also met with an angry reaction.

Early years

John Howe was 8 years old at the end of the French and Indian War in 1763, so he grew to maturity influenced by the events that followed. He was 10 when the Sugar Act was passed, 11-12 at the time of the colonial resistance to the Stamp Act (1765-66), 13 when the Townshend Duties were enacted (1767, at about which time, or a year before, Howe had begun his apprenticeship as a printer), and 16 when the violence of the Boston Massacre, in which British troops opened fire on a mob of Bostonians who were brawling with the troops, shook the Massachusetts Bay Colony (1770, when Howe would have been 3 or 4 years into his apprenticeship).

Howe's family were converts to a religious sect called the Sandemanians, whose best-known member was Michael Faraday, the famous scientist. The sect began when the Rev. John Glas (1695-1773), who had been the Presbyterian minister at Tealing, Perthshire, Scotland, sought a return to a "New Testament Christianity" that included Agapēs, pacifism, good works, charity, communal property, as well as a strong opposition to state control over the church. These views led to his suspension from the Church of Scotland in 1728. With the help of his son-in-law, Robert Sandeman, the sect grew to several churches in Scotland and England. Sandeman first moved to London in 1760 and then, in 1764, to New England.3 He arrived in Boston, where he helped his nephew get established as a bookseller, and then moved to Danbury, Connecticut, where he lived until his death in April, 1771.4 Sandeman's teachings to live a more purely Christian life appealed to New England's Puritan descendants and, with the rising tensions between the colonists and royal rule, Sandeman's command to "Fear God and honour the King" and "if it be possible... live peacefully with all men" found a receptive audience amongst the loyalists. A Joseph Howe is listed as a member of the Boston Sandemanians; this was probably John's father, but it might have been John's elder brother.5 John Howe's Sandemanian beliefs likely contributed to his loyalist stance, and definitely contributed to his lifelong pacifism.

John Howe probably began his apprenticeship as a printer to Richard Draper in either 1766 or 1767.6 Richard Draper was the King's printer in Massachusetts and the publisher of the Massachusetts Gazette and Boston Weekly News Letter, the oldest English newspaper in the Americas. As Richard Draper was known to be a frail and sickly man7, and as he was Draper's apprentice, John Howe probably witnessed the Boston Tea Party and wrote the article about it that appeared in the December 23, 1773, issue.

The Boston Tea Party

"BOSTON, December 20.
The following Notification was, on Tuesday Morning the 14th inst., posted up through this Town.

Friends!    Brethern!    Countrymen!


he perfidious Arts of your restless Enemies to render ineffectual the later resolutions of the Body of the People, demand you assembling at the Old South Meeting House, precisely at Two O' Clock, THIS DAY, at which Time the Bells will ring.

At a Meeting of the PEOPLE of Boston, and the Neighbouring Towns, at the Old South Meeting- House in Boston, on Tuesday December 14, 1773, and continued by Adjournment to Thursday 16th of said Month, occasioned by the perfidious Arts of our restless Enemies, to render ineffectual the late Resolutions of the Body of the People,

a gentleman of the town of Weston, was chosen


Motion made and passed that Mr. Rotch, Owner of Capt. Hall's Ship, be desired to give his Attendance.

Capt. Bruce, Master of one of the Ships with Tea on board, being present, it was moved that he might be asked, Whether he will demand a Clearance for his Ship of the Custom-House, and, if refused, enter his Protest, and then proceed on his voyage to Lon- don——He replied, that when all his Goods were landed, he would demand a Clearance, but if refused, he was loth to stand the shot of thirty-two pounders.

Mr. Rotch appeared, and was required at his peril to apply immediately to Mr. Collector Harrison for a clearance for his ship; and Benjamin Kent, Esq; with nine other gentlemen, were appointed to proceed with him to the Collector's.

Mr. Rotch returned, and aquainted the Body, that he had, accompanied by the above committee, waited on the Collector and required a clearance for his vessel, as directed; and that the Collector reply'd, that he chose to see the Comptroller first; and at Ten o'clock the next morning he should be ready to give his answer.

It was then moved that this meeting be adjourned to Thursday next, at Ten o'Clock, A.M. and that Mr. Rotch and the committee be desired to wait upon the Collector at the time appointed———— And the Meeting was accordingly adjourned.

THURSDAY, December 16. Ten o'Clock, A.M. Met according to Adjournment.


HE Committee to accompany Mr. Rotch to the Collector reported, That Mr. Rotch had made his demand in the following manner, viz.

"I am required and compell'd at my peril by a body of people assembled in the old south meeting- house, yesterday, where Mr. Samuel Phillips Savage was President, to make a demand of you to give me a clearance for the ship Dartmouth for London, in the situation she in now in with the tea on board."

Upon which one of the committee observ'd, that they were present, by order of the body, only as witnesses of the before-mentioned demand and the answer that should be given.

Thereupon Mr. Harrison the collector said to Mr. Rotch (Mr. Hallowell the comptroller being present) ' then it is you make the demand:' Mr. Rotch an- swered, ' yes, and am compell'd at my peril.' Then Mr. Harrison said to Mr. Rotch, ' your ship Dart- mouth entered with me the 30th of November last with dutiable articles on board, for which the duties have not been paid, I cannot therefore give you a clearance until she is discharg'd of those articles, consistent with my duty.'

Mr. Rotch, attending according to order, was in- formed that this Body expect that he will immediately protest against the custom-house, and apply to the Govenor for his Pass for the Castle, and that his vessel shall this day proceed on her voyage for London.

Mr. Rotch reply'd to this, that he could not comply with their requirement, because it was impracticable.

Mr. Rotch was then told, that he had assured this Body that his vessel should sail within 20 days after her arrival, which term would this day expire, and being asked whether he would order his vessel to sail this day, he replied that he would not.

The Body asked Mr. Rotch to make all possible dispatch in making a ??????? ???????? ??????? his vessel, and then adjourned until 3 o'clock P.M.

III o'clock P.M. Met according to adjournment.


HE People were informed that several towns had lately come into measure to prevent the consumption of Tea, whereupon it was motioned and Voted, That it is the sense of this Body that the use of Tea is improper and pernicious.

Upon a motion made, Voted, That it is the opinion of this Body, that it would be expedient for every town in this province to appoint committees of in- spection, to prevent this detested Tea from coming into any of our towns.

I was moved and the question put, Whether it be the sense and determination of this Body to abide by their former Resolutions with respect to the not suffering the Tea to be landed————Which passed in the affirmative, Nem. Con.

It being now half past 4 o'clock, many were de- sirous and even moved that the Meeting should be immediately Dissolved ; but some Gentlemen of the Country informing the Body that their several Towns were so very anxious to have full information as to this matter, that they were quite desirous the Meet- ing should be continued until 6 o'clock, especially as Mr. Rotch had been met on his way to Milton for a pass, the motion was accordingly over-ruled.

Mr. Rotch returned before 6 o'clock & inform'd the Body, that in pursuance of their direction he had waited upon Governor Hutchinson, and demanded of him a Pass for his sailing by the Castle, and received for answer, " That he is willing to grant any thing consistent with the laws and his duty to the King, but that he could not give a Pass unless the Vessel was properly qualified from the Custom-House ; but that he should make no distinction between this and any other Vessels, provided she was properly cleared."—He further aquainted the Body, that his Protest against the Custom-House not being finished in season, he could not carry the ???? with him, but declared, that he had informed the Governor of the steps he had and was taking as to a Protest.

Mr. Rotch was then asked, Whether he would send his Vessel back with the Tea in her under her present circumstances ? who answered that he could not possibly comply, as he apprehended a compliance would prove his ruin—He was further asked, Whe- ther it was his intention to land the Tea ? He re- plied, that he had no business to do it unless he was called upon by the proper Persons, in which case he should attempt to land it for his own security.

The Body having manifested an exemplary pa- tience and caution in the methods it had pursued to preserve the Tea, the property of the East India Company, without it being made saleable among us, which must have been fatal to the Common-wealth, and to return it safe & untouch'd to its Proprietors, and perceiving in every step that they have taken towards this just and salutary purpose, they have been counter-worked by the Consignees of the Tea, and their Coadjutors, who have plainly manifested their inclination of throwing the Community into the most violent commotions, rather than relinquish and the advantage they have imagined from the establish- ment of an American revenue ; and no one being able to point out any thing further that it was in the power of this Body to do, for the salutary purpose aforesaid, ———It was moved and Voted, That this Meeting be immediately Dissolved—and it was accordingly.

Just before the Dissolution of the Meeting; a Number of brave and resolute Men, dressed in the Indian Man- ner, approached near the Door of the Assembly, gave the War-Whoop, which rang through the House, and was answered by some in the Galleries, but Silence being commanded, and a peaceable Deportment was again enjoined till the Dissolution: The Indians; as they were called, repaired to the Wharf where the Ships lay that had the Tea on board, and were followed by Hundreds of People, to see the Event of the Transactions of those who made so grotesque an Ap- pearance:—They, the Indians, immediately repaired on board Capt. Hall's Ship, where they hoisted out the Chests of Tea, and when upon Deck stove the Chests and emptied the Tea overboard; having clear- ed this Ship, they proceeded to Capt. Bruce's, and then to Capt, Coffin's brig—they applied themselves so dextrously to the Destruction of this Commodity that in the Space of three Hours they broke up 342 Chests, which was the whole Number in those Vessels, and discharged their Contents into the Dock ; when the Tide rose it floated the broken Chests and the Tea insomuch that the Surface of the Water was filled therewith a considerable Way from the South Part of the Town to Dorchester Neck, and lodged on the shore—There was the greatest Care taken to prevent

the Tea from being Purloined by the Populace. One or two, being detected in endeavouring to pocket a small Quantity, were stripped of their Acquisitions and very roughly handled.—It is worthy of Remark, that although a considerable Quantity of Goods were still remaining on board the Vessels, no Injury was sustain- ed. Such Attention to private Property was observed that a small padlock belonging to the Captain of one of the Ships being broke, another was procured and sent to him.—The Town was very quiet during the whole Evening and Night following: Those Per- sons who were from the Country, returned with a merry Heart ; and the next Day Joy appeared in almost every Countenance, some on Occasion of the Des- truction of the Tea, others on Account of the Quietness with which it was Effected.——One of the Monday's papers says, That the Masters and Owners are well pleased that their ships are thus cleared."

Click to view full sized image
Click to view full sized image

Note: The above map shows the location of the Old South Meeting Hall in yellow, the location of Griffin's Warf where the Tea Ships were docked in red, and a likely route from the meeting hall to the warf in orange. It should be noted that the actual location of the Tea Party is in question, as maps of the period and eyewitness accounts are inconsistent and open to interpretation.

The Boston Tea Party, despite the quiet and almost well-mannered way in which the tea was destroyed, was like the lighting of a fuse that led to the explosion of revolution. In response to the destruction of the Tea, the British Parliament passed the Boston Port Act on March 31, 1774. This act closed the port of Boston until such time as the tea was paid for in full. Then, on May 20, 1774, the British Parliament passed three more acts:

These four acts became known, collectively, as the "coercive acts" or the "intolerable acts." In effect, they shut down a large part of business in Boston; stripped Massachusetts of its democratic assembly; allowed British officers who raped or murdered colonists to be tried in other colonies or in English courts, at the discretion of the British government; and took away the main expected benefit of the French and Indian War: the opportunity for westward expansion of the American colonies. Some colonists had fought in this war, others had died in it; winning it had raised the colonists expectations for the opportunity of westward expansion without obstruction from the French. Yet now the opportunity for expansion was taken from them, and French rights were supported to the disadvantage of their own. Additionally, the American colonists were being forced to pay the war's debts through increased taxes. This conflict of expectations between England and the American colonies inspired increased colonial resistance to English control to which the English responded with an imperial determination to impose control through military force. From May to August of 1774 mobs closed the Massachusetts court houses and forced the judges to resign.

On June 5th or 6th, 1774, a little over six months after the Boston Tea Party and just as news of the British parliament's "intolerable acts" was reaching the colonies, Richard Draper, owner of the Massachusetts Gazette and Boston Weekly News-Letter, died. This left the paper in the hands of his widow, Margaret Draper. Richard Draper may have anticipated his demise, as he formed a partnership with John Boyle in May, the month before his death. However, Margaret Draper soon ended this partnership (between August 4 and 11, 1774) as Boyle did not share her loyalist sympathies. Margaret Draper published the paper by herself from August 11, 1774.8 Margaret Draper would likely have been very familiar with the print industry as her maiden name was Green, and she was the great-granddaughter of Samuel Green, the patriarch of the great New England printer family.

On September 1, 1774, British troops from Boston seized cannon and gunpowder from Cambridge and Charlestown. On September 5, the First Continental Congress began to meet in Philadelphia. On December 14, British plans to garrison Portsmouth, New Hampshire, were learned of by Boston silversmith and American patriot Paul Revere. This information led to a raid by John Sullivan and his fellow patriots, in which they seized arms and gunpowder from Fort William and Mary, which guards the entrance to Portsmouth harbour. On February 9, 1775, the British Parliament declared Massachusetts to be in a state of rebellion.

A Loyalist printer in the American Revolution

On the night of April 18, 1775, General Gage, the commander of the British forces in North America, based in Boston, sent 700 British troops inland from Boston to the nearby towns of Lexington and Concord "to destroy a Magazine of Military Stores deposited there," and to seize two leaders of the rebellion known to be staying there: Samuel Adams and John Hancock. On April 19, the raid broke into a firefight when the American patriots and the British troops fired on each other. The "Troops had above Fifty killed, and many more wounded", thus starting the first battle of the American Revolution or the American War of Independence. In the April 20, 1775, issue of the Massachusetts Gazette and Boston Weekly News Letter a short article appeared that briefly described the battle, and—a day or more later—a broadside was published that reported on the Battle of Lexington and Concord at greater length (shown below). Both articles were quite likely written and printed by John Howe, who would have been just a few months short of his 21st birthday and the official completion of his apprenticeship.

The Battle of Lexington and Concord

A Circumstantial ACCOUNT

Of an Attack that happened on the 19th of April 1775, on his
Majesty's Troops

By a Number of the People of the Province of Massachusetts-


N Tuesday the 18th of April, about half past 10 at Night, Lieutenant Colonel Smith of the 10th Regiment, embarked from the Common at Boston, with the Grenadiers and Light Infantry of the Troops there, and landed on the opposite Side, from whence he began his March towards Concord, where he was ordered to destroy a Magazine of Military Stores deposited there for the Use of an Army to be assembled, in Order to act against his Majesty, and his Government. The Colonel called his Officers together, and gave Orders that the Troops should not fire, unless fired upon, and after marching a few Miles, detached six Companies of Light Infantry, under the Command of Major Pitcairn, to take Possession of two Bridges on the other Side of Concord : Soon after they heard many Signal Guns, and the ringing of Alarm Bells repeatedly, which convinced them that the Country was rising to oppose them, and that it was a preconceived Scheme to oppose the King's Troops, whenever there should be a favorable Opportunity for it. About 3 o'Clock the next Morning, the Troops being advanced with two Miles of Lexington, Intelligence was received that about Five Hundred Men in Arms, were assembled, and determined to oppose the King's Troops ;* and on Major Pitcairn's galloping up to the Head of the advanced Companies, two Officers informed him that a Man advanced from those there were assembled, had presented his Musquit and attempted to shoot them, but the Piece flashed in the Pan: On this the Major gave direction to the Troops to move forward, but on no Account to fire, nor even to attempt it without Orders. When they arrived at the End of the Village, they observed about 200 Men, drawn up on a Green, and when the Troops came within a Hundred Yards of them, they began to file off towards some Stone Walls, on their right Flank : The Light Infantry observing this, ran after them ; the Major instantly called to the Soldiers not to fire, but to surround and disarm them ; some of them who had jumped over a Wall, then fired four or five Shot at the Troops, wounded a Man of the 10th Regiment, and the Major's Horse in two Places, and at the same Time several Shots were fired from a Meeting-House on the left: Upon this, without any Order or Regularity, the Light Infantry began a scattered Fire, and killed several of the Country People ; but were silenced as soon as the Authority of the Officers could make them.

+ After this, Colonel Smith marched up with the Remainder of the Detachment, and the whole Body proceeded to Concord, where they arrived about 9 o'Clock, without any Thing further happening ; but vast numbers of armed People were seen Assembling on all the Heights : while Colonel Smith with the Grenadiers; and Part of the Light Infantry remained at Concord, to search for Cannon, etc. there ; he detached Captain Parsons with six Light Companies to secure a Bridge at some Distance from Concord, and to proceed from thence to certain Houses, where it was supposed there was Cannon, and Ammunition ; Captain Parsons in pursuance of these Orders, posted three Compa-

* At this Time the advanc'd Light Companies loaded, but the Grenadiers were not loaded when they received their first Fire.

+ Notwithstanding the Fire from the Meeting House, Colonel Smith and Major Pitcairn, with the greatest Difficulty, kept the Soldiers from forcing into the Meeting-House passing all those in it to Death.

nies at the Bridge, and on some Heights near it, under the Command of Captain Laurie of the 43rd Regiment ; and with the Remainder went and destroyed some Cannon Wheels, Powder, and Ball ; the People still continued encreasing on the Heights ; and in about an Hour after, a large Body of them began to move towards the Bridges the Light Companies of the 4th and 10th defended and joined Captain Laurie, the People continued to advance in great Numbers ; and fired upon the Kings Troops, killed three Men, wounded four Officers, one Serjeant and four private Men, upon which (after returning the fire) Captain Laurie and his Officers, thought it prudent to retreat towards the Main Body at Concord, and were soon joined by two Companies of Grenadiers ; when Captain Parsons returned with the three Companies over the Bridge, they observed three Soldiers on the Ground, one of them scalped, his Head much mangled, and his Ears cut off, tho' not quite dead ; a Sight which struck the Soldiers with Horror ; Captain Parsons marched on and joined the Main Body, who were only waiting for his coming up, to march back to Boston ; Colonel Smith had executed his Orders, without Opposition, by destroying all the Military Stores he could find ; both the Colonel, and Major Pitcairn, having taken all possible Pains to convince the Inhabitants that no Injury was intended them, and that if they opened their Doors when required, to search for said Stores, not the slightest Mischief should be done ; neither had any of the People the least Occasion to complain, but they were sulky, and one of them even struck Major Pitcairn. Except upon Captain Laurie, at the Bridge, no Hostilities happened from the Affair at Lexington, until the Troops had began their March back. As soon as the Troops had got out of the Town of Concord, they received a heavy Fire from all Sides, from Walls, Fences, Houses, Trees, Barns, etc. which continued without Intermission, till they met the first Brigade, with two Field Pieces, near Lexington ; ordered out under the Command of Lord Percy to support them ; (advice having been received about 7 o'Clock next Morning, that Signals had been made, and Expresses gone out to alarm the Country, and that the People were rising to attach the Troops under Colonel Smith.) Upon the Firing of the Field Pieces, the People's Fire was for a while silenced, but as they still continued to encrease greatly in Numbers, they fired again as before, from all Places where they could find Cover, upon the whole Body, and continued so doing for the Space of Fifteen Miles : Notwithstanding their Numbers the did not attack openly during the Whole Day, but kept under Cover on all Occasions. The Troops were very much fatigued, the greater Part of them having been under Arms all Night, and made a March of upwards of Forty Miles before they arrived at Charlestown, from whence they were ferried over to Boston.

The Troops had above Fifty killed, and many more wounded : Reports are various about the Loss sustained by the Country People, some make it very considerable, others not so much.

Thus this unfortunate Affair has happened through the Rashness and Impudence of a few People, who began firing on the Troops at Lexington.

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The Battle of Bunker Hill

After the Battle of Lexington and Concord, news of the event quickly spread to the other colonies, and American patriots came in great numbers to lay siege to Boston. On June 17, 1775, the American forces seized a hill across the Charles river to the north of Boston in Charlestown and began building fortifications upon it from which they would be able to fire upon the town and harbour. In the morning light, a British ship in the harbour, seeing the fortifications being constructed on the hill, began firing on the hill. Soon, British troops were ferried north from Boston to Charlestown, where they charged up and took the hill, although at an enormous cost in lives. John Howe witnessed, wrote, and printed the broadside describing the Battle of Bunker Hill.

A handbill from the Massachusetts Gazette and the Boston Weekly News-Letter press,
Monday, June 26, 1775.

BOSTON, 26th of June, 1775


HIS Town was alarmed on the 17th Instant at break of Day, by a Firing from the Lively Ship of War; and a Report was immediately spread that the Rebels had broke Ground, and were raising a Battery on the Heights of the Peninsula of Charlestown, against the Town of Boston. They were plainly seen, and in a few Hours a Battery of Six Guns, played upon their Works. Preparations were instantly made for the landing a Body of Men; and some Companies of Grenadiers and Light Infantry, with some Battallions, and Field Artillery; amounting in the whole to about 2000 Men, under the Command of Major General HOWE, and Brigadier General PIGOT, were embarked with great Expedition, and landed on the Peninsula without Opposition; under Cover of some Ships of War, and armed Vessels.

The Troops formed as soon as landed: The Rebels upon the Heights, were perceived to be in great Force, and strongly posted. A Redoubt thrown up on the 16th at Night, with other Works full of Men, defended with Cannon, and a large Body posted in the Houses of Charlestown, covered their Right; and their Left was covered by a Breastwork, Part of it Cannon Proof, which reached from the Left of the Redoubt to the Mystick River.

Besides the Appearance of the Rebels Strength, large Columns were seen pouring in to their Assistance; but the King's Troops advanced; the Attack began by a Cannonade, and notwithstanding various Impediments of Fences, Walls, &c. and heavy Fire they were exposed to, from the vast Numbers of Rebels, and their Left galled from the Houses of Charlestown, the Troops made their Way to the Redoubt, mounted the Works, and carried it. The Rebels were then forced from other strong Holds, and pursued 'till they were drove clear of the Peninsula, leaving Five Pieces of Cannon behind them. Charlestown was set on Fire during the Engagement, and most Part of it consumed. The Loss they sustained, must have been considerable, from the vast Numbers they were seen to carry off during the Action, exclusive of what they suffered from the shipping. About a Hundred were buried the Day after, and Thirty found wounded on the Field, some of which are since Dead. About 170 of the King's Troops were killed, and since dead of the Wounds; and a great many were wounded.

This Action has shown the Bravery of the King's Troops, who under every Disadvantage, gained a compleat Victory over Three Times their Number, strongly posted, and covered by Breastworks. But they fought for their King, their Laws and Constitution.

An image of the original handbill

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Map of the Boston area during the siege

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In later years, John Howe described his experiences at the battle to his youngest son, Joseph, in which he watched as General Sir William Howe led the final bayonet charge up the hill "with the bullets flying through the tails of his coat." After the battle, John told of aiding "a young officer whose leg had been amputated and who he cured of a raging fever by letting him drink a bucket of cold water." Shortly after the battle, John Howe proposed to Martha Minns, who accepted and became his fiancée.9

Margaret Draper continued to print the Massachusetts Gazette and Boston Weekly News Letter until September 7, 1775, when she appears to have had some trouble as no issues were published (or at least no issues have been found) from September 14 to October 6, 1775. John Howe, although he was just completing his apprenticeship, became Margaret Draper's new partner, and he was listed as the publisher from October 13, 1775 (the day before his 21st birthday, the time at which apprenticeships were completed in the practice of the time) to the paper's final issue on February 22, 1776.10

On March 5, 1776, American forces seized control of Dorchester Heights, a hill to the south of Boston, with a commanding view of Boston harbour. Meanwhile, Henry Knox brought the cannon seized from Fort Ticonderoga to Boston. Realizing that taking the hill would be too costly, and that the Americans would soon have cannon in place, the British decided to evacuate the town of all of their forces and the loyalists. The two sides agreed upon an informal cease-fire proposed and negotiated by those in Boston who were staying: the Americans agreed because they feared the British would set fire to Boston as they left, the British agreed because they didn't want to suffer the costs of evacuating Boston under fire.11 On March 17, 1776, the last troops and loyalists boarded ships in Boston harbour and set sail for Halifax, Nova Scotia. Margaret Draper, John's partner in the Massachusetts Gazette and Boston Weekly News Letter, is listed as being amongst the loyalists evacuated from Boston to Halifax, and she was accompanied by John Howe. Margaret Draper then moved to England, where she lived on a pension from the British government.12

In mid-1776, the British assembled troops on Staten Island. On August 22, they crossed over to Long Island, and on August 27, they engaged and defeated the Americans at the Battle of Long Island. A series of battles continued the New York Campaign, which was concluded with the British victory of Fort Washington on November 16, 1776. On November 26, General Clinton and 6,000 troops were sent to take Newport, RI, which they succeeded in doing on December 1. After this victory, the British offered John Howe the position of Printer for the Provincial Forces.13 John Howe moved to Newport, RI, along with his fiancée, Martha Minns, and her brother, William Minns.14 He printed the first issue of the Newport Gazette on January 16, 1777, and he continued printing that newspaper until the final issue of October 6, 1779. During their stay in Newport, John Howe married Martha Minns on June 7, 1778. John Howe was named in the Banishment Act of the State of Massachusetts, 1778, possibly as a result of his work as printer for the British forces in Newport, Rhode Island. During this period, John Howe took on John Ryan, a native of Newport, as his apprentice, who later became the printer of the first newspaper in New Brunswick and then the King's Printer in Newfoundland. 15

On October 26, 1779, the British evacuated their troops and the loyalists from Newport, RI, to New York. On Christmas Day, 1779, John and Martha Howe's first child, Martha Howe, was born in New York.16 Sometime during 1780, John Howe and his young family, along with his brother-in-law William Minns, quit New York for Halifax, Nova Scotia. John Ryan remained in New York until 1783, becoming a partner with William Lewis in the New-York Mercury and General Advertiser.17

Building a life in Halifax

On his return to Halifax, John Howe, published the first issue of the Halifax Journal on December 28, 1780. The paper remained in the Howe family until about 1819 and continued to be printed until about 1870. About half of the Halifax Journal was dedicated to foreign news and essays reprinted from European publications, there was a short Halifax section that covered shipping news and local events, and it reported on issues debated in the Assembly as well as laws and proclamations that were not covered in the Nova Scotia Royal Gazette. John Howe's printing was notable for its quality. The type was carefully composed, the illustrations were well done, and the layout of stories and advertisements changed with each issue rather than filling the same preset layout. This set a superior standard for newspapers in the maritime colonies. In addition to the Halifax Journal, John Howe also did general printing such as pamphlets and sermons, and he printed an annual Almanack. In 1789, he began printing the monthly Nova Scotia Magazine and Comprehensive Review of Literature, Politics and News. John Howe began to serve as the magazine's editor in July 1790. In 1792, the Nova Scotia Magazine failed due to low subscriptions. 18

During this period, John Howe's and Martha (Minns) Howe's family grew and suffered losses. On September 2, 1782, their second child, Sarah Howe, was born, but she died at the age of 10 months on June 23, 1783. On September 8, 1784, John Howe, Jr., their third child, was born; in 1786 their fourth child, William Howe, was born; and in 1788, Jane Howe, their fifth child was born. On November 10, 1790, David Howe, John and Martha's sixth child was born, but Martha (Minns) Howe died of complications from the birth on November 25, 1790. On December 25, 1797, John and Martha (Minns) Howe's first child, Martha Howe, married Edward Sentell.19

On October 25, 1798, John Howe married his second wife, Mary (Ede) Austen, the widow of Henry Austen. Only a few months later, on January 19, 1799, Martha (Howe) Sentell, the first child of John and Martha (Minns) Howe died in childbirth. But happier events followed with the birth of Sarah Foster Howe in 1800, John Howe's seventh child and his first with Mary (Ede Austen) Howe. On December 4, 1804, his last and best-known child, Joseph Howe, was born.20

Meanwhile, John was appointed King's Printer in 1801, responsible for printing the Nova Scotia Royal Gazette and the Debates of the House of Assembly. In the same year, he was also appointed Postmaster of Halifax and "agent manager and director of His Majesty's Packet boats in Halifax," a position that was extended to Deputy Postmaster-General of Nova Scotia, Cape Breton, Prince Edward Island, New Brunswick, and the Bermudas in 1803. The postmaster positions included expanding and improving delivery routes and establishing way stations as required.21

John Howe's career as a spy

In 1803, as part of the British blockade of trade with the continent, which was part of the struggle against Napoleon's bid to conquer all of Europe, Britain ignored and violated American sovereignty by searching American ships trading with continental Europe (and therefore Napoleon's regime) and forcefully pressing American sailors into British service. In June, 1807, the HMS Leopard fired several shots on the USS Chesapeake when the American ship resisted a search and impressment attempt. Fearing that these events presaged war, Sir George Prevost, the Lieutenant Governor of Nova Scotia, arranged for a spy to tour the New England states and "observe whatever may be agitating." The man he chose for his spy was John Howe.22

Howe traveled through the American seaboard states, arriving in Boston on April 22, 1808, under the guise of visiting family and friends. He travelled from Boston to Washington, Norfolk, and New York. He reported on the political situation, predicted that Madison would be the next President, stated that there were French emissaries throughout the country, commented on the anti-British sentiment of the Irish in New York, and assessed the state of military preparedness.23 John Howe made a second trip to the United States from November 10, 1808 to January 5, 1809, but this visit was under the more official guise of "bearer of Dispatches to the British Minister", that minister being David Montagu, Baron Erskine of Restormel Castle, the British Envoy at Washington from 1806 to 1810. This mission included accompanying Baron Erskine to interviews with President Thomas Jefferson and President-elect James Madison. John Howe concluded that war with the United States could be avoided if the British blockade and tariff on ships entering French ports (which was having a devastating effect on the American economy) were rescinded, but if they were not, war was probably unavoidable and attacks on the British North American colonies were likely.24 When Madison declared war on Britain, beginning the War of 1812, he cited the British Orders in Council which established the blockade and tariff, just as John Howe had predicted, and attacks on the British North American colonies (later Canada) did occur.

John Howe's later years


After his brief career as a spy, John returned to his usual work as printer and postmaster in Halifax. On October 16, 1808, John Howe's eldest son, John Howe, Jr., married Henrietta Hians. In 1810, John Howe was appointed Justice of the Peace and Justice of the Inferior Court of Common Pleas. On October 9, 1813, his sixth and youngest child from his first marriage, David Howe, married Elizabeth M. Gethens.25 In 1815, John Howe was given a special commission as Justice "for the better and more effective administration of the office of Justice of the Peace and for the establishment of an active, vigorous and effectual Police." John Howe played a role in the establishment of a "House of Correction" and improving the police in Halifax by having "the daily attendance of one Magistrate in some Public Office in Halifax, for managing the Police of the Town."26 With his growing duties as a Magistrate and possibly due to a minor stroke, John Howe retired from his offices as King's Printer and Postmaster in 1818, appointments that were then awarded to his son, John Howe, Jr.27

As mentioned, John Howe was a religious man and a convert to the Sandemanian church. In Halifax, John served as an elder of the Sandemanian church, he served as a lay preacher to the community of 2000 blacks that fled the United States during the War of 1812 and settled in Halifax, and he made regular Sunday visits to the prison to preach to the inmates. He was a practicing pacifist, yet on at least one occasion he knocked together the heads of two young men who were fighting on the Sabbath.28

After his retirement from his offices of King's Printer and Postmaster, John Howe continued to be active, serving as a magistrate. In 1822, Sarah Foster Howe, John's seventh child, married Daniel Langshaw, but in 1824, Sarah Foster (Howe) Langshaw died aboard ship on her way from Liverpool, England, to Lima, Peru, where she was planning to move with her husband. In 1826, John Howe's sixth child, David Howe, also died. But a happier family event followed on February 2, 1828, when Joseph Howe, John Howe's youngest child, married Catherine Susan Ann McNab.29 After this marriage, John Howe helped to produce his son's, Joseph Howe's, newspaper together with Joseph's wife, particularly when Joseph traveled.30

Howe was a serving magistrate when his youngest son, Joseph Howe, was charged with criminal libel for printing an anonymous letter that charged that the police and magistrates had embezzled £30,000 from the people of Halifax. Joseph Howe made it clear that his father was not one of the corrupt magistrates when he argued his own defense. Joseph won an acquittal in the case on March 3, 1835, in a victory that was popularly seen as a triumph of freedom of the press and a blow to the corrupt governance of some of the magistrates. Just over eight months after Joseph won his case, but before Joseph had begun his political career, John Howe died in his sleep on December 27, 1835, at 81 years of age.31


  1. ^ Punch, Terrance M. and Marble, Allan E. "The Family of John Howe, Loyalist and King's Printer" in the Nova Scotia Historical Quarterly, Vol. 6 (September, 1976), p. 317.
  2. ^ Grant, John N. "John Howe, Senior: Printer, Publisher, Postmaster, Spy," pp.24-57, in Eleven Exiles: Accounts of Loyalists of the American Revolution, Phyllis R. Blakeley and John N. Grant, eds. (Toronto and Charlottetown: Dundurn Press Ltd., 1982).
  3. ^ ""Sandemanians" in the Catholic Encyclopedia".
  4. ^ Thomas, Isaiah, The History of Printing In America: with a Biography of Printers & an Account of Newspapers (New York: Weathervane Press, 1970), pp.151, 210, and 290.
  5. ^ Beck, J. Murray. Joseph Howe, Vol. I, Conservative Reformer, 1804-1848 (Kingston and Montréal: McGill-Queen's University Press, 1982), pp.7-8, ISBN 0-7735-0387-0.
  6. ^ That John Howe apprenticed under Richard Draper, and that he became a partner almost immediately after he had completed his apprenticeship, is drawn from Grant, John N. (1982), p.27. That his completion of his apprenticeship and his entry into partnership with Margaret Draper occurred in October, 1775, is indicated by the date of the first issue that bears his name, October 13, 1775, and it is consistent with the practice of indenturing apprentices until they reached 21 years of age. The start date is more open to conjecture. Rorabaugh, W. J. (1986), "The Craft Apprentice: From Franklin to the Machine Age in America", pp.7-8, indicates that Benjamin Franklin began his printer's apprenticeship in Boston at the age of 12, and Beck, J. Murray. (1982), Vol. I, p. 17, indicates that Joseph Howe, John Howe's youngest son, began his apprenticeship under his father at 13, so a start at 12 or 13 for John Howe would be consistent with the starting ages of an older contemporary and with John Howe's training of his own son.
  7. ^ Thomas, Isaiah (1970), pp.143-45.
  8. ^ Thomas, Isaiah (1970), pp.175-76.
  9. ^ Grant, John N. (1976), p. 29.
  10. ^ This is drawn from the mastheads of the Massachusetts Gazette and Boston Weekly News Letter (microfilm), as well as notes in the lists of available issues in library catalogs, such as "Library of Congress listing of the available issues for the Massachusetts Gazette and the Boston Weekly Newsletter, Sept. 28, 1769-Feb. 29, 1776".
  11. ^ Ward, Christopher, The War of the Revolution (New York: The Macmillan Company, 1952), vol. 1, pp. 129-30.
  12. ^ Thomas, Isaiah (1970), pp.176.
  13. ^ Grant, John N. (1976), p. 30.
  14. ^ That William Minns was also in Newport is drawn from advertisements for things he had for sale in the Newport Gazette (from the microfilm of that paper).
  15. ^ Dictionary of Canadian Biography Online: John Ryan.
  16. ^ Punch, Terrance M. and Marble, Allan E. (1976), p. 318.
  17. ^ Dictionary of Canadian Biography Online: John Ryan.
  18. ^ Grant, John N. (1976), pp. 32-4.
  19. ^ Punch, Terrance M. and Marble, Allan E. (1976), p. 318-20.
  20. ^ Punch, Terrance M. and Marble, Allan E. (1976), pp. 318 and 322.
  21. ^ Grant, John N. (1976), pp. 35-6.
  22. ^ Grant, John N. (1976), p. 39.
  23. ^ Grant, John N. (1976), pp. 39-42.
  24. ^ Grant, John N. (1976), pp. 42-44.
  25. ^ Punch, Terrance M. and Marble, Allan E. (1976), p. 322.
  26. ^ Grant, John N. (1976), pp. 45-6.
  27. ^ Grant, John N. (1976), p. 48.
  28. ^ Grant, John N. (1976), p. 47.
  29. ^ Punch, Terrance M. and Marble, Allan E. (1976), p. 322.
  30. ^ Grant, John N. (1976), p. 49.
  31. ^ Grant, John N. (1976), p. 54.


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