Collection Scope and Content Note:
The Joseph Dwight collection (1735-1762; bulk 1746-1748) contains 127 letters and documents written by or related to Joseph Dwight, covering much of Dwight's military involvement in King George's War, as well as his legal duties as a judge in Massachusetts. Despite extensive accounts of other theaters of the war, the collection contains no items sent during the Siege of Louisbourg, although one undated letter draft from Dwight, intended for William Pepperrell, mentions a meeting between Dwight and Pepperrell at a camp outside of Louisbourg.
The majority of the collection pertains to King George's War, and the wartime experience of Dwight's commanding officers and their troops. In a letter dated March 8, 1746, Aaron Cleveland wrote, "While Capt Brintnall was last at Boston our Company was Still and quiet, Expecting the Capt Every day with their money, but not Receiving to their Satisfaction upon his Return, they are all indeed, up in arms." This letter illustrates the pervasive themes of unease and unhappiness about provisions and pay for soldiers, who repeatedly complained about not receiving their money in a timely fashion, and about the lack of food, ammunition, blankets, and clothing. Another letter to Joseph Dwight, written by Ephraim Williams while he was at Stockbridge, Massachusetts, elucidates the current mental and physical state of the soldiers: "Our Soldiers patience is almost spent for want of their Blankets" (November 24, 1746). He claimed that his men "almost suffer beyond what can be reasonably desired in performing their duty." One letter from the Massachusetts Bay Sheriff's office describes the mutiny of soldiers under William Williams' command; Isaac Goodall, Thomas Goodall, Joshua How, and John Shields refused to obey Williams' commands to march, at which point Williams had them arrested and sent to jail (May 9, 1747).
Native American involvement in King George's War is documented in several letters. On November 24, 1746, Ephraim Williams wrote to Joseph Dwight, recounting a story about a group of "Mohawks" returning from Canada with eight French captives and four scalps. In another letter written to Dwight, William Williams mentioned that Lieutenant Richard John is "going a scalping" and that "6. 10th of the Cannada men of your Honored Regiment had rather go a scalping than perform any of the duty assigned them by any order now extant." Samuel Pettebone (August 12, 1747) referred to the ambush of one of his sergeants by Native Americans at a place three quarters of a mile outside of the fort at Number 4 Township. Pettebone provided an action-filled account of his man fighting off and wounding numerous hostile Indians, while making his way back to the safety of the fort. Furthermore, in a copy of a letter to Colonel John Stoddard written on June 17, 1747, John Lydius recalled an encounter between a group of British-sympathizing Native American scouts and enemy troops numbering so many that their canoes "appeared as an Island in the Lake." After seeing the enemy, the scouts returned to the British and apprised them of the situation.
A humorous letter from Nathaniel Kellogg includes a description of soldiers at Fort Massachusetts finding a lost dog. After sending out scouts in an attempt to find whence the dog came, the soldiers decided that it had belonged to two Native American scouts working with the advancing French Army. They fed the dog, attached a collar around its neck, and fastened a note addressed to the "General of the supposed advancing French Army" to the collar, before sending it back into the wilderness. However, more serious issues pervaded this humorous note; Kellogg wrote in the postscript that most of the men who came to Fort Massachusetts with Lieutenant King were resolved "to leave this fort the next Ensuing week and run the risk of being deemed deserters unless they shall be relieved" (August 14, 1747). In later letters, Dwight's officers expressed concern about their ability to feed and clothe their men adequately. According to a letter from Hezekiah Ward on August 17, 1747, three men traveled to see Dwight about overdue back pay. Ward wrote, "Their is a general uneasiness among the men, since the news of their having no province pay…and now after all to have no more than those that have kept at home seems very much to Damp their Spirits."
Also of note are Joseph Dwight's journal entries dating from June 21 to July 8, 1747 (2 pages). Many of these entries are short and succinct summaries of his military actions during these days, but they provide a picture of the daily decisions he had to make while out on patrol. The collection contains five oversize items, including separate payrolls for Dwight's company and Captain Thomas Cheney's company, as well as accounts of enlisted men in Dwight's regiment.
Ephraim Williams, the captain in charge of Fort Massachusetts, was a particularly forthright correspondent, and an important figure in New England history. Before his death in 1755, Williams left strict instructions for the founding of a school on his estate upon the event of his death; this school would later become Williams College. Another contributor of note is William Shirley, Governor of Massachusetts Bay, and a participant in the Siege of Louisbourg.