Mutiny on Prospect Hill

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Mutiny on Prospect Hill

MUTINY ON PROSPECT HILL. 10 September 1775. Cambridge, Massachusetts. Riflemen from Pennsylvania and Virginia served effectively at the siege of Boston, but their ill discipline in camp was a constant cause of concern to those responsible for military law and order. The worst incident, on Sunday, 10 September, reached the dangerous depths of mutiny. Such behavior had to be suppressed before other riflemen decided they, too, could disobey army regulations. When the adjutant of Colonel William Thompson's Pennsylvania Rifle Battalion, Lieutenant David Ziegler, confined a sergeant for "neglect of duty and murmuring," members of the sergeant's company threatened to release him (Pennsylvania Archives, second series, 10, p. 8). As Ziegler reported his action to the colonel and lieutenant colonel, the men made good on their threat. The officers seized the malefactor and sent him to the main guard in Cambridge. Some men of Captain James Ross's notably ill-disciplined company from Lancaster County swore to release him and, joined by men of other companies, a group of thirty-two riflemen headed for the jail with loaded weapons. The guard detail was strengthened to five hundred men, and several Rhode Island regiments were turned out under arms for what could have been the biggest brawl of the Boston siege. The mutineers had gone about half a mile when they were confronted on Prospect Hill by General Washington, along with Charles Lee and Nathanael Greene. Washington ordered the mutineers to ground their arms, which they did "immediately" (ibid., 10, p. 9). Another Pennsylvania rifle company (Captain George Nagel's men from Berks County) surrounded the subdued riflemen and marched them back to camp, backed up by two New England regiments.

In a court-martial on 12 September, of which Colonel John Nixon of Massachusetts was president, thirty-three men were convicted of disobedient and mutinous behavior. Since a draconian sentence ran the risk of reigniting and spreading the mutiny, the court was content with fining each mutineer twenty shillings. The ringleader, John Leaman, got the additional punishment of six days' imprisonment. The riflemen did not threaten to spring him, but they continued to be a disciplinary problem throughout the siege.

SEE ALSO Riflemen.


Abbot, W. W., et al., eds. The Papers of George Washington, Revolutionary War Series. Vol. 1, June-September 1775. Charlottesville, Va.: University Press of Virginia, 1985.

Pennsylvania Archives. Second series. Vol. 10. Reprinted under direction of the Secretary of the Commonwealth. Edited by John B. Linn and William H. Egle. Harrisburg, Pa.: C.M. Busch, State Printer, 1896–.

Trussell, John B. B. Jr. The Pennsylvania Line: Regimental Organization and Operations, 1776–1783. Harrisburg, Pa.: Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission, 1977.

                               revised by Harold E. Selesky