Windham Lamb in
Boston Town by
Tale of the
It was one hundred and one years ago in this very month of June,
that nine men of the old town of Windhamwhich lies near the northeast
corner of Connecticutmet at the meeting-house door. There was no
service that day; the doors were shut, and the bell in the steeple gave
The town of Windham had appointed the nine men a committee to ask
the inhabitants to give from their flocks of sheep as many as they
could for the hungry men and women of Boston. Each man of the committee
was told at the meeting-house door the district in which he was to
On his stout grey pony sat Ebenezer Devotion. As soon as he heard
the eastern portion of the town assigned to him, he gave the signal to
his horse, and in five minutes was out of sight over the high hill. In
ten minutes he was near the famous Frog pond. As he was passing it by,
a voice from the marsh along its bank cried out:
Where now, so fast, this fine morning, Mr. Devotion?
The same to you, Goodwife Elderkin. I know your voice, though I
can't see your face.
Presently a hand parted the thicket and a woman's face appeared.
I'm getting flag-root. It gives a twang to root beer that nothing
else will, and the flag hereabout is the twangiest I know of. Stop at
the house as you go along and get some beer, won't you? Mary Ann's to
Thank you, said Mr. Devotion, with a stiff bow. It's a little
early for beer this morning. I'll stop as I come this way again. How
are your sheep and lambs this year?
First rate. Never better.
Have you any to part with?
Who wants to buy? and Goodwife Elderkin came out from the thicket
to the road-side, eager for gain.
We don't sell sheep in Windham this year, said Mr. Devotion.
Why, what's the matter with the man? thought Mrs. Elderkin, for
Ebenezer Devotion liked to drive a good bargain as well as any one of
his neighbors. Before she had time to give expression to her surprise,
he said with a sharp inclination of his head toward the sun, We've
neighbors over yonder, good and true, who wouldn't sell sheep if we
were shut in by ships of war, and hungry, too.
What! any news from Boston town?
It's twenty-four days, to-day, since the port was shut up.
Goodwife Elderkin laughed. Ebenezer Devotion looked grim enough to
smother every bit of laughter in New England.
'Pears as if king and Parliament really believed that tea was cast
away by the men of Boston, now don't it? 'stead of every man, woman and
child in the country havin' a hand in it, said Mrs. Elderkin.
About the sheep! replied Mr. Devotion, jerking up his horse's head
from the sweet, pure grass, greening all the road-side.
Let your pony feed while he can, she replied. What about the
How many will you give?
How many are you going to give yourself?
Twice as many as you will.
Do you mean it?
Then I'll give every sheep I own.
And how many is that?
A couple of dozen or so.
Better keep some of them for another time.
Mrs. Elderkin laughed again. I'll say half a dozen then, if a dozen
is all you want to give yourself.
Ebenezer Devotion drew from his wallet a slip of paper and headed
his list of names with Six sheep, from Goodwife Elderkin.
Thank you in the name of God Almighty and the country, he said,
solemnly, as he jerked his pony's head from the grass and rode on.
Mrs. Elderkin watched him as he wound along the pond-side and was
lost to sight; then she, chuckling forth the words, I knew well enough
my sheep were safe, went back to the marsh after flag-root.
When every neighbor feels it a duty to carry intelligence from the
last speaker he has met to the next hearer he may meet, news flies
fast, so Goodwife Elderkin was prepared for the accost of Mr. Devotion.
She did not linger long in the swamp, but, washing her hands free from
mud in the water of the pond, walked swiftly home. By the time she
reached her house, the gray pony and his rider were two miles away on
the road to Canterbury. The cry of hunger and possible starvation in
the town of Boston was spreading from village to village and from house
Do you know how Boston is situated? It would be an island but for
the narrow neck of land on the south side. On the east, west and north
are the waters of Massachusetts Bay and Charles River. Just north from
it, and divided only by the same river, is another almost island, with
its neck stretched toward the north; and this latter place is
Charlestown and contains Bunker's Hill. Not far from the two towns, in
the bay, are many islands. Noddle's Island, Hog, Snake, Deer, Apple,
Bird and Spectacle Islands are of the number. On these islands were
many sheep and cattle, likewise hay and wood, all of which the
inhabitants of Boston needed for daily use, but by the Boston port
bill, which went into operation on the first day of June, no person was
permitted to land anything at either Boston or Charlestown; and so the
neck of Charlestown reached out to the north for food and help, and the
neck of Boston pleaded with the south for sustenance, and it was in
answer to this cry that our nine men of Windham went sheep-gathering.
The work went on for four days, and at the end of that time 257
sheep had been freely given. The owners drove them, on the evening of
the 27th day of the month, to the appointed place, and, very early in
the morning of the 28th, many of the inhabitants were come together to
see the flock start on its long march. Two men and two boys went with
the gift. Good wife Elderkin was early on the highway. She wanted to
make certain just how many sheep bore the mark of Ebenezer Devotion's
ownership; but the driven sheep went past too quickly for her, and she
never had the satisfaction of finding out how many he gave. Following
the flock up the hill, she saw in the distance a sight that made her
heart beat fast. On the stone wall, under a great tree, sat Mary
Robbins, a little girl. She was dressed in a pink calico frock, and she
was holding in her arms a snow-white lamb, around whose neck she had
tied a strip of the calico of which her own gown was fashioned.
Now if I ever saw the beat of that! cried Good wife Elderkin,
walking almost at a run up the hill, and so coming to the place where
the child sat, before the sheep got there.
Mary Robbins! she cried, breathless from her haste. What have you
got that lamb for?
Mary blushed under her little sun-bonnet, hugged the lamb, and said
not a word. At the moment up came the flock, panting and warm. Down
sprang Mary Robbins from the wall, the lamb in her arms. Johnny
Manning, aged fifteen years, was one of the two lads in care of the
sheep. To him Mary ran, saying:
Johnny, Johnny, won't you take my lamb, too?
Why, for some poor little girl in the town where there isn't
anything to eat, urged Mary, her sun-bonnet falling unheeded into the
dust, as she held up her offering to the cause of liberty.
Why, it can't walk to Boston, said the boy, running back to
recover a stray sheep.
You can carry it in your arms, she urged.
Give it to me, then.
She gave it, saying:
Be good to it, Johnny, and give him some milk to drink to-night. It
don't eat much grass, yet.
And so Johnny Manning marched away, over and down and out of sight,
with Mary's lamb in his arms. As for Mary herself, little woman that
she was, having made her sacrifice, she would have dropped on the
grass, after picking up her sun-bonnet, and had a good cry over her
loss, had it not been for Goodwife Elderkin standing there in the road,
waiting for her.
With a sharp look at the child, the woman left the highway to go to
her own house, and Mary went home, hoping that no one would ask her
about the lamb.
The flock of sheep marched until the noontide, when a halt was
ordered. After that they went onward over hill and river, with rest at
night and at noon, until the town of Roxbury was reached. At this place
the sheep were left to be taken to Boston, when opportunity could be
With Mary's lamb in his arms, Johnny Manning accompanied the
messenger who went up Boston Neck to carry a letter to the Selectmen
of the Town. That letter has been preserved and is carefully kept
among the treasured documents of the Massachusetts Historical Society.
It is too long to be given here, but, after begging Boston to suffer
and be strong, remembering what had been done for the country by its
founders, it closes in these words: We know you suffer, and feel for
you. As a testimony of our commiseration of your misfortunes, we have
procured a small flock of sheep, which at this season are not so good
as we could wish, but are the best we had. This small present,
gentlemen, we beg you would accept and apply to the relief of those
honest, industrious poor, who are most oppressed by the late oppressive
Then, after a promise of future help in case of need, the letter is
signed by Samuel Grey, Ebenezer Devotion, and seven other names, ending
with that of Hezekiah Manning.
[Illustration: Give me the lamb, and I'll feed three hungry little
girls every day as long as Boston is shut up.]
A British officer, seeing the lamb in Johnny's arms, offered to buy
it, bribing him with a bit of gold; but Johnny said there wasn't any
gold in the land that he would exchange it for, and so the lamb
reached Boston in safety before the sheep got there. As Johnny walked
along the streets he was busy looking out for some poor little girl to
give it to, according to Mary's request.
I must wait, he thought, until I find some one who is almost
On the Common side he met a little girl who cried Oh! see! see! A
lamb! A live lamb in Boston Town!
The child's eyes rested on the little white creature, which accosted
her with a plaintive bleat. Johnny Manning's eyes were riveted on the
little girl. What he thought, he never said. Do you want it? he
O yes! yes! Where did you get it?
I've brought it from Roxbury in my arms. Mary Robbins gave it, in
Windham, for some poor little girl who was hungry in Boston. Are you
No, said the child, hesitatingly.
Are you poor?
My father isa sudden thought stopped the words she was about to
speak. Give me the lamb, she said, and I'll feed three hungry little
girls every day as long as Boston is shut up. I will! I will! and
Mary's lamb shall live until I'm a hungry little girl myself, and I
will keep it until I am starved clear almost to death.
Johnny put Mary's little lamb on the walk. See if it will follow
you, he said.
Come lamb! lamb! come with Catharine, and it went bleating after
her along the Common side.
It's used to a girl, ejaculated the boy, and it hasn't been a bit
happy with me. Give it grass and milk, he called after Catharine, who
turned and bowed her head.
A pretty story I shall have to tell Mary Robbins, thought Johnny.
Here I have given her lamb to be kept and coddled, and it's likely
never eaten at allbut I know that little girl will keep her word. She
looks itand she said she would feed three little girls as long as
Boston is shut up, and that is more than the lamb could do. I must
recollect the very words, to tell Mary.
When the Boston Gazette of July 4th, 1774, reached the
village of Windham, its inhabitants were surprised at the following
announcement, more particularly as not one of them knew where the
last sheep came from:
Last week, were driven to the neighboring town of Roxbury two
hundred and fifty-eight sheep, a generous contribution of our
sympathizing brethren of the town of Windham, in the colony of
Connecticut; to be distributed for the employment or relief of
those who may be sufferers by means of the act of Parliament,
called the Boston Port Bill.
Johnny Manning, when he returned to Windham, privately explained the
matter to Mary Robbins, by telling her that when the sheep were
numbered at Roxbury he counted in her lamb.