Monday, May 25, 2020

"Fight For Your Brethren, Your Sons, and Your Daughters, Your Wives, and Your Houses" - Captain Samuel Thatcher's Cambridge Militia on April 19, 1775

Recently, the Nerds have been receiving several inquiries regarding Captain Samuel Thatcher’s Company. Thatcher’s Company was a Cambridge based militia company that mobilized on April 19, 1775. Available information about Thatcher’s Company is somewhat lacking but the unit has generated some recent interest given the unit was able to pursue the retreating British column across three towns.

So what do we know at this point about Thatcher’s Company?

The unit was composed of seventy-seven privates, corporals, sergeants, musicians and commissioned officers from West Cambridge. Present in the ranks were two enslaved men and three Harvard scholars. Thatcher’s Company belonged to the 1st Middlesex Regiment of Foote, a militia regiment composed of companies from Waltham, Lexington, Menotomy, Charlestown, Medford, Malden, Cambridge, Newton, Watertown and Weston. The 1st Middlesex’s commander was Thomas Gardner of Watertown.

The company was commanded by forty-three-year-old Captain Samuel Thatcher. Thatcher's family had occupied their homestead, located near the present intersection of Mount Auburn Street and Coolidge Avenue, for three generations and held prominent political positions in the town. According to local tradition, Thatcher and his father may have been both weavers by trade. His wife, Mary Brown, was from Lexington and two of his sons would go on to study at Harvard University. On December 14, 1772, he was voted in as a member of Cambridge’s Committee of Correspondence. On October 26, 1774, the Massachusetts Provincial Congress decided to wrest control of the colony’s militia away from those loyalist officers who commanded it and ordered the militias to “meet forthwith and elect officers to command their respective companies; and that the officers so chosen assemble as soon as may be . . . and proceed to elect field officers.” Shortly thereafter, Samuel Thatcher was quickly elected Captain of the town’s militia company.

By March, 1775, Thatcher’s Company was on a wartime footing and actively drilling and practicing military maneuvers. At the same time, several Cambridge residents were busy making cartridge boxes, belting, bayonets, and modifying fowling pieces for the men of the unit.

As with Lexington’s Reverend Jonas Clarke, Cambridge’s Reverend Samuel Cooke served as the company’s spiritual leader and reminded Thacher’s men that in God’s eyes, their actions were just. As Cooke instructed, “Be not ye afraid of them; remember the Lord, which is great and terrible, and fight for your brethren, your sons, and your daughters, your wives, and your houses … These instruments of death, taken up only for our necessary defence under alarming threats, we heartily wish and pray may not be prepared for the day of battle, but a happy means to prevent the conflicting warriors, confused noise, and garments rolled in blood. Similar preparations for defence to those now making through this land, happily operated to the complete deliverance of the Jews, without the hazard of an engagement. And this instance is recorded for our encouragement, while we are satisfied our cause is just … The steps directed by the grand Continental Congress we have attended to, trusting, under God, for safety in their judicious and united counsels. But their loyal and spirited address to the throne appears to have proved ineffectual. It remains for us to pursue the measures with vigor, they have advised to, as our last resort ...There at present appears no other choice left us, but either tamely to sit down and surrender our lives and properties, our wives and children, our religion and consciences, to the arbitrary will of others, o, trusting in God, to stand up in our own defence, and of the British Constitution."

In theory, Thatcher’s Company was one of the more actively engaged Massachusetts military units that saw combat on April 19th. The unit assembled and mobilized sometime shortly after the Battle of Lexington. It is speculated that Thatcher’s Company then conducted a forced march to the Lincoln-Lexington town line and set up an ambush position somewhere between Parker’s Revenge and Fiske Hill. Some 19th and early 20th Century historians have asserted that the Cambridge men actually joined Captain John Parker’s Lexington Company when it ambushed the British column as it retreated from Concord. More likely, however, the unit set up an ambush position on or near Fiske Hill.

After the initial attack, Thatcher’s Company continued to pursue and engage the column as it passed through Lexington, Menotomy and its own town of Cambridge. According to a mileage claim later submitted by the company, CaptainThatcher and his men covered a total of twenty-eight miles on April 19th. Miraculously, the unit suffered no casualties.

Thatcher and many of his men also participated in the Siege of Boston. At the Battle of Bunker Hill, the unit entered the contest during the third British assault on the American position. When Colonel Thomas Gardner fell following a direct artillery hit, Thatcher assumed command of the entire militia regiment.

We’ll keep researching this unit and see what additional information we can find. Of course, if you have any information about Captain Samuel Thatcher’s Company and its role on April 19th, feel free to point us in the right direction!

Wednesday, January 29, 2020

"Never Exchanged and Did Not Again Enter the Service" - Bethiah Hastings and Her Older Brother Samuel

The Hastings Family of 18th Century Lexington is near and dear to the Nerds’ hearts. Three of the male family members served with Captain John Parker’s Company and saw combat on April 19, 1775. Resident Nerd Alexander Cain portrayed Samuel Hastings Jr. at the annual Battle of Lexington reenactment for over twenty years before taking on the role of Jonas Parker.

So, when the Lexington Historical Society released a blog post sharing a c. 1774 sampler made by then eight-year-old Bethiah Hastings, we were legitimately excited. Of course, when J.L. Bell of Boston 1775 followed up with his own article about Bethiah and the Hastings men who served during the American Revolution, the Nerds realized the gauntlet had been thrown down and we had the responsibility to utter the phrase “challenge accepted!”

So we decided we should share our own little nugget of information on the Hastings Family.

As Boston 1775 correctly pointed out, at the time of the Battle of Lexington, two of Bethiah’s ol
der brothers and her father were members of Captain John Parker’s Company. Two of the men, Samuel Sr. and Isaac, were present at the Battle of Lexington. It is likely that the third, Samuel Hastings Jr., was not present at the morning engagement, but did fight later in the afternoon at Parker’s Revenge.

An uncorroborated family legend from the late 19th or early 20th Century suggests that following the Battle of Lexington, Bethiah, her mother and all of her siblings who were not part of Parker’s Company fled from their home located along the Boston Road and sought safety in the woods some distance away. When the family returned home in the early evening, they encountered a wounded grenadier lying on their front door step. The family cared for the soldier until he expired three days later. Prior to burying the soldier behind their home, the Hastings family discovered their silverware hidden in the lining of his coat. Nevertheless, the family provided a proper burial.

While a fascinating story, it does appear that the discovery of the wounded soldier was just that - a story. There are no period records or accounts of the family encountering a wounded soldier. More importantly, the Hastings’ homestead was not located on the Boston Road near the Lincoln and Lexington lines as many 19th and 20th Century accounts claim. Instead, it appears the homestead was further in the interior of Lexington and away from the fighting. The first time the wounded soldier account appeared was in Coburn’s publication describing the events of April 19th.

As frightening as the events of that day must have been on Bethiah, it must have been equally troubling to learn the fate of her brother Samuel the following year.

In December 1775, Samuel Hastings Jr. enlisted in the Continental Army. However, unlike most men from Lexington who joined Captain John Wood's Company of Loammi Baldwin's 26th Continental Regiment, Hastings enlisted in the Captain Nathaniel Wade's Company of Colonel Moses Little's 12th Continental Regiment.

Because of his size and agility, Samuel Hastings was quickly transferred to General Charles Lee’s “life guards”. Along with over a dozen other soldiers, Samuel was responsible for protecting General Lee from harm. Hastings served as the general's bodyguard in New York, Philadelphia and Yorktown, Pennsylvania. While in Yorktown, the young man became infected with smallpox and was hospitalized. Upon his recovery, Samuel rejoined the general.

On the night of December 12, 1776 Lee, his staff, and his bodyguards stopped for the night at White's Tavern in Basking Ridge, New Jersey. The tavern was approximately three miles away from where his army was encamped. The next morning, a British patrol of two dozen mounted soldiers appeared, found Lee, and captured him.

In a December 19, 1776 letter to his wife Mary, Massachusetts Colonel Loammi Baldwin recounted the capture of American General Charles Lee. "General Lee was taking by a party of the Enemy's Light Horse about 5 or 6 miles in the Rear of our Army, a French officer was taken with him, but nobody else. I think he is chargable with the highest degree of imprudence for suffering himself to be at such a distance from his Army when he knew he was amongst some of the most iveterate Tories and the Publick Enemy nigh at hand."

Baldwin's letter asserted that only a "French officer" was taken with Lee. In reality, the general had upwards of thirty men with him prior to his capture. Most fled the tavern when the British troopers approached. However, by the time the raid was over, the general, his aides, and a bodyguard were prisoners of the Crown.

The bodyguard was Bethiah’s teenage brother Samuel.

According to a 19th Century pension application from Samuel Hastings and supporting documentation from superior officers and Lexington residents, he was present at General Lee's capture at Basking Ridge. Although most of the general’s life guard fled, Hastings apparently stood firm. Documentation in the pension file is vague, but post-war accounts suggest that he may have received a saber slash to the head prior to being captured.

As an enlisted man, Hastings was immediately separated from Lee and sent to Trenton, New Jersey. Afterward, he was imprisoned in New York City with soldiers captured at Fort Washington. It is likely he was incarcerated in a sugar house on Crown (now Liberty) Street. According to fellow prisoner Elias Cornelius, conditions in the sugar house were deplorable. “The top of the House was open to the weather, so that when it rained the water ran along and through every floor and on that account it was impossible for us to keep dry. . . 4 pounds of poor Irish Pork and 4 pounds of mouldy bread for 4 days . . . a hideous place."

Hastings remained a prisoner for at least a year before being released and allowed to return home. The stress, uncertainty, and emotional toll on Bethiah and her family during the time of Samuel’s captivity were likely very difficult.

Samuel's next recorded event, was his marriage to Lydia Nelson in Lexington on October 1, 1778.

Hastings later asserted in his pension application that he was "never exchanged and did not again enter the service." Letters from neighbors in support of Hastings’ pension claim from neighbors state Hastings often declined to enlist in subsequent military campaigns because he was on "parole".

After the conclusion of the American Revolution, Samuel served as a town selectman, managed his farm, and raised twelve children. Samuel Hastings was also instrumental in forming the Lexington Artillery Company. The artillery company was formed after the Revolutionary War and existed until 1847 when it was disbanded for lack of participation and interest on the part of its members. Samuel served as the company’s major.

The artillery used three areas for their target practice. The first was firing over the railroad crossing toward Granny's Hill (presumably the crossing over Meriam Street toward Round Hill Street and Oakmont Circle); the second from where Forrest Street is now located toward the junction of Middlebury Road and Outlook Drive; and the third from where St. Brigid's Church is now located toward “the hill near the house of Mr. Robinson.”

Sadly, as Boston 1775 pointed out, Bethiah died at age twenty and likely never saw the personal and political accomplishments of her brother following the American Revolution.

Saturday, January 18, 2020

"With a Cart Looking for His Murdered Son" - The Aftermath of the Menotomy Fight

A couple of years ago, the Nerds posted a blog article detailing the aftermath of the April 19th fight in Lexington. In addition to suffering the highest casualty rate of the American forces on that day, Lexington also suffered extensive property damage. Several homes were burned or destroyed and others were looted. 

As Andover minuteman Thomas Boynton recalled, "After we came into Concord road we saw houses burning and others plundered and dead bodies of the enemy lying by the way, others taken prisoners."

Photo Credit HM 54th Regiment of Foot

Another Andover soldier, James Stevens, also recounted, "We went in to Lecentown. We went to the metinghous & there we come to the distraction of the Reegerlers thay cild eight of our men & shot a Canon Ball throug the metin hous. we went a long through Lecintown & we saw severel regerlers ded on the rod & som of our men & three or fore houses was Burnt & som hoses & hogs was cild thay plaindered in every hous thay could git in to thay stove in windows & broke in tops of desks."

However, what about the extent of damage in the neighboring town of Menotomy? The late afternoon engagement was a brutal, hand to hand struggle that resulted in an American casualty rate that was higher than the Battles of Lexington and Concord combined. 

According to the Reverend William Gordon, the level of property damage in Lexington and Menotomy was extensive. "You would have been shocked at the destruction which has been made by the Regulars, as they are miscalled, had you been present with me to have beheld it. Many houses were plundered of every thing valuable that could be taken away, and what could not be carried off was destroyed; looking-glasses, pots, pans, etc. were broke all to pieces; doors when not fastened, sashes and windows wantonly damaged and destroyed. The people say that the soldiers are worse than the Indians."

The Reverend David McClure of Boston visited Menotomy on April 20, 1775. According to his observations, the horrors of war were everywhere. “Dreadful were the vestiges of war on the road. I saw several dead bodies, principally British, on & near the road. They were all naked, having been stripped, principally, by their own soldiers. They lay on their faces. Several were killed who stopped to plunder & were suddenly surprised by our people pressing upon their rear.” The minister also noted how many of the Menotomy “houses on the road of the march of the British, were all perforated with balls, & the windows broken. Horses, cattle & swine lay dead around. Such were the dreadful trophies of war.”

It was likely that many of the homes along the path of the engagement were littered with dead militiamen and British regulars. As Lieutenant John Barker of the 4th Regiment of Foot later reported, “All that we found in the houses were put to death.” According to Jason Russell’s wife, the blood was “almost ankle deep” in one of the rooms and her house was “riddled with bullets.”

The same day that the Reverend McClure was in the town, Hannah Winthrop also traveled through Menotomy to return to her home in Cambridge. According to Winthrop, “But what added greatly to the horror of the scene was our passing through the bloody field at Menotomy, which was strewed with the mangled bodies. We met one affectionate father with a cart looking for his murdered son and picking up his neighbors who had fallen in battle, in order for their burial.”

Danvers suffered the greatest loss, with seven men killed, two wounded and one man captured. Only John Parker’s Lexington Company had a higher casualty rate for that day. In the aftermath of the engagement, the Danvers dead were placed on an ox-sled and sent home to their town. According to an early 19th century account, Joanna Mansfield of Lynn recalled seeing the dead militiamen as they passed through her town. All of them, she recalled, were wearing heavy grey stockings.

As with Lexington, many of the homes in Menotomy fell victim to theft and vandalism as well. Property claims submitted to the Massachusetts Provincial Congress included reports of stolen clocks, alcohol, clothing, jewelry and furniture.Of course, not all of the thieves were successful in their ventures. The Reverend McClure observed, “Several were killed who stopped to plunder, & were suddenly surprised by our people pressing upon their rear.”

Interestingly, a witness to the aftermath noted that plundering and theft were not limited to British soldiers. The Reverend McClure noted that “four fine British horses” were lying dead on the side of the Boston Road and that several Menotomy residents “were taking off their shoes.”

Naturally, at some point in the near future, the Nerds will get off their collective lazy butts and explore what role, if any, Massachusetts provincial forces played on April 19, 1775 regarding the theft and plundering of Middlesex County homes.

Sunday, December 8, 2019

"For the Preservation or Recovery of Our Rights and Liberties as Englishmen" - The Lexington Tea Burning of 1773

In 1773, Parliament passed the Tea Act in an attempt to refinance the shaky economic base of the British East India Company. Established in 1709, the East India Company derived over ninety-percent of its profits from the sale of tea. However, by 1772, due to severe mismanagement, the company was in desperate need of a bailout. The company directors looked to Parliament for relief. Parliament’s response was the Tea Act, through which the East India Company was given exclusive rights to ship tea to America without paying import duties and to sell it through their agents to American retailers. American merchants who had for years purchased tea from non-British sources (Dutch tea was a particular favorite of New Englanders) faced the prospect of financial ruin.

Massachusetts immediately opposed the act and began to organize resistance. On November 29, 1773, the tea ship Dartmouth arrived at Griffin’s Wharf in Boston. Three days later, the Beaver and the Eleanor arrived at the same wharf. Bostonians demanded that Governor Hutchinson order the three ships back to England. On December 16, 1773, the owner of the Dartmouth apparently agreed and went to Hutchinson to beg him to let the ships return to England. Hutchinson refused, and at approximately six o’clock that evening, some 150 men and boys disguised as Indians marched to the three ships, boarded them and dumped 340 chests of tea into Boston Harbor.

Meanwhile, as tempers boiled over in Boston, the citizens of Lexington assembled three days prior to the Boston Tea Party to discuss the unfolding events. The matter was referred to the town’s committee of correspondence, which quickly drafted an emotional and stinging condemnation of the Tea Act.

"[It] appears that the Enemies of the Rights & Liberties of Americans, greatly disappointed in the Success of the Revenue Act, are seeking to Avail themselves of New, & if possible, Yet more detestable Measures to distress, Enslave & destroy us. Not enough that a Tax was laid Upon Teas, which should be Imported by Us, for the Sole Purpose of Raising a revenue to support Taskmasters, Pensioners, &c., in Idleness and Luxury; But by a late Act of Parliament, to Appease the wrath of the East India Company, whose Trade to America had been greatly clogged by the operation of the Revenue Acts, Provision is made for said Company to export their teas to America free and discharged from all Duties and Customs in England, but liable to all the same Rules, Regulations, Penalties & Forfeitures in America, as are Provided by the Revenue Act . . . Not to say anything of the Gross Partiality herein discovered in favour of the East India Company, and to the Injury & oppression of Americans; . . . we are most especially alarmed, as by these Crafty Measures of the Revenue Act is to be Established, and the Rights and Liberties of Americans forever Sapped & destroyed. These appear to Us to be Sacrifices we must make, and these the costly Pledges that must be given Up into the hands of the Oppressor. The moment we receive this detested Article, the Tribute will be established upon Us . . . Once admit this subtle, wicked Ministerial Plan to take place, once permit this Tea . . . to be landed, received and vended . . . the Badge of our slavery is fixed, the Foundation of ruin is surely laid. "

The committee also issued six resolves pledging to preserve and protect the constitutional rights that Parliament had put into jeopardy, to boycott any teas "sent out by the East India Company, or that shall be imported subject to a duty imposed by Act of Parliament," to treat as enemies anyone found aiding in the landing, selling or using of tea from the East India Company, and to treat the merchants of the East India Company with contempt. Finally, the town expressed its gratitude to Boston for its undertaking in the name of liberty, and pledged

"We are ready and resolved to concur with them in every rationale Measure that may be Necessary for the Preservation or Recovery of our Rights and Liberties as Englishmen and Christians; and we trust in God That, should the State of Our Affairs require it, We shall be ready to Sacrifice our Estates and everything dear in Life, Yea and Life itself, in support of the common Cause."

Upon completion, the Town of Lexington with a unanimous vote adopted the resolves. Immediately afterwards, an additional resolve was passed, warning the residents "That if any Head of a Family in this Town, or any Person, shall from this time forward; & until the Duty taken off, purchase any Tea, Use or consume any Tea in their Famelies [sic], such person shall be looked upon as an Enemy to this town & to this Country, and shall by this Town be treated with Neglect & Contempt."

That evening, the residents of Lexington gathered all tea supplies and burned them. According to the December 16, 1773 edition of the Massachusetts Spy "We are positively informed that the patriotic inhabitants of Lexington unanimously resolved against against the use of Bohea tea of all sorts, Dutch or English importation; and to manifest the sincerity of their resolution, they brought together every ounce contained in the town, and committed it to one common bonfire."

Sunday, November 17, 2019

Milk Punches and Dragoons - Three Historical Punch Recipes for the Season!

With Thanksgiving and Christmas seasons literally right around the corner, the Nerds thought it would be an appropriate time to introduce a trio of historical brandy and rum based punch recipes from the late 18th and early 19th Centuries for your enjoyment.

Without further hesitation, here are three recipes for the late Fall and early Winter seasons!!

Clarified Milk Punch (18th Century)


8 lemons
1 pineapple
1 pound sugar
2 cinnamon sticks
6 cloves
20 coriander seeds
1 ounce Peychaudís bitters
2 ounces absinthe
1 cup arrack
2 1/2 cups rum
2 1/2 cups cognac
2 1/2 cups brewed green or black tea
2 cups boiling water
5 cups whole milk


Zest the lemons (removing only the yellow part of the peel) and juice them. Peel and cut pineapple into large chunks. Put them in a large bowl. Coarsely grind the cinnamon, clove, and coriander seeds into the bowl. Add the lemon peels, lemon juice, pineapple chunks, ground spices, and sugar. Muddle the mixture using a potato masher or large fork.

Add the bitters, absinthe, arrack, cognac, and rum. Stir to combine. Add the green tea and boiling water. Cover and let sit overnight in the refrigerator to infuse the flavors.

Once infused, strain the mixture into a pitcher or other vessel. Discard the solids.

In a medium saucepan, bring the milk to a boil. Once boiling, remove from the heat and add to the strained mixture. The milk will begin to curdle. Gently stir to combine.

Slowly strain the mixture through a cheesecloth-lined strainer. Repeat straining two or three times. You want a clear liquid.

Serve immediately or store the clarified punch in a sterilized glass bottle in the refrigerator for up to 6 months.

To serve, pour 3 ounces of milk punch over a large ice cube and garnish with a lemon peel and freshly grated nutmeg.

Brandy Milk Punch (Late 18th or Early 19th Century)


2 ounces brandy
1 ounce rum
1 ounce simple syrup
4 ounces milk
Garnish: nutmeg (ground)
Optional: 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
Optional: 1 egg white


Gather the ingredients.

In a cocktail shaker filled with ice, pour the brandy, rum, simple syrup, milk, and optional vanilla extract and egg white.

Shake well (if you choose to add egg, shake until it hurts).

Strain into an old-fashioned glass with or without crushed ice.

Dust with grated nutmeg for garnish.

Serve and enjoy!

Charleston Light Dragoon Punch (Late 18th Century)


4 quarts of black tea
4 cups sugar
1 quart and one cup lemon juice
1 quart dark rum (Jamaican)
4 quarts California Brandy (any non-gourmet brandy)
½ pint peach (or apricot) brandy
Equal parts Club soda


Make the black tea/lemon juice mixture, stirring in sugar when hot. Add the alcohol. Set aside or bottle for later use.

In a punch bowl place blocks of ice and garnishes of lemon and orange peels. Pour in equal parts of the tea-brandy-rum mixture with club soda.

In the tradition of our favorite bad-ass smuggler, Sarah Smith Emory of Newburyport, we hope your next social gathering will include “case bottles replenished with choice liquors, and a good supply of New England rum provided for the refreshment of the more humble class of visitors.”

Sunday, November 3, 2019

"Retreat! Retreat! Or you all be cutt off!" - The Misfortunes of Colonel Gerrish and the 25th Massachusetts Regiment of the Massachusetts Grand Army

In the days following the Battles of Lexington and Concord, the British army found itself trapped; surrounded by an army of Massachusetts Yankees. Unbeknownst to General Gage and his officers, the Massachusetts Provincial Congress and the Committee of Safety were confronted with their own dilemma. In the days after April 19th, the provincial forces surrounding Boston began to slowly disappear. At first, militiamen left in small groups, and then by the hundreds, as lack of provisions along with the tug of responsibilities back home weakened their sense of duty. Artemas Ward, the overall commander of the American army besieging Boston, opined that soon he would be the only one left at the siege unless something was done.

To meet this problem, the Provincial Congress agreed to General Ward’s requests that the men be formally enlisted for a given period of time. On April 23, 1775, the legislative body resolved to raise a “Massachusetts Grand Army of 13,600 men and appoint a Committee of Supplies to collect and distribute the necessary commodities.

In accordance with these beating orders, one such regiment raised was Colonel Samuel Gerrish’s Regiment. In exchange for enlistment, each man was paid £5 and promised a bounty of a coat. Designated Colonel Gerrish’s 25th Regiment of the Massachusetts Grand Army, the regiment was composed of 421 men from the Massachusetts towns of Lexington, Woburn, Wenham, Ipswich, Newbury, Manchester, and Rowley and was assigned to the left-wing of the besieging army. Three companies were stationed in Chelsea, two at Sewall’s Point and the remaining three were stationed in Cambridge.

A map showing Boston and vicinity, including Bunker Hill, Dorchester Heights, and the troop disposition of Gen. Artemas Ward during the Siege of Boston. From "Marshall's Life of Washington" (1806)

As the weeks passed after the regiment’s formation, the men of the unit quickly discovered that their regiment was plagued with misfortune and mismanagement, both of which were directly attributable to its colonel. Although Gerrish reported his regiment was at full strength on May 19, 1775, the reality was it was only at half strength. Worse, his soldiers were poorly supplied and in desperate need of additional clothing, equipment, and ammunition. 

When a militia company from Newbury learned it was to be annexed into the regiment, the men threatened to return home rather than serve under him. On June 2, 1775, six companies petitioned to leave Gerrish’s command and form a new unit under the leadership of Moses Little. Following the submission of the petition, the colonel was notified that “a number of gentlemen have presented a petition to this Congress in behalf of themselves and the men they have enlisted, praying that Captain Moses Little and Mr. Isaac Smith may be appointed and commissioned as two of the field officers over them. Six of said petitioners are returned by you as captains, as appears by your return, and the petition has been committed to a committee, to hear the petitioners and report to the Congress, and it is therefore Ordered that the said Col. Samuel Gerrish be notified, and he is hereby notified, to attend the said committee, at the house of Mr. Learned in Watertown, the 3d day of June instant, at eight o’clock in the forenoon.”

The Committee of Safety conducted a full hearing on the officer’s grievances and permitted the companies to depart and form Little’s Regiment.

On the eve of the Battle of Bunker Hill, Gerrish’s negligent conduct was so commonly known that it became the focus of commentary within several military circles on both sides of the conflict. In a letter to General Gage, Dr. Benjamin Church severely criticized the abilities of the inept colonel.

The regiment first saw combat on June 17, 1775. As the British army advanced on Breed’s Hill General Ward found it impossible to reinforce the American position. The militiamen on Bunker Hill were more than reluctant to join their comrades in the front lines on Breed's Hill; the majority categorically refused to move forward. Most militia companies simply walked away from the fight. An alarmed General Ward correctly surmised that if the desertions continued, not only would the British win the day, but they might sweep away the colonial left flank leaving the way open to an assault on the American headquarters in Cambridge. Ward called upon every available regiment to the fight. Gerrish’s Regiment quickly assembled and marched off towards Charlestown Neck.

The battalion arrived at Charlestown Neck shortly after the first assault on Breed’s Hill and immediately came under heavy fire from the Royal Navy. As the regiment’s major recalled, “[I] went with the recruits and met men from the fort or breastwork where there was a great number of cannon shot struck near me, but they were not suffered to hurt me.” Upon seeing the narrow roadway being raked from both sides by British warships, Colonel Gerrish was overcome with fear. “A tremor seiz’d [Gerrish]. He began to bellow, ‘Retreat! Retreat! Or you all be cutt off!’ which so confused and scar’d our men, that they retreated most precipitately.”

Don Troiani's "Bunker Hill".

Moments later, Connecticut’s General Israel Putnam arrived on the scene and found Gerrish prostrate on the ground, professing that he was exhausted. The general pleaded with Gerrish to lead his troops onto the field. Finding both the colonel and the entire regiment unresponsive, Putnam resorted to threats and violence. He cursed and threatened the men and even struck some with the flat of his sword in an attempt to drive them forward. Only Christian Febiger, the regimental adjutant, and a handful of men who rallied around him, crossed over the neck, climbed Bunker Hill and moved forward to take up a defensive position on Breed’s Hill. In the midst of the confusion, Thomas Doyle, a private in Captain William Roger’s Company, was killed. The remainder of the regiment scattered and fled back towards Cambridge, where they remained for the rest of the day.

Following the American defeat at Bunker Hill, “a complaint was lodged against [Garish], with Ward, immediately . . . who refused to notice it, on account of the unorganized state of the army.” Years later, General Putnam’s son would bitterly complain about Gerrish’s Regiment, stating “But those that come up as recruits were evidently most terribly frightened, many of them, and did not make up with that true courage that their cause ought to have inspired them with.”

In late July, a British floating battery attacked the American fortifications at Sewall’s Point. Colonel Gerrish, commanding the position, but made no attempt to repel the assault, arguing, “The rascals can do us no harm, and it would be a mere waste of powder to fire at them with our four-pounders.” As evening set in, he ordered the lights of the fortification extinguished. In the darkness, the British continued the bombardment, although the cannonballs flew wide of the fort. For his conduct, Gerrish was immediately arrested. On August 18, 1775, he was tried at Harvard University in the College Chapel for “conduct unworthy of an officer.” The next day he was found guilty.

As a result of the verdict, General George Washington ordered "Col Samuel Garish of the Massachusetts Forces, tried by a General Court Martial of which Brigadier Genl. Green was Presdt. is unanimously found guilty of the Charge exhibited against him, That he behaved unworthy an Officer; that he is guilty of a Breach of the 49th Article of the Rules and Regulations of the Massachusetts Army. The Court therefore sentence and adjudge, the said Col Garish, to be cashiered, and render'd incapable of any employment in the American Army--The General approves the sentence of the Court martial, and orders it to take place immediately."

Surprisingly, many American officers, including the judge advocate presiding over the hearing, declared the punishment was too severe. Following his removal, Gerrish returned to Newbury. Despite his court-martial, the townsmen elected Gerrish to the General Court in 1776.

After Gerrish’s removal, command of the regiment was given to Lieutenant Colonel Loammi Baldwin of Woburn. On April 19th, Baldwin had been one of the first militia officers to bring a force to the aid of Lexington, and to see the bloody results of the engagement on the common. Afterward, he led two hundred Woburn militiamen against the retreating British and devastated their lines at the Bloody Angle in Lincoln. Upon his assuming command in August, the regiment not only experienced a complete reversal from the plague of blunders and mismanagement but quickly developed into a crack fighting unit.

In January 1776 many of the men reenlisted for military service in Baldwin’s successor unit, the 26th Continental Regiment. During that difficult year, Baldwin would lead his regiment across Massachusetts, New York, Pennsylvania, and New Jersey. In New York, the regiment fought like wolves to hold off a British amphibious landing at Pelham Bay. The regiment later comprised part of the force that crossed the Delaware River with General Washington on Christmas Night 1776 and routed the Hessian garrison at Trenton. Days later, an advance party of the regiment was given the honor of leading the march to Princeton.

Sunday, September 15, 2019

"Fall Down and Worship Our Sovereign Lord the Mob" - Massachusetts Mob Violence on the Eve of the American Revolution

A couple of weekends ago, the Nerds were at the Newport Historical Society for the reenactment of the 1769 burning of the HMS Liberty. On July 19, 1769, the crew of the Liberty accosted Connecticut ship captain Joseph Packwood, seized two ships and towed the vessels into Newport. In retribution, Captain Packwood and a mob of Rhode Islanders confronted the Liberty’s Captain and then boarded, scuttled, and later burned the Royal Navy sloop on the north end of Goat Island, located in Newport Harbor.

While at the reenactment, we had a lively discussion with several reenactors about the use of mob violence as a method of protesting unpopular political policies and beliefs throughout American history.

Even the most casual student of Revolutionary War history knows that the American colonies had its fair share of violent protests against British governmental policies. 
Of course, Massachusetts mob violence started in the mid 1760s when the Sugar and Stamp acts brought on an explosion of riots, boycotts and protests. 

At first, Massachusetts’ response to the acts were peaceful, with the inhabitants merely boycotting certain goods. However, resistance to the taxes soon became violent. Under the guidance of Samuel Adams, Bostonians began a campaign of terror directed against those who supported the Stamp Act. It began on August 14, 1765 with an effigy of Andrew Oliver, the appointed stamp distributor for Massachusetts, being hung from a “liberty tree” in plain view by the “sons of liberty.” That evening, the Oliver’s luxurious home was burned to the ground. A chastened Oliver quickly resigned his commission. 

The following evening, incited by a rumor that he supported the Stamp Act, the home of Thomas Hutchinson, Lieutenant Governor of the colony, was surrounded by an unruly mob. When Hutchinson refused to accede to the demand that he come out and explain his position, the crowd broke several windows and then dispersed. Two weeks later, on August 28, 1765, an even larger mob assembled and descended upon the homes of several individuals suspected of favoring the Stamp Act, including again that of the Lieutenant Governor. 

Hutchinson managed to evacuate his family to safety before the mob arrived. Then, as the Lieutenant Governor later described it, “the hellish crew fell upon my house with the rage of divels and in a moment with axes split down the door and entered. My son heard them cry ‘damn him he is upstairs we’ll have him.’ Some ran immediately as high as the top of the house, others filled the rooms below and cellars and others remained without the house to be employed there. I was obliged to retire thro yards and gardens to a house more remote where I remained until 4 o’clock by which time one of the best finished houses in the Province had nothing remaining but the bare walls and floors.”

Meanwhile in Newburyport, Newburyport officials declared “the late act of parliament is very grievous, and that this town as much as in them lies endeavour the repeal of the same in all lawful ways, and that it is the desire of the town that no man in it will accept of the office of distributing the stampt papers, as he regards the displeasure of the town and that they will deem the person accepting of such office an enemy to his country.” When an unknown Newburyport resident disregarded the town’s warning and accepted an appointment as a “stamp distributor”, an angry mob quickly mobilized.

According to Newburyport resident Joshua Coffin, the crowd immediately started a campaign of intimidation against the stamp distributor. “In Newburyport, the effigy a Mr. I— B—, who had accepted the office of stamp distributor, was suspended, September twenty-fifth and twenty-sixth, from a large elm tree which stood in Mr. Jonathan Greenleaf's yard, at the foot of King street, [now Federal street], a collection of tar barrels set on fire, the rope cut, and the image dropped into the flames. At ten o'clock, P. M., all the bells in town were rung. ‘I am sorry to see that substitute,’ said a distinguished citizen of Newburyport, ‘I wish it had been the original.’”

Not satisfied that their message had been properly conveyed, members of the mob then armed themselves with clubs and patrolled the town questioning strangers and residents alike about their position on the crisis. “Companies of men, armed with clubs, were accustomed to parade the streets of Newbury and Newburyport, at night, and, to every man they met, put the laconic question, “stamp or no stamp”. The consequences of an affirmative reply, were anything but pleasant.”

As Coffin noted, when one stranger was unable to answer the mob’s questions, they beat him severely. “In one instance, a stranger, having arrived in town, was seized by the mob, at the foot of Green street, and, not knowing what answer to make to the question, stood mute. As the mob allow no neutrals, and as silence with them is a crime, he was severely beaten.” A second man fared better when he was able to provide a clever answer. “The same question was put to another stranger, who replied, with a sagacity worthy of a vicar of Bray, or a Talleyrand, ‘I am as you are.’ He was immediately cheered and applauded, as a true son of liberty, and permitted to depart in peace, wondering, no doubt, at his own sudden popularity.”

In Haverhill, Richard Saltonstall fared slightly better. A mob from Haverhill and neighboring Salem, New Hampshire gathered, armed themselves with clubs and descended upon his mansion. Saltonstall quickly came to the door and met the crowd. According to one 19th Century account, he asserted that as Sheriff of Essex County he was bound by an oath of allegiance to the king and was obligated to carry out the duties of the office, including supporting the Stamp Act. Saltonstall allegedly warned the crowd that they were not pursuing a wise or prudent course by threatening him with violence. However, to diffuse the tense situation, Saltonstall then invited the mob to a nearby “tavern and call for entertainment at his expense. They then huzzard to the praise of Colonel Saltonstall."

Three years later, Boston mobs were once again protesting economic policies through the use of violence and the threat of violence. 

In March, 1768 rioters went to “Commissioner Burch’s home and with clubs assembled before his door a great part of the evening, and he was obliged to send away his wife and children by a back door.” Inspector William Woolton returned home one evening to find “4 men passing him, one with a stick or bludgeon in his hand accosted him saying, ‘Damn your Blood we will be at you to Morrow night.’ ”
In Salem, Massachusetts, a government informant who assisted in the enforcement of the Townshend Acts was discovered and quickly seized by an angry mob. Afterwards, "his Head, Body and Limbs were covered with warm Tar and then a large quantity of Feathers were applied to all Parts, which by closely adhering to the Tar, Exhibited an odd figure, the Drollery of which can easily be imagined." He was set in a cart with the placard "Informer on his breast and back and escorted out of town" by the mob, who warned him of worse treatment if he returned.

On September 10, 1768 a large Newburyport mob armed themselves with clubs and began to search for the two men they believed were local informants. According to the September 27th edition of the Essex Gazette, one Joshua Vickery was quickly found and "in a riotous manner asaulted in the Kings Highway in Newbury-Port, seized and carried by Force to the public stocks in the said Town, where he sat from three to five o'clock, in the afternoon, most of the Time on the sharpest stone that could be found, which put him to extreme Pain, so that he once fainted."

When he regained consciousness, Vickery was "taken out of the Stocks, put into a cart and carried thro' the Town with a Rope about his Neck, his Hands tied behind him until the Dusk of the Evening, during which time he was severely pelted with Eggs, Gravel and Stones, and was much wounded thereby; he was then taken out of the Cart, carried into a dark Ware-houfe, and hand-cuffed with Irons, without Bed or Cloathing, and in a Room where he could not lay strait, but made the Edge of a Tar Pot serve for a Pillow, so that when he arofe the Hair was tore from his Head."

Vickery spent the next day (Sunday) under guard in the warehouse. Several of his friends attempted to visit the carpenter, only to be rebuffed by the mob. Only his wife, "who with Difficulty obtained Liberty to speak to him" was granted access.

On Monday, September 12th, Vickery was dragged out of the warehouse and subjected to intense questioning. Surprisingly, he was able to convince mob leaders "that he never did, directly or indirectly, make or give Information to any Officer of the Customs, nor to any other Person, either against Cap' John Emmery or any other man whomsoever."

A second suspected informant "was stripped naked, tarred and then Committed to Gaol for Breach of the Peace” by the Newburyport mob.

On March 5, 1770, the violent protests culminated with the Boston Massacre. As loyalist James Chalmers later noted “March 5, 1770 is a day when the rebellious citizens of the Boston Colony demonstrated their commitment to mob violence, and their willingness to be led down the path to destruction by a few evil men . . . Soldiers, at their duty posts, minding their own business and acting non-confrontational, were verbally assaulted by Bostonian men with epitaphs of ‘bloody back’, ‘lousy rascal’, ‘dammed rascally scoundrel’, and ‘lobster son of a b----’. Physical violence was done to the soldiers, unprovoked, by the mob pelting the soldiers with snowballs, icicles, and pieces of wood . . . It is clear to us that this whole series of events could have been prevented if the small band of inciters did not lure the unsuspecting civilians to perform the aggressive acts perpetrated.”

That evening, Bostonians began to badger and taunt a lone British sentry on guard duty in front of the Royal Custom House. When the crowd began to pelt him with snowballs and ice, he called for help and was reinforced by a squad of soldiers from the 29th Regiment of Foot. When the crowd pressed closer, the nervous regulars opened fire. Five men in the crowd were killed and a number of others were wounded.

For the next two years, tensions seemed to lessen in the colonies, particularly Massachusetts. However, when Parliament attempted to control provincial judges in 1772 by directly controlling their salaries, Massachusetts once again responded in opposition and protest.
Of course, mob violence of the 1760s and 1770s had a dual result. On the one hand, the riots and violence did contribute in some part to government officials abandoning or limiting unpopular laws in the American colonies. On the other hand, the mob violence drove many of those colonists who wished to remain neutral squarely into what would become the loyalist camp. 

As mob violence continued in pre Revolutionary War Massachusetts, many colonists attempted to remain neutral. However, such a political stance became impossible. Dr. William Paine of Worcester gave up his neutrality and declared himself a loyalist after he experienced "too many abuses" and "insults" from Patriots. Samuel Curwen, Judge of the Admiralty, complained Whig “tempers get more and more soured and malevolent against all moderate men, whom they see fit to reproach as enemies of their country by the name of Tories, among whom I am unhappily (although unjustly) ranked.” One minister lashed out at the patriot mobs who routinely and illegally entered and searched the homes of their political opponents. “Do as you please: If you like it better, choose your Committee, or suffer it to be Chosen by half a dozen Fools in your neighborhood – open your doors to them let them examine your tea canisters, and molasses-jugs, and your wives and daughters pettycoats – bow and cringe and tremble and quake – fall down and worship our sovereign Lord the Mob.”