Wednesday, March 21, 2018

"I Went Home After My Gun, Found It Was Gone" - The Lexington Men Who Saw Little or No Combat on April 19, 1775

Once again, Minute Man National Historical Park will be including in its interpretive programs for Patriot's Day weekend the events surrounding the civilian evacuations of the Battle Road.  On April 14, 2018, reenactors will be present at the Captain William Smith House, the Thomas Nelson Jr. House site and the Jacob Whittemore House to call attention to the psychological and physical impact of the Battles of Lexington and Concord upon the local populace.

In light of this event, the Nerds decided to address a recent inquiry regarding male noncombatants . . . did they even exist?  Were there just some men who missed out on the fighting or were part of the civilian evacuation?

To answer this question, we first narrowed our search parameters to Lexington records and accounts only.  We then defined "men" and "males" as any individual who would have been required by law to turn out when a militia company assembled for an alarm.  Thus, we excluded "elderly" men (over 60), children (under 12) and young teenagers (12-14) from our analysis.

After review, we were able to identify seven Lexington men that qualified for service in the militia yet saw little or no combat on April 19th.  Of those seven, four could have been classified as "evacuees".  The remaining three did not see combat due to special or unusual circumstances.

The first was John Raymond, who was employed by William Munroe as a general laborer.  Following the Battle of Lexington, Raymond kept watch over the family tavern while Anna Munroe and her children fled the property.  Early 19th Century accounts have argued Raymond was "a lame man", a "simple man" or "a cripple".  However, historian J.L. Bell has suggested that Raymond was actually an active member of Parker's Company and only suffered from a temporary disability. 

Raymond was shot and killed by British soldiers under Percy's command the afternoon of April 19th.

Another was Elijah Sanderson. The Lexington militiaman served as a mounted scout in the early morning and watched the Battle of Lexington from back of the common. After the battle, Sanderson went home to retrieve his arms and accouterments.  Unfortunately, his brother got there first and took them.  As a result, Sanderson was forced to watch the afternoon fighting in Lexington from a nearby hilltop.  

According to his 1824 deposition "I went home after my gun,—found it was gone. My brother had it. I returned to the meeting-house, and saw to the dead. I saw blood where the column of the British had stood when Solomon Brown fired at them. This was several rods from where any of our militia stood; and I then supposed, as well as the rest of us, that that was the blood of the British. I assisted in carrying some of the dead into the meeting-house. Some days before the battle, I was conversing with Jonas Parker, who was killed, and heard him express his determination never to run from before the British troops. In the afternoon I saw the reinforcement come up under Lord Percy. I then had no musket, and retired to Estabrook's Hill, Whence I saw the reinforcement meet the troops retreating from Concord. When they met, they halted some time. After this, they set fire to Deacon boring's barn; then to his house; then to widow Mulliken's house; then to the shop of Nathaniel Mulliken, a watch and clock maker; and to the house and shop of Joshua Bond. All these were near the place where the reinforcements took refreshments. They hove fire into several other buildings. It was extinguished after their retreat. During the day, the women and children had been so scattered and dispersed, that most of them were out of the way when the reinforcements arrived."  

James Reed also missed the afternoon fight because he was guarding captured British prisoners hidden in his house. "I also saw a British soldier march up the road, near said meeting-house, and Joshua Reed of Woburn met him, and demanded him to surrender. He then took his arms and equipments from him, and I took charge of him, and took him to my house . . . I also testify, that E. Welsh brought to my house, soon after I returned home with my prisoner, two more of said British troops ; and two more were immediately brought, and I suppose, by John Munroe and Thomas R. Willard of Lexington; and I am confident, that one more was brought, but by whom, I don't now recollect. All the above prisoners were taken at Lexington immediately after the main body had left the common, and were conveyed to my house early in the morning; and I took charge of them. In the afternoon five or six more of said British troops, that were taken prisoners in the afternoon, when on the retreat from Concord, were brought to my house and put under my care. Towards evening, it was thought best to remove them from my house."

At least four men missed the fighting because they were caring for their wives, mothers or daughters. Four Lexington women had given birth over the previous month and were still bedridden.  Another three were all over eight months pregnant. 

Moses Reed and his father-in-law Jacob Whittemore carried Sarah Reed and her newborn child out of the family home on a mattress. Likewise, teenager Joseph Estabrook and his father "assisted in carrying his mother with a young infant (Solomon) in her arms, in an arm chair, about a mile back from the scene of danger." 

Limited historical documentation suggests that three of the four men never participated in the fighting and instead remained with their wives and families.  

The fourth, Joseph Estabrook, is the variable.  A purported letter from Estabrook in the early 1820s asserted he was present at the Battle of Lexington and had bullets pierce the skirts of his coat as he retreated off the Green.  Unfortunately, this letter is somewhat suspect as Estabrook's birth records suggest he was at most fifteen years old at the time of the skirmish and would have been too young to serve with the militia. 

Sunday, March 18, 2018

"For My Folly I Had to Pay for All" - One Account of the Loyalist Plight After Saratoga

Following Burgoyne's defeat at the Battle of Saratoga, the morale of the Loyalist refugees attached to the British Army had devolved to the point of despair. Eighteen year old Elizabeth Munro was the daughter of the Reverend Harry Munro, a chaplain with the British Army. In 1810, she published Memoirs of Mrs. Elizabeth Fischer.

In her work, Elizabeth describes just how desperate the Loyalist refugees were following the British defeat.

"We retreated after the last battle to Saratoga, where we encamped a small distance from the river, to prevent their cannon having any command over us—having nothing to do, waiting General Burgoyne's orders. We were deprived of all comforts of life, and did not dare to kindle fire for fear we should be observed from the other side of the river, and they might fire on us, which they did several times. Being about the middle of October, we suffered cold and hunger; many a day I had nothing but a piece of raw salt pork, a biscuit, and a drink of water—poor living for a nurse. At this time I had my child at my breast, being eleven months old. One day, wearied of living in this manner, I told some of the soldiers' wives if they would join me, I would find out a way to get some provision cooked—seven of them joined me. I spoke to some of the soldiers that were invalid, and told them if they would make up a fire back in the woods, and get a large kettle hung on, we would fill it with provision, and cook it, which would last us some time. They consented to do it for a guinea; they went to work and built up the fire, hung on the kettle, and put water in it, then we women put in what we pleased; we soon filled it with a variety; it began to boil; we all kept a distance from the fire for fear of the cannon that were placed on the other side of the river on a high hill; they soon discovered our fire, and saluted us with a cannon ball; it struck and broke our kettle to pieces, and sent the provision in the air. We met with no hurt only losing our intended feast. The soldiers demanded their pay, which I paid; but as the disappointment was so great, the rest declined paying anything, saying they had lost enough by losing their provision, so for my folly I had to pay for all."

Photo Credit: Joshua Blessing

Elizabeth also described the long trek to Canada and the hardships she experienced along the way.

"A few days after the capitulation took place, when I saw the troops lay down their arms, I was glad, for I was wishing to get out of the camp. Mr. Fisher said he should go to Canada. I refused going with him, and went back to Hebron, where I meant to have stayed. Mr. Fisher proceeded on his way to Canada. On his arriving at Diamond Island, he met my father, who asked for me. Mr. Fisher told him that I was not willing to go to Canada, at which my father was angry, and said he must go back and bring me and the child. Mr. Fisher came for me and told me what my father had said . . . To please him I went, and when we got to Diamond Island my father was gone on his way. The next day we followed and overtook him at Mount Independent; he was walking in company with General Powell. When we landed, he came and took me by the hand and kissed me . . . This was the first time I had seen or spoke to my father since my marriage; he likewise told me he would see me in Montreal. The next day we all set off to cross Lake Champlain; the season of the year being far advanced, and going to the northward, we found it very cold and stormy. We were eleven days on the lake, in an open boat, it snowed and rained every day; we slept on shore every night on the ground, as there were no inhabitants on that side of the Lake in those days, for they had fled on account of the war. On the 22d day of November we landed in Montreal. As the river St. Lawrence was almost frozen over, we found it exceedingly cold . . . When we came to Montreal, we found the town very much crowded, and house-rent and fire wood high. As we had nothing to do, we hired some rooms and lived with a French family that winter.”

Sunday, March 11, 2018

"House Broke Open" - The Infamous Thief Levi Ames

Last week the Nerds received an inquiry as to whether we were aware of any highly publicized incidents of crime in 18th Century Massachusetts. We dug through our files and came across one individual who received an inordinate amount of attention on the eve of the American Revolution.

Levi Ames was born in 1752 in Groton, Massachusetts. When he was two years old, his father Jacob died. By the time he had reached the age of seven, Ames was stealing petty items, such as eggs, fruit, jack knives and chalk. His mother, unable to control his behavior, secured an apprenticeship with a local tradesman. Levi remained with his master until he was a teenager and then promptly ran away.  He turned to theft to support himself.

One of the earliest recorded incidents involving Ames occurred when he was just sixteen years old.  The young man let loose a herd of cattle and used the distraction to rob his neighbor’s house. Shortly thereafter, he broke into a Marlborough minister’s home and stole his personal belongings and food.  He also robbed a selectman in Waltham.


Ames became so good at housebreaks that by the late 1760s and early 1770s, he was successfully robbing homes in Massachusetts, Rhode Island and Connecticut. He even teamed up with Tom Cook, a notorious New England thief who called himself “The Leveller”. (Some historians have suggested Cook modeled himself after Robin Hood and shared his plunder with the poor.)

Occasionally, Ames got caught. Pursuant to 18th Century law, the illegal breaking and entering into a home was a capital offense punishable by death. However, Ames avoided a death sentence following his first capture and was merely confined to a Cambridge jail.

Following his second apprehension, he was branded on the forehead with the letter “B”.

Nevertheless, Ames’ reputation as a skilled thief continued. In fact, he was so well known in various illicit circles that a “Mr. Meriam” recruited Ames to rob his father-in-law, a “Mr. Symonds of Lexington”. Meriam provided detailed instructions on how to enter the home and where to locate hard currency and valuables. According to the Ames, “I supposed he gave me this information through envy against his father-in-law, through whose means he was then confined for debt.”

As it is with many thieves, Ames eventually became careless. In the Spring of 1773, Ames recruited Joseph Attwood to be his partner. The two initiated a crime spree that began in Woburn and continued in Waltham, Boston, Cambridge, Worcester, Newburyport, Plymouth and Natick. The pair usually struck on Sundays and typically stole coats, tools, currency, firearms, cloth, dry goods and other “sundry articles”.

In May, 1773, the pair arrived in Lexington. The first house they robbed belonged to the Reverend Jonas Clarke. According to the minister, “House broke open. Tankard pepper box &c stole . . . Heard of our plate that was stole!!” Soon after, Joseph Simond’s house was also burglarized. “Mr. Joseph Simond’s House broke open his watch stolen &c.”

In August, 1773, the pair were finally caught after breaking into Martin Bicker’s home. Ames was arrested in the days after the crime and found to be in possession of Bicker's money.   Joseph Attwood fled to New Hampshire but was later apprehended.  Both men were subsequently prosecuted.

In order to save his own life, Attwood agreed to testify against Ames. During the trial he went into great detail about the pair’s activities, including the burglary of the Reverend Clarke’s home.  It was also revealed that Ames also went to great pains to remember the names of his victims. Not only did he provide details about the items he stole but he could also link each item to its owner. Only on a rare occasion he could not “recollect their owners”.


The Court found Ames guilty of burglary. He was ordered to be executed on October 14, 1773.

The Reverend Clarke mentions first learning of the sentence in early September. In response, the Lexington minister traveled to Boston and visited the condemned man. While together, Clarke noted “Levi Ames confessed to stealing my plate! Bro’t my Plate home.” Surprisingly, Ames also informed the minister where he could find the remaining stolen items.

Clarke traveled again on October 7th to meet once more with Ames.

Of course, Jonas Clarke was not the only minister to visit the thief. Word of Ames’ repeated declaration of remorse, his devotion to the Bible and his model behavior as a prisoner attracted many Massachusetts ministers.

To accommodate so many visitors, the Royal Court postponed Ames’s execution one week.

On October 21st, hundreds of spectators gathered to witness Ames’ execution. After being hauled in chains through the streets of Boston in a cart and then led up onto the scaffold, the condemned thief cautioned young onlookers against following in his tragic path. “Ye youth! who throng this fatal plain, And croud th' accursed Tree: O! shun the paths that lead to shame, Nor fall like wretched me.” He was then hung from the neck.

The next day, the Reverend Clarke recorded in his journal “Levi Ames executed!”

Shortly after Levi Ames death, his words of caution were transcribed and published throughout New England. Eventually, the Ames execution provided fodder for a movement to abolish capital punishment for crimes against property.

In 1805, Massachusetts Legislature finally relented and abolished the death penalty for burglary and arson.

Monday, March 5, 2018

"The Bloody Field at Menotomy" - The Brutality of the Menotomy Fight

It is unfortunate that outside of historical works and research studies, the fight at Menotomy on April 19, 1775 does not receive the attention it deserves. 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.

Following Percy’s departure from Lexington around 3:30 in the afternoon, he and his men were was repeatedly harassed by enemy fire. “As soon as they saw us begin to retire, they pressed very much upon our rear-guard, which for that reason I relieved every now & then. In this manner we retired for 1 5 miles under an incessant fire all round us.” Lieutenant Frederick MacKenzie also made note of where the provincial attacks were coming from. “Before the Column had advanced a mile on the road, we were fired at from all quarters, but particularly from the houses on the roadside, and the Adjacent Stone walls.”

As the troops advanced, they approached the Town of Menotomy, which had been abandoned by the local populace hours earlier. The town was the perfect location for sniper attacks and ambushes as the village road sloped downwards and was flanked on both sides for over a mile with homes, barns and enclosed pastures. Minute and militia companies recognized the opportunity, poured into the village and took up positions inside the homes and along stone walls.

As the regulars continued towards the town, colonists sheltered in the homes opened fire. Recognizing the extremely dangerous situation his men were in, Percy ordered the homes cleared. Squads of regulars rushed out from the column and stormed the various structures. The fighting moved from house to house and it was literally to the death. “Soldiers were so enraged at suffering from an unseen Enemy, that they forced open many of the houses from which the fire proceeded.”

Lieutenant John Barker of the 4th Regiment of Foot described how no quarter was given to the enemy. “We were now obliged to force almost every house in the road, for the Rebels had taken possession of them and galled us exceedingly, but they suffer'd for their temerity for all that were found in the houses were put to death.” Another officer recalled that the regulars “put to death all those found in [the houses].”

Many of the flanking parties also had orders to torch the houses they cleared. However, Lieutenant Mackenzie noted the task was virtually impossible. “Those houses would certainly have been burnt had any fire been found in them, or had there been time to kindle any; but only three or four near where we first formed suffered in this way.”

One of the first units to incur the British wrath was Captain Gideon Foster’s Company. The unit had made a forced march from Danvers to Menotomy in just under four hours. Upon arrival, Foster positioned his men along a stone wall flanking a hillside orchard, alongside minutemen and militiamen from Lynn, Needham and Dedham. Some of Foster’s company took cover behind another wall across the roadway at Jason Russell’s house. As Percy’s column approached, the Danvers men apparently did not see a flanking party from the 4th Foot come up behind them. Now trapped between two bodies of enemy troops, the men from Danvers, Lynn and Needham made a mad dash for the Russell House. Several militiamen were cut down as they tried to escape. One of those was twenty-one year old Perely Putnam of Danvers.

The British soldiers pursued the provincials into the Russell House and found two militiamen on the first floor. The first tried to escape and “leaped through the end window, carrying sash and all with him.” Regulars waiting in the yard shot and killed him. The second followed and was wounded in the leg. He somehow managed to escape. Later accounts purport his hat, coat and waistcoat had no less than thirty-two bullet holes in them.

British regulars quickly stormed the second floor, cellar and attic. Fighting was close and hand to hand. Many of the regulars relied upon the bayonet. Captain Foster would later assert that three or four of his men surrendered only to be “butchered with savage barbarity.” Nineteen year old minuteman Dennis Wallis attempted to surrender but fled when he realized he was about to be killed. He was shot several times yet somehow managed to survive.

By the time the fighting in and around the Russell House had concluded, eleven men were dead. 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.

Fighting was equally brutal at Captain Samuel Whittemore’s home. Both primary and secondary sources document that Whittemore was brutally beaten and bayoneted multiple times by enraged soldiers as he defended his residence.

Behind the flanking parties came the plunderers. Stolen property claims submitted to the Massachusetts Provincial Congress by Menotomy residents included reports of stolen clocks, alcohol, clothing, jewelry and furniture. Of course, not all of the thieves were successful in their ventures. When he visited Menotomy on April 20th, the Reverend David McClure observed “Several were killed who stopped to plunder, & were suddenly surprised by our people pressing upon their rear.”

Period accounts suggest the house to house brawl left the homes and road littered with dead soldiers. “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.” Andover militiaman described the damage along the road as his minute company advanced towards Cambridge. “We saw houses burning and others plundered and dead bodies of the enemy lying by the way, others taken prisoners.”

In May, 1775, Hannah Fayerweather Winthrop wrote to her friend Mercy Otis Warren and described the carnage she observed in Menotomy. “What added greatly to the horror of the Scene was our passing thro the Bloody field at Menotomy which was strewd with the mangled Bodies, we met one Affectionate Father with a Cart looking for his murderd Son & picking up his Neighbours who had fallen in Battle, in order for their Burial.”

Sunday, February 25, 2018

A Snapshot of 18th Century Lexington Society

In less than two weeks, Historical Nerdery's own Alexander Cain will be releasing the latest edition of his book We Stood Our Ground. This work not only examines the circumstances surrounding the Battle of Lexington, but also investigates the economic, political, social and religious settings of Lexington on the eve of the American Revolution.

The following is another excerpt from the forthcoming book....

Yet despite the practice of mixed husbandry, the town was not a collection of self-sufficient farms. There was a great interdependence among the residents of Lexington. Cooperation and mutual welfare were common customs in Massachusetts towns and villages. Residents assisted each other with a variety of tasks and in a number of emergencies: preparing meals, building homes, plowing, felling timber, caring for one another when ill or injured or simply offering counsel and advice.

This concept of interdependence spilled over into Lexington’s economy as well. When goods or services were exchanged, cash was rarely utilized. Instead, transactions on the local level were recorded in the form of debts and credits. Debts were listed in terms of monetary value and recorded by creditors in account books. At any given time, a yeoman would be both a creditor and a debtor to dozens of his neighbors. Economic success not only required tolerant creditors, but shrewd debtors able to avoid settlement too quickly or frequently. Manual labor was the service most frequently exchanged on the local level. If there was either an individual need or general demand for items that could not be produced locally (such as gunpowder, high-grade cloth, needles and pins), local residents such as William Munroe purchased the goods in Boston, Salem, Plymouth or Newburyport and then resold them at their own stores in Lexington.

Because of this economic system, the web of interdependence was strengthened and families continued to rely heavily on one another. The economy thus served as powerful social cement promoting community cooperation and neighborly behavior at all levels.

The extent of cooperation did, however, have limits. The increase in Lexington’s population in the mid-18th Century, coupled with a fixed supply of land available as an inheritance forced many young men in Lexington to seek land north or west of Lexington, purchase smaller tracts of land inside Lexington or share with their brothers a divided inheritance.

Worse, many Lexington residents were saddled with overwhelming debt. In 1759, fifteen percent of Lexington men saw a forced sale of all or part of their real estate to settle at the time of their death. By 1779, the percentage had risen to almost twenty-nine percent. By the end of the American Revolution, a staggering forty percent of Lexington estates faced forced sales.

Although society in 18th century Lexington was fluid, it was not as mobile as modern society. Residents of Lexington, like most New Englanders, believed that the upper orders of society were to rule, while the lower were expected to obey. Lower class citizens were viewed with contempt and disdain if they attempted to assert influence or power beyond that expected of their station, and were quickly reminded of their proper place in society. Leaders had to be men of distinction, respected by all. By 18th century standards, failure to adhere to this societal structure would not only result in disorder, chaos and anarchy, but would also anger God.

The clergy stood at the pinnacle of 18th century Lexington society. Due to their own considerable talents, and bolstered by the religious doctrine of the 17th century, the Reverend John Hancock and his successor as pastor, Jonas Clarke, were the most important individuals in Lexington society. As ministers, they were the spiritual and moral leaders, the political commentators and when the town was without a schoolteacher, the educators as well. The minister held an unchallenged position within society. The citizens of Lexington were expected to entertain him when he called upon them to appear at his home.


The minister’s function was to help maintain stability and order within Lexington. Thus, he frequently set aside his personal needs for the benefit of Lexington as a whole. Jonas Clarke received a very generous salary, but he often donated part of it to Lexington at the yearly town meetings. In times of need, citizens naturally turned to the minister for assistance. Frequently he involved himself in settling the daily squabbles that arose between residents. Reverend Hancock often settled land disputes by driving a stake into the ground and telling the involved parties that the stake was the borderline and there would be no further quarrel about it. The minister even influenced the education of the town’s children, taking a leading role in preparing Lexington boys for Harvard.

Below the ministers stood the selectmen and other town leaders. These were the substantial yeomen and tradesmen who usually had greater wealth and held more property than the average Lexington farmer. These leaders were viewed as role models for the doctrine that ultimately success could only be attained through hard work. Their positions also entitled them to other benefits, including first choice in the purchase of family pews and burial plots, and the right to represent Lexington, first in the House of Representatives in Boston and later in the Massachusetts Provincial Congress.

Individuals rarely exercised local political leadership until they had reached middle life and achieved economic independence. It was assumed that only those who had established a place in society, whose accumulation of property ensured that their interests were dependant on no man, could be relied upon to wisely lead the community. Between 1769 and 1779, twenty seven of the town’s selectmen were between the ages of fifty and fifty-nine. Another seventeen were between the ages of forty and forty-nine. No one under the age of thirty served as a selectman. Thus, dependent sons, laborers, poor farmers and servants had no right to accept leadership positions.

Below the town politicians in the social order was the general male population, or yeoman. Hard working and dedicated to their beliefs, these men were concerned primarily with raising their families and cultivating their farmlands. A review of Lexington’s tax valuations of property in 1774 reveals the wealthiest resident of Lexington, William Reed, Esq., was assessed 16 shillings, one pence. The town’s poorest resident, Ephraim Winship, was assessed a mere ten pence. As such, most of the residents in Lexington were considered “yeoman”. The average Lexington yeoman owned at least five cows, two oxen, at least six acres of tillage and produced at least sixty bushels of grain per year.

A yeoman could vote in town elections and participate in town meetings if he had resided in Lexington for one year, was at least twenty-one years old and possessed an estate that would rent for £3:6:8 a year according to the valuation of the local assessor. As in many other towns, the average Lexington farmer made up the rank and file of the militia. He could read, possessed high moral standards and was often easily influenced by the Whig propaganda emanating from Boston. His daily duties began at dawn and continued, almost without interruption, until after sunset.

Beneath the yeomen were the landless and poor. By 1774, nearly one third of Lexington men were landless. Many were young men, transients or non-inheriting sons who remained in town. More troubling was the number of poor who were dependent upon the town for support. In 1764, there were twelve individuals who were dependent upon the town. By 1775, the number doubled to twenty-four. To curb the rise in government dependency, the town resolved to prosecute any resident who allowed nonresident poor to reside in their homes without first seeking permission of the selectmen. Fines assessed for conviction of minor misdemeanors were to be diverted to the support of the poor as was rotted and old wood found on town property.

Popular belief to the contrary, slavery did exist in Massachusetts, and there were slaves living in Lexington at the outbreak of the Revolution. In fact, slavery had existed in Massachusetts almost from its founding, but the institution had never flourished. On the eve of the American Revolution, seven slaves resided in Lexington. The largest slaveholder was Samuel Hadley with three servants.

In some households, male slaves worked side by side with their masters as coopers, blacksmiths, shoemakers and wheelwrights. In other homes they ran errands, functioned as valets and performed heavy work for their masters. In Boston, slaves worked closely with sailors and merchants. The few female slaves in Lexington were required to carry out the various household tasks their mistresses demanded.

Massachusetts slaves were not without rights. Unlike slaves in the southern colonies, New England slaves could hold property, serve in the militia (as was the case with five of Lexington’s slaves: Prince Estabrook, Pompey Blackman, Samuel Crafts, Cato Tuder and Jupiter Tree) and testify in court against both whites and other blacks. On rare occasions they were permitted to petition the colony for legal assistance. In 1774, several African-Americans addressed the Massachusetts General Court and demanded that they too have the right to enjoy the benefits of liberty.

A slave could also sue for freedom, as was the case with a female mulatto slave named Margaret. On November 20, 1770, Margaret appeared in a court in Cambridge represented by a local Boston lawyer named Jonathan Sewall. John Adams, who was currently in the midst of the Boston Massacre trial, represented her masters, the Muzzey family of Lexington. At the end of the hearing, which lasted most of the day, the court freed Margaret.

Still, slavery was a degrading and inhumane institution. A slave could not move in search of opportunity or even travel outside of Lexington without the master’s assent. If he were discovered, a slave would be prosecuted as a fugitive. A slave could marry only with the master’s blessing and interracial marriage was illegal. A slave’s wife and children could be sold to another owner at his master’s whim. Finally, a slave was always subject to both actual and potential cruelty against which there was no defense. If a slave struck a white man, he would be summarily and severely punished. On Charlestown Neck, travelers were presented with the chained bones of Mark, a slave who had been convicted of murdering his master. The spectacle was intended to serve as a constant reminder to slaves in Massachusetts of the potential penalties for defiance.

Tuesday, February 20, 2018

Five Cool Historical Artifacts With Ties To Lexington

If one is asked to list some of the more recognizable artifacts with ties to 18th Century Lexington, it’s likely the responses will include Captain William Crosbie’s pistols (erroneously identified as Major Pitcairn’s pistols), William Diamond’s drum and John Parker’s musket. 

Each of these objects witnessed the events of April 19, 1775 and play an important role in the retelling of the commencement of the American Revolution. However, there are other 18th Century artifacts that not only highlight the town’s wartime preparation efforts, but also give us a snapshot of some of the fashion and clothing choices of its residents.

Without further delay, here are five cool, but little known, artifacts attributable to 18th Century Lexington!

Wool Stockings (Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, MA). The stockings are dated to the late 18th century and purported to have belonged to Stephen Robbins of Lexington. These Brown-gray ribbed stockings are made with a cotton and silk blend and have a saw-tooth top edge and white toe.  

The Munroe Tavern Buttons (The Fiske Center, University of Massachusetts, Boston, MA): During the summer of 2010, archaeologists from the Fiske Center at the University of Massachusetts Boston conducted a survey of the grounds of the William Munroe Tavern. On July 15th, five matching buttons with the linen thread still attached were recovered near an old well. Each of these pewter buttons has a matching geometric design and is dated to the mid to late 18th Century.

According to a newspaper article that was published shortly after the find, Project Archaeologist Christa Beranek believed that a whole piece of clothing with the buttons still attached was discarded near the well.

Captain John Parker’s Sleeve Buttons (Lexington Historical Society, Lexington, MA) Following his death in 1775, the probate estate inventory of Lexington militia captain John Parker included “An Inventory of the Real and Personal Estate of Capt. John Parker Late of Lexington taken June 1776, Middlesex County Probate Court . . . Seven yards and _ of all wool cloth . . . one pair Silver Shoe Buckles and one pair of knee d.o. . . . one sleeve buttons."

The referenced set of sleeve buttons is currently in the possession of the Lexington Historical Society and is on display at the Buckman Tavern.

Lexington Drum Fragment (Lexington Historical Society). In late 1774, the Town of Lexington voted to acquire a pair of drums for its use by the militia. On March 14, 1775, Parker signed a receipt stating “"Agreeable to the vote of the town, I have received by the hands of the selectmen the drums provided for the use of the military company in this town, until further order of the town." Receipt of Captain John Parker, Lexington Company, 1775.”

One of these drums went to William Diamond. The second is believed to have gone to James Brown of Lexington. Brown served as the company drummer in 1775 and drummer of Captain John Wood's Company, Colonel Baldwin's 26th Continental Regiment in 1776.

The Lexington Historical Society is in possession of a drum fragment purported to be Brown’s drum. The fragment is adorned with three red roosters on a white, green and yellow background.

The Parker’s Revenge Button (Minute Man National Historical Park, Lincoln, MA). In 2015, an archaeological study of the “Parker’s Revenge” site inside Minute Man National Historical Park was done. One of the items that was unearthed was a cast-copper button that matches the size of a waistcoat or breeches button.

The elaborate design on the button includes a running fox, a ridge line, a bridge, possibly trees and a windmill. There is some speculation the button may be attributable to a hunting club, a gentlemen's society or a family crest.

Although it was found near the site where the Lexington militia ambushed the retreating regulars, it is unknown if this item can be tied directly to the town. Likewise, historians and archaeologists have been unable to identify the origin of the button (military or civilian) or what the detailed image may actually depict.

While it may be a mystery, let’s be’s still an amazing find.

Saturday, February 17, 2018

"Thus, They Began The Attack" - Who Fired First at the Battle of Lexington?

Later this month Historical Nerdery's own Alexander Cain will be releasing the latest edition of his book We Stood Our Ground. This work not only examines the circumstances surrounding the Battle of Lexington, but also investigates the economic, political, social and religious settings of Lexington on the eve of the American Revolution.

The following is an excerpt from the forthcoming book....

Captain Parker’s men waited nervously for the arrival of the British regulars. As the troops approached, many began to realize the danger they were in. One was bold enough to tell Parker “There are so few of us! It is folly to stand here!” The militia captain, ignoring the outcry, turned to his company and stated “Let the troops pass by, and don't molest them, without they begin first.”

Pitcairn was confronted with a military quandary. If he chose to ignore the militia company drawn up on the village common, he would be leaving an armed opponent to his rear. If he halted, he could exacerbate an already tense situation.

The light infantry officers in the lead company of the column, the 4th Regiment of Foot, resolved Pitcairn’s dilemma by directing their men towards the Lexington militia. The next regiment, the 10th Regiment of Foot, quickly followed. The two lead companies raced towards the increasingly nervous militia. Suddenly, they deployed into a line of battle and began to shout “Huzzah!” Pitcairn, realizing the situation was getting out of hand, “instantly called to the soldiers not to fire, but rather to surround and disarm the militiamen.” Many of the excited troops and officers may never have heard this order as they continued to shout and yell. Lieutenant Edward Gould of the 4th Foot later testified that he could not hear above the noise his men were making.

Pitcairn and other officers then rode towards Captain Parker and his men. According to Sutherland, several officers began to shout, “throw down your arms and you shall come by no harm, or words to that effect.” Private James Marr of the 4th Foot believed Pitcairn exclaimed, “Stop you rebels!” However, many of the Lexington militiamen later asserted that the officers shouted “Lay down your arms, Damn you, why don’t you lay down your arms?” Militiaman John Robbins, who was in the front rank as the regulars approached, recalled the officers chastised the militia by stating, “Throw down your arms ye Villians, ye Rebels!” Spectator Thomas Fessenden heard an officer order “Disperse you rebels, immediately.” Jonas Clarke, believed he heard an officer demand “Ye villains! Ye rebels! Disperse, damn you! Disperse!”

Recognizing the situation was becoming more and more dangerous, Parker turned to his men and issued new orders. “I immediately ordered our militia to disperse, and not to fire.” Most of the men obeyed his command and began to file off the common. Some, however, either did not hear Parker’s order or chose to ignore it. As a result, several Lexington men held their ground as the light infantry surged forward.

Suddenly, a single shot rang out. Revere, who was still in the woods with Lowell, said later he could not determine the source of the shot. Lieutenant Edward Gould also stated he could not determine where the shot came from. Many of the British officers believed the provincials fired at them. Major Pitcairn reported that “some of the rebels who had jumped over the wall, fired four or five shott at the Soldiers, which wounded a Man of the Tenth, and my horse was wounded in two places, from some quarter or other, and at the same time, several shott were fired from a meeting house on our left.” According to Lieutenant Sutherland, “instantly, some of the Villains who got over the hedge fired at us which our men for the first time returned.” Even Lieutenant Colonel Smith, who was not present, asserted “[our] troops advanced towards them, without any intention of injuring them, further than to inquire the reason of their being thus assembled, and if not satisfactory, to have secured their arms; but they in confusion went off, principally to the left, only one of them fired before he went off, and three or four more jumped over a wall and fired from behind it among the soldiers; on which the troops returned it.”

Months later, as he lay dying from wounds sustained at Bunker Hill, Major Pitcairn again spoke of the Battle of Lexington. According to Ezra Stiles, Pictairn asserted he was “riding up to them, he ordered them to disperse; which they did not do instantly, he turned about and ordered his troops to draw out so as to surround and disarm them. As he turned, he saw a gun in a peasant’s hand, from behind a wall, flash in the pan without going off; and instantly, or very soon, two or three guns went off . . . [the] guns he did not see; but believing they could not come from his own people, and that thus, they began the attack.”

From the provincial point of view, the first shot was from the King’s army. Simon Winship described an officer on horseback “flourishing his sword, and with a loud voice, giving the word fire, fire, which was instantly followed by a discharge of arms from the said regular troops.” Nathan Munroe contradicted William Sutherland when he stated he stumbled over a wall into John Buckman’s land, about six rods from the British, and then turned and fired at the regulars only after they had fired at him first. Jonas Clarke insisted one of the mounted officers with the expedition fired the first shot. “The second of these officers, about this time, fired a pistol towards the militia as they were dispersing. The foremost, who was within a few yards of our men, brandishing his sword, and then pointing towards them, with a loud voice said to the troops: ‘Fire! By God, fire!’--which was instantly followed by discharge of arms from the said troops, succeeded by a very heavy and close fire upon our dispersing party, so long as any of them were within reach.” John Robbins agreed with him, stating, “the foremost of the three officers order’d their men, saying fire, by God, fire! At which moment we received a very heavy and close fire from them.” Even John Bateman, a British soldier with the 52nd Regiment of Foot, declared he “was in the Party marching to Concord, that I heard the word of command given to the troops to fire, and some of the troops did fire.”

Although the source of the shot will never be known, what happened next is. The light infantry began to fire either with or without orders. “Upon hearing the report of a pistol or gun, then the Regulars huzzaed and fired, first two more guns, then the advanced guard and so the whole body.”

At first, the militiamen thought the regulars were firing blanks. Yet, when Elijah Sanderson saw a light infantryman fire at a man behind a stone wall, he observed “the wall smoke with bullets hitting it. I realized they were firing balls.” Ebenezer and John Munroe also believed the troops were firing only powder until Ebenezer Munroe was wounded in the arm. Angered by his injury, the militia man returned fire, screaming, “I’ll give them the guts of my gun!”

With the volley, the spectators gathered along the edges of the common broke and ran. Timothy Smith, who was watching the events unfold, recalled that he “immediately ran, and a volley was discharged at me, which put me in imminent danger of losing my life.” Thomas Fessenden later testified, “I ran off as fast as I could.” Benjamin Tidd and Joseph Abbot of Lincoln lost control of their horses, as did Lieutenant Sutherland whose horse bolted, carrying him through the ranks of the fleeing militia and several hundred yards down Bedford Road.

The regulars continued to fire, “made a huzza” and charged furiously towards the retiring militia. As the light infantry surged forward, Ebenezer Munroe remembered Jonas Parker "standing . . .with his balls and flints in his hat, on the ground between his feet, and heard him declare he would never run. He was shot down at the second fire . . . I saw him struggling on the ground, attempting to load his gun . . .As he lay on the ground, they [ran] him through with the bayonet."

Photo Credit Jennifer Wilbur Heim

John and Ebenezer Munroe also returned fire. According to John Munroe, he retreated ten rods, fired and then reloaded, ramming two lead balls down the barrel of his musket. The force of the charge took off a foot of his musket’s barrel. Ebenezer Munroe believed “there was no chance for escape and that I might as well fire my gun as stand still and do nothing.” In an interview with the Reverend Gordon, James Brown stated “being got over the wall, and seeing the soldiers fire pretty freely, he fired upon them, and others did the same.” According to Lieutenant Tidd, he retreated “up the north road and was pursued about thirty rods by an officer on horseback . . . I found I could not escape him unless I left the road. Therefore I sprang over a pair of bars, made a stand and discharged my gun at him; upon which he immediately returned to the main body.”

Solomon Brown ran across Bedford Road, hopped over a stone wall and fired at the regulars. When they returned fire, the young man ran into Buckman Tavern through the back door. Once inside, he sprinted over to the front door, kicked it open and fired two more shots. Believing that Brown’s actions would lead to the tavern being burned to the ground, Buckman physically ejected Brown from the establishment; forcing him to seek cover in the woods.

Yet very few militiamen returned fire. Nathaniel Mulliken stated, “not a gun was fired, by any person in our company, on the regulars.” A year later, the Reverend Clarke strongly asserted, “far from firing first upon the King’s troops; upon most careful inquiry it appears that very few of our people fired at all and even they did not fire till, after being fired upon by the troops, they were wounded themselves.” Several militiamen later testified “we attended the beat of our Drum, and were formed on the Parade; we were faced towards the Regulars then marching up to us, and some of our Company were comeing to the parade with their backs towards the Troops, and Others on the parade, began to Disperse when the Regulars fired on the Company, before a Gun was fired by any of our company on them.” The British sustained only three light injuries. The toll was very heavy for the Lexington Training Band. Eight men were killed and eleven more were wounded in the brief encounter.