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.