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.

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