Sunday, January 15, 2023

“In the Late Action, Many of the Soldiers Lost Their Blankets" - The Use of Blankets by Massachusetts Forces in the Spring of 1775

So today the Nerds want to talk about blankets.

Maybe it’s because we watched too many “Charlie Brown" specials growing up and secretly wished we could be as cool as Linus. Or perhaps we’ve developed a secret love of blankets because we typically hide under a pile of them every time the Bride puts on a Hallmark movie. But we digress…

Recently, there has been a discussion amongst a few research circles as to what extent blankets were part of a militiaman's equipment between the Battles of Lexington and Concord and the Battle of Bunker Hill.

Some historians have correctly pointed out that blankets were not listed in Massachusetts militia laws or most of the 1774 and 1775 town resolutions outlining the requisite arms and equipment of minute and militia men should carry when alarmed. 

A few haves highlight the limited accounts and claims for compensation for blankets lost at the Battles of Lexington and Concord.

However, there is other ample evidence that Massachusetts forces carried blankets into the field.

So, were blankets carried by Massachusetts forces in the Spring and early Summer of 1775? Before we take a deep dive into the question, let’s take a brief look at how blankets were utilized during the French Wars of the 1740s and 1750s.

Prior to the American Revolution, blankets rarely appeared in militia laws or similar regulations outlining the arms and equipment of Massachusetts provincial troops. Instead, blankets were typically categorized under legislative recruitment bounties. Potential recruits who agreed to enlist for a term of service (typically a year or less), would receive pay, clothing, arms, equipment and ... blankets. 

For example, in 1740, Massachusetts Bay Colony called for the raising of troops to assist in the invasion of Spanish West Indies. As part of its recruitment effort, the colony offered “Five pounds to be pd to each Able bodyed Effective Soldier that shall Enlist himself for that service on or before the first day of March next, and to each of them a good blanket.” 

In October of that same year Massachusetts considered raising troops for a military strike against Canada. As part of its legislative resolution, the government declared “Voted' that there be granted as an Encouragement to a number of good and effective men not exceeding Three Thousand to enlist Voluntiers into His Majestys service in the said Expedition against Canada, as a Bounty, Thirty Pounds in Bills of Credit of the Old Tenour, and a Blanket;, for each man, and a bed for every two men, the money to be paid upon Enlistment and the Blankets & Beds delivered on embarkation.”

In 1745, Massachusetts set its sights on capturing Fortress Louisbourg in Canada. As part of a recruitment effort, the colonial government declared “That His Excellency the Captain General be desired to give forth his proclamation to encourage the Enlistment of Three thousand Voluntiers under such Officers as he shall appoint; that each person so enlisting be allowed Twenty five shillings per month, and that there be delivered to each man a blanket;, that one months pay be advanced, and that' be entitled to all the plunder.”

During the French and Indian War, blankets were again considered part of enlistment bounties. In 1754, Massachusetts was in the midst of preparing for the invasion of Nova Scotia. It recommended that “the Blankets, Knapsacks & Bandileers provided for the Use of the Soldiers in the said Expedition, are many of them almost worn out, by Reason of the Hardness of the Service, praying that those Things may not be charged to the Soldiers but given to them gratis.”

In a 1757 legislative resolution, Massachusetts men who enlisted into a provincial regiment were to receive “shall be intitled to Thirty shillings and upon his passing Muster shall receive a good Blanket; and Fifty shillings more for furnishing himself with Cloaths.” In 1759, Massachusetts provincial soldiers were authorized to receive recruitment pay plus a “Blanket, Knapsack, Canteen or Wood Bottle and other Articles in the like.” 

As an aside, blankets for recruits were typically acquired on behalf of the colony through a military contractor who billed the colony for his services. In turn, any expenses incurred were typically reimbursed by His Majesty’s treasury.


Understandably, when Massachusetts was on the brink of war with England, the colonial government did not have the luxury of offering blanket bounties in exchange for service in minute and militia companies. Instead, the responsibility shifted to local towns and communities to provide blankets for their men.

There is evidence that Massachusetts towns were encouraging soldiers from their communities to provide their own blankets. For example, in Bridgwater, men were required to field with “a good fire arm, a steel or iron ram rod and a spring for same, a worm, a priming wire and brush, a bayonet fitted to his gun, a scabbard and belt thereof, a cutting sword or tomahawk or hatchet, a . . .cartridge box holding fifteen rounds . . . at least, a hundred buckshot, six flints, one pound of powder, forty leaden balls fitted to the gun, a knapsack and blanket, [and] a canteen or wooden bottle to hold one quart [of water]".

Many towns across the Colony, including Newburyport, Ipswich, Cambridge, Lexington, Haverhill, and Concord, also provided blankets to those poor militia men who could not afford their own. 

The effort to supply Massachusetts men with blankets apparently was quite successful, and, as a result, caught the attention of General Thomas Gage. In a March 4, 1775 report to his superiors, the general noted that "each man is supplied even to a knapsack, canteen and blanket and directed to bring a week’s provisions with him when called to the field."

In the aftermath of the Battles of Lexington and Concord,the expectation that towns would provide blankets to the men of their community was further codified when the Massachusetts Provincial Congress called for the raising of additional troops in support of the Siege of Boston. According to the April 23, 1775 order, “RESOLVED, That the Selectmen of the several Towns and Districts within this Colony, be desired to furnish the Soldiers who shall inlist from their respective Towns and Districts with good and sufficient Blankets, and render their Accounts to the Committee of Supplies, who are hearby directed to draw on the Colony Treasurer for Payment of the same.”

With all that said, did the minute and militia men of 1775 carry blankets?

There is certainly ample evidence militiamen did field with blankets when they mobilized for war between April 19, 1775 and July 1, 1775 . For example, Springfield’s minute company mobilized in response to the Lexington Alarm, the town quickly collected and distributed several blankets to those militiamen too poor to acquire their own. 

A British officer's description of Captain John Parker's Lexington Company included a reference to the company being fully "drawn up in military order, with arms and accoutrement." Some historians have argued this reference when paired with the Reverend Jonas Clarke's subsequent comment that Parker's Company was prepared for "whatever service providence might call us out to" is strong circumstantial evidence that Lexington was fully equipped for a military campaign and was likely carrying blankets at the Battle of Lexington.

There is also a description of a Chelmsford militia company fielding on the town common for inspection in the weeks after Lexington and Concord. All eighty-three men appeared for inspection carrying blankets.

Perhaps the strongest evidence that many minute and militia men fielded with blankets was the Battle of Bunker Hill. Many of the troops who fought that day had been outside of Boston since Lexington and Concord. Two such units were Frye’s and Prescott’s Battalions, both of who arrived to support the siege on April 20th. When American forces were dispatched to the battlefield, they were ordered to bring with them blankets.

As British forces stormed the American redoubt at the height of the bloody engagement,the rebel forces retreated. During the withdrawal, hundreds of blankets were abandoned. In the months after the battle, countless petitions were submitted by soldiers or their families seeking compensation for the lost blankets. 

In fact, so many blankets were lost that Joesph Ward, General Artemas Ward’s secretary, would later bitterly complained to the Massachusetts Provincial Congress, “in the late action, many of the soldiers lost their blankets … they are now in a very suffering condition.” 

How bad was this shortage in the aftermath of the Battle of Bunker Hill?  For the remainder of 1775 and into 1776, the Massachusetts Provincial Congress was continuously begging towns to provide blankets for the troops surrounding Boston. Furthermore, in order to stem the shortage, the Massachusetts legislature revised its militia laws in 1776 to include blankets as a legally required item. By undertaking this action, individual militiamen and their home town now formally bore the responsibility of providing blankets

Friday, December 30, 2022

Two Hannahs, Two Annas and a Mary - Five Massachusetts Women Who Came in Direct Contact With His Majesty's Troops on April 19, 1775

Recently the Nerds were asked to look into an unusual and likely false claim about a group of Native Americans who allegedly trained the minute companies from the Menotomy District of Cambridge, Massachusetts, to conduct underwater warfare operations against His Majesty’s forces. It’s a pretty wild claim and rest assured, we’ll be blogging about that and other fantastically false April 19th facts in 2023.

However, while looking into this matter, we came across yet another petition from a civilian who found herself trapped between hostile forces on April 19, 1775. Before this discovery, we were only aware of three accounts from civilians who found themselves in similar circumstances.

First up is Lincoln’s Mary Hartwell, who remembered coming in close contact with retreating British forces just as they were about to enter the Bloody Curve. “I saw an occasional horseman dashing by, going up and down, but heard nothing more until I saw them coming back in the afternoon all in confusion, wild with rage and loud with threats. I knew there had been trouble and that it had not resulted favorably for their retreating army. I heard musket shots just below by the old Brooks Tavern, and trembled, believing that our folks were killed.”


Photo Credit: John Collins

Anna Munroe, wife of Lexington’s Sergeant William Munroe, and her 5-year-old daughter Anna nearly the Royal Artillery and Percy's Relief Column as they fled the family tavern. According to her 19th Century account, the child witness recalled she “could remember seeing the men in redcoats coming toward the house and how frightened her mother was when they ran from the house. That was all she could remember, but her mother told her of her very unhappy afternoon. She held Anna by the hand, brother William by her side and baby Sally in her arms . . . She could hear the cannon firing over her head on the hill. She could smell the smoke of the three buildings which the British burned between here and the center of Lexington. And she did not know what was happening to her husband, who was fighting, or what was happening within her house. . . Anna’s mother used to talk to her of what happened on April 19th and she remembered that her mother used to take her on her lap and say: ‘This is my little girl that I was so afraid the Red coats would get.’”

Perhaps the most notable female non-combatant who came into direct contact with the retreating British column was Hannah Adams of Menotomy. As we have previously discussed, the Menotomy Fight of April 19, 1775 was a vicious engagement that devolved into a bloody house-to-house and room-to-room fight for survival. 


Unfortunately, as this fight raged on, Hannah Adams found herself trapped between Massachusetts militiamen and British regulars.

Hannah had given birth to a daughter approximately ten days before the Battles of Lexington and Concord. The pregnancy and subsequent delivery were particularly difficult; as a result, she was still bedridden on April 19th. As the British column retreated towards her village, her husband, Deacon Joseph Adams, allegedly panicked, abandoned his wife and family, and hid in a nearby hayloft. Three regulars burst into her bedroom at the height of the Menotomy Fight. One threatened to kill her with his bayonet.

According to Hannah Adams, “[Upon] the return of the Kings Troops from Concord, divers of them entered our house by bursting open the doors, & three of the soldiers, broke into the room, in which I then was, laid on my bed; being Scarcely able to walk, from my bed to the fire, & not having been to my chamber-door, from my being delivered in Child-birth to that time -One of the soldiers, immediately opened my Curtains with his Bayonet, fixed, pointing the same to my breast. I immediately cried out –For the Lords Sake, don’t kill me-He replied Damn you-One that stood, near, Said We will not hurt the Woman if she will go out of the house, for we will surely burn it-I immediately arose, threw, a Blanket, over me, went out & crawled into a Corn House, near the door with my infant in my arms, where I remained until they were gone They immediately Set the house on fire, in which I had left five Children, & no other person,-but the fire was happily extinguished.”


Petition of Hannah Adams, Massachusetts Historical Society

Adams submitted her account of the encounter to Massachusetts officials, who quickly published it. To say it became a public relations disaster for the Crown in the aftermath of Lexington and Concord is an understatement.

In addition to the account of Hannah Adams, The Nerds recently encountered a description of the Menotomy Fight from a second Hannah - Hannah Bradish of Menotomy. 

How we missed her detailed and graphic account is on us. Bad Nerds … Bad Nerds indeed.

Like Hannah Adams, Hannah Bradish was also bedridden on April 19, 1775, having given birth to a child eight days earlier. Her husband, Ebenezer Bradish Jr., was a tavern keeper and part-time attorney. However, unlike Deacon Adams, it appears Bradish’s husband was with his militia company that day.

As the regulars entered Menotomy, Hannah was asleep in bed with her infant. The noise of the fighting woke her up ad she quickly gathered her children and fled to the family kitchen located at the back of the house.

According to her statement submitted to the Massachusetts Provincial Congress on May 11, 1775, “Hannah Bradish, of that part of Cambridge, called Menotomy, and daughter of timothy Paine, of Worcester, in the county of Worcester, esq. of lawful age, testifies and says, that about five o'clock on Wednesday last, afternoon, being in her bed-chamber, with her infant child, about eight days old, she was surprised by the firing of the king's troops and our people, on their return from Concord. She being weak and unable to go out of her house, in order to secure herself and family, they all retired into the kitchen, in the back part of the house. She soon found the house surrounded with the king's troops; that upon observation made, at least seventy bullets were shot into the front part of the house; several bullets lodged in the kitchen where she was, and one passed through an easy chair she had just gone from. The door of the front part of the house was broken open; she did not see any soldiers in the house, but supposed, by the noise, they were in the front. After the troops had gone off, she missed the following things, which, she verily believes, were taken out of the house by the king's troops, viz: one rich brocade gown, called a negligĂ©e, one lutestring gown, one white quilt, one pair of brocade shoes, three shifts, eight white aprons, three caps, one case of ivory knives and forks, and several other small articles.”

Photo Credit: John Collins

Of course, the sheer number of bullet strikes into Bradish’s home is corroborated by the Revered David McClure. On April 20, 1775, the minister visited Menotomy and was horrified at the extent of damage he witnessed. “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 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, for about 20 miles!”

Saturday, December 3, 2022

"Drinking a Number of Loyal and Patriotic Toasts" - What Did Massachusetts Minute and Militia Companies Do Once the Drills Ended?

With the debut of Christmas Hell 2022 … aka the arrival of the latest Hallmark Christmas specials … the Nerds realized we had to keep busy or risk being forced to watch Winnie Cooper’s latest effort to wed a royal fop from some unknown fairy tale country.

So with that said, the Nerds decided to take a fresh look at the military activities of Massachusetts minute and militia companies on the eve of the Battles of Lexington and Concord. As we reviewed period accounts and documentation, we had to ask ourselves, “what the heck happened when the drills ended for the day? Were there any social gatherings?”

As many historians have previously noted, once the French threat in North America was suppressed in 1763, Massachusetts militia rarely assembled to drill and, as a result, were of little military value. By the eve of the Boston Tea Party, a militia muster was not viewed as a military gathering but rather as a sort of town holiday offering an opportunity for families and friends to socialize. 


However, by 1774, many American colonists were gravely concerned that an immoral British government, having exhausted opportunities for plunder and profit in England and Ireland, was now seeking a dispute with the American colonies as an excuse to enslave and deprive them of their wealth and liberties. In response, the people of Massachusetts saw the coming conflict with England as inevitable and, thus, approached military preparations with a sense of importance and urgency.

Yet, despite the looming threat of war, many militia companies still found time after hosting drills to host social gatherings and celebrations.

In 1774, Newburyport’s Marine Society, a charitable organization composed of merchants, ship owners and captains, formed an independent military company known as the “Independent Marines”. On September 21, 1774, the unit assembled for a drill. According to the September 21st edition of the Essex Journal and Merrimack Packet, “Wednesday last the independent military society in this town met at the town-house compleat in arms and ammunition : After having been reviewed by their officers chosen by the society, they performed the manual exercise and filings, after which they marched to the Mason's arms tavern, and there performed the evolutions; and from thence marched to Mr. William Tell's (a gentleman that has always not only talked, but acted upon the genuine principles of patriotism), who had prepared an elegant entertainment for the society; after spending a few very agreeable hours with a number of gentlemen (whom Mr. 'Feel had invited) in conversation, repast, and drinking a number of loyal and patriotic toasts, the society again rally, march to the town-house, and after firing three vollies lodged their arms. All was conducted with the greatest order and good humour.”

Approximately a month later, the Newburyport Company of Artillery assembled to drill. Once finished, “they then marched to General Wolf’s tavern where an elegant supper was provided at the expense of the company, and a few agreeable hours were spent with drinking forty-five loyal and patriotic toasts.”

A January 5, 1775 account in the Essex Journal and Merrimack Packet reported that the minute company of Lunenburgh (MA) spent the morning drilling and then “marched to a public house where the officers had prepared an elegant dinner for the company.”

Period accounts from Andover, Methuen, Boxford, and Haverhill also describe militia, minute and independent companies assembling to drill, and perform a variety of military maneuvers before retiring to their respective “public house” for meals and libations.

The diary of the Reverend Ebenezer Parkman of Westborough, Massachusetts, highlights several instances of militia, minute and alarm list companies socializing after the completion of military exercises.

On March 8, 1775, the minister recalled, “I rode to Shrewsbury to Mr. Sumners Lecture to the Minute-Men under the Command of Capt. Job Cushing. Dined at Mr. Sumners.”

A month later, Parkman noted, “This Day was designed to be Lecture Day at Southborough and Mr. Fitch to preach to the Minute Men. Our Minute Men were invited, and Mr. Barnabas Newton and Joseph Harrington joining together propose to give them an early Dinner.” Unfortunately, the event was canceled due to inclement weather.

Parkman notes that two days before the Battles of Lexington and Concord, the Westborough minute company was invited to drill with the Brookfield minute company. Afterward, “[the] Minute Men were entertained at Mr. Barnabas Newtons. By his Invitation I was there with them.”

Accounts of social gatherings were not limited to Provincial accounts. As Head Interpretive Ranger Jim Hollister noted "Ensign DeBerniere’s account from March of 1775 mentions watching a militia company at drill while he and Capt. Brown were sitting in a tavern adjacent to the training field. He said that after their exercise they filed into the tavern and drank until 9:00 then went home 'full of pot valour.'" 

Historian John Mills also chipped in and shared Ensign DeBerniere's full account. "We arrived at Buckminster's tavern [still there near the old training field which now has Blacksmith Minuteman statue in Framingham, MA] about six o'clock that evening. The company of militia were exercising near the house, and an hour after they came and performed they came and performed their feats before the windows of the rooms we were in; we did not feel easy at seeing such a number so very near to us; however, they did not know who we were, and took little or notice of us. After they had done their exercise, one of their commanders spoke a very eloquent speech. recommending patience, coolness and bravery (which indeed they very much wanted); particularly told them they would always conquer if they did not break; and recommended them to charge us cooly, and wait for our fire, and everything would succeed with them - quotes Caesar and Pompey, brigadiers Putnam and Ward and all such great men; put them in mind of Cape Breton, and all the battles they had gained for his majesty in the last war, and observed that the regulars must have been ruined but for them. After so learned and spirited harangue, he dismissed the parade, and the whole company came into the house and drank until nine o'clock, and the returned to their respective homes full of pot-valor."

The Nerds will continue to look for period accounts of militia and minute companies socializing after military drills. If you’re aware of any other accounts, be sure to let us know!

Sunday, October 30, 2022

"Their Little Popes, Dressed Up in the Most Grotesque and Fantastic Manner" - Halloween 18th Century New England Style?

Last evening the Nerds had the opportunity to attend Minute Man National Historical Park’s Hartwell Halloween open house. What a fun and engaging event and we encourage our readers to check out the 2023 open house.

Of course, this got the Nerds thinking…did 18th Century New England have its own version of Halloween?

Almanacs of the late 18th and early 19th century do not indicate that Halloween was widely celebrated in North America. It was not until after mass Irish and Scottish immigration in the 19th century that Halloween became a major holiday in the United States. However, New Englanders did observe Pope’s Night, a holiday that included Halloween-like traditions such as costumes, shaking down neighbors for treats (i.e., cash), and random acts of violence.

Wait…did you say violence?

Each year in 18th Century England, November 5th was celebrated as Guy Fawkes' Day. The holiday commemorated the thwarting of the “Gunpowder Plot” to overthrow King James I in 1605. In New England, during colonial times, the annual commemoration became known as Pope's Day, and had quickly evolved into an anti-Catholic celebration. Effigies of the Devil, Pope, and government officials were fought over by rival mobs and eventually burned in a huge bonfire at Copp's Hill in Boston.

Violence was commonplace and death a possibility during Boston celebrations. 

John Boyle noted in his journal that on November 5,1764 “a Child of Mr. Brown's at the North-End was run over by one of the Wheels of the North-End Pope and Killed on the Spot. Many others were wounded in the evening.” John Rowe also recorded the violence of the 1764 celebrations. “1764 Nov. 5. A sorrowful accident happened this forenoon at the North End — the wheel of the carriage that the Pope was fixed on run over a Boy's head & he died instantly. The Sheriff, Justices, Officers of the Militia were ordered to destroy both S° & North End Popes. In the afternoon they got the North End Pope pulled to pieces, they went to the S° End but could not Conquer upon which the South End people brought out their pope & went in Triumph to the Northward and at the Mill Bridge a Battle begun between the people of Both Parts of the Town. The North End people having repaired their pope, but the South End people got the Battle (many were hurt & bruised on both sides) & Brought away the North End pope & burnt Both of them at the Gallows on the Neck. Several thousand people following them, hallowing &ct.”

However, not all Pope Day celebrations ended in gang brawls, death or destruction. According to an account published in the November 7, 1765 edition of the Massachusetts Gazette.

“Tuesday last being the Anniversary of the Commemoration of the happy Deliverance of the English Nation from the Popish Plot, commonly called The Powder Plot, the Guns at Castle William and at the Batteries in Town were fired at one o’clock; as also on board the Men of War in the Harbour. It has long been the Custom in this Town on the Fifth of November for Numbers of Persons to exhibit on Stages some Pageantry, denoting their Abhorrence of POPERY and the horrid Plot which was to have been executed on that Day in the Year 1605; these Shews of late Years has been continued in the Evening, and we have often seen the bad Effects attending them at such a time; the Servants and Negroes would disguise themselves, and being armed with clubs would engage each other with great Violence, whereby many came off badly wounded; in short they carried it to such Lengths that two Parties were created in the Town, under the Apellation of North-End and South-End: But the Disorders that had been committed from Time to Time induced several Gentlemen to try a Reconciliation between the two Parties; accordingly the Chiefs met on the First of this Instant, and conducted that Affair in a very orderly Manner; in the Evening the Commander of the South entered into a Treaty with the Commander of the North, and after making several Overtures they reciprocally engaged on a UNION, and the former Distinctions to subside; at the same Time the Chiefs with their Assistants engaged upon their Honor no Mischiefs should arise by their Means, and that they would prevent and Disorders, on the 4th. When the Day arrived the Morning was all Quietness, about Noon the Pageantry, representing the Pope, Devil, and several other Effigies signifying Tyranny, Oppression, Slavery, were brought on Stages from the North and South, and met in King [State] Street, where the Union was established in a very ceremonial Manner, and having given three Huzzas, they interchanged Ground, the South marched to the North, and the North to the South, parading thro' the Streets until they again met near the Court House: The whole then proceeded to the Tree of Liberty, under the Shadow of which they refreshed themselves for a while, and then retreated to the Northward, agreeable to their Plan; – they reached Copp's Hill before 6 o’clock, where they halted, and having enkindled a Fire, the whole Pageantry was committed to the Flames and consumed: This being finished every person was requested to retire to their respective Homes – It must be noticed to the Honor of all those concerned in this business that every thing was conducted in a most regular manner, and such Order observed as could hardly be expected among a concourse of several thousand people – all seemed to be joined, agreeable to their principal Motto Levely Unity – The Leaders, Mr. McIntoth form the South, and Mr. Swift from the North, appeared in Military Habits, with small canes resting on their left arms, having music in Front and Flank; their assistants appeared also distinguished with small reeds, then the respective Corps followed, among whom were a great Number of Persons in Rank: These with the Spectators filled the Streets; not a Club was seen among the whole, nor was any Negro allowed to approach near the Stages; - after the Conflagration the Populace retired, and the Town remained the whole Night in better Order than it had ever been on this Occasion. – Many Gentlemen feeing the Affair so well conducted, contributed to make up a handsome Purse to entertain those that carried it on - This Union, and one other more extensive, may be look'd upon as the (perhaps the only) happy Effects arising from the S-p A-t."

The celebrations were not confined to Boston. Pope's Day was popular in several seaports of New England.

Prominent celebrations were held in Marblehead, Newburyport, Salem, Newport and Portsmouth. In 1702, Marbleheaders met the Fifth of November with a bull baiting. The meat was then distributed to the poor. The Rev. Ezra Stiles described Newport’s Pope Day in 1771. "Powder Plot, — Pope &ct carried about;" and again on November 5, 1774, he says, "This Afternoon three popes &ct. paraded thro' the streets, & in the Evening they were consumed in a Bonfire as usual — among others were Ld. North, Gov. Hutchinson & Gen. Gage." John Adams described November 5th activities in Salem. “Spent the evening at Mr. Pynchon's, with Farnham, Sewall, Sargeant, Col. Saltonstall &ct. very agreeably. Punch, wine, bread and cheese, apples, pipes and tobacco. Popes and bonfires this evening at Salem, and a swarm of tumultuous people attending.”

Newburyport appears to have had its own elaborate celebration. As outlined in Joshua Coffin's A Sketch of the History of Newbury, Newburyport, and West Newbury (1835), “In the day time, companies of little boys might be seen, in various parts of the town, with their little popes, dressed up in the most grotesque and fantastic manner, which they carried about, some on boards, and some on little carriages, for their own and others' amusement. But the great exhibition was reserved for the night, in which young men, as well as boys, participated. They first constructed a huge vehicle, varying at times, from twenty to forty feet long, eight or ten wide, and five or six high, from the lower to the upper platform, on the front of which, they erected a paper lantern, capacious enough to hold, in addition to the lights, five or six persons. Behind that, as large as life, sat the mimic pope, and several other personages, monks, friars and so forth. Last, but not least, stood an image of what was designed to be a representation of old Nick himself, furnished with a pair of huge horns, holding in his hand a pitchfork, and otherwise accoutred, with all the frightful ugliness that their ingenuity could desire. Their next step, after they had mounted their ponderous vehicle on four wheels, chosen their officers, captain, first and second lieutenant, purser and so forth, placed a boy under the platform, to elevate and move round, at proper intervals, the moveable head of the pope, and attached ropes to the front part of the machine, was, to take up their line of march through the principal streets of the town. Some times in addition to the images of the pope and his company, there might be found, on the same platform, half a dozen dancers and a fiddler, whose together with a large crowd who made up a long procession. Their custom was, to call at the principal houses in various parts of the town, ring their bell, cause the pope to elevate his head, and look round upon the audience, and repeat the following lines . . . After the verses were repeated, the purser stepped forward and took up his collection. Nearly all on whom they called, gave something. Esquire Atkins and Esquire Dalton, always gave a dollar apiece. After peram bulating the town, and finishing their collections, they concluded their evening's entertainment with a splendid supper; after making with the exception of the wheels and the heads of the effigies, a bonfire of the whole concern, to which were added, all the wash tubs, tar barrels, and stray lumber, that they could lay their hands on. With them the custom was, to steal all the stuff.”

Interestingly enough, Newburyport clamped down on effigies and displays during the Pope’s Night celebrations of 1774. That year, the town voted “that no effigies be carried about or exhibited on the fifth of November only in the day time.”

When France entered the American Revolution, Newburyport and other seaport communities either scaled back or did away completely with the anti-Catholic celebration. Portsmouth, New Hampshire, curiously continued the tradition well into the mid-19th Century.

Sunday, August 28, 2022

"Many Leaped Over the Wall and Made for That Wood" - Manuevers of Massachusetts Forces on April 19, 1775

This past April, the Nerds participated in Minute Man National Historical Park’s Battle Road activities. During some downtime, we chatted with one of the Park’s interpretive rangers about the operational maneuvers of Massachusetts militia and minute companies as they attempted to engage His Majesty’s forces during the Battles of Lexington and Concord.

That discussion got the Nerds thinking. With the help of two of the Park’s rangers (Cool Rangers Jim and Jarrad), we collected several accounts describing the maneuvers of Massachusetts militia and minute men on April 19, 1775. Generally, we placed the movements into two categories: units not within striking distance that shifted course to intercept the retreating column and units that adjusted their march route to gain a tactical advantage over the enemy immediately before engagement.

Regarding units attempting to intercept the retreating column, these companies typically hailed from Essex and Norfolk Counties, as well as the southern and western regions of Middlesex County. These units were alarmed later in the morning or early afternoon and initially took a path towards Concord. However, as they advanced, alarm riders and others shared conflicting reports of the location of His Majesty’s forces as they retired back towards Boston. For some units, including militiamen from Salem, the constant information caused significant confusion…resulting in repeated changes in course and unnecessary halting to determine the best route to follow. As Timothy Pickering noted, “The confusions of yesterday, testified by every officer I could talk with, fully justify these assertions. In general, I am told, every man did that which was right in his own eyes.”

Upon entering Bedford, the minute companies of Andover constantly had to shift direction in a desperate yet failed effort to intercept the retreating column. According to Lieutenant Benjamin Farnum,“April 19, 1775. This day, the Mittel men of Colonel Frye's regiment were Alarmed with the Nuse of the Troops marching from Boston to Concord, at which Nuse they marched very quick from Andover, and marched within about 5 miles of Concord, then meeting with the Nuse of their retreat for Boston again with which Nuse we turned our corse in order to catch them. We retreated that Day to Notme [Menotomy] but we could not come up with them. The nit coming on, we stopped; the next day we marched to Cambridge.” 

Andover minute man Thomas Boynton expressed frustration as his unit shifted course twice to reach the regulars. “Andover, April 19, 1775. This morning, being Wednesday, about the sun's rising the town was alarmed with the news that the Regulars was on their march to Concord. Upon which the town mustered and about 10 o'clock marched onward for Concord. In Tewksbury news came that the Regulars had fired on our men in Lexington, and had killed 8. In Bilricke news came that the enemy were killing and slaying our men in Concord. Bedford we had the news that the enemy had killed 2 of our men and had retreated back; we shifted our course and persued after them as fast as possible, but all in vain; the enemy had the start 3 or 4 miles.”

Militia and minute companies from Newbury, Rowley and Ipswich were alarmed late in the day thanks to Newburyport treating initial reports of the Battle of Lexington as a false rumor. It wasn’t until the Town of Danvers sent a message back to the seaport community confirming the morning events that alarm riders were dispatched towards Cape Ann. Throughout the afternoon, men from the three towns zigzagged down the coastline in an effort to get ahead of the column before it reached the safety of Boston. By the time the exhausted units reached Lynn, they were forced to halt and encamp for the night.

The Reverend Samuel West, pastor of the First Parish of Needham, Massachusetts accompanied the town’s militia company to war after it had mustered at his home. As West and his men advanced north towards East Lexington and Menotomy, they continuously shifted their intercept course based upon the smoke wafting above the regulars and the thunder of artillery. As the minister recalled “The news reached us about nine o’clock A.M. The east company in Needham met at my house as part of the Military stores were deposited with me, they there supplied themselves, and by ten o’clock all marched for the place of action with as much spirit and resolution as the most zealous friends of the cause could have wished for. We could easily trace the march of troops from the smoke which arose over them, and could hear from my house the report of the cannon and the Platoons fired by the British.”

Of course, the shifting of direction was not limited to efforts of catching up and intercepting the regulars. Many units that were within striking distance of Lieutenant Colonel Smith’s forces adjusted their routes so as to gain a tactical advantage over their enemy.

When the Town of Sudbury was alarmed, multiple minute and militia companies mobilized independent of each other. In fact, most of the Sudbury units followed different routes to reach Concord. At least two, perhaps three, of the Sudbury companies changed direction to avoid Smith’s advance forces who were searching the Barrett House and pressed on to augment the provincial forces gathering above the North Bridge. They were rerouted again by a local Concord guide and directed to advance on the town’s South Bridge.

Captain Joseph Smith’s Company from East Sudbury bypassed the North Bridge and took a longer route through Lincoln to attack the regulars near Brook’s Hill. A second Sudbury company, under the command of Captain Nathaniel Cudworth followed suit.

After stumbling upon the aftermath of the Battle of Lexington,the men of Woburn took a wide path through Lincoln to avoid detection by His Majesty’s forces. Specifically, Loammi Baldwin led his men off of the Bay Road and marched them towards Lincoln’s meeting house. Afterward, he turned towards Concord and advanced towards Brook’s Hill. As he later noted. “We proceeded to Concord by way of Lincoln meet­ing-house, . . . ascended the hill, and pitched and refreshed ourselves a little. . . . The people under my command and also some others came running off the East end of the hill while I was at a house, and we proceeded down the road, and could see behind us the Regulars following.”

The rangers at Minute Man National Historical Park, as well as the Nerds, agree that Baldwin may have considered moving towards Meriam’s Corner but upon seeing the column,
pulled back off the east end of Brooks Hill and set up an ambuscade at Elm Brook Hill.

Reading appears to have undertaken a very sudden and radical change of course in order to attack the retreating regulars at Elm Brooks Hill. According to the Reverend Edmund Foster, he joined the men of Reading as they advanced towards Concord. After engaging the “flank guard , of about 80 or 100 men” at Meriam’s Corner, the men of Reading pulled back, swung wide and sought an opportunity to reengage. That opportunity presented itself at Elm Brooks Hill.

According to the minister, “We saw a wood at a distance, which appeared to be in or near the road the enemy must pass. Many leaped over the wall and made for that wood. We arrived in time to meet the enemy. There was then, on the opposite side of the road, a young growth of wood well filled with Americans. The enemy was completely between two fires, renewed and briskly kept up. They ordered out a flank guard on the left to dislodge the Americans from their posts behind large trees but they only became a better mark to be shot at. A short but sharp contest ensued, at which the enemy received more deadly injury, than at any one place from Concord to Charlestown. Eight or more of their number were killed on the spot, and no doubt, many wounded.”

John Parker’s Lexington Company likely executed a tactical maneuver after his company withdrew from Parker’s Revenge. After discharging a single volley, the Lexington militiamen quickly retired up an access path to the top of the hill and then moved down the east side. Once at the bottom, the company cut across a series of fields, and moved to a new position further down the road to attack the column again.

So in short, there is ample evidence that Massachusetts provincial forces were not individually chasing His Majesty’s forces  and taking “pop shots” when the opportunity presented itself. Instead, many militia commanders made intentional tactical decisions as to how best intercept or engage the enemy so as to either block their retreat or cause significant damage.

Of course, the Nerds will continue to research this topic and will update you when we uncover additional accounts!!

Sunday, August 14, 2022

"The Number of Days Each Man Trained According to the Voat of the Town" - How Often Were Massachusetts Minute and MIlitia Companies Training in Preparation for War with England?

Recently, the Nerds once again encountered on social media several instances where individuals asserted the age-old yet understandably false claim that Massachusetts militia and minute men lacked sufficient military training on the eve of the Battles of Lexington and Concord. Instead, some have argued, these men relied on upon their individualistic skills as huntsmen to stalk and harass the retiring British column as it returned to Boston.

Although countless historians have debunked this claim, it raises a question … How often were minute and militia companies drilling in preparation for war with England?

Following the October 1774 orders of the Massachusetts Provincial Congress, provincial towns scrambled to put themselves onto a wartime footing. As part of the effort, many militia and minute companies passed resolutions or entered into covenants clearly outlining the expectations of military service. 

For example, in Lexington, the men of Captain John Parker’s Company resolved to fine those men who did not treat military preparation seriously, were disruptive or engaged in “indecent behavior … two shillings”. Militiamen from the Town of West Brookfield declared, “That we will exert our best abilities to acquire the art military: That we will yield a ready obedience to the commands of our officers, and hold ourselves in readiness to march upon the earliest notice from our Commanding officers, and hazard our lives in resisting any armed force that shall attempt by force to put in execution the late revenue Acts.” Finally, residents of Ipswich voted “We whose names are hereunto subscribed, do voluntarily Inlist ourselves, as minute men, to be ready for military operation, upon the shortest notice ... And that we may obtain the skill of compleat Soldiers, We promise to Convene for exercise in the Art of Military."

By late 1774 and early 1775, many Massachusetts towns had placed a strong emphasis on military drilling and training. Following the recommendations of the Massachusetts Provincial Congress, Andover ordered: “[Soldiers] on the said first said day of December meet together and chuse such person only for leading or instructing as shall appear to them to be most skillful in Military Discipline and that they be well equipped with good guns, and other necessary warlike armour in order for their performing of all military maneuvers.” 

In fact, Andover, along with the Towns of Haverhill and Bradford even went as far as to hire a British deserter to train their men for war. 

Amesbury resolved that its minute men would engage in “exercising four hours in a fortnight.” Two weeks later, the town modified its order and instructed its minute men to “[exercise] four hours in a week.” The residents of Boxford voted on March 14, 1775, “that the minute-men shall train one-half day in a week, for four weeks after this week is ended.”

According to the diary of the Reverend Ebenezer Parkman of Westborough, as early as October 24, 1774, both of the town’s militia companies had assembled and were actively drilling as often as possible. Even Westborough’s alarm list, a reserve force composed of a community’s elderly male residents, was practicing war-like maneuvers. Parkman notes, “1774 October 31 (Monday) … P.M. Training of Alarm men at Lt. Bakers, their present Captain."

The Reverend Jonas Clarke also noted Lexington's militia was continuously drilling and "showing arms." Likewise, Lieutenant William Tidd asserted John Parker’s Company met often and drilled regularly” “[That] said company frequently met for exercise, the better to be prepared for defense; that, on the evening previous to the 19th a number of the militia met at my house for the above purpose.” Lexington’s John Munroe noted “the company was frequently called out for exercise, and desired to furnish ourselves with arms and ammunition, and to be in constant readiness for action.”

Some towns went as far as to coordinate multi-company or regimental level drills jointly. The men of Westborough routinely drilled with militia companies from neighboring communities, while minute companies in Plymouth County and the Merrimack Valley region of Essex County hosted battalion-level drills as early as the Spring of 1775.

Now with this said, were Massachusetts men drilling every waking hour of each day?

Of course not. Depending on the community, it appears military companies drilled as often as two to three times a week or as little as bi-weekly.

An April 1775 document prepared by Sergeant Michael Whittier of Haverhill probably best captures the frequency of drills and attendance amongst minute and militia companies. The record created by Sergeant Whittier lists the names of the minute men belonging to Captain Sawyer’s Minute Company, and the number of days each soldier attended military drills for March and April:

A Role of the Minuit Men in Capt James Sawyer's Company & the Number of days Each man Trained according to the Voat of the Town of Haverhill in March and Apirel 1775.

James Sawyer Capt 5 
Samuel Mitchel -
Timothy Johnson Lieut 5 
Joshua Emory 6
Nathaniel Eaton Lieut 5 
Jerimiah Stickney 5
Mitchel Whiticher Sargt 6 
Joseph Webster 5
Moses Heselton Sargt 5 
Isaiah Eaton 5
Wm Rolf Sargt 5 
Ebenezer Grifen 4
Charles Davis Sargt 5 
 Samuel Emerson 5 
Enook Eaton Coprel 4 
John Silver -
Chas Sarjant Coprel 3 
Seth Wymon 4
John Bery Coprel 6 
Daniel Lord 5
Ruben Sargent 3 
Nathan Peabody 5
Asa Currcr 5 
James Whiticker 4
Thomus Tiylor 5 
Samuel Sanders 3
Daniel Colby 3 
Henerey Springer 1
John Dow 6 
Ebenezer Webster -
John Eaton 4 
Johnathan Dusten 4
Joseph Emorson 5 
Daniel Grifen 3
Simon Picck 4 
Moses Emorson Juner 4
Lewis George 5 
John gipson 3
'Wm Davis 2 
Nathan Ayre 4
Mossc Emorson 5 
James Townsand 4
Job gage 4 
Stophen Runcls 4
Peter Emorson 3 
John Tiylor 3
Samuel George - 
James Wilson -
John Cheney 1 
Daniel Remock 3
Nathaniel Cahaney - 
Stephen Jackson 3
Samuel Ealy 2 
Joshua Moors 1
Wm Sawyer 4 
Philip Bagley 4
James Smiley 5 
Humpree Nicola 4
Joel Harrimcn 5 
Dudley Dusten 3
James Snow 5 
Johnthan Lowger 4
Mark Emorson - 
John Sanders 4

Mitchel Wittier Serjant

Sunday, August 7, 2022

"A musket cut as under &c.” - Did Lieutenant William Tidd Really Exclaim "You Won't Get My Gun!" at the Battle of Lexington?

Shortly after the 2022 reenactment of the Battle of Lexington, members of the Lexington Minute Men and His Majesty’s 10th Regiment of Foot contacted the Nerds regarding the historical accuracy of the phrase “You won’t get my gun!”. 

For those who may be unfamiliar with the reenactment, this statement is shouted out by a participant portraying Lieutenant William Tidd in response to a British officer’s demand to “lay down your arms!”

But what is the origin of the defiant statement “You won’t get my gun”?

As a preliminary matter, we have to remember that the annual Battle of Lexington reenactment is a slow-motion historical pageant. Although the script is based upon 18th and early 19th-century documentation, there is an element of drama and flair associated with the event.

In reality, the actual Battle of Lexington was a quick and very bloody mess. The Nerds estimate that the engagement lasted, at most, between two and five minutes. Based upon available documentation, it appears British light infantry companies from the 4th and 10th Regiments of Foot surged forward and deployed into a battle line almost instantaneously. Meanwhile, British officers on horseback barked orders at Captain John Parker’s Company to disperse and get out of the way of the His Majesty’s forces. Suddenly, a single shot rang out… and the rest is history.

So, was the phrase “You won’t get my gun!” shouted during the battle?

The comment was allegedly made by Lieutenant William Tidd, who was second in command of the Lexington militia on April 19, 1775. 

Curiously, Lieutenant Tidd provided two sworn statements regarding his role at the Battle of Lexington. Neither makes any reference to a defiant declaration to British authority.

The first statement was submitted on April 25, 1775, as part of a sworn group affidavit. According to Tidd, “that on the 19th of April instant, about one or two o'Clock in the morning, being Informed that several officers of the Regulars had, the evening before, been riding up and down the Road, and had detained and Insulted the Inhabitants passing the same; and also understanding that a body of Regulars were marching from Boston towards Concord, with intent (as it was supposed) to take the Stores, belonging to the Colony, in that town, we were alarmed, and having met at the place of our Company's Parade, were dismissed by our Captain, John Parker, for the Present, with orders to be ready to attend at the beat of the drum. We further testify and declare, that about five o'Clock in the morning, hearing our drum beat, we proceeded towards the Parade, and soon found that a Large body of troops were marching towards us: Some of our Company were coming up to the Parade, and others had reached it; at which time the Company began to disperse: Whilst our backs were Turned on the Troops, we were fired on by them, and a number of our men were Instantly killed and wounded. Not a Gun was fired, by any Person in our Company, on the Regulars, to our knowledge, before they fired on us, and they continued Firing until we had all made our Escape.”

Years later, in 1824, Tidd submitted a second sworn statement. Again, he does not refer to shouting, “You won’t get my gun!”. According to his 1824 deposition, “I, William Tidd, of Lexington, in the county of Middlesex, do testify and declare, that I was a Lieutenant in the company of Lexington militia, commanded by Capt. John Parker, in the year 1775; that, previous to the 19th of April of that year, it was expected the British would soon commence hostilities upon the then Provincials; that said company frequently met for exercise, the better to be prepared for defense; that, on the evening previous to the 19th a number of the militia met at my house for the above purpose; that, about two o'clock on the morning of the 19th, I was notified that, the evening previous, several of the British officers had been discovered riding up and down the road leading to Concord; that they had detained and insulted the passing inhabitants; and that a body of the regulars were then on the march from Boston towards Lexington; -- I then immediately repaired to the parade ground of said company, where, after its assemblage and roll call, we were dismissed by Capt. Parker, with orders to assemble at the beat of the drum; -- that, at about five o’clock of said morning, intelligence was received that the British were within a short distance; and, on the beat to arms, I immediately repaired to where our company were fast assembling; that when about sixty or seventy of them had taken post, the British had arrived within sight, and were advancing on a quick march towards us, when I distinctly heard one of their officers say, “Lay down your arms and disperse, ye rebels!” They then fired upon us. I then retreated up the north road, and was pursued about thirty rods by an officer on horseback (supposed to be Maj. Pitcairn.) calling out to me, “Damn you, stop, or you are a dead man!” – 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 turned to the main body, which shortly after took up their march for Concord. William Tidd.”

So, where does this phrase come from?

On the Lexington Minute Men website, a research article drafted by Carmin F. Calabrese concedes that Tidd most likely did not utter the statement. According to historian and author Dr. Samuel Forman, the origin of the defiant declaration can be traced back to the script of the 150th-anniversary reenactment of the Battle of Lexington (1925). The script, which can be found at the Lexington Public Library, does contain the phrase “You won’t get my gun!” Dr. Forman also noted that the 1925 script served as the foundation for the 1975 Bicentennial reenactment script, which is still in use today.

Ironically, regardless of whether or not Lieutenant Tidd uttered the phrase, it should be noted that His Majesty’s forces did not truly seize his firelock that day. A 1775 petition to the Massachusetts legislature for financial restitution from damages suffered at the Battle of Lexington, asserts that Tidd's “losses by the Kings troops on the 19th of April 1775 … [included] ... a musket cut as under &c.”

Tidd noted in his 19th-century deposition that he was chased off the field by a mounted officer. It is possible but unconfirmed that Tidd’s gun was damaged after deflecting a slash by a saber or sword. On the other hand, the gun could have been damaged later in the day. Obviously, further research needs to be conducted to determine the fate of his weapon.

The Nerds, as well as the very talented and informative Dr. Samuel Forman, will be at History Camp Boston 2022 next weekend. Be sure to stop by Suffolk University and say hi!