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!

Saturday, May 28, 2022

"Your Pettioner Hath Suffered Much Pain" - The Wounded Men of the Battle of Lexington

The Nerds loved Minute Man National Park’s Battle Road 2022. It was a wonderfully well planned and brilliantly executed event.

And without a doubt, the participants that fielded with the composite groups of Captain David Brown’s Company of Concord Minute Men, and Captain Edward Farmer's Billerica Company stole the tactical demonstration aspect of the show. The Nerds considered themselves very fortunate to have the opportunity to field with them and were very impressed with their dedication to authenticity and their commitment to honor those who fought on April 19, 1775.

However, there was a another group that deserves praise for their support of this event as well … the Lexington Minute Men, aka Captain John Parker’s Lexington Company. For the past 18 months, the members of this group have been working very hard to revamp their impression and sweep away the inaccurate myths about Lexington’s contributions to April 19th.

While there is always room for improvement, the Lexington Minute Men have a great attitude and are very receptive to constructive feedback. Their level of authenticity is getting better and better each year.

This past April, a new and improved Captain John Parker’s Lexington Company debuted at Battle Road. While many praised the unit, some chastised the organization for their changes and derisively called them “cookie cutters” or said they looked "silly".

To their credit, Lexington responded by pointing to the documentation supporting the proposition their 1775 counterparts most likely carried similar packs, blankets, belting, and cartridge boxes.They also announced they would treat the term "cookie cutter" as a badge of honor.

Anyway, during this year’s activities, the group marched from Lexington Green to the Parker’s Revenge site to honor those from their town who fell during the afternoon skirmish. After the ceremony had concluded, they waited for a bus that was to transport them to the Hartwell Tavern site for a scheduled tactical demonstration.

The unit waited …

And waited …

And waited some more …

But the bus never came.

While many would simply chalk up the demonstration as a washout, the men portraying Parker's Company decided otherwise. Because they felt it was essential to support the event and Head Interpretive Park Ranger Jim Hollister, the men decided they would make the tactical demonstration.

With full gear and muskets, the unit proceeded to RUN a mile and a half across National Park property and entered the field of battle just as His Majesty’s troops were about to clear the field. It was a heck of a sight to see from what we've been told.

So why are we retelling this rather long and possibly story? Because the Lexington Minute Men are also taking a hard look at their annual Battle of Lexington reenactment and asking how they can improve that event and broaden the average spectator's educational experience.

One aspect of the event they want to highlight is the nature of the injuries the wounded men of Lexington received and the long-term suffering that followed them in the months and years after the battle.

Historians Joel Bohy and Dr. Douglas Scott have done admirable work bringing to light the suffering of John Robbins in the aftermath of the Battle of Lexington. If you are not following their research efforts on this topic, you really need to.

But what about the other Lexington wounded? What was the extent of their injuries?

As Mr. Bohy and Dr. Scott noted in an April 20, 2021, guest blog post, “After April 19 and the Battle of Bunker Hill, a few of the wounded men began to ask the state for help. Their wounds, in some cases, made them unable to work and make a living. Medical bills were also growing, and with no income, how could they pay the bills and provide for their families? Many of these petitions for a pension, or after December 1775 for lost and broken material, are in the collection of the Massachusetts State Archives spread through numerous volumes.”

The Nerds recently reviewed the records of the Massachusetts legislature from 1775 and 1776 to see what other Lexington men submitted financial claims s a result of the injuries they sustained. We discovered six out of the nine wounded at the engagement submitted petitions for compensation. Most described the seriousness of their wounds.

As a preliminary matter, let’s examine the damage a standard 18th British infantry musket ball can do to a human body.

According to Bohy and Scott, “Military surgeons in the late 18th and well into the 19th century described and commented on treating gunshot wounds in a variety of texts and treatises. A perusal of some of these texts, as well as the pertinent sections of the Medical and Surgical History of the War of the Rebellion (Part One, Volume 2 and Part 2, Volume 2, 1875 and 1877, respectively) for wound effects of .69-caliber musket balls clearly demonstrate that these large lead balls could indeed inflict significant and lasting effects to hard and soft tissue as well as nerves. Once a ball enters the human body, it can be deflected from a straight path through the tissue by any number of factors and exit the body after a torturous route. This is borne out by our recent live-fire studies of Colonial-era weapons, particularly with the shooting of British land pattern muskets. We observed, using high-speed video recording, that a .69-caliber ball shot at a target 25 to 30 yards away that the ball’s velocity and energy were significant enough to pass through reproduction clothing and 32 inches of tissue simulant. That is the equivalent of the body mass of two people. The ball, on exiting the tissue simulant, still had enough velocity and energy to travel between 50 and 100 additional yards before reaching its terminal velocity.”

So what was the extent of the injuries sustained at the Battle of Lexington?

Bohy and Scott have already explored in great detail the injuries of John Robbins, which can be read here.

According to the Reverend Jonas Clarke, Jacob Bacon of Woburn fielded with John Parker’s Company on April 19, 1775. He was wounded during the morning engagement. Although his 1776 petition to the Massachusetts General Court is missing, the legislative response is not. The General Court ordered, "Resolved That there be paid out of the public Treasury of this Council, Colony to Jacob; Bacon; (à Wounded' Soldier) the sum of Seven - pounds, Nine Shillings, in full for his Nursing, Doctering &c." The order “Nursing, Doctering &c" does create a fair inference that Bacon's injuries were severe enough to require constant medical care and treatment.

Joseph Comee lost full use of his left arm due to the gunshot wound he received. According to his 1775 petition, "that on the 19th of April last, at the battle of Lexington, was by the enemy wounded in the left arm, having the cords and arteries cut in such a manner as to render his arm entirely useless for more than three months, and has been at great charge in surgery, nursing, and board; therefore prays your Honours may grant him such relief as you may think proper”. Shortly thereafter, the Massachusetts General Court resolved "Resolved that of Twelveing and tir Resolved that their be paid out of the Publick Treasury to Joseph; Comee;' the sum of Twelve pounds Seven shillings, in full for his Nursing Boarding, & Doctring and time lost. …”.

Nathaniel Farmer was also wounded in the arm. His injuries were so severe that he never recovered from the wound and remained permanently disabled. According to Farmer’s 1776 petition, "PETITION of Nathaniel; Farmer; of Lexington in the County of Legislative .. Records of the Middlesex Cordwainer humbly Sheweth, that on the morning of the Council, Nineteenth of April last … was fire'd upon by the Ministerial Troops at Lexington, and was Woun[d]ed . in his right Arm wch Fractured the Bone to that degree that sundry Peices of the same has been since taken out, by wch means your Pettioner hath suffered much pain as well as loss of time and Charge to the Docters whose Bills are herewith presented, and in fine is totally disabled from Carrying on his Business, by which he Chiefly supported himself and Family Wherefore he prays your Honours would take his distressed Case, under your wise consideration and grant him such Relief as to you in your Wisdom shall seem meet, and your Petitioner as in duty bound shall ever pray …” In response, the General Court ruled “Resolved that their be paid out of the Publick Treasury of this Colony to Deacon Stone for the Use of Nathaniel; Farmer; the sum of Thirteen pounds Fifteen shillings in full for his Doctring nursing and Loss of time while confined with his Wounds."

In a 1776 stolen property petition, John Tidd described the saber slash he received before being looted by British troops. “On the 19th of April he received a wound in the head (by a Cutlass) from the enemy, which brought him (senceless) to the ground at wch time they took from him his gun, cartridge box, powder horn &c."

Although his petition is silent on the extent of his injuries, Solomon Pierce did require extensive medical treatment, thereby suggesting his wounds were also debilitating. According to a 1776 resolution addressing his petition, the Massachusetts General Court declared, "Resolved that there be paid out of the Public Treasury to Solo mon Pierce;, a wounded' Soldier, the sum of Three pounds Ten shillings, in full for his Nursing, Doctering &c."

Three Lexington men did not submit claims, thereby implying their wounds may not have been severe or debilitating. The Estabrook family did not submit a petition on behalf of their Black slave Prince, although “local legend” repeatedly asserts he was wounded in the shoulder. Thomas Winship also did not submit a claim for his wounds at the battle. Finally, Jedediah Munroe did not file a claim. Regarding Munroe, the injury he received was likely superficial as he was able to field when Parker’s Company re-entered the fighting later that morning.

Sadly, Munroe died at Parker’s Revenge that afternoon.

Sunday, May 1, 2022

"Receiv’d 30 bullets … 3 flints and a hatchet" - The Use of Hatchets by Militia and Minute Companies on April 19, 1775 Revisited

A few years ago, the Nerds published a blog post arguing that hatches and tomahawks were rarely used by Massachusetts militia and minute men in 1774-1775.

In support of our position, we relied upon our research findings of the time.

First, a review of Massachusetts militia laws from the 18th Century (1700 - 1775) reveals a single reference to the use of hatchets. Specifically, in 1757, Massachusetts Bay Colony revised its militia laws and started to place an emphasis on men acquiring bayonets. The law does indicate that swords were an acceptable substitute and hatchets were to be treated as a last choice. Specifically, “that any Soldier born on the training Lists in the several Regiments, shall be excluded from any Penalty for not being furnished with Swords, in Case they provide themselves and appear with good Hatchets.”

An examination of the resolutions of the Massachusetts Provincial Congress and the Committee of Safety between October 1774 and April 1775 suggests there was no recommendation for hatchets, tomahawks or axes to be treated as combat weapons. Typically, Congress’ recommendations for arms and equipment of minute companies stated “that each of the minute men, not already provided therewith, should be immediately equipped with an effective firearm, bayonet, pouch, knapsack, thirty rounds of cartridges and balls.” Any reference to hatchets or tomahawks was noticeably absent.

Likewise, a search of the 1774 and 1775 minutes of both the Massachusetts Provincial Congress and the Committee of Safety for various terms synonymous with "hatchets" yielded negative results. For example, a search of the term “tomahawk” produced no results. The term “hatchet” yielded three references, however each was part of correspondence to Native American Tribes. The term “axe” revealed several results, but the item always appeared in conjunction with the terms “shovels”, “spades” and “pick-axes”; which suggests Massachusetts authorities viewed the item as a camp tool rather than a combat weapon.

On the local level, a review of several dozen Massachusetts town orders and resolutions regarding the arms and equipment of its militia and minute companies produced not a single instance of tomahawks or hatchets being ordered as a substitute for bayonets. Similarly, most towns hired local carpenters to modify gun stocks, blacksmiths to make bayonets and edged weapons and saddlers to make cartridge boxes and belting. Surprisingly, there is no known evidence of local tradesmen receiving compensation for the production of hatchets for local minute or militia companies.  

Finally, a review of the available 1775 returns of arms and equipment for provincial forces does not make any reference to tomahawks or hatchets. For example, A Return of the [Chelmsford] Company of the 7th Regiment of Militia in the County of Middlesex lists canteens, blankets, ramrods, priming wires and brushes and cartridge boxes, but makes no note of hatchets or tomahawks.

With that said, the Nerds, as well as J.L. Bell of the critically acclaimed blog Boston 1775, were separately retained by the Town of Westborough to conduct a peer review of a report examining the community’s militia and minute service record for April 19, 1775. During the review process, the Nerds stumbled across a curious finding held in the Westborough Public Library - evidence of hatchets being issued to Captain Edmund Brigham’s Minute Company on April 19, 1775.

Specifically, the Town of Westborough has a pair of “real time” documents that describe provisions and equipment issued to their minute men literally just before they marched off to war. One of the documents identifies hatchets being issued in addition to other equipment to Westborough men. For example, “Asa Ware Receiv’d 30 bullets … 3 flints and a hatchet.” John Piper was issued “a pound of powder, and 4 flints and 30 bullets … a hatchet.” Job Pratt received “half a pound of powder, a hatchet and 8 bullets.”

It should be noted that not all of Brigham’s men received hatchets. Many simply were issued flints, bullets and quantities of powder, thereby creating the inference that the men may have been already been armed with bayonets, swords or cutlasses. 

Is there any possible explanation why Westborough was issuing hatchets?  

There is no doubt Westborough, like many other Massachusetts communities, was on a wartime footing by April, 1775. However, like Amesbury, Westborough was somewhat tight with the purse when it came to funding and supplying its military troops.. As late as March 1775, a town committee was still scrambling to acquire sufficient gunpowder and ammunition for its minute and militia companies. After some difficulty, it also obtained the approval of town residents to purchase “twelve fier arms and bayonets and other articles … [and] two good drums for the minut company on the Town cost … and to provide and do everything that is necessary and convenient to make the said cannon fit for use and our defence.”  

On the eve of Lexington and Concord, it appears that the town was logistically "behind the eight ball" in regard to the issuance of proper sidearms to its men. As a result, Westborough turned to hatchets.

So with all that said, the Nerds are modifying our previous position that hatchets were rarely utilized by Massachusetts troops at the Battles of Lexington and Concord. Instead, we are now asserting that although hatchets were carried by militia and minute men, they were seen as sidearms of last resort.

Of course, we will continue to research this issue and if we discover any additional information, we will gladly share it with you! In the meantime, feel free to gather the pitchforks, light the torches, warm up the tar and assemble the feathers in response to our correction. 

 To save the angry mobs travel time, just look for us wherever tasty pastries with frosting are sold!

Sunday, February 6, 2022

"They Received Several Volleys of Cannon & Grape Shot fom the Enemy" - A Snapshot of Lexington's Patriots of Color

Given this is Black History Month, the Nerds felt it was more than appropriate to reflect upon those Patriots of Color who hailed from Lexington.

According to research conducted separately by Minute Man National Park and historian George Quintal Jr., somewhere between twenty to forty colonists of the approximately 4,000 who fought along the Battle Road on April 19, 1775, were of African descent or Native American.

Admittedly, the Nerds strongly suspect the number is actually higher and are actively researching this topic.

With that said, we often receive inquiries as to whether there were enslaved or free Black men who served in Lexington’s militia company during April 19, 1775 or afterward. As a preliminary matter, enslaved and free Black and Native American men were historically excluded from required militia service prior to the American Revolution. In 1652, the Massachusetts Legislature enacted a law requiring all African-Americans and Indian servants to undergo military training and serve in the militia. Four years later, fearing a slave revolt, Massachusetts reversed the law and prohibited African-Americans from providing military service in support of the colony. This discriminatory practice remained “on the books” throughout much of the 18th century, exceptions were often made (as we will see below). Thus, when war broke out, many men of color were the first of many to take up arms against the Crown and continued to do so throughout the conflict. By 1783, an estimated 5,500 African and Native American men served as part of the cause for liberty.

So what about Lexington? During the American Revolution, there were at least five enslaved men and one to two Black freemen that served with the Lexington Training Band, the official name of the militia company of the town. The enslaved men included Prince Estabrook, Pompey Blackman, Samuel Crafts, Cato Tuder and Jupiter Tree.


Special thanks to Antoine Watts for permission to use this image.

Prince Estabrook is perhaps the most well known of the enslaved and free Black men who fought on April 19th given he was wounded at the Battle of Lexington. Estabrook would continue to serve throughout the war, most notably with the 3rd Massachusetts Regiment. Pompey Blackman and Jupiter Tree also served in the Lexington militia and were recruited in 1777 to serve in Captain Edmund Munro’s Company, Colonel Bigelow’s 15th Massachusetts Regiment, General John Glover’s Brigade. The men saw combat at Saratoga, Monmouth and Rhode Island. Samuel Crafts and Cato Tuder also enlisted with the Continental Army although their respective regiments are not known at this time.

In regard to Lexington’s two Black freemen, Eli Burdoo was born in Lexington on July 15, 1755. He was the only child of Moses and Phebe (Banister) Burdoo. Eli’s father was also a freeman. According to a 1750 property tax valuation, his wealth fell exactly in the middle of Lexington residents for assessed wealth. Sadly, Eli’s mother died in 1756. His father was killed in 1759 in Canada while fighting the French. It is unknown who stepped forward to care for the orphaned child, but someone from Lexington did as he is not listed on the town’s “poor list”. Eventually, Eli Burdoo was taken in by his uncle and fellow freeman Philip Burdoo Jr.

At the time of the Battles of Lexington and Concord, Eli was 19 years of age. He was a private in Captain John Parker’s Lexington Company. According to his 19th Century pension application, he was present at the Battle of Lexington and fought for the remainder of the day with Parker’s Company. In the weeks after Lexington and Concord, Burdoo served with a temporary militia company raised by Lexington and dispatched to Cambridge to support the siege lines. He also mobilized as part of Lexington’s response to the “Bunker Hill Alarm” on June 17, 1775. When General Burgoyne invaded the Northern Colonies from Canada in 1777, Eli once again answered the call and enlisted in a militia regiment “to reinforce the Northern Army”.


Image source: Minute Man National Historical Park

Silas Burdoo, Eli’s cousin, is a bit of a conundrum when it comes to his relationship with Lexington. Silas was born on February 14, 1748. He was the son of Phillip Burdoo Jr., a freeman and laborer…and the same man who took in Eli. Silas’ grandfather was either a freeman or may have purchased his freedom. Regardless, by the 1740s, he had amassed enough wealth and property that Lexington’s tax rolls valued his property above that of his immediate neighbors.

Silas’ father was also economically successful and often participated in fur trapping expeditions with Lexington’s Edmund Munro.

Unfortunately, Silas Burdoo was not as fortunate. According to existing records, by the early 1770s Silas was possibly landless, worked as a hired hand and would often move back and forth between Lexington and Cambridge.

Silas Burdoo was 27 years of age on April 19, 1775. According to historical research conducted by the Nerds, as well examining the 19th Century pension application of Silas, it is likely he did not serve with Captain John Parker’s Lexington Company. Instead, he served with an unknown militia or minute man company only identified as “Captain Boardman’s Company”. It is possible this unit hailed from either Woburn or Cambridge.

In the aftermath of April 19th, Silas, like many men from Lexington, enlisted in Captain John Wood’s Company, Colonel Gerrish’s 25th Regiment of the Massachusetts Grand Army. According to Silas’ pension application, he served as part of a reserve force at the Battle of Bunker Hill. According to his pension application, he was able to observe the fight at Bunker Hill, was exposed to continuous artillery bombardments and spent the evening digging defensive works on nearby Prospect Hill.

“The Regiment took up a line of march for Bunker Hill in Charlestown and Capt. Wood’s Company, to which he belonged, proceeded as far as Charlestown Common, in plain sight of Bunker Hill, where the celebrated Bunker Hill Battle was then raging. That at Charlestown Common, they received several volleys of cannon & grape shot from the enemy, and after the American Troops were driven from Bunker Hill, he returned in sd Woods company to Cambridge and after refreshing, immediately proceeded to Prospect Hill, near Bunker Hill, where he stood on guard during the night whilst the American Troops were entrenching and fortifying the place.”

Silas again enlisted for service in 1781 when he joined a militia regiment attached to the Hudson Highlands. While there, he participated in foraging and patrol operations.

After the war he moved first to Ringe, New Hampshire and then Reading, Vermont. He was considered a well-respected business man by his community.

Sunday, January 9, 2022

"Provide for 50 Minute Men a Cartridge Box, Knapsack, and Thirty Rounds of Cartridge and Ball" - Massachusetts Wartime Buildup Efforts On the Eve of Lexington and Concord

247 years ago this month, most of the Massachusetts Bay Colony was on a wartime footing in preparation for a conflict with England. As part of that effort, town officials across the company took necessary steps to ensure its militia and minute companies were adequately equipped for combat.

Despite popular modern misconceptions, Massachusetts minutemen and militiamen were not poorly armed and equipped. Instead, it appears most towns took appropriate steps to ensure their minute companies were well supplied for war.

Shortly after the founding of the Massachusetts Bay Colony, the colonial government drafted and issued a series of laws outlining the requirements and expectations of each militiaman. Statutes defined what was a military emergency and outlined what a civilian soldier was expected to carry for arms and equipment on a campaign. Musters were frequent and mandatory, and criminal penalties in the form of fines and corporal punishment were doled out for being absent or not properly equipped. As the years passed, the Massachusetts government continued to update its militia laws.

When the Massachusetts Provincial Congress passed its resolutions in the Fall of 1774, these resolves did not alter the old militia acts. Rather, the recommendations encouraged a defensive military system that worked within the colony’s existing militia framework. However, as tensions between the army in Boston and colonists continued to escalate, Massachusetts towns instinctively assumed the role of the Massachusetts government and began to issue its own detailed resolutions that often expanded upon or added to what a militiaman or minuteman should carry. Many towns also passed Resolutions that agreed to provide specific equipment items to militia and minutemen at a cost to the town.

For example, on December 26, 1774, Roxbury ordered “Militia minutemen [to] hold themselves in readiness at a minutes warning, compleat in arms and ammunition; that is to say a good and sufficient firelock, bayonet, thirty rounds of powder and ball, pouch and knapsack.” The following month, Braintree required each soldier furnish himself with “a good fire lock, bayonett, cartouch box, one pound of powder, twenty-four balls to fitt their guns, twelve flints and a knapsack.” In Bridgewater, it was expected "each soldier to provide himself 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]." On October 24, 1774, the Town of Newburyport resolved “to protect and preserve the rights and privileges granted and guaranteed by the charter of the Province . . . Voted that all the Inhabitants of this Town be desired to furnish themselves with arms and ammunition according to Law, and that they have, also, Bayonets fixed to their Guns as soon as may be.” Finally, on November 21, 1774, the Town of Danvers resolved its minute companies would be equipped with “an effective fire-arm, bayonet, pouch, knapsack, thirty rounds of cartridges and balls.”

Recent research has revealed the popular assumption that militia and minutemen of Massachusetts carried their ammunition and gear in various, individualistic ways to be incorrect. Instead, it appears most towns, undertook a variety of steps to ensure its minute companies were somewhat uniformly armed with belting, bayonets, and cartridge boxes. In Bradford, the town resolved “Voted, That the Selectmen provide bayonets and cartouch boxes for the Minute-Men on the town cost, to be returned to the town after they are dismissed from the service.” Residents of Brimfield resolved that it “provide for 50 minute men a Cartridge Box, Knapsack, and thirty rounds of cartridge and ball a sett for each private in said Company to be provided imemdiately.” Finally, in March of 1775, the Town of Ashburnham voted that Captain Jonathan Gates be instructed to procure thirty-six cartridge boxes for the use of the town’s minute-men at the expense of the town.

When war seemed inevitable with England, Massachusetts militia and minutemen companies scrambled to adopt bayonets. On October 25, 1774, the Massachusetts Provincial Congress ordered 5,000 bayonets produced. Methuen resolved to provide bayonets “which should be brought to Capt. John Davis and after the service was over said Davis is to return said bayonets unto the Selectmen of said town.” Andover rushed to gather as many bayonets as quickly as possible. “Voted, that the enlisted soldiers be furnished with bayonets at the expense of the town. Voted, that a committee be chosen to collect the bayonets now in the hands of individuals in this Town and provide such a number of new ones as will be sufficient to supply the minute men. Voted, that the Committee chosen at the last meeting to procure bayonets collect as many as they can of those belonging to the Province by next Wednesday, two o'clock, P. M., that they procure one hundred more to be made as soon as possible and supply those firelocks that are effective which belong to the minute men with good bayonets as soon as may be.” In Lexington, the residents placed a heavy emphasis on obtaining bayonets. “Upon request of a number of the Inhabitants to see if the Town will call for those bayonets that were providede for part of the training soldiers at the Province cost, and that the remaindere of the soldiers may be providede with bayonets at the expense of the Towne, to be returnable when called for. And that those persons that have purchased bayonets at their own cost may be paid for them, by the Towne, at the price the others cost the Towne.”

The lack of bayonets continued to plague New England forces through the early years of the American Revolution. An April 1775 return to the Provincial Congress indicated that only 10,108 bayonets existed for 21,549 muskets. The following year, an inspection of a Bristol County militia regiment suggests that there were only 175 bayonets available for 446 muskets. As late as 1777, a Boston Gazette advertisement encouraged militiamen to acquire “a powder horn, a bullet pouch to contain 40 leaden balls, a knapsack, a canteen, a firearm of good worth, a haversack, a belt, [and] a good pair of overalls,” but failed to endorse bayonets.

As with cartridge boxes, some towns paid their residents to make bayonets and modify fowling pieces to accept socket bayonets. Often this involved modifications cutting down the stock of flintlocks so a bayonet could be accepted onto the barrel of the gun. Late in 1775, three Bradford men were reimbursed for fitting bayonets to guns and making cartridge boxes, scabbards, and belting for the town’s minute company. “Voted, To Phineas Carlton, for 22 Bayonets fitted with Scabbards and Belts, 8l. 5s. 0d. Voted, To Phineas Carlton, for Scowering the old Bayonets, and fitting with Belts, 4l. 4s. 0d. For 2 Scabbards and Belts, 0l. 3s. 0d. Wm. Greenough, for fitting one Bayonet and one belt, 0l. 2s. 8d . . . To Phineas Cole for Leathering 50 Cartridge boxes, 6l. 13s. 4d.” Jonas Varnum was compensated sixteen shillings for providing bayonets to Dracut’s minute company. Jonas Parker was hired to cut back the stocks of Lexington fowlers so bayonets could be fixed onto the guns.

Thus, when Massachusetts militia and minute companies took to the field on April 19, 1775, they were fully armed and equipped for war. An official report from a British officer present at the Battle of Lexington notes Captain Parker’s Company fielded with “arms and accoutrement, and, as appeared after, loaded.” In 1847, a mass grave containing several Massachusetts militiamen killed in Menotomy was opened. An eyewitness noted the men “were all buried … with their Clothes, Knapsacks, &c. on.”