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.”

Saturday, December 11, 2021

"And Followed in the Retreat to Cambridge" - What Happened to Captain John Parker's Company After the Regulars Withdrew from the Town?

A common question the Nerds are often asked is what happened to the Lexington Training Band after the events of Parker’s Revenge on April 19, 1775?

After ambushing the retreating British column, Captain John Parker and his men quickly retired up a nearby access path to the top of a hill and then moved down the east side. Once at the bottom, the company moved to a new position down the road to attack the column again.  According to Lexington militiaman Nathan Munroe “We fired on them and continued to do so until they met their reinforcement in Lexington.”  


But what happened to Parker and his men after the retiring British column left Lexington? 


Don Troiani's "Lexington Common"

Throughout the 19th and 20th centuries, the presumption has been that militiamen from Lexington pursued the retreating regulars into East Lexington but simply halted at the Menotomy line. This claim is supported by the fact that John Parker and his men did not submit a mileage claim to the Massachusetts government following the Battles of Lexington and Concord. By comparison, most other towns that mobilized that day, including Andover, Newbury, Framingham, and Acton submitted claims seeking compensation for the travel expenses incurred by their militia and minute companies as they pursued the British back to Boston. 


It has been theorized by many historians, including the Nerds, that as a result of the destruction and death the regulars had left behind in Lexington, Captain Parker’s men ceased pursuing the British column at the Lexington-Menotomy line. Once His Majesty’s forces disappeared from view, the embattled Lexington men returned home so as to address the immediate needs of their community.


However, the Nerds have stumbled across a pair of early 19th-century pension claims that challenge the presumption that Captain John Parker’s Company stopped pursuing the British column at the Lexington-Menotomy Line. Instead, Lexington veterans John Hosmer and Jonathan Loring specifically assert that Parker’s men continued to pursue the column as far as Cambridge, Massachusetts, and remained outside of Boston for between two and eight days.


Veteran John Hosmer submitted his pension application in April of 1832. In support of his request for financial support, Hosmer  asserted “While residing at Lexington, Massachusetts, on the morning of April 19, 1775, he was one of the Lexington Company of Militia, drawn up on the common, when the British advanced and fired on them … and followed in the retreat to Cambridge, and served at this time, eight days.”


Pension Application of Lexington Veteran John Hosmer

Similarly, Lexington militiaman Jonathan Loring also stated that he served in the Battle of Lexington. According to his pension claim of 1832, Loring “was at Lexington on the morning of the 19th of April, A.D. 1775, embodied with his company and received the fire of the British near the meeting house and continued during that day in [illegible] pursuing the Enemy when they returned from Concord … he continued in the field three days in Cambridge.”


Primary sources from April 19th have consistently suggested that the militia and minute companies of April 19th operated under the direction of their company officers and NCOs and did not break down into an unorganized mob of individuals who acted without direction. Thus, the statements of Loring and Hosmer do create a fair and powerful inference that Captain Parker’s Company continued to pursue the British column as it crossed into Menotomy. 


So why didn’t Lexington submit a mileage claim in the aftermath of April 19th? The most plausible explanation is a combination of the town still reeling from the devastating effects of April 19th, as well as Parker’s failing health. 


It wouldn't be the only occasion where Lexington did not stay on top of submitting claims to Massachusetts officials. Two months later, as the Battle of Bunker Hill raged, American commander General Artimus Ward called for reinforcements in the event the British army punched through the American siege lines. In response, Captain Parker’s Company mobilized the afternoon of June 17th and marched directly to Cambridge. They remained outside of Boston for two days. Unfortunately, only after some delay, did Parker complete but not submit a mileage compensation claim for the men who mobilized in response to Bunker Hill. In fact, the request was never submitted to Massachusetts officials until mid-1776, months after Parker had died of tuberculosis. 


The Nerds will continue our research into this new development and will keep you posted as to what we find!!


Sunday, November 14, 2021

"To Put Themselves in a Position of Defense Against Their Enemies" - Lexington Prepares for War

247 years ago this month, Massachusetts Bay Colony started its preparation for war with England. The launch of the war-time effort began after the Massachusetts Provincial Congress correctly surmised war with England was inevitable and the peoples of Massachusetts had to “consider what is necessary to be done for the defence and safety of the province.” As a result, the rogue legislative body passed a series of resolutions ordering the creation of minuteman companies, recommending proper drill exercises and the collection of military supplies.

One of the first towns to start their wartime preparations was Lexington. 

Four days after the Massachusetts Provincial Congress call for military readiness, Lexington held an emergency town meeting to plan “military discipline and to put themselves in a position of defense against their Enemies.” A week later, on November 10, 1774, the residents again gathered to discuss expanding the town’s stock of ammunition and powder. At the conclusion of the meeting, the men of Lexington resolved “Voted. That two half barrells of powdere be addede to the Town stocke. Also Voted that a sufficiency of ball for sd powdere be provided. Votede. That there be a suitable quantity of Flints provided for the Towne if there be found a deficency. . . That the Towne provide a pair of Drums for the use of the Military Company in Towne.”


Around the same time as Lexington was discussing the expansion of its military supplies, it also started to explore how to acquire cannons. In his critically acclaimed book, “The Road to Concord: How Four Stolen Cannon Ignited the Revolutionary War”, Mr. J. L. Bell discusses how Massachusetts residents were scrambling in late 1774 to obtain artillery pieces. Some of the guns, mostly iron cannons, were taken from coastal defenses around Boston and sent to Watertown.

According to research conducted by historian Joel Bohy and shared with the Nerds, several of the guns caught the attention of Lexington, Waltham, Concord and Lincoln. Its residents quickly pressed the selectmen to acquire a block of the cannons for the respective towns as part of a “bulk purchase”.

In early November, Lexington selectmen relented and announced the issue would be addressed at the next town meeting. Specifically, “Upon a request of a numbre of Inhabitants to see if the Town will fetch two small pieces of cannon from Watertown, offered by said Town for the use of the Company in this Towne.” A week later, the town approved the purchase of two guns. “Voted. . . to bring the two pieces of Cannon (mentioned in the warrant) from Watertown & mount them, at the at the Town charge.”

After approving the purchase of two cannons, in true Yankee fashion, the residents of Lexington voted to create a committee to explore the cheapest methods of mounting of the guns on carriages and building of ammunition boxes. “That a Comtee of three persons go to Watertown & see what the cost of mounting sd pieces will be & whether the carriages cannot be made by work men in this town”



It should be noted that the committee included Jonas Parker, an experienced woodworker and carpenter. Parker was later killed at the Battle of Lexington.

By the end of the month, Lexington acquired the two guns of the two cannons. On November 28, the twon “Voted . . . that the Selectmen receive the two pieces of cannon with their beds [from] the Towne of Watertowne and give receipts for the same on behalf of the Towne.”

As an aside, by late February 1775, it appears the guns were mounted on carriages but were rendered useless due to a lack of proper ammunition for the weapons.

In addition to stockpiling arms and ammunition, the town’s training band also assembled on the town common throughout November to drill and practice the evolutions of the 1764 Crown Manual. According to Reverend Jonas Clarke, the Lexington militia was continuously “training” and “showing arms” throughout the Fall of 1774. The 19th Century deposition by Lieutenant William Tidd asserted“that said company frequently met for exercise, the better to be prepared for defense.” Finally, Corporal John Munroe recalled “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.”

Of course, Lexington did not simply conclude its wartime efforts as winter set in. In a future post, the Nerds will examine how the town expanded its wartime preparation efforts in December 1774, including documentary hints that the town took measures to create a minute company.

Saturday, October 30, 2021

"A Few Had Old French Pieces" - The Muskets of April 19, 1775

 A few months ago, the Nerds gave a presentation on the muskets available to Massachusetts militia and minutemen on the eve of the American Revolution.

Admittedly, the presentation was merely an overview of available weapons and did not cover all possible muskets that were likely used at the Battles of Lexington and Concord. 

Similarly, the Nerds recognize that each weapon discussed during our presentation could be the subject of its own unique presentation.

Nevertheless, we wanted to share with our followers the presentation so as to shed light on the weapons utilized by provincial troops at the outbreak of the American Revolution.

The presentation can be accessed here.

Please feel free to share or use the document as you see fit!