Sunday, February 25, 2018

A Snapshot of 18th Century Lexington Society

In less than two weeks, Historical Nerdery's own Alexander Cain will be releasing the latest edition of his book We Stood Our Ground. This work not only examines the circumstances surrounding the Battle of Lexington, but also investigates the economic, political, social and religious settings of Lexington on the eve of the American Revolution.

The following is another excerpt from the forthcoming book....

Yet despite the practice of mixed husbandry, the town was not a collection of self-sufficient farms. There was a great interdependence among the residents of Lexington. Cooperation and mutual welfare were common customs in Massachusetts towns and villages. Residents assisted each other with a variety of tasks and in a number of emergencies: preparing meals, building homes, plowing, felling timber, caring for one another when ill or injured or simply offering counsel and advice.

This concept of interdependence spilled over into Lexington’s economy as well. When goods or services were exchanged, cash was rarely utilized. Instead, transactions on the local level were recorded in the form of debts and credits. Debts were listed in terms of monetary value and recorded by creditors in account books. At any given time, a yeoman would be both a creditor and a debtor to dozens of his neighbors. Economic success not only required tolerant creditors, but shrewd debtors able to avoid settlement too quickly or frequently. Manual labor was the service most frequently exchanged on the local level. If there was either an individual need or general demand for items that could not be produced locally (such as gunpowder, high-grade cloth, needles and pins), local residents such as William Munroe purchased the goods in Boston, Salem, Plymouth or Newburyport and then resold them at their own stores in Lexington.

Because of this economic system, the web of interdependence was strengthened and families continued to rely heavily on one another. The economy thus served as powerful social cement promoting community cooperation and neighborly behavior at all levels.

The extent of cooperation did, however, have limits. The increase in Lexington’s population in the mid-18th Century, coupled with a fixed supply of land available as an inheritance forced many young men in Lexington to seek land north or west of Lexington, purchase smaller tracts of land inside Lexington or share with their brothers a divided inheritance.

Worse, many Lexington residents were saddled with overwhelming debt. In 1759, fifteen percent of Lexington men saw a forced sale of all or part of their real estate to settle at the time of their death. By 1779, the percentage had risen to almost twenty-nine percent. By the end of the American Revolution, a staggering forty percent of Lexington estates faced forced sales.

Although society in 18th century Lexington was fluid, it was not as mobile as modern society. Residents of Lexington, like most New Englanders, believed that the upper orders of society were to rule, while the lower were expected to obey. Lower class citizens were viewed with contempt and disdain if they attempted to assert influence or power beyond that expected of their station, and were quickly reminded of their proper place in society. Leaders had to be men of distinction, respected by all. By 18th century standards, failure to adhere to this societal structure would not only result in disorder, chaos and anarchy, but would also anger God.

The clergy stood at the pinnacle of 18th century Lexington society. Due to their own considerable talents, and bolstered by the religious doctrine of the 17th century, the Reverend John Hancock and his successor as pastor, Jonas Clarke, were the most important individuals in Lexington society. As ministers, they were the spiritual and moral leaders, the political commentators and when the town was without a schoolteacher, the educators as well. The minister held an unchallenged position within society. The citizens of Lexington were expected to entertain him when he called upon them to appear at his home.


The minister’s function was to help maintain stability and order within Lexington. Thus, he frequently set aside his personal needs for the benefit of Lexington as a whole. Jonas Clarke received a very generous salary, but he often donated part of it to Lexington at the yearly town meetings. In times of need, citizens naturally turned to the minister for assistance. Frequently he involved himself in settling the daily squabbles that arose between residents. Reverend Hancock often settled land disputes by driving a stake into the ground and telling the involved parties that the stake was the borderline and there would be no further quarrel about it. The minister even influenced the education of the town’s children, taking a leading role in preparing Lexington boys for Harvard.

Below the ministers stood the selectmen and other town leaders. These were the substantial yeomen and tradesmen who usually had greater wealth and held more property than the average Lexington farmer. These leaders were viewed as role models for the doctrine that ultimately success could only be attained through hard work. Their positions also entitled them to other benefits, including first choice in the purchase of family pews and burial plots, and the right to represent Lexington, first in the House of Representatives in Boston and later in the Massachusetts Provincial Congress.

Individuals rarely exercised local political leadership until they had reached middle life and achieved economic independence. It was assumed that only those who had established a place in society, whose accumulation of property ensured that their interests were dependant on no man, could be relied upon to wisely lead the community. Between 1769 and 1779, twenty seven of the town’s selectmen were between the ages of fifty and fifty-nine. Another seventeen were between the ages of forty and forty-nine. No one under the age of thirty served as a selectman. Thus, dependent sons, laborers, poor farmers and servants had no right to accept leadership positions.

Below the town politicians in the social order was the general male population, or yeoman. Hard working and dedicated to their beliefs, these men were concerned primarily with raising their families and cultivating their farmlands. A review of Lexington’s tax valuations of property in 1774 reveals the wealthiest resident of Lexington, William Reed, Esq., was assessed 16 shillings, one pence. The town’s poorest resident, Ephraim Winship, was assessed a mere ten pence. As such, most of the residents in Lexington were considered “yeoman”. The average Lexington yeoman owned at least five cows, two oxen, at least six acres of tillage and produced at least sixty bushels of grain per year.

A yeoman could vote in town elections and participate in town meetings if he had resided in Lexington for one year, was at least twenty-one years old and possessed an estate that would rent for £3:6:8 a year according to the valuation of the local assessor. As in many other towns, the average Lexington farmer made up the rank and file of the militia. He could read, possessed high moral standards and was often easily influenced by the Whig propaganda emanating from Boston. His daily duties began at dawn and continued, almost without interruption, until after sunset.

Beneath the yeomen were the landless and poor. By 1774, nearly one third of Lexington men were landless. Many were young men, transients or non-inheriting sons who remained in town. More troubling was the number of poor who were dependent upon the town for support. In 1764, there were twelve individuals who were dependent upon the town. By 1775, the number doubled to twenty-four. To curb the rise in government dependency, the town resolved to prosecute any resident who allowed nonresident poor to reside in their homes without first seeking permission of the selectmen. Fines assessed for conviction of minor misdemeanors were to be diverted to the support of the poor as was rotted and old wood found on town property.

Popular belief to the contrary, slavery did exist in Massachusetts, and there were slaves living in Lexington at the outbreak of the Revolution. In fact, slavery had existed in Massachusetts almost from its founding, but the institution had never flourished. On the eve of the American Revolution, seven slaves resided in Lexington. The largest slaveholder was Samuel Hadley with three servants.

In some households, male slaves worked side by side with their masters as coopers, blacksmiths, shoemakers and wheelwrights. In other homes they ran errands, functioned as valets and performed heavy work for their masters. In Boston, slaves worked closely with sailors and merchants. The few female slaves in Lexington were required to carry out the various household tasks their mistresses demanded.

Massachusetts slaves were not without rights. Unlike slaves in the southern colonies, New England slaves could hold property, serve in the militia (as was the case with five of Lexington’s slaves: Prince Estabrook, Pompey Blackman, Samuel Crafts, Cato Tuder and Jupiter Tree) and testify in court against both whites and other blacks. On rare occasions they were permitted to petition the colony for legal assistance. In 1774, several African-Americans addressed the Massachusetts General Court and demanded that they too have the right to enjoy the benefits of liberty.

A slave could also sue for freedom, as was the case with a female mulatto slave named Margaret. On November 20, 1770, Margaret appeared in a court in Cambridge represented by a local Boston lawyer named Jonathan Sewall. John Adams, who was currently in the midst of the Boston Massacre trial, represented her masters, the Muzzey family of Lexington. At the end of the hearing, which lasted most of the day, the court freed Margaret.

Still, slavery was a degrading and inhumane institution. A slave could not move in search of opportunity or even travel outside of Lexington without the master’s assent. If he were discovered, a slave would be prosecuted as a fugitive. A slave could marry only with the master’s blessing and interracial marriage was illegal. A slave’s wife and children could be sold to another owner at his master’s whim. Finally, a slave was always subject to both actual and potential cruelty against which there was no defense. If a slave struck a white man, he would be summarily and severely punished. On Charlestown Neck, travelers were presented with the chained bones of Mark, a slave who had been convicted of murdering his master. The spectacle was intended to serve as a constant reminder to slaves in Massachusetts of the potential penalties for defiance.

Tuesday, February 20, 2018

Five Cool Historical Artifacts With Ties To Lexington

If one is asked to list some of the more recognizable artifacts with ties to 18th Century Lexington, it’s likely the responses will include Captain William Crosbie’s pistols (erroneously identified as Major Pitcairn’s pistols), William Diamond’s drum and John Parker’s musket. 

Each of these objects witnessed the events of April 19, 1775 and play an important role in the retelling of the commencement of the American Revolution. However, there are other 18th Century artifacts that not only highlight the town’s wartime preparation efforts, but also give us a snapshot of some of the fashion and clothing choices of its residents.

Without further delay, here are five cool, but little known, artifacts attributable to 18th Century Lexington!

Wool Stockings (Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, MA). The stockings are dated to the late 18th century and purported to have belonged to Stephen Robbins of Lexington. These Brown-gray ribbed stockings are made with a cotton and silk blend and have a saw-tooth top edge and white toe.  

The Munroe Tavern Buttons (The Fiske Center, University of Massachusetts, Boston, MA): During the summer of 2010, archaeologists from the Fiske Center at the University of Massachusetts Boston conducted a survey of the grounds of the William Munroe Tavern. On July 15th, five matching buttons with the linen thread still attached were recovered near an old well. Each of these pewter buttons has a matching geometric design and is dated to the mid to late 18th Century.

According to a newspaper article that was published shortly after the find, Project Archaeologist Christa Beranek believed that a whole piece of clothing with the buttons still attached was discarded near the well.

Captain John Parker’s Sleeve Buttons (Lexington Historical Society, Lexington, MA) Following his death in 1775, the probate estate inventory of Lexington militia captain John Parker included “An Inventory of the Real and Personal Estate of Capt. John Parker Late of Lexington taken June 1776, Middlesex County Probate Court . . . Seven yards and _ of all wool cloth . . . one pair Silver Shoe Buckles and one pair of knee d.o. . . . one sleeve buttons."

The referenced set of sleeve buttons is currently in the possession of the Lexington Historical Society and is on display at the Buckman Tavern.

Lexington Drum Fragment (Lexington Historical Society). In late 1774, the Town of Lexington voted to acquire a pair of drums for its use by the militia. On March 14, 1775, Parker signed a receipt stating “"Agreeable to the vote of the town, I have received by the hands of the selectmen the drums provided for the use of the military company in this town, until further order of the town." Receipt of Captain John Parker, Lexington Company, 1775.”

One of these drums went to William Diamond. The second is believed to have gone to James Brown of Lexington. Brown served as the company drummer in 1775 and drummer of Captain John Wood's Company, Colonel Baldwin's 26th Continental Regiment in 1776.

The Lexington Historical Society is in possession of a drum fragment purported to be Brown’s drum. The fragment is adorned with three red roosters on a white, green and yellow background.

The Parker’s Revenge Button (Minute Man National Historical Park, Lincoln, MA). In 2015, an archaeological study of the “Parker’s Revenge” site inside Minute Man National Historical Park was done. One of the items that was unearthed was a cast-copper button that matches the size of a waistcoat or breeches button.

The elaborate design on the button includes a running fox, a ridge line, a bridge, possibly trees and a windmill. There is some speculation the button may be attributable to a hunting club, a gentlemen's society or a family crest.

Although it was found near the site where the Lexington militia ambushed the retreating regulars, it is unknown if this item can be tied directly to the town. Likewise, historians and archaeologists have been unable to identify the origin of the button (military or civilian) or what the detailed image may actually depict.

While it may be a mystery, let’s be’s still an amazing find.

Saturday, February 17, 2018

"Thus, They Began The Attack" - Who Fired First at the Battle of Lexington?

Later this month Historical Nerdery's own Alexander Cain will be releasing the latest edition of his book We Stood Our Ground. This work not only examines the circumstances surrounding the Battle of Lexington, but also investigates the economic, political, social and religious settings of Lexington on the eve of the American Revolution.

The following is an excerpt from the forthcoming book....

Captain Parker’s men waited nervously for the arrival of the British regulars. As the troops approached, many began to realize the danger they were in. One was bold enough to tell Parker “There are so few of us! It is folly to stand here!” The militia captain, ignoring the outcry, turned to his company and stated “Let the troops pass by, and don't molest them, without they begin first.”

Pitcairn was confronted with a military quandary. If he chose to ignore the militia company drawn up on the village common, he would be leaving an armed opponent to his rear. If he halted, he could exacerbate an already tense situation.

The light infantry officers in the lead company of the column, the 4th Regiment of Foot, resolved Pitcairn’s dilemma by directing their men towards the Lexington militia. The next regiment, the 10th Regiment of Foot, quickly followed. The two lead companies raced towards the increasingly nervous militia. Suddenly, they deployed into a line of battle and began to shout “Huzzah!” Pitcairn, realizing the situation was getting out of hand, “instantly called to the soldiers not to fire, but rather to surround and disarm the militiamen.” Many of the excited troops and officers may never have heard this order as they continued to shout and yell. Lieutenant Edward Gould of the 4th Foot later testified that he could not hear above the noise his men were making.

Pitcairn and other officers then rode towards Captain Parker and his men. According to Sutherland, several officers began to shout, “throw down your arms and you shall come by no harm, or words to that effect.” Private James Marr of the 4th Foot believed Pitcairn exclaimed, “Stop you rebels!” However, many of the Lexington militiamen later asserted that the officers shouted “Lay down your arms, Damn you, why don’t you lay down your arms?” Militiaman John Robbins, who was in the front rank as the regulars approached, recalled the officers chastised the militia by stating, “Throw down your arms ye Villians, ye Rebels!” Spectator Thomas Fessenden heard an officer order “Disperse you rebels, immediately.” Jonas Clarke, believed he heard an officer demand “Ye villains! Ye rebels! Disperse, damn you! Disperse!”

Recognizing the situation was becoming more and more dangerous, Parker turned to his men and issued new orders. “I immediately ordered our militia to disperse, and not to fire.” Most of the men obeyed his command and began to file off the common. Some, however, either did not hear Parker’s order or chose to ignore it. As a result, several Lexington men held their ground as the light infantry surged forward.

Suddenly, a single shot rang out. Revere, who was still in the woods with Lowell, said later he could not determine the source of the shot. Lieutenant Edward Gould also stated he could not determine where the shot came from. Many of the British officers believed the provincials fired at them. Major Pitcairn reported that “some of the rebels who had jumped over the wall, fired four or five shott at the Soldiers, which wounded a Man of the Tenth, and my horse was wounded in two places, from some quarter or other, and at the same time, several shott were fired from a meeting house on our left.” According to Lieutenant Sutherland, “instantly, some of the Villains who got over the hedge fired at us which our men for the first time returned.” Even Lieutenant Colonel Smith, who was not present, asserted “[our] troops advanced towards them, without any intention of injuring them, further than to inquire the reason of their being thus assembled, and if not satisfactory, to have secured their arms; but they in confusion went off, principally to the left, only one of them fired before he went off, and three or four more jumped over a wall and fired from behind it among the soldiers; on which the troops returned it.”

Months later, as he lay dying from wounds sustained at Bunker Hill, Major Pitcairn again spoke of the Battle of Lexington. According to Ezra Stiles, Pictairn asserted he was “riding up to them, he ordered them to disperse; which they did not do instantly, he turned about and ordered his troops to draw out so as to surround and disarm them. As he turned, he saw a gun in a peasant’s hand, from behind a wall, flash in the pan without going off; and instantly, or very soon, two or three guns went off . . . [the] guns he did not see; but believing they could not come from his own people, and that thus, they began the attack.”

From the provincial point of view, the first shot was from the King’s army. Simon Winship described an officer on horseback “flourishing his sword, and with a loud voice, giving the word fire, fire, which was instantly followed by a discharge of arms from the said regular troops.” Nathan Munroe contradicted William Sutherland when he stated he stumbled over a wall into John Buckman’s land, about six rods from the British, and then turned and fired at the regulars only after they had fired at him first. Jonas Clarke insisted one of the mounted officers with the expedition fired the first shot. “The second of these officers, about this time, fired a pistol towards the militia as they were dispersing. The foremost, who was within a few yards of our men, brandishing his sword, and then pointing towards them, with a loud voice said to the troops: ‘Fire! By God, fire!’--which was instantly followed by discharge of arms from the said troops, succeeded by a very heavy and close fire upon our dispersing party, so long as any of them were within reach.” John Robbins agreed with him, stating, “the foremost of the three officers order’d their men, saying fire, by God, fire! At which moment we received a very heavy and close fire from them.” Even John Bateman, a British soldier with the 52nd Regiment of Foot, declared he “was in the Party marching to Concord, that I heard the word of command given to the troops to fire, and some of the troops did fire.”

Although the source of the shot will never be known, what happened next is. The light infantry began to fire either with or without orders. “Upon hearing the report of a pistol or gun, then the Regulars huzzaed and fired, first two more guns, then the advanced guard and so the whole body.”

At first, the militiamen thought the regulars were firing blanks. Yet, when Elijah Sanderson saw a light infantryman fire at a man behind a stone wall, he observed “the wall smoke with bullets hitting it. I realized they were firing balls.” Ebenezer and John Munroe also believed the troops were firing only powder until Ebenezer Munroe was wounded in the arm. Angered by his injury, the militia man returned fire, screaming, “I’ll give them the guts of my gun!”

With the volley, the spectators gathered along the edges of the common broke and ran. Timothy Smith, who was watching the events unfold, recalled that he “immediately ran, and a volley was discharged at me, which put me in imminent danger of losing my life.” Thomas Fessenden later testified, “I ran off as fast as I could.” Benjamin Tidd and Joseph Abbot of Lincoln lost control of their horses, as did Lieutenant Sutherland whose horse bolted, carrying him through the ranks of the fleeing militia and several hundred yards down Bedford Road.

The regulars continued to fire, “made a huzza” and charged furiously towards the retiring militia. As the light infantry surged forward, Ebenezer Munroe remembered Jonas Parker "standing . . .with his balls and flints in his hat, on the ground between his feet, and heard him declare he would never run. He was shot down at the second fire . . . I saw him struggling on the ground, attempting to load his gun . . .As he lay on the ground, they [ran] him through with the bayonet."

Photo Credit Jennifer Wilbur Heim

John and Ebenezer Munroe also returned fire. According to John Munroe, he retreated ten rods, fired and then reloaded, ramming two lead balls down the barrel of his musket. The force of the charge took off a foot of his musket’s barrel. Ebenezer Munroe believed “there was no chance for escape and that I might as well fire my gun as stand still and do nothing.” In an interview with the Reverend Gordon, James Brown stated “being got over the wall, and seeing the soldiers fire pretty freely, he fired upon them, and others did the same.” According to Lieutenant Tidd, he retreated “up the north road and was pursued about thirty rods by an officer on horseback . . . 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 returned to the main body.”

Solomon Brown ran across Bedford Road, hopped over a stone wall and fired at the regulars. When they returned fire, the young man ran into Buckman Tavern through the back door. Once inside, he sprinted over to the front door, kicked it open and fired two more shots. Believing that Brown’s actions would lead to the tavern being burned to the ground, Buckman physically ejected Brown from the establishment; forcing him to seek cover in the woods.

Yet very few militiamen returned fire. Nathaniel Mulliken stated, “not a gun was fired, by any person in our company, on the regulars.” A year later, the Reverend Clarke strongly asserted, “far from firing first upon the King’s troops; upon most careful inquiry it appears that very few of our people fired at all and even they did not fire till, after being fired upon by the troops, they were wounded themselves.” Several militiamen later testified “we attended the beat of our Drum, and were formed on the Parade; we were faced towards the Regulars then marching up to us, and some of our Company were comeing to the parade with their backs towards the Troops, and Others on the parade, began to Disperse when the Regulars fired on the Company, before a Gun was fired by any of our company on them.” The British sustained only three light injuries. The toll was very heavy for the Lexington Training Band. Eight men were killed and eleven more were wounded in the brief encounter.

Tuesday, February 13, 2018

"For Coming Naked Into Newbury Meeting House"

With Valentine’s Day upon us, we could write about romance and love in 18th Century New England . . . or we could write about 17th Century naked protesters.

We’ll go with the naked protesters.

Lydia Perkins was born in Ipswich, Massachusetts in 1636. She was the daughter of Isaac Perkins, a very successful shipbuilder. At age two, Lydia and her parents relocated to Hampton, New Hampshire. On October 16, 1659, Lydia married Eliakim Wardwell of Boston. The newlywed couple also settled in Hampton on a large tract of farm land near her parents.

Starting in 1656, Quaker missionaries arrived in Massachusetts Bay Colony with the express intent to “propagate their contempt of the ministry and of the civil power.” Naturally, the Massachusetts colonists were horrified by their behavior and considered their conduct “the worst of all evils.” Quakers ignored civil magistrates, disrupted public worship and brazenly opened their shops on Sundays.

In response, the colonial legislature passed a series of laws designed to clamp down on Quakerism. In 1661, the legislature declared “any wandering Quakers be apprehended, stripped naked from the middle upward, tied to cart’s-tayle and whipped through the town.”

Another law ordered any person found to be a member of the Quaker movement to be immediately incarcerated. Worse, upon arrival at the county jail, the defendant was to be “severely whipped”, subject to hard labor and completely isolated from human contact.

To stem Quakers from spreading their influence, the colony often ordered members of the sect to be forcibly removed from Massachusetts. Illegal reentry following banishment was punishable by flogging, the removal of body parts, the tongue being “bored through with a hot iron” or execution by hanging.

Even ship captains were subject to criminal prosecutions if they knowingly landed Quakers in any Massachusetts seaside port.

Of course, by 1662 Lydia and her husband had converted the Quaker faith and were vocal critics of New England society. This angered her parents and neighbors and drew the attention of the congregation’s minister, who was determined to “keep the wolves from his sheep.”  The Wardwells were repeatedly fined or jailed for their attempts to separate themselves from the church. When this did not persuade the couple to repent, the Hampton congregation gradually stripped them of all their assets. “They plucked from him most of what he had, yet notwithstanding, in the strength of the Lord, he was carried through the spoiling of his goods with patience.” 

Virtually bankrupt, in 1663 Lydia and her husband were forced to relocate to Newbury, Massachusetts. Upon arrival, the couple was once again at odds with the local congregation. Frustrated with the Quaker pair, church leaders summonsed Lydia to appear before the entire congregation to explain her “separating from the church and teaching false doctrine”.

Surprisingly, she accepted the summons and went to the meeting house. However, “she went in naked among them, though it was exceeding hard to her modest and shame faced disposition.”

Many female Quakers had previously protested the underpinnings of Massachusetts society by stripping off their clothing and appearing naked in public. For example, Deborah Wilson walked naked into a Salem meeting house in June, 1662. She was arrested and punished by being “tied at a cart tail with her body naked downward to her waist, and whipped…till she come to her own house, not exceeding thirty stripes.”

Lydia’s actions obviously caused an uproar and “put them into such a rage, instead of consideration, that they soon laid hands on her, and had her to the next Court at Ipswich.” She was quickly arrested and brought before an Essex County court. On May 5, 1663 she was found guilty. According to court records “May 5th, 1663. Lydia Wardwell on her presentment for coming naked into Newbury meeting house. The sentence of the court is, that she shall be severely whipt and pay the costs and fees to the marshall . . . for bringing her. Costs, ten shillings, fees two shillings and sixpence.”

In 1703, George Bishop published New England Judged, a damning examination of the persecution of Quakers in New England. In his work, Bishop described Wardwell’s punishment following her conviction. According to the author, she was “tied to the fence-post of the tavern where they sat, and which is usually the place for their Court, where they may serve their ears with music and their bellies with wine and gluttony, whereunto she was tied, stripped from the waist upward, with her naked breasts to the splinters of the posts, and then sorely lashed with twenty or thirty cruel stripes; and yet, though it miserably tore and bruised her tender body, to the joy of her husband and friends who were spectators, she was carried through all these in human cruelties quiet and cheerful, to the shame and confusion of these unreasonable men, whose names shall rot and their memories perish.”

By 1666, the Wardwells fled Massachusetts and relocated in Shrewsbury, New Jersey. By the close of the 17th Century, the couple had amassed extensive tracts of land near the Shrewsbury River.

Monday, February 5, 2018

"I Have No Remorse of Conscience for My Past Conduct" - Loyalist Richard Saltonstall

Nothing helps the Nerds forget the agonizing defeat of the New England Patriots like a little historical research. And to help us block last night’s game please meet Richard Saltonstall.

Richard Saltonstall Jr. was born on April 5, 1732 in Haverhill, Massachusetts and was the eldest son of the Honorable Richard Saltonstall, a prominent and very influential Superior Court Justice. In 1754 he graduated from Harvard College with a Master of Arts (“Magister Artii”) degree.  At the outbreak of the French and Indian War, Saltonstall secured himself a colonel’s commission and commanded a battalion of Massachusetts soldiers. Following two years of military service he was appointed a justice of the peace. In 1761 he was sent to the Massachusetts House of Representatives by his fellow Haverhill residents and in 1763 he was appointed Sheriff of Essex County, a position he held until the eve of the American Revolution.

Saltonstall even commanded a regiment of Essex County militia. On March 4, 1762, Governor Francis Bernard signed a commission declaring him “to be Colonel of a Regiment of Foot . . . to be employed in his Majesty's Service under the Commander in Chief of his Majesty's forces in North America.”

When the Stamp Act Crisis erupted in 1765, Saltonstall openly expressed his support for the Crown’s fiscal policy. In response, a mob from Haverhill and neighboring Salem, New Hampshire gathered together, armed themselves with clubs and descended upon his mansion. Saltonstall quickly came to the door and met the crowd. According to one 19th Century account, he asserted that as Sheriff of Essex County he was bound by an oath of allegiance to the king and was obligated to carry out the duties of the office, including supporting the Stamp Act. Saltonstall allegedly warned the crowd that they were not pursuing a wise or prudent course by threatening him with violence. To diffuse the tense situation, Saltonstall then invited the mob to a nearby “tavern and call for entertainment at his expense. They then huzzard to the praise of Colonel Saltonstall."

The appearance of an angry mob outside his home did little to sway Saltonstall's political views. On August 29, 1765, Governor Bernard ordered him to raise a company of militiamen from Essex County for the purpose of protecting government stamps when they arrived from England and stored in Castle William. “Whereas in pursuance of the advice of his Majesty’s Council I have authorised you by my Warrants to raise & inlist a number of Men not exceeding sixty to be formed into an independent company, to serve in his Majesty’s Castle William, in addition to the Garrison there; The following are your instructions for the execution of such Warrants . . . As Soon as you shall have inlisted a considerable Number of Men, You shall return them to Castle William under the command of one of you by the best rout or conveyance which you shall be able to contrive; & the rest shall follow as soon as may be.”  Saltonstall accepted the role although it is unclear if he successfully raised a company.

Massachusetts Historical Society

Despite being branded a “Tory” and openly criticizing the illegal actions of his neighbors, Saltonstall remained free from harassment until 1774. In October of that year, the various militia units under his command removed him as regimental commander and replaced him with Andover’s Samuel Johnson. Shortly thereafter, a second mob appeared at his house. Led by Timothy Eaton, a member of Haverhill’s Committee of Correspondence, the mob notified Saltonstall that “his bold and unpatriotic words [had] . . . become obnoxious to the public opinion of the town.” Unlike before, Saltonstall was unable to calm the crowd and was met with threats of violence. The mob only backed off when Saltonstall promised “to give them no more cause for offense” and signed a loyalty oath.

Not surprisingly, the Haverhill Loyalist immediately fled for the safety of Boston. 

During the Siege of Boston he was appointed a Captain in the Loyal American Association, a Loyalist militia company that was raised to “prevent all disorders within the district by either Signals, Fires, Thieves, Robers, house breakers or Rioters”. 

Saltonstall remained with the Loyal Americans until the British evacuated Boston in March, 1776. Afterwards, he sailed for England and lived in London.

In 1778, the Commonwealth of Massachusetts passed the Banishment Act, which prevented Richard Saltonstall and hundreds of other American Loyalists from returning back to Massachusetts.  Afterwards, his own brother, Nathaniel Saltonstall, seized his Haverhill home and moved into it. Nathaniel had sided with the American rebels during the war.  In a letter to a friend, Saltonstall expressed great sadness at being exiled from the “delightful place of his nativity.”

In his Loyalist Claims application Saltonstall remained true to his principles. "I have no remorse of conscience for my past conduct. I have had more satisfaction in a private life here than I should have had in being next in command to General Washington, where I must have acted in conformity to the dictates of others, regardless of my own feelings."

Richard Saltonstall died on October 5, 1785. He was unmarried and had no children.

Thursday, February 1, 2018

"A Promiscuous Assemblage, Bent Upon Pleasure" - A Militia Muster in Federalist Massachusetts

Following the American Revolution, service in the militia was still compulsory. In fact, during the early 1790s, both the United States and Massachusetts governments passed a series of revised laws outlining the expectations and requirements of service in the militia.

The two acts generally mirrored earlier militia regulations, but the Massachusetts law also included a few updates. For example, the 1793 Militia Act was modified to include rifles, a weapon virtually unknown in the state prior to the Revolutionary War. 

 “Every Non- Commissioned Officer & private of the Necessary infantry shall constantly keep himself provided with a good equipment. Musquet, with an iron or steel rod; a sufficient bayonet & belt, — two spare flints, a priming wire & brush & a knapsack; — a cartridge box or pouch with a box therein to contain not less than twenty four cartridges suited to the bore of his Musquet; — each cartridge to contain a proper quantity of powder & ball, or with a good rifle, knapsack, shott-pouch, powder horn, twenty balls suited to the bore of his rifle, & a quarter of a pound of Powder.”

Period sources suggest that following the Revolution, many militia companies only gathered seasonally to drill. Likewise, regiments only assembled about once a year to perform basic military maneuvers.

By the beginning of the 19th Century, militia musters had evolved into a social gathering with a carnival like atmosphere. The presence of “independent” militia companies only added to the spectacle. These semi private organizations more closely resembled a social club for the local elite than a military unit. Almost always, Massachusetts independent companies were well equipped and uniformed. Their presence often turned musters into fashion shows.

Sarah Smith Emery was born in Newbury, Massachusetts in 1787. As we alluded to in a previous post, Emery and her husband dominated the Newburyport smuggling trade during the War of 1812. In 1879 her daughter published Sarah’s memoirs, entitled Reminiscences of a Nonagenarian

Emery includes an account of a regimental level drill she observed in the mid to late 1790s. According to her description, the units present were Newbury and Newburyport militia units and local independent companies. However, the event also attracted a variety of unusual and questionable characters, including shady merchants and . . . ummm . . . prostitutes. 

“One of the great institutions of those days was the spring and fall trainings. There were company musters at the training field on the main road in May and September, and a regimental review at the Plains some time in autumn. The officers of these militia companies alone wore uniforms, the privates mostly turned out in their Sunday suits. The musket in those days was fired by a flint, the spark from which lighted the priming in a little external pan connected with the interior charge through a small vent. A priming wire about the size of a common knitting needle, and a little brush two inches long, which hung by a brass chain to the belt, were used to keep the vent clear and the pan clean. These training days were the occasion for a general frolic, especially the reviews. General trainings drew a motley crowd, vendors of all sorts of wares, mountebanks and lewd women; a promiscuous assemblage, bent upon pleasure. Beyond the lines there was always much carousing and hilarious uproar. Many customs were then in vogue, now obsolete in military circles, such as firing at the legs of an officer at his appointment to test his courage, and firing a salute before the residence of a new officer at sunrise on the morning of training day. Of course the recipient of these honors was expected to give a treat. Many a poor fellow became “onsteady” before the day had far advance, and more were hors-du-combat ere it had closed. Accidents often occurred. One officer, from the careless loading of a gun, received a severe wound in the leg, and Mr. Oliver Pillsbury had several lights in his new house broken at a salute in honor of his attaining a lieutenancy. At this review there was a large cavalry company, including members from both Newburyport and Newbury. Newburyport had one uniformed company, the artillery. I very well remember how imposing they looked to my childish eyes as they marched onto the muster field at the plains, to the music of fife and drum, with waving flag, and followed by their field pieces. The regimental bands were then unknown. The foot soldiers marched to the fife and drum, the cavalry to the notes of the bugle. Colby Rogers was trumpeter for the troops for many years. The Governor and staff and many distinguished guests were present n the great day I have recalled. A public dinner was given and the festivities were closed by a grand ball in the evening. I was about seven years old when this militia system was organized, and well do I remember the sensation produced by the officers of our company presenting themselves at meeting, the Sunday preceding the fall training, in their new uniforms.”