Thursday, March 29, 2018

Darkness and Confusion: The Conditions of the Lexington Common in the Minutes Before the Battle

In review of the documentation on the Battle of Lexington, particularly the depositions of the Lexington militia men, it is probable that as the light infantry companies of the 4th and 10th Foot stepped onto the village common, the sun had yet to rise and lighting conditions were poor.

Thomas Rice Willard watched the battle from a window in Daniel Harrington’s house, located at the back of the Lexington common. Four days later, he testified “On the Nineteenth instant, in the morning, about a half hour before sunrise, I looked out at the window of said house, and saw (as I suppose) about four hundred regulars in one Body.” John Robbins noted the training band “being drawn up (sometime before sun Rise) on the Green or Common . . .there suddenly appear’d a Number of the Kings Troops.” William Draper, a resident of Colrain, Massachusetts who happened to be in Lexington on April 19th declared “about a half hour before sunrise, the King’s Regular Troops appeared at the meeting house of Lexington.” Finally, Thomas Fessenden asserted that as he stood in a pasture, he watched the regulars enter the common and rush the training band “at about half an hour before sunrise.”


Along with the darkness, the militiamen of the Lexington Training Band were also in a state of confusion. As the British advanced towards the common, Captain Parker initially ordered his men to “Let the troops pass by, and don't molest them, without they begin first.” However, when the light infantrymen rushed towards his company, Parker quickly reversed his own instructions. “I immediately ordered our militia to disperse, and not to fire.” 

Because of Parker’s inconsistent commands, many, but not all, of the militiamen broke ranks and began to retire from the field. But simultaneously, additional men arrived at the parade ground to join the Lexington Training Band. Nathaniel Parkhurst affirmed, “we attended to 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.” 

According to Daniel Harrington, “Upon information being received . . . that the troops were not far off, the . . . company collected together . . . by the time the regulars appeared . . . [The company was] chiefly in a confused state and only a few of them being drawn up.” 

Within the space of minutes, the training band had become a confused mob. 

The combination of the darkness, spectators gathered in small clusters and militiamen coming and going from the common must have contributed to Major Pitcairn and Lieutenant Sutherland’s false impression that a large number of armed provincials were drawn up on the Lexington Common. 

 One officer believed he saw two militia companies formed on the common. Ensign Henry De Berniere of the 10th Foot, described the Lexington men drawn up in two “divisions”, with a company-wide space between the two.  As we previously discussed, that perception was erroneous.

Monday, March 26, 2018

"With What Little Silver She Had" - Female Evacuees of April 19th and Personal Property

Research conducted by historian Mary Fuhrer suggests ownership of luxury items in Lexington, including gold, silver, pewter, brass, clocks, and looking glasses soared after 1750. When Lydia Mulliken’s husband died in 1768, an inventory of his estate revealed that they had gathered several markers of taste and fashion. When Anna Munroe married innkeeper William in 1767, she reportedly brought to the marriage a “Round mahogany table, two arm-chairs, looking-glass, hat-tree, Britannia teapot, silver tablespoon and . . . [a] pewter candlestick.” William’s brother Edmund Munroe had built up a goodly fortune trading in furs before his marriage to Rebecca Harrington, and he titled himself a “gentleman.” Together the couple acquired pewter, brass, glass, china, tea board, tea table, “a number of picters,” mahogany tables, chests of drawers, looking glasses, silver spoons, punch bowls, brass ink horns and an extensive line of linens. Rebecca’s parents kept pace with their daughter. Following the Battles of Lexington and Concord Rebecca’s parents submitted to the Massachusetts Provincial Congress a claim that included the loss of over £50 worth of textiles, including one “fine India dark gown,” one “striped English cotton gown”, an expensive eight-day tall case clock valued at at £15, three large mirrors, and teapots.

When many of women of Lexington fled their homes on April 19, 1775, they either carried off with them or scrambled to hide personal valuables. Why?

 It appears part of the motivation may have to do with Massachusetts colonial inheritance laws. While all property technically belonged to the husband, household movables such as textiles, furniture, the tools of domestic production, silverware and dishes were generally passed from generation to generation through the female line and were considered properly part of women’s domestic sphere. For example, Hannah Stone, bequeathed almost the whole of her personal estate “to my beloved daughter Tabitha Merriam.” Hannah Stearns willed to her daughter-in-law Patty her porridge pot and flat irons. Abigail Bridge left her riding hood to one daughter-in-law and a dark calico gown to another.

Thus, a woman’s household goods were her closest connection to lawful possessions and thus gave her a sense of ownership.  This perception would be severely undermined or destroyed if her personal possessions were stolen by marauding British troops.  

Given the above, what were some of the items civilian evacuees hid or carried off when they left their homes? The Reverend Jonas Clarke’s family hid “money, watches, and anything down in the potatoes.” Lydia Mulliken and her daughters, who lived along the Boston road, heard the alarm and hurriedly buried the family’s silver and other valuables by a stone wall near their clock shop, then fled to distant safety.” According to one account, A Lincoln evacuee carried off “the large family Bible, a loaf of bread . . . a looking glass, [and] with what little silver she had.” Finally, two of Jonathan Loring’s daughters hid the communion silver in a brush heap in back of the house before fleeing.

Saturday, March 24, 2018

Every Now and Then We Engage in a Little Shameless Promotion

Well, it’s finally here . . . After several months of rewrites and research “We Stood Our Ground” has been published as an ebook! Historical Nerdery's Alexander Cain rewrote the book to reflect the recent discovery of countless new historical documents, town records and historical artifacts.

We Stood Our Ground explains Lexington's shift from a passive to a radical town in the 1760s and early 1770s. It not only examines Lexington's religious, economic, social and geographical settings on the eve of the American Revolution, but also describes its citizens' reactions to the Stamp Act crisis, the Townshend duties and the Intolerable Acts. Lexington's war efforts prior to the Battle of Lexington are also carefully scrutinized.

For the first time the April 19th civilian evacuation of Lexington and the roles of Loyalists at the Battle of Lexington are covered. Likewise. Captain Parker's ambush of retreating British regulars is also reexamined based upon the archaeological surveys conducted at the original battle site.

Because of the support and encouragement Historical Nerdery has received from our fellow history nerds and friends, the ebook is available for FREE and can be downloaded here.

If you do download the book and like it, all we ask is you give it a favorable review on Amazon. If you have any issues with our research or the book itself, contact us directly and let me know what you think is incorrect or misinterpreted. Chances are we'll correct the errors!


Wednesday, March 21, 2018

"I Went Home After My Gun, Found It Was Gone" - The Lexington Men Who Saw Little or No Combat on April 19, 1775

Once again, Minute Man National Historical Park will be including in its interpretive programs for Patriot's Day weekend the events surrounding the civilian evacuations of the Battle Road.  On April 14, 2018, reenactors will be present at the Captain William Smith House, the Thomas Nelson Jr. House site and the Jacob Whittemore House to call attention to the psychological and physical impact of the Battles of Lexington and Concord upon the local populace.

In light of this event, the Nerds decided to address a recent inquiry regarding male noncombatants . . . did they even exist?  Were there just some men who missed out on the fighting or were part of the civilian evacuation?

To answer this question, we first narrowed our search parameters to Lexington records and accounts only.  We then defined "men" and "males" as any individual who would have been required by law to turn out when a militia company assembled for an alarm.  Thus, we excluded "elderly" men (over 60), children (under 12) and young teenagers (12-14) from our analysis.

After review, we were able to identify seven Lexington men that qualified for service in the militia yet saw little or no combat on April 19th.  Of those seven, four could have been classified as "evacuees".  The remaining three did not see combat due to special or unusual circumstances.

The first was John Raymond, who was employed by William Munroe as a general laborer.  Following the Battle of Lexington, Raymond kept watch over the family tavern while Anna Munroe and her children fled the property.  Early 19th Century accounts have argued Raymond was "a lame man", a "simple man" or "a cripple".  However, historian J.L. Bell has suggested that Raymond was actually an active member of Parker's Company and only suffered from a temporary disability.

Raymond was shot and killed by British soldiers under Percy's command the afternoon of April 19th.

Another was Elijah Sanderson. The Lexington militiaman served as a mounted scout in the early morning and watched the Battle of Lexington from back of the common. After the battle, Sanderson went home to retrieve his arms and accouterments.  Unfortunately, his brother got there first and took them.  As a result, Sanderson was forced to watch the afternoon fighting in Lexington from a nearby hilltop.  

According to his 1824 deposition "I went home after my gun,—found it was gone. My brother had it. I returned to the meeting-house, and saw to the dead. I saw blood where the column of the British had stood when Solomon Brown fired at them. This was several rods from where any of our militia stood; and I then supposed, as well as the rest of us, that that was the blood of the British. I assisted in carrying some of the dead into the meeting-house. Some days before the battle, I was conversing with Jonas Parker, who was killed, and heard him express his determination never to run from before the British troops. In the afternoon I saw the reinforcement come up under Lord Percy. I then had no musket, and retired to Estabrook's Hill, Whence I saw the reinforcement meet the troops retreating from Concord. When they met, they halted some time. After this, they set fire to Deacon boring's barn; then to his house; then to widow Mulliken's house; then to the shop of Nathaniel Mulliken, a watch and clock maker; and to the house and shop of Joshua Bond. All these were near the place where the reinforcements took refreshments. They hove fire into several other buildings. It was extinguished after their retreat. During the day, the women and children had been so scattered and dispersed, that most of them were out of the way when the reinforcements arrived."  

James Reed also missed the afternoon fight because he was guarding captured British prisoners hidden in his house. "I also saw a British soldier march up the road, near said meeting-house, and Joshua Reed of Woburn met him, and demanded him to surrender. He then took his arms and equipments from him, and I took charge of him, and took him to my house . . . I also testify, that E. Welsh brought to my house, soon after I returned home with my prisoner, two more of said British troops ; and two more were immediately brought, and I suppose, by John Munroe and Thomas R. Willard of Lexington; and I am confident, that one more was brought, but by whom, I don't now recollect. All the above prisoners were taken at Lexington immediately after the main body had left the common, and were conveyed to my house early in the morning; and I took charge of them. In the afternoon five or six more of said British troops, that were taken prisoners in the afternoon, when on the retreat from Concord, were brought to my house and put under my care. Towards evening, it was thought best to remove them from my house."

At least four men missed the fighting because they were caring for their wives, mothers or daughters. Four Lexington women had given birth over the previous month and were still bedridden.  Another three were all over eight months pregnant.

Moses Reed and his father-in-law Jacob Whittemore carried Sarah Reed and her newborn child out of the family home on a mattress. Likewise, teenager Joseph Estabrook and his father "assisted in carrying his mother with a young infant (Solomon) in her arms, in an arm chair, about a mile back from the scene of danger." 

Limited historical documentation suggests that three of the four men never participated in the fighting and instead remained with their wives and families.  

The fourth, Joseph Estabrook, is the variable.  A purported letter from Estabrook in the early 1820s asserted he was present at the Battle of Lexington and had bullets pierce the skirts of his coat as he retreated off the Green.  Unfortunately, this letter is somewhat suspect as Estabrook's birth records suggest he was at most fifteen years old at the time of the skirmish and would have been too young to serve with the militia. 

Sunday, March 18, 2018

"For My Folly I Had to Pay for All" - One Account of the Loyalist Plight After Saratoga

Following Burgoyne's defeat at the Battle of Saratoga, the morale of the Loyalist refugees attached to the British Army had devolved to the point of despair. Eighteen year old Elizabeth Munro was the daughter of the Reverend Harry Munro, a chaplain with the British Army. In 1810, she published Memoirs of Mrs. Elizabeth Fischer.

In her work, Elizabeth describes just how desperate the Loyalist refugees were following the British defeat.

"We retreated after the last battle to Saratoga, where we encamped a small distance from the river, to prevent their cannon having any command over us—having nothing to do, waiting General Burgoyne's orders. We were deprived of all comforts of life, and did not dare to kindle fire for fear we should be observed from the other side of the river, and they might fire on us, which they did several times. Being about the middle of October, we suffered cold and hunger; many a day I had nothing but a piece of raw salt pork, a biscuit, and a drink of water—poor living for a nurse. At this time I had my child at my breast, being eleven months old. One day, wearied of living in this manner, I told some of the soldiers' wives if they would join me, I would find out a way to get some provision cooked—seven of them joined me. I spoke to some of the soldiers that were invalid, and told them if they would make up a fire back in the woods, and get a large kettle hung on, we would fill it with provision, and cook it, which would last us some time. They consented to do it for a guinea; they went to work and built up the fire, hung on the kettle, and put water in it, then we women put in what we pleased; we soon filled it with a variety; it began to boil; we all kept a distance from the fire for fear of the cannon that were placed on the other side of the river on a high hill; they soon discovered our fire, and saluted us with a cannon ball; it struck and broke our kettle to pieces, and sent the provision in the air. We met with no hurt only losing our intended feast. The soldiers demanded their pay, which I paid; but as the disappointment was so great, the rest declined paying anything, saying they had lost enough by losing their provision, so for my folly I had to pay for all."

Photo Credit: Joshua Blessing

Elizabeth also described the long trek to Canada and the hardships she experienced along the way.

"A few days after the capitulation took place, when I saw the troops lay down their arms, I was glad, for I was wishing to get out of the camp. Mr. Fisher said he should go to Canada. I refused going with him, and went back to Hebron, where I meant to have stayed. Mr. Fisher proceeded on his way to Canada. On his arriving at Diamond Island, he met my father, who asked for me. Mr. Fisher told him that I was not willing to go to Canada, at which my father was angry, and said he must go back and bring me and the child. Mr. Fisher came for me and told me what my father had said . . . To please him I went, and when we got to Diamond Island my father was gone on his way. The next day we followed and overtook him at Mount Independent; he was walking in company with General Powell. When we landed, he came and took me by the hand and kissed me . . . This was the first time I had seen or spoke to my father since my marriage; he likewise told me he would see me in Montreal. The next day we all set off to cross Lake Champlain; the season of the year being far advanced, and going to the northward, we found it very cold and stormy. We were eleven days on the lake, in an open boat, it snowed and rained every day; we slept on shore every night on the ground, as there were no inhabitants on that side of the Lake in those days, for they had fled on account of the war. On the 22d day of November we landed in Montreal. As the river St. Lawrence was almost frozen over, we found it exceedingly cold . . . When we came to Montreal, we found the town very much crowded, and house-rent and fire wood high. As we had nothing to do, we hired some rooms and lived with a French family that winter.”

Sunday, March 11, 2018

"House Broke Open" - The Infamous Thief Levi Ames

Last week the Nerds received an inquiry as to whether we were aware of any highly publicized incidents of crime in 18th Century Massachusetts. We dug through our files and came across one individual who received an inordinate amount of attention on the eve of the American Revolution.

Levi Ames was born in 1752 in Groton, Massachusetts. When he was two years old, his father Jacob died. By the time he had reached the age of seven, Ames was stealing petty items, such as eggs, fruit, jack knives and chalk. His mother, unable to control his behavior, secured an apprenticeship with a local tradesman. Levi remained with his master until he was a teenager and then promptly ran away.  He turned to theft to support himself.

One of the earliest recorded incidents involving Ames occurred when he was just sixteen years old.  The young man let loose a herd of cattle and used the distraction to rob his neighbor’s house. Shortly thereafter, he broke into a Marlborough minister’s home and stole his personal belongings and food.  He also robbed a selectman in Waltham.


Ames became so good at housebreaks that by the late 1760s and early 1770s, he was successfully robbing homes in Massachusetts, Rhode Island and Connecticut. He even teamed up with Tom Cook, a notorious New England thief who called himself “The Leveller”. (Some historians have suggested Cook modeled himself after Robin Hood and shared his plunder with the poor.)

Occasionally, Ames got caught. Pursuant to 18th Century law, the illegal breaking and entering into a home was a capital offense punishable by death. However, Ames avoided a death sentence following his first capture and was merely confined to a Cambridge jail.

Following his second apprehension, he was branded on the forehead with the letter “B”.

Nevertheless, Ames’ reputation as a skilled thief continued. In fact, he was so well known in various illicit circles that a “Mr. Meriam” recruited Ames to rob his father-in-law, a “Mr. Symonds of Lexington”. Meriam provided detailed instructions on how to enter the home and where to locate hard currency and valuables. According to the Ames, “I supposed he gave me this information through envy against his father-in-law, through whose means he was then confined for debt.”

As it is with many thieves, Ames eventually became careless. In the Spring of 1773, Ames recruited Joseph Attwood to be his partner. The two initiated a crime spree that began in Woburn and continued in Waltham, Boston, Cambridge, Worcester, Newburyport, Plymouth and Natick. The pair usually struck on Sundays and typically stole coats, tools, currency, firearms, cloth, dry goods and other “sundry articles”.

In May, 1773, the pair arrived in Lexington. The first house they robbed belonged to the Reverend Jonas Clarke. According to the minister, “House broke open. Tankard pepper box &c stole . . . Heard of our plate that was stole!!” Soon after, Joseph Simond’s house was also burglarized. “Mr. Joseph Simond’s House broke open his watch stolen &c.”

In August, 1773, the pair were finally caught after breaking into Martin Bicker’s home. Ames was arrested in the days after the crime and found to be in possession of Bicker's money.   Joseph Attwood fled to New Hampshire but was later apprehended.  Both men were subsequently prosecuted.

In order to save his own life, Attwood agreed to testify against Ames. During the trial he went into great detail about the pair’s activities, including the burglary of the Reverend Clarke’s home.  It was also revealed that Ames also went to great pains to remember the names of his victims. Not only did he provide details about the items he stole but he could also link each item to its owner. Only on a rare occasion he could not “recollect their owners”.


The Court found Ames guilty of burglary. He was ordered to be executed on October 14, 1773.

The Reverend Clarke mentions first learning of the sentence in early September. In response, the Lexington minister traveled to Boston and visited the condemned man. While together, Clarke noted “Levi Ames confessed to stealing my plate! Bro’t my Plate home.” Surprisingly, Ames also informed the minister where he could find the remaining stolen items.

Clarke traveled again on October 7th to meet once more with Ames.

Of course, Jonas Clarke was not the only minister to visit the thief. Word of Ames’ repeated declaration of remorse, his devotion to the Bible and his model behavior as a prisoner attracted many Massachusetts ministers.

To accommodate so many visitors, the Royal Court postponed Ames’s execution one week.

On October 21st, hundreds of spectators gathered to witness Ames’ execution. After being hauled in chains through the streets of Boston in a cart and then led up onto the scaffold, the condemned thief cautioned young onlookers against following in his tragic path. “Ye youth! who throng this fatal plain, And croud th' accursed Tree: O! shun the paths that lead to shame, Nor fall like wretched me.” He was then hung from the neck.

The next day, the Reverend Clarke recorded in his journal “Levi Ames executed!”

Shortly after Levi Ames death, his words of caution were transcribed and published throughout New England. Eventually, the Ames execution provided fodder for a movement to abolish capital punishment for crimes against property.

In 1805, Massachusetts Legislature finally relented and abolished the death penalty for burglary and arson.

Monday, March 5, 2018

"The Bloody Field at Menotomy" - The Brutality of the Menotomy Fight

It is unfortunate that outside of historical works and research studies, the fight at Menotomy on April 19, 1775 does not receive the attention it deserves. The late afternoon engagement was a brutal, hand to hand struggle that resulted in an American casualty rate that was higher than the Battles of Lexington and Concord combined.

Following Percy’s departure from Lexington around 3:30 in the afternoon, he and his men were repeatedly harassed by enemy fire. “As soon as they saw us begin to retire, they pressed very much upon our rear-guard, which for that reason I relieved every now & then. In this manner we retired for 1 5 miles under an incessant fire all round us.” Lieutenant Frederick MacKenzie also made note of where the provincial attacks were coming from. “Before the Column had advanced a mile on the road, we were fired at from all quarters, but particularly from the houses on the roadside, and the Adjacent Stone walls.”

As the troops advanced, they approached the Town of Menotomy, which had been abandoned by the local populace hours earlier. The town was the perfect location for sniper attacks and ambushes as the village road sloped downwards and was flanked on both sides for over a mile with homes, barns and enclosed pastures. Minute and militia companies recognized the opportunity, poured into the village and took up positions inside the homes and along stone walls.

As the regulars continued towards the town, colonists sheltered in the homes opened fire. Recognizing the extremely dangerous situation his men were in, Percy ordered the homes cleared. Squads of regulars rushed out from the column and stormed the various structures. The fighting moved from house to house and it was literally to the death. “Soldiers were so enraged at suffering from an unseen Enemy, that they forced open many of the houses from which the fire proceeded.”

Lieutenant John Barker of the 4th Regiment of Foot described how no quarter was given to the enemy. “We were now obliged to force almost every house in the road, for the Rebels had taken possession of them and galled us exceedingly, but they suffer'd for their temerity for all that were found in the houses were put to death.” Another officer recalled that the regulars “put to death all those found in [the houses].”

Many of the flanking parties also had orders to torch the houses they cleared. However, Lieutenant Mackenzie noted the task was virtually impossible. “Those houses would certainly have been burnt had any fire been found in them, or had there been time to kindle any; but only three or four near where we first formed suffered in this way.”

One of the first units to incur the British wrath was Captain Gideon Foster’s Company. The unit had made a forced march from Danvers to Menotomy in just under four hours. Upon arrival, Foster positioned his men along a stone wall flanking a hillside orchard, alongside minutemen and militiamen from Lynn, Needham and Dedham. Some of Foster’s company took cover behind another wall across the roadway at Jason Russell’s house. As Percy’s column approached, the Danvers men apparently did not see a flanking party from the 4th Foot come up behind them. Now trapped between two bodies of enemy troops, the men from Danvers, Lynn and Needham made a mad dash for the Russell House. Several militiamen were cut down as they tried to escape. One of those was twenty-one year old Perely Putnam of Danvers.

The British soldiers pursued the provincials into the Russell House and found two militiamen on the first floor. The first tried to escape and “leaped through the end window, carrying sash and all with him.” Regulars waiting in the yard shot and killed him. The second followed and was wounded in the leg. He somehow managed to escape. Later accounts purport his hat, coat and waistcoat had no less than thirty-two bullet holes in them.

British regulars quickly stormed the second floor, cellar and attic. Fighting was close and hand to hand. Many of the regulars relied upon the bayonet. Captain Foster would later assert that three or four of his men surrendered only to be “butchered with savage barbarity.” Nineteen year old minuteman Dennis Wallis attempted to surrender but fled when he realized he was about to be killed. He was shot several times yet somehow managed to survive.

By the time the fighting in and around the Russell House had concluded, eleven men were dead. Danvers suffered the greatest loss, with seven men killed, two wounded and one man captured. Only John Parker’s Lexington Company had a higher casualty rate for that day.

Fighting was equally brutal at Captain Samuel Whittemore’s home. Both primary and secondary sources document that Whittemore was brutally beaten and bayoneted multiple times by enraged soldiers as he defended his residence.

Behind the flanking parties came the plunderers. Stolen property claims submitted to the Massachusetts Provincial Congress by Menotomy residents included reports of stolen clocks, alcohol, clothing, jewelry and furniture. Of course, not all of the thieves were successful in their ventures. When he visited Menotomy on April 20th, the Reverend David McClure observed “Several were killed who stopped to plunder, & were suddenly surprised by our people pressing upon their rear.”

Period accounts suggest the house to house brawl left the homes and road littered with dead soldiers. “I saw several dead bodies, principally british, on & near the road. They were all naked, having been stripped, principally, by their own soldiers. They lay on their faces.” Andover militiaman Thomas Boynton described the damage along the road as his minute company advanced towards Cambridge. “We saw houses burning and others plundered and dead bodies of the enemy lying by the way, others taken prisoners.”

In May, 1775, Hannah Fayerweather Winthrop wrote to her friend Mercy Otis Warren and described the carnage she observed in Menotomy. “What added greatly to the horror of the Scene was our passing thro the Bloody field at Menotomy which was strewd with the mangled Bodies, we met one Affectionate Father with a Cart looking for his murderd Son & picking up his Neighbours who had fallen in Battle, in order for their Burial.”