Monday, May 25, 2020

"Fight For Your Brethren, Your Sons, and Your Daughters, Your Wives, and Your Houses" - Captain Samuel Thatcher's Cambridge Militia on April 19, 1775

Recently, the Nerds have been receiving several inquiries regarding Captain Samuel Thatcher’s Company. Thatcher’s Company was a Cambridge based militia company that mobilized on April 19, 1775. Available information about Thatcher’s Company is somewhat lacking but the unit has generated some recent interest given the unit was able to pursue the retreating British column across three towns.

So what do we know at this point about Thatcher’s Company?

The unit was composed of seventy-seven privates, corporals, sergeants, musicians and commissioned officers from West Cambridge. Present in the ranks were two enslaved men and three Harvard scholars. Thatcher’s Company belonged to the 1st Middlesex Regiment of Foote, a militia regiment composed of companies from Waltham, Lexington, Menotomy, Charlestown, Medford, Malden, Cambridge, Newton, Watertown and Weston. The 1st Middlesex’s commander was Thomas Gardner of Watertown.

The company was commanded by forty-three-year-old Captain Samuel Thatcher. Thatcher's family had occupied their homestead, located near the present intersection of Mount Auburn Street and Coolidge Avenue, for three generations and held prominent political positions in the town. According to local tradition, Thatcher and his father may have been both weavers by trade. His wife, Mary Brown, was from Lexington and two of his sons would go on to study at Harvard University. On December 14, 1772, he was voted in as a member of Cambridge’s Committee of Correspondence. On October 26, 1774, the Massachusetts Provincial Congress decided to wrest control of the colony’s militia away from those loyalist officers who commanded it and ordered the militias to “meet forthwith and elect officers to command their respective companies; and that the officers so chosen assemble as soon as may be . . . and proceed to elect field officers.” Shortly thereafter, Samuel Thatcher was quickly elected Captain of the town’s militia company.

By March, 1775, Thatcher’s Company was on a wartime footing and actively drilling and practicing military maneuvers. At the same time, several Cambridge residents were busy making cartridge boxes, belting, bayonets, and modifying fowling pieces for the men of the unit.

As with Lexington’s Reverend Jonas Clarke, Cambridge’s Reverend Samuel Cooke served as the company’s spiritual leader and reminded Thacher’s men that in God’s eyes, their actions were just. As Cooke instructed, “Be not ye afraid of them; remember the Lord, which is great and terrible, and fight for your brethren, your sons, and your daughters, your wives, and your houses … These instruments of death, taken up only for our necessary defence under alarming threats, we heartily wish and pray may not be prepared for the day of battle, but a happy means to prevent the conflicting warriors, confused noise, and garments rolled in blood. Similar preparations for defence to those now making through this land, happily operated to the complete deliverance of the Jews, without the hazard of an engagement. And this instance is recorded for our encouragement, while we are satisfied our cause is just … The steps directed by the grand Continental Congress we have attended to, trusting, under God, for safety in their judicious and united counsels. But their loyal and spirited address to the throne appears to have proved ineffectual. It remains for us to pursue the measures with vigor, they have advised to, as our last resort ...There at present appears no other choice left us, but either tamely to sit down and surrender our lives and properties, our wives and children, our religion and consciences, to the arbitrary will of others, o, trusting in God, to stand up in our own defence, and of the British Constitution."

In theory, Thatcher’s Company was one of the more actively engaged Massachusetts military units that saw combat on April 19th. The unit assembled and mobilized sometime shortly after the Battle of Lexington. It is speculated that Thatcher’s Company then conducted a forced march to the Lincoln-Lexington town line and set up an ambush position somewhere between Parker’s Revenge and Fiske Hill. Some 19th and early 20th Century historians have asserted that the Cambridge men actually joined Captain John Parker’s Lexington Company when it ambushed the British column as it retreated from Concord. More likely, however, the unit set up an ambush position on or near Fiske Hill.

After the initial attack, Thatcher’s Company continued to pursue and engage the column as it passed through Lexington, Menotomy and its own town of Cambridge. According to a mileage claim later submitted by the company, CaptainThatcher and his men covered a total of twenty-eight miles on April 19th. Miraculously, the unit suffered no casualties.

Thatcher and many of his men also participated in the Siege of Boston. At the Battle of Bunker Hill, the unit entered the contest during the third British assault on the American position. When Colonel Thomas Gardner fell following a direct artillery hit, Thatcher assumed command of the entire militia regiment.

We’ll keep researching this unit and see what additional information we can find. Of course, if you have any information about Captain Samuel Thatcher’s Company and its role on April 19th, feel free to point us in the right direction!