Monday, July 12, 2010

Monument: Bedford Minuteman and the Bedford Flag

An inebriated moron crashed into the aforementioned Framingham minuteman statue the other day. Fortunately neither statute or driver were significantly harmed - although the monument was turned some 45 degrees by the impact.

The article on the incident notes that the Framingham statue was one of three minutemen statues in Massachusetts. This isn't quite true. In 2000, the people of Bedford created a minuteman statue - carrying the apocryphal Bedford flag as he raced to the sounds of guns in Concord.

As the Bedford Library notes:
[I]t is believed in Bedford that Minuteman Nathaniel Page took it with him to the battle at Concord. Nathaniel told the story to his grandson, Cyrus, and it was written down after his death by the nineteenth century historian, Abram English Brown. This account says:

“Our people were not surprised when the messenger reached this house… We had agreed at the last drilling to meet, in case of alarm, at the tavern in the center of the town, kept by Jeremiah Fitch, sergeant of the militia company. The horseman banged on the house and cried out, ‘Up, Mr. Page, the regulars are out.’ We were not long at our preparations, and were soon at the tavern.”

A. E. Brown continues, “On the arrival of the [Bedford] Company at Concord, they assisted in removing the stores to places of greater safety. Tradition says that Cornet Nathaniel Page laid down his flag and went to work, and when returning to look for it ‘found the boys had got it and were playing soldiers.’” He took it up and went to face the British regulars at the North Bridge.

While there is no contemporary account to corroborate this story, Nathaniel Page is listed in the official military rolls of the men who were paid for service in the American forces on April 19th. The flag is more than old enough to have been there with him on that day. His father, uncle and grandfather had served as cornets in the militia. Did Nathaniel bear the flag to Concord as he said he did? That is clearly quite possible.

Perhaps. But I tend to side with local historian D. Michael Ryan:
Perhaps most disappointing is the lack of primary source evidence that the flag was at North Bridge. Not a single mention of it is made in the myriad of diaries, letters, eye-witness accounts and depositions - British and American alike. Had such an unusual standard appeared on the field, without doubt an officer or soldier in either opposing ranks would have noticed. All that is certain is that a Nathaniel Page, Jr. was with Bedford in Concord and that the family had possession of an ancient flag. The conclusion must be that the banner did not appear at the Concord fight.
That being said, the men of Bedford did make significant contributions to the fight on April 19th. And the Bedford statue was long overdue in recognition of their courage. More on Bedford sites will be forthcoming.

The Bedford minuteman statue may be seen at near the intersection of Great Road (Route 4) and Bacon Road. Parking is available in the area.

To view the Bedford flag, it can be seen at the Bedford Public Library. Again, parking is available nearby.

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Monument: Lexington Minuteman, Lexington, MA

Growing up in the area, one would sometimes come away with a muddled understanding of local history. For a period of time as a young lad, I thought that the Battle of Lexington and Concord was actually a conflict between Lexington and Concord.

Later in life, I came to understand that there was some truth to that misunderstanding.

After the 1875 unveiling of the Concord Minuteman statute, it fell upon the leadership of Lexington to respond in kind. And so, in 1899, a statute was commissioned for the Lexington green.

Bold, hatless and Hollywood handsome, the Lexington Minuteman stands looking out in the direction of the advancing British column.

Of course, there is considerable doubt as to whether there were any Lexington minutemen as the historical record is devoid of any vote establishing a company of minutemen in Lexington. It was the Lexington militia that mustered on the green late on the 18th and early on the 19th of April.

Henry Hudson Kitson, a British-born subject, was the sculptor chosen for this task.

Kitson was known for bold, romantic statues. While the Concord sculptor went on to create the statue of Lincoln at the Lincoln Memorial, Kitson created a statue of Jefferson Davis.

Kitson wasn't finished with this subject. He actually cast a second minuteman statue but added a hat and altered slightly the boots. This minuteman stands near Washington's Newburgh, New York, headquarters.

Kitson also designed a third minuteman statue that is in Framingham, MA. This latter piece was actually cast by his wife, Zelda Kitson.

The Lexington minuteman statue stands at the front of the Lexington Green. It is easily accessible by road and parking is readily available in the area.

Monday, February 15, 2010

Monument: The Minuteman, Concord

Switching gears a bit, I'll be focusing on some of the minutemen statues in the area.

The first and arguably most famous statue is the minuteman statue at the Concord North Bridge. According to the Minuteman National Park discussion, the statue is not of Isaac Davis. The Park says: [I]t represents a (generic) farmer who leaves his plow and picks up his musket to defend his land and liberty. However, when French was researching the statue, he did make sketches of some of the descendants of Isaac Davis of Acton (killed at the Bridge).

However, according to a number of authorities (and local tradition), it is generally understood to be a statue of Captain Isaac Davis of Acton. As he was among the first to fall at the Bridge, after leading the Acton Minutemen at the head of assembled troops, Davis's courage and leadership certainly merited recognition.

This statue was sculpted by then-Concord resident, Daniel Chester French. An Exeter, New Hampshire, native, French came to Concord to study sculpting. In 1872, the Concord town meeting commissioned the statue for the centennial celebration in the next April. French was given the honor to create the art work - his very first statue of this size. He worked on the monument for two years.

The statue was unvieled on April 18, 1875, before an assembly of townspeople and honored guests, including President Ulysses S. Grant and Ralph Waldo Emerson. The statue was very well received as it signaled a romantic realism that was new to American art. French did not attend the unveiling as he was in Europe.

As one can readily see, with an open shirt and rolled up sleeves, this minutemen is ready to fight in the weather of mid-May - not the 40+ degree of the weather on April 19, 1775. But romance has its purpose as well.

The statue includes a plough, signifying that it was farmers who left their fields to fight for their country. Of course, Isaac Davis was a blacksmith, not a farmer. Somewhat interestingly, a later statue of a minuteman created by H.H. Kitson for the town of Framingham did have an anvil next to the patriot.
The Concord Minuteman statue is one of the more well-known symbols of the Commonwealth. That was evidenced recently by the inclusion of the statue on the Massachusetts state quarter issued by the United States Mint in 2000.

The statue also serves as the symbol for the National Guard.

Daniel Chester French went on to sculpt many notable statues across the country, most notably the figure of the seated Abraham Lincoln at the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, D.C. French's life and works are commemorated at his summer home, Chesterwood, in Stockbridge, Massachusetts. Chester's final resting place is in the Sleepy Hollow Cemetary in Concord, Massachusetts, not far from his statue of "The Minuteman".

This statue may be seen just across the North Bridge at the Minuteman National Park in Concord. Parking is readily available.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

"One Worthy to Live in Our History": Captain Samuel Wadsworth at the Sudbury Fight, Sudbury

In addition to the oft-overlooked Deacon Haynes Garrison site, there are two monuments to the Sudbury fight of King Philip's War.

On Route 20, at the intersection with Concord Road, there is an historical marker to the Sudbury Fight (seen at left). Like too many of these markers, it finds itself somewhat neglected, in need of some repair and largely overlooked.

As noted on the sign, the Sudbury fight took place a bit of distance away. I am assuming that it is Green Hill in Sudbury that this marker is referencing, as the area that the would-be rescuer Captain Samuel Wadsworth fell.

As noted in an earlier post, the fight in Sudbury was a fierce struggle with the English settlers badly outnumbered. Various accounts place the number of attackers between 1,000 and 1,500. The number of settlers was about 100. Having destroyed Marlborough, the attackers moved eastward toward Sudbury. Those in Sudbury collapsed into the half-dozen garrisons around the town and repelled the repeated attacks. Homes that were abandoned were plundered and burned.

Reinforcements came from Concord, Watertown and Marlborough. The fate of the Concord men has been mentioned. The company from Watertown fared slightly better, finding shelter in one of the garrisons. Captain Samuel Wadsworth of Milton, having just tried to repel the attacks in Marlborough, now headed to Sudbury with a contingent of men; various accounts place the size of his company between 50 and 100.

Wadsworth arrived in Sudbury in the night. He began surveillance of the situation and established his men for a morning encounter.

The next day, Wadsworth and his men pursued a party of about 100 Indians - he may have thought that this was the main body of Indians. By most accounts, this was a strategic feint by the Indians to draw Wadsworth into a full engagement. It worked. Quickly surrounded, he was severely outnumbered, perhaps by a 5-1 margin. Wadsworth was now engaged in a desperate struggle.

He led his men up to the top of Green Hill, a strategically advantageous position, although it offered little shelter. Towards the end of the day, the attacking Indians lit the dry April brush on fire. It swept up the hill. The fire and smoke made the hilltop an untenable position for Wadsworth and his men. As they sought to escape, several - including Wadsworth - were slaughtered by the overwhelming Indian force.

From Increase Mather's History of the King Philip's War:
But the worst part of the story is, that Capt. Wadsworth, one worthy to live in our history, under the name of a good man, coming up after a long, hard unwearied march, with 70 men unto the releif of distressed Sudbury, found himself in the woods on the sudden surrounded with about 500 of the enemy; whereupon our men me fought like men and more than so; but were so overwhelmed, that he, with another good man, one Capt. Brattlebank, and more than 50 more, sold their lives for the deaths of about an hundred and twenty Indians.
The actual resting place of the 29 heroic soldiers is also several hundred feet away from this marker, tucked into the Wadsworth Cemetery.

A monument was originally constructed under the supervision of Rev. Benjamin Wadworth, the son of Captain Wadsworth - and the eighth president of Harvard College. The Wadsworth House in Harvard Square is named for President Wadsworth. This home is still in service for the University today.

A second, larger monument was constructed in 1835 as a collaboration of the Town of Sudbury with the Commonwealth. The original marker is incorporated into the memorial at the base of the obelisk.

As noted with the Reveres and Dawes families, the Wadsworth family also appears to have had a long and continuing commitment to serve this country. According to a Wadsworth family web site, Air Force Captain Dean Amick Wadsworth was one of the first Americans to die in the service of his country in Vietnam in 1963.

Friday, February 5, 2010

"A High Son of Liberty": the Site of Dr. Samuel Prescott's home, Concord

As noted in an earlier post, the one midnight rider who actually made it to Concord to warn of the British excursion on April 19, 1775, was Dr Samuel Prescott. Prescott was the 24 year old son of Dr. Abel Prescott, who was leaving Lexington at an early hour of the morning after courting Lydia Mulliken, who lived near the Munroe Tavern.

In those days, there was no medical school to learn to become a doctor. In the case of young Samuel Prescott, he apprenticed with his father, Dr. Abel Prescott, Sr. Samuel lived in his father's home along with his older brother, Abel, Jr., and a sister, Lucy.

The phrase "high son of liberty" comes from a 1798 letter from Paul Revere to Dr. Jeremy Belknap. The letter described his view of the events of April 18-19. Revere wrote:
After I had been there [at the Hancock-Clarke house] about a half an hour, Mr. Daws (sic) came; we refreshed ourselves ourselves, and set off for Concord. We were overtaken by a young Dr. Prescott, whom we found to be a high Son of Liberty... I likewise mentioned that we has better alarm all the inhabitants till we got to Concord. The young doctor much approved of it and said he would stop with either of us, for the people between that and Concord knew him and would give more credit to what we said.
Shortly thereafter, the three riders were surrounded. Revere was captured but both Dawes and Prescott bolted. Dawes made it to the home of Captain Charles Smith of Lincoln and hid there. Prescott, however, rode into the night, warning the leaders of Concord and then Acton. Along the way, he stopped at is home and enlisted his brother, Abel, to carry the word further. Abel thundered off to Sudbury and Framingham.

While their heroics considerably aided the stand at the North Bridge in Concord, - it was the men of Acton who stood at the front at the Bridge - the day went hard for the Prescott brothers. After Samuel Prescott notified the leaders in Acton, he rode toward Lexington where he sought out Lydia and tended to the wounded. Later in the day, the British soldiers burned the Mulliken home as they departed the community. Prescott spent days in the Lexington area, treating wounded militia.

Dr. Samuel Prescott then went off to war, leaving his Lydia behind. His efforts, first begun early on the morning on April 19, 1775. In the next two years, he was attached to a unit in Fort Ticonderoga and then signed for service as a privateer. His ship was captured by the British in the North Atlantic. For years, no one had any word of what happened to the brave Dr. Prescott. Then a returning veteran came forward with the story of how Dr. Prescott died in a Nova Scotia prison and that he had been a cellmate.

Lydia Mulliken waited for eight years for her love and then gave up hope. She married and moved to Haverhill; she did not live a long life.

As for the other Prescott rider, after traveling to Framingham, Abel returned to Concord, just in time for the beginning of the long battle from Meriam's Corner back to Boston. A musket ball found its mark and he fell wounded. The wound never healed. Abel Prescott died in August 1775.

The Prescotts had paid a high cost for their courage and commitment to liberty. There is a Prescott Road in Concord that is presumably named for the patriots; there is also a Samuel Prescott road in Stow, Massachusetts, that will take a traveler to Acton's Liberty Tree Farm - where Samuel Prescott ended his night of warning his countrymen. Prescott's ride in Acton is re-enacted every year.

The plaque is located here on Lexington Road in Concord. Parking is available at the Old Orchard House parking lot and the site is a short distance from there. According to Ruth Wheeler's Concord, Climate for Freedom, some of Dr. Prescott's father's home has been incorporated into the existing structure standing behind this wall.

Sunday, January 24, 2010

The Bullet Hole House: Elisha Jones House, Concord, MA

This is one of those "Plymouth Rock" stories. If you don't know, there is a much honored boulder on the shore line in Plymouth, Massachusetts, that is supposed to be the site of where the pilgrims first landed in Plymouth. Only there is no contemporaneous account to support that story. As the Boston Globe pointed out in an article on the Pilgrim landing:
The Pilgrims left no written account of stepping onto a rock. A history of Plymouth written in 1835 attributes the notion to a town elder who, in 1741, went to the harbor shoreline, pointed out a place, and picked out the boulder upon which his father had told him the Pilgrims first trod.
So it is a nice story. After all, the Pilgrims had to land somewhere and the rock is as good a marker as any - absent any proof.

With the events of the nineteenth of April of 1775, there are a number of stories that aren't... proven. This is one of those stories.

As one leaves Concord center and heads out toward the North Bridge, there is a house with an odd diamond cut in the siding. It is the "Elisha Jones house", commonly known as "the bullet hole" house.
The property is one of the earliest settled in Concord. Situated close to the river with relatively flat slopes away from the river, it clearly would be very useful for farming. John Smedley, who came from Derbyshire, England, obtained this property in 1663. But by 1724, the Jones family had come into possession of the land. And in 1775, the house and land were owned by Elisha Jones.

On the morning of April 19, 1775, Elisha Jones was still at his home. Although he was a member in good standing in the Concord militia, the story says that he stayed to protect provisions that had been entrusted in his care. However, these provisions were meat and fish - not armaments. And it should be pointed out the Colonel James Barrett, who bore much of the risk of any discovery of the cannon, powder and other supplies at his farm, stood with his men in town and at the bridge.

In any event, at some point, after the exchange of fire at the bridge, Jones reportedly popped out to view or participate in the events. A British regular fired at Jones, striking the shed where he had emerged. Thus the "bullet-hole" was created.

This story emerged from the fog of battle some fifty years after the events and was told by the daughter of Jones. It gained wide currency when Judge John Keyes, an eminent local figure and jurist, authored a text on the Jones house, "The Story of an Old House" - which at that time was his home. (Keyes is also an interesting figure; among other things, he was at Gettysburg for Lincoln's address.)

Is it a bullet hole from a British musket? Probably not. There is an excellent analysis of the issue in the National Park Service's report on the house. But it cannot be proven either way. Like Plymouth Rock, it's a good story.

The house can be found here. It is currently being used by the National Park Service and is part of the Minuteman National Park. Parking is available at the North Bridge/Minuteman Park parking lot and the home is a short walk down Monument Street.

Sunday, January 3, 2010

"The dolefulest day": Mary Rowlandson's kidnapping, Lancaster

If Hollywood ever was looking for a quaint New England town, they would look no further than Lancaster, Massachusetts. One of the prettiest towns in the Commonwealth, it is also the oldest community in Worcester County.

As one of the older communities in the region, Lancaster was the site of a large native American raid in February 1675, - one of the many attacks that constituted the King Phillip's War. (UPDATE: The difference of the date on the monument is the 1752 change in calendar. Mary Rowlandson says "1675" in her book, so I'm sticking with "1675". Nobody from that time is around to complain so I think it will work.) During the attack, the Lancaster settlement was destroyed and Mary Rowlandson - the daughter of one of the founders of the community and wife of the Harvard-educated minister, John Rowlandson, was taken hostage. Later, she authored a history of her captivity and release, now commonly titled as A Narrative of the Captivity and Restoration of Mrs. Mary Rowlandson.

Her text is fascinating reading. During the attack, she describes settlers as being "knocked on the head" by the attackers. It is likely that they were "knocked" by the butt of a musket or an Indian war club - a large stick holding a sharpened stone or blade. The result of a "knock" was likely to be a cracked skull and a mortal wound.

Rowlandson describes the life of her captors with the eye of an early Margaret Mead and the memory of John Dean. She discusses the life in the villages (she is moved - or "removed" - several times around present day Massachusetts and New Hampshire) and the food that the Indians prepared. The "ground-nuts" which was a staple of her diet may still be grown by home gardeners. During the captivity, she met Metacom - King Phillip - the Indian leader who led the uprising against the English settlers.

She also discusses watching one of her children die in her care in captivity. Even with the very formal writing of her time, her pain still come through.

Mary Rowlandson was eventually rescued by John Hoar of Concord, who was held in high esteem by the area Indians and was allowed to negotiate a ransom for Rowlandson. She was freed at Redemption Rock in Princeton, Massachusetts, and reunited with her husband and surviving children.

Throughout her ordeal, Mary Rowlandson also kept her faith and found greater wisdom through her suffering. As she closed her text, she wrote:
Yet I see, when God calls a person to anything, and through never so many difficulties, yet He is fully able to carry them through and make them see, and say they have been gainers thereby. And I hope I can say in some measure, as David did, "It is good for me that I have been afflicted." The Lord hath showed me the vanity of these outward things. That they are the vanity of vanities, and vexation of spirit, that they are but a shadow, a blast, a bubble, and things of no continuance. That we must rely on God Himself, and our whole dependance must be upon Him. If trouble from smaller matters begin to arise in me, I have something at hand to check myself with, and say, why am I troubled? It was but the other day that if I had had the world, I would have given it for my freedom, or to have been a servant to a Christian. I have learned to look beyond present and smaller troubles, and to be quieted under them. As Moses said, "Stand still and see the salvation of the Lord" (Exodus 14.13).
Mary Rowlandson's book was a best seller in that time - and one of the first women authors of the New World. It is still available for purchase but may also be found on Google books and elsewhere.

The site of Reverend John Rowlandson's home isn't terribly well marked (I did not find any signs directing me to the area) but is easily found. Following Main Street, past the school, the town hall and across a small bridge, the site is on the right. There isn't any parking available here but - according to a Lancaster police officer - one can pull off the road right next to the marker.

The local elementary school is now named after Mary Rowlandson.

A "thank you" to the librarian at the Lancaster public library for helping me find this site. And a second "thank you" to the Lancaster police officer for not citing me for blocking the road while taking these pictures and directing me to a more appropriate stopping place.