Monday, December 21, 2009

Captain Charles Miles home, Concord

One of my ongoing issues with the re-telling of the events of April 18-19, 1775, is the difference between the depiction of the people at the two principal sites: the Lexington Green and the North Bridge in Concord. A longer post on all of this is forthcoming but, suffice to say, the stories of the people at the North Bridge ring true to me. Real people. Real courage. Real fear.

Concord Captain Charles Miles is part of that story at the Bridge on April 19, 1775.

When the minutemen and militia leaders were asked to march across the Concord bridge on that morning, Acton's minuteman captain, Isaac Davis, replied "I haven't a man who's afraid to fight". With that, Davis led the roughly 400 assembled minutemen and militia from Acton, Concord, Lincoln, Westford and elsewhere towards the Bridge - and the wary British regulars who were securing the strategic site.

Even with an ackowledgement that pride was not in short supply among many of the colonial era individuals - no matter what their station in life happened to be, the Davis statement sounds a little boastful. Perhaps even reckless. Yet various accounts of Davis tend to show a serious, prudent, thoughtful man - just the sort one would want as a leader. So why would he make this statement?

While the minutemen and militia were assembled on the hillside, smoke - described in one account as "huge volumes of smoke" - was seen arising from Concord Center. The fear was that the British regulars were now beginning to torch the town. Major John Buttrick, on orders from Colonel James Barrett, turned to Concord Captain Charles Miles to lead the foray into the center. It was, after all, his community to defend; the honor should be his.

Except that he declined.

Why would he decline? Probably common sense and a sense of self-preservation. Even though the British regulars were outnumbered by about a 4 to 1 margin, the front line of any attack is going to be where casualties occur. And New Englanders were reticent about marching into the muzzles of guns. When discussing the military effectiveness of the local militia, American General Nathanael Greene wrote:
"Place them behind a parapet, a breast-work, stone wall, or anything that will afford them shelter... they will give good account of their enemy; but I am well convinced, as I had seen it, that they will not march boldly up to a work nor stand exposed in a plain."
Miles's day did not end at the North Bridge and he fought elsewhere on that day. He was wounded but was erroneously listed as "killed" on the famous broadside detailing the British atrocities of that day:

A very good account of Miles' life by the esteemed local historian, Dr. Michael Ryan, can be found here.

The home is located at 462 Williams Road in Concord. It is a very nicely maintained private residence and is not open to the public. There is no parking nearby and the vehicles travel quickly on these narrow roads so only a quick peek is possible.

A street nearby is named Captain Miles Lane for the man who stood looking down at the British guns.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Sad News: Scurrilous Vandals

From New England Cable News (NECN) via AP:

Plaque Stolen From Revolutionary War Site

LEXINGTON, Mass. (AP) - Police say a century-old plaque that commemorated the belfry that sounded the alarm to summon the militia before the Battle of Lexington has been stolen.

The 20-by-20 inch bronze plaque honoring the Old Belfry on Lexington's Battle Green was pried from the rock to which it had been attached sometime last week.

Susan Bennett, executive director of the Lexington Historical Society, says the bell tolled to summon the militia to the green as British soldiers advanced toward town on April 19, 1775 at the start of the American Revolution.

The plaque was installed by the Lexington chapter of the Daughters of the American Revolution in 1910.

Bennett says she's dismayed the site has been "desecrated."

Police say they have notified scrap yards to be on the lookout.


The replica of the belfry stands on Belfry Hill overlooking the Lexington Green. This is the view of the edifice from the Lexington "Minuteman" statue.


UPDATE: Various Lexington businesses have generously collaborated on a reward for the return of the plaque (with no questions asked).

And The British Redcoat has a nice posting on this crime with before and after photos.

FURTHER UPDATE: On January 26, 2010, the plaque was found by a passer-by on Waltham Street in Lexington. It was in good shape and will be returned to its spot on the Lexington Green.

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Governor Thomas Hutchinson's home, Boston, MA

Governor Thomas Hutchinson was the last civilian governor of the royal government of Massachusetts. A descendant of Anne Hutchinson, the brilliant preacher and inadvertant proponent of religious freedom, Hutchinson was graduated from Harvard at 16, and served in all branches (executive, legislative and judicial) of the colonial government. He was undoubtedly a brilliant, but conservative, public figure with strong Loyalist sentiments.

Hutchinson had one of the finest homes in Boston in the 1760s when he served as the lieutenant Governor. In August 1765, a mob, incensed by the Stamp Act, turned their fury toward Hutchinson - who thought the Stamp Act was unwise and privately opposed the tax. Forewarned that the mob was headed to his home, Hutchinson sent his family away and stood to confront the mob alone. However, his eldest daughter refused to leave him and he quit the home to ensure her safety.

Hutchinson made the following report of the event:
And, in the evening of the 26th of August, such a mob was collected in King street, drawn there by a bonfire, and well supplied with strong drink. After some annoyance to the house of the registrar of the admiralty, and somewhat greater to that of the comptroller of the customs, whose cellars they plundered of the wine and spirits in them, they came, with intoxicated rage, upon the house of the lieutenant-governor. The doors were immediately split to pieces with broad axes, and a way made there, and at the windows, for the entry of the mob; which poured in, and filled, in an instant, every room in the house.

The lieutenant-governor had very short notice of the approach of the mob. He directed his children, and the rest of his family, to leave the house immediately, determining to keep possession himself. His eldest daughter, after going a little way from the house, returned, and refused to quit it, unless her father would do the like.

This caused him to depart from his resolutions, a few minutes before the mob entered. They continued their possession until day-light; destroyed, carried away, or cast into the street, every thing that was in the house; demolished every part of it, except the walls, as far as lay in their power; and had begun to break away the brickwork.

The damage was estimated at about twenty-five hundred pounds sterling, without any regard to a great collection of publick as well as private papers, in the possession and custody of the lieutenant-governor.

Hutchinson fled Boston in 1775. Although he often thought of returning to his native community, he died in London in 1780. He was able to publish a seminal study, a three volume History of the Colony and Province of Massachusetts Bay; the first two volumes were published in his lifetime.

I have found two dates for the house's construction; one states 1692 and another says 1711. The home was built by John and Abigail Foster - and eventually was inherited by a nephew, Thomas Hutchinson, the father of the governor. As Thomas Hutchinson the younger was born at the house in 1711, I think the 1692 date sounds more accurate. Having fallen into disrepair after the mob attack in 1765, the home was torn down in 1833.

The plaque is located on Garden Court Street. It is not on Boston's Freedom Trail, although various walking tours do point out the site.

Just across the street is another monument pointing out that the address for the home of legendary Boston Mayor John "Honey Fitz" Fitzgerald, the first Irish Catholic mayor of Boston and the father of Rose Fitzgerald Kennedy. Neither site is particularly well kept and both of these monuments could use a serious cleaning and/or upgrade.

It's Boston; parking is available at exorbitant prices.

Thursday, December 3, 2009

The Midnight Riders, Lincoln, MA

When I was a child, many years before the establishment of the Minuteman National Park, my parents would sometimes take me to Buttrick's ice cream stand in Lincoln, Massachusetts. I don't recall that their ice cream were as good as Brigham's but the stand was a short drive from home. And at the end of the parking lot, this was this large stone that you could climb on.

It was this stone, marking the place where the three "midnight riders", Paul Revere, William Dawes and Samuel Prescott, were stopped by a British patrol early on the morning of April 19th, 1775. Revere was captured but Dawes and Prescott rode on to complete the warnings - and into history.

On the evening of April 18, 1775, William Dawes had been sent out by Dr. Joseph Warren to warn the people of Concord about the impending excursion to seize the munitions stored in that community. Leaders such as John Hancock and Samuel Adams were also out in the Lexington/Concord are; they needed to be warned as well as orders had recently come from London to capture the leaders of the unrest.

Dawes took the "land" route - which was longer. In order to make sure someone provided notice, Warren sent out a second rider: Paul Revere. He took the "sea" route, across the river and under the guns of British warships.

Revere arrived first in Lexington and warned Hancock and Adams as they rested in the home of Rev. Jonas Clarke. Dawes showed up shortly thereafter. Around 1 AM, Revere and Dawes headed towards Concord.

Shortly before that, a young Concord doctor, Dr. Samuel Prescott, left the home of his Lexington fiancé, Lydia Mulliken. Just after the green, Prescott encountered the two riders and was recognized by Revere as "a high son of liberty". They rode together for a short while and then were surprised by a heavily armed British patrol. While Revere was captured, Dawes and Prescott made daring escapes. Dawes went on to notify Captain William Smith of Lincoln. Unfamiliar with the area, Dawes stayed in Lincoln. Prescott went on to warn the leaders in Concord, awaken his brother, Abel, to carry further warnings and then finished his night waking the Acton minutemen. Abel Prescott rode to Sudbury and Framingham.

Pictured to the left is another rock monument: it is the memorial to the 20th Massachusetts regiment know as the "Harvard Brigade" at Gettysburg. When I first visited the battlefield and passed by the unique monument, I thought it was strikingly ugly.

And then I learned the story: many of the members of the regiment had come from Roxbury, Massachusetts. When it came time to commemorate their fallen comrades, they returned to their childhood. They took a stone from a Roxbury playground, a site where they laughed, played and first bonded as friends.

Among the men from the 20th Massachusetts who fell at Gettysburg: Colonel Paul Joseph Revere, a grandson of the patriot Revere. He was not the only grandson of a midnight rider on those fields of Pennsylvania: across the way on the battlefield was Lt. Colonel Rufus Dawes of Wisconsin, who played a critical role on the first day of the three day battle.

Rufus Dawes went on to serve a term as a Congressman from Ohio. A son, Charles Dawes, went on to win a Nobel Peace Prize and serve as vice president in the Coolidge administration.

While Revere and Dawes lived to see the birth of the nation, Samuel Prescott's destiny ws largely determined by this happenstance of a late night encounter. I will write about that in another post, but his courage and patriotism did not end with this period.

The Revere capture site is now part of the Minuteman National Park; parking is available nearby.

Saturday, November 28, 2009

The Jonathan Harrington House, Lexington, MA

Sitting on the edge of the Lexington Green is the Jonathan Harrington house - a home with one of the sad stories of that morning of April 19, 1775.

Jonathan Harrington was from one of the old families of Lexington. And he married Ruth Fiske - from another of the well-established families in the community. They had a young son and a fine house in the center of town.

Given his proximity to the Lexington Green, Harrington was undoubtedly one of the first of the militia to muster in the early morning of the 19th. When Captain John Parker told his men to disperse until more reports were available, it would be likely that Harrington returned to his home.

Just after 5 AM, a rider came galloping back to the Buckman Tavern and told Captain Parker that a large force of British regulars were just behind him. The belfry sounded once more and 77 brave men assembled.

The British force - that was ten times the size of the militia - marched close. In a community that had a population of slightly more than 700, this force must have looked enormous. Perhaps 150 of the regulars peeled off to confront these local men.

Parker, a veteran of the French and Indian war, had seen battle before. After seeing the British line move toward Concord - and not toward the Hancock-Clarke home - he ordered his men to disperse.

Harrington was probably quite relieved by this order. He turned and headed home. His wife and young son watched him from the window. Perhaps he waved to them. Perhaps a nervous smile crossed his face.

First there was a shot. And then the crackling fire of a volley from behind. A musket ball ripped through Harrington's body and he fell forward to the ground. He rose, fell again and tried to crawl home. He stretched his hand out to his family - and then collapsed on the front step of his home. Ruth and the young Harrington rushed to him as he died.

The Harrington tragedy did not end there. The young Harrington boy died the following year.

This home is a private residence but the site of the death of the patriot Harrington can be seen at any time. Parking is available in the area.

Monday, November 23, 2009

The Sudbury Fight: Haynes Garrison, Sudbury and Wayland, MA

One hundred years before the conflict in Lexington and Concord, the sound of battle could be heard in communities nearby. Metacom - Philip to many English settlers - was the sachem of the Wampanoag tribe. While the Wampanoags and English settlers had coexisted for many decades, that peace was shattered in 1675. By April, the desperation and fear in the communities outside of Boston was considerable.

Death, destruction and kidnappings by the marauding Indians were to be found in many of the communities west of Boston. Sudbury had at least six garrisons that offered reinforced shelter to those seeking sanctuary from attack. On or about April 20, 1675, a serious assault on the Sudbury settlement began; the dates differ in various accounts.

The estimates of the size of the force bearing down on these garrisons vary considerably. Some say it was 1,500 native Americans, including women. Others estimate that it was 500 warriors. This much is true: the Sudbury settlers were out-manned, out-gunned and surrounded.

One of the garrisons was the Haynes garrison that stood close by the Sudbury River on "Water Row". A visitor today can see that it is not a place that one would want to have as a battle site - and certainly not an easy place for any rescuers. At one point, the warriors set a wagon filled with hay on fire and propelled it toward the garrison house. The terrified inhabitants of the house were saved - by the grace of God, according to their accounts.

The Haynes garrison survived the attack that day and stood until 1876. One can see what the structure looked like from the portrait of the Haynes garrison taken from Alfred Hudson's The History of Sudbury, Massachusetts, 1638-1889.

Today the remains of the foundation still stand at the site. Behind to the left is the foundation of a barn as well. Somewhat incongruously, there is a picnic table now sitting next to the foundation where so much fighting once took place.

The site of the Haynes garrison is adjacent to the King Philip's Woods Conservation Land.

Just across the river is a now desolate marker standing near the Wayland Country Club. The marker designates the area where about 10 (in their history of the war, the Mathers say 12) would-be rescuers from Concord were slaughtered as they sought to come to the aid of the Haynes Garrison. Perhaps a dozen or so men left Concord to try to help the fight in Sudbury. Even though the settlers knew something about the size and sophistication of the Indian attacks, these men marched off - bravely or recklessly - to Sudbury.

In James Drake's provocative view of the War, the difference in war tactics and weaponry is discussed. It is hard to see how the Concord men had any chance of success. Some accounts have one man being captured and later tortured. Other accounts have one or two survivors reaching the safety of the garrison house. It must have been a terrifying ordeal with death as relief.

The marker is at the end of a road slightly to the left of the entrance to the Wayland golf course parking lot. It is largely abandoned and overgrown. Given its history and the bodies nearby, it might one day be a nice spot for a memorial garden.

This road is connected to the picturesque Four Arch bridge that is closed to the public.

It should be noted that many more Concord men died in this fight against the Indians in 1675 than did on April 19, 1775.

The fighting in Sudbury was more widespread than just by the Sudbury River. I will discuss that more on another day.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Site of Ebenezer Fiske Home, Lexington

One of the more dramatic events of the first day of battle - April 19, 1775 - happened at the home of Ebenezer Fiske in Lexington. The Fiskes were a prominent family in Lexington. One of the Fiskes was the the Lexington doctor; another was married to Jonathan Harrington and had a home by the Lexington Green.

There - James Hayward, a 26 year old school teacher and Acton minuteman, met his fate.

James Hayward was exempt from service in the Acton militia having been maimed in an accident. However Hayward not only served in the militia but he was also selected for the more elite service of minuteman. Hayward had been with the other minutemen at the North Bridge in Concord and seen his leader, Isaac Davis, fall. With the loss of their leader, Hayward became the acting captain of his Acton unit.

After the "first forcible resistance" at the Bridge, he continued his activity throughout the day. By mid-afternoon, he found himself in Lexington. Having walked from Acton to Concord and then to Lexington, he was undoubtedly thirsty. He had come to the home of his friend, Benjamin Fiske, and happened to spy the well behind a home.

By afternoon on the 19th, the area between Lexington and Concord was a war zone. Homeowners fled taking their families and valuables, leaving empty homes behind. But they were still being used - by minutemen for shelter for skirmishing. So as Hayward approached the well, a British soldier was finishing his scouting of the home. He emerged out the back door - and confronted Hayward.

Both combatants snapped into action. As he raised his musket to aim, the British soldier said, "You're a dead man." Hayward responded, "so are you" and aimed his weapon. Both fired. The British soldier fell dead. Shot through the cheek, Hayward crumpled to the ground, mortally wounded. He died late that night.

The Fiske home was built in 1674 but sadly is no longer standing. In a state of disrepair, it was torn down in 1954 - before the establishment of the Minuteman National Park in 1959.

I have found a site that sells old postcards. One of the postcards has a photo of the marker (seen above in present time) and a glimpse of the Fiske home.

This site can be seen at the intersection of the old Massachusetts Avenue and Wood Street. There is a very convenient, small parking lot across the street from the Fiske site.

James Hayward's powder horn, along with a lock of his hair, can be seen at the Acton Memorial Library in Acton center. And the well is still there at the Fiske site.

Friday, November 13, 2009

Colonel James Barrett's house, Concord

Ground zero for the excursion of the British regulars into Concord, Colonel James Barrett's farmhouse was invaded by a column of regulars on the morning of April 19,1775.

James Barrett was the essence of the gentleman, farmer and soldier. Born in 1710, Barrett was a farmer, miller... and warrior. He served as a captain in the Seven Years War - or French and Indian war as it is known here. By the time of the 1770s, Barrett was a man of stature in the Concord community. He is selected to represent Concord at various representative bodies and commissioned as a colonel to oversee the local militias.

A large portion of the armaments was held at the Barrett Farm in 1775, including some cannons. The Barrett sons tilled the fields and buried some of the arms in the furrows of the field. (The photograph is of recently tilled fields on the site of the Barrett farm.)

On April 19, 1775, British commander, Colonel Francis Smith, sent about 100 soldiers from Concord center to Barrett's farm by way of the North bridge. At the bridge, the soldiers broke into two groups, one to secure the bridge while one headed to the Barrett farm.

This was done under the watchful eyes of about 400 minutemen and militia assembled on the hillside above the North bridge. The leaders of that group was Colonel James Barrett. The events in Concord center then precipitated the first armed resistence of the Revolutionary War. At the farm, the British regulars confronted the good Mrs. Barrett and stormed the farmhouse. Nothing was found.

Barrett lived to see the beginning of the War but not then end. He died suddenly in April 1779.

This property has been owned by just two families since being settled in the 1700s. However family farming is not a source of wealth nowadays and the house reflected the decline. In late 2003, in a considerable state of disrepair, the house was sold to a local preservationist group, Save Our Heritage. This structure is now the newest addition to the Minuteman National Park. It is being renovated through the considerable efforts of the SOH group and will be turned over to the National Park. Future updates will be posted as progress is made on the structure. I have done some volunteer work there so I'll try to get some interior shots as well.

The home is located at 448 Barrett's Mill Road in Concord. It is easily accessible from Route 2 at the Concord Rotary or from Concord Center. There is currently no designated parking area but traffic is manageable and there are areas to pull off the road safely.

There are plans for a large Barrett birthday celebration in 2010 - the 300th anniversary of the patriot's birth.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

The Golden Ball Tavern, Weston

Near the center of Weston stands the the Golden Ball Tavern. Built in 1768, the owner, Isaac Jones, began its service as a tavern in 1770.

In all of the furor over the tax on tea, Jones continued to serve tea - to the consternation of some in the area. In 1774, he was accused of being a traitor and, in March of that year - while he was away on business - the tavern was stormed and looted by some of the more exciteable patriots. However, Jones was able to continue to keep the tavern open.

In February 1775, the Golden Ball Tavern hosted two travelers from Boston - "spies" or more appropriately, scouts acting on orders from General Gage. They met with Jones. When offered tea, they knew that they were in the company of a Loyalist.

But by 1777, Jones had found the true path and embraced the rebellion. In that year, Jones could found bringing supplies to the French in New York. Jones remained in Weston until his death in 1813. The home - no longer a tavern after 1793 - remained in the Jones family until 1963.

The tavern is located at 662 Boston Post Road in Weston. Today the Tavern hosts the occasional antique show and houses a museum. Visits are possible by calling (781) 894-1751; the courtesy of calling a week in advance is asked.

Monday, November 9, 2009

Isaac Davis's home

Now a private residence, this home was the site of a great deal of activity in the early morning of April 19, 1775. Aroused by one of the night riders, Dr. Samuel Prescott, Isaac Davis was the leader of the Acton minutemen. The Acton men assembled here and then marched "on the King's Highway" to Concord.

By all accounts, Davis was a thoughtful, well-prepared and indisputedly brave leader. His minutemen were well-equipped and well-trained. Davis did not survive the day, cut down by a volley by the British regulars as he led the assembled minutemen and militia at the North Bridge in Concord.

The minuteman statue at the Old North Bridge in Concord is a memorial to Isaac Davis. A grandson of Davis was sketched, along with other models, to allow sculptor Daniel Chester French to craft this symbol of liberty.

The home is not open to the public. Once a year, the owners kindly allow their home to be taken over by the Acton Minutemen for the re-enactment of the April 19th events.

For most visitors, a quick drive-by is the only solution. This site may be seen at 39 Hayward Road in Acton - although the road is narrow, there is no place to park and vehicles travel quite quickly there.