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.