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.