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.


  1. I don't think Col. James Barrett stood with his men at the North Bridge, especially at the crucial moments when they chose to march down to that span. Lower-ranking officers gave the orders then.

    Barrett appears to have been riding on horseback along back roads and paths between the assembled militia companies, the outskirts of his farm, and perhaps other sites. The Barretts suspected their men were targets for arrest, and the colonel was apparently doing his best to keep out of the regulars' way while also trying to keep his supplies out of their way.

    That doesn't speak to the truth or mythicality of the Jones house's bullet hole, of course. But the historical record often reminds us that what people do in a tense moment is more confused than resolute.

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