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.