J. L. BELL is a Massachusetts writer who specializes in (among other things) the start of the American Revolution in and around Boston. He is particularly interested in the experiences of children in 1765-75. He has published scholarly papers and popular articles for both children and adults. He was consultant for an episode of History Detectives, and contributed to a display at Minute Man National Historic Park.

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Friday, June 24, 2016

“Revolutionary Saturdays” This Summer

Five National Park Service sites around Boston are inviting families to participate in “Revolutionary Saturdays” this summer.

In particular, the parks invite fourth-graders to download a voucher from the “Every Kid in a Park” website to prepare for their visits, which are aimed to prepare them to study the American Revolution in school next year. Here are the sites and their programs for those Saturdays (and in some cases for other days as well).

Minute Man National Historical Park, 9 July
  • “The Road to Revolution” multimedia presentation at the Minute Man Visitor Center, every thirty minutes, 9:00 A.M. to 4:30 P.M.
  • Paul Revere Rode Here!” walks at 11:00 A.M., 12:00 noon, and 1:00 P.M.
  • Life at Whittemore House, 11:00 A.M. to 2:00 P.M.
  • “Muster the Minute Men!” at Hartwell Tavern, 10:15 A.M., 1:15 P.M., 3:15 P.M. and 4:15 P.M. (This program includes a musket firing demonstration.)

Boston National Historical Park, 16 July
  • Bunker Hill Museum, 9:00 A.M. to 5:00 P.M.
  • “Mapping the Battle” at the museum, 11:00 A.M. and 1:30 P.M.
  • “Decisive Day” on the Monument grounds, every thirty minutes, 10:00 A.M. to 4:00 P.M.
  • “Of Muskets, Men and Liberty” at the Monument grounds, 11:30 A.M., 12:30 P.M., 2:30 P.M. and 3:30 P.M. (This program includes a musket firing demonstration.)
  • “Climb the Monument!” all day with the last climb at 4:30 P.M. (Sometimes closed because of weather.)

Longfellow House–Washington’s Headquarters National Historic Site, 23 July
  • Tour Washington’s headquarters, on the hour and half-hour
  • “Meet George Washington,” 12:00 noon to 4:00 P.M.
  • Dress up as a colonist, 1:00 P.M. and 3:00 P.M.
  • “The Road to Revolution,” ranger-led tour of the historic neighborhood, 2:00 P.M.

Salem Maritime National Historic Site, 30 July
  • “1774! Rumblings of War!” in town meeting, U.S. Custom House, 11:00 A.M. to 12:00 noon
  • Explore the sailing ship Friendship of Salem
  • Visit the 1762 Derby House, home of a family that supplied cannon to the nascent Massachusetts army

Adams National Historical Park, 6 August
  • “Enduring Legacy: Four Generations of the Adams Family,” a 26-minute film
  • “Penn and Parchment: The Continental Congress,” Adams Carriage House at 135 Adams Street, 1:00 to 2:30 P.M.
Check each site’s webpages for more details and confirmation.

Thursday, June 23, 2016

Hannigan on Crispus Attucks, 23 June

Tonight the Framingham Historical Society will hold its annual meeting, approving officers and a budget for the coming months.

Then they’ll hear from John Hannigan, doctoral candidate in history at Brandeis University, about one of the town’s well-known inhabitants: Crispus Attucks.
Hannigan will examine the facts embedded with the Crispus Attucks mythology. Had Crispus escaped from the Framingham farm where he was enslaved before being the first to die at the Boston Massacre?

Hannigan’s research on the relationship between slavery and war in 18th-century Massachusetts leads to questions like: How do we know what we know about Crispus Attucks? What can we learn by excavating around the margins of the historical record?
As I learned when I starting posted about Attucks’s tea kettle last year, John Hannigan offers new clues and new thinking on the man. The talk is bound to be fascinating, and—darn it—I can’t be there.

The meeting will start at 7:00 P.M. in the Edgell Memorial Library at 3 Oak Street. There will be refreshments afterward.

Wednesday, June 22, 2016

News from the Wright Tavern in Concord

Earlier this month the Concord Museum and the town’s First Parish announced an agreement for the museum to lease the historic Wright Tavern for three years.

The tavern, located near the center of town, was the site of committee meetings during the first Massachusetts Provincial Congress in 1774.

On 18-19 Apr 1775, the town’s militia companies mustered outside the tavern. After British troops arrived to search Concord for cannon and other military supplies [as detailed in The Road to Concord], their officers also used the tavern as a base of operations.

The First Parish has, somewhat incongruously, owned the tavern since 1886. At times parts of the building have been used for historic interpretation, but currently it is closed to the public, housing an architecture firm and a non-profit associated with the parish. The Concord Community Preservation Committee just funded improvements to the roof, windows, gutters, and electrical system.

Under the new arrangement, the Concord Museum will offer educational programs at the Wright Tavern. That will provide the museum with important additional space; its programs are now serving more than 10,000 students from three cities, an increase of 4,000 over the past five years. The site will also host public events in spring and fall to commemorate the congress meeting and the Battle of Lexington and Concord.

The reopening of the tavern as a public site has been a pet project of Mel Bernstein, chairman of the American Revolution Round Table at Minute Man National Historical Park. Of the new deal, he told the Concord Journal, “It provides an opportunity to transform the tavern into the historical center that it will become.”

Tuesday, June 21, 2016

Samuel Gerrish “unworthy an Officer”

As I described yesterday, Col. Samuel Gerrish of Newbury was the first infantry officer to receive a Massachusetts commission in May 1775, but then ran out his string with a series of embarrassing actions and lack of action.

On 17 August, the Continental Army court-martialed Gerrish on the charge “That he behaved unworthy an Officer.” With Gen. Nathanael Greene presiding, a panel of officers found him guilty and ordered him “to be cashiered, and render’d incapable of any employment in the American Army.” Gen. George Washington approved that sentence on 19 August.

Washington’s private letters show that he was pleased with that outcome and, whatever incident was behind the formal charge, linked it to Gerrish’s behavior at Bunker Hill. To his overseer Lund Washington the commander wrote:

The People of this Government have obtained a Character which they by no means deserved—their Officers generally speaking are the most indifferent kind of People I ever saw. I have already broke one Colo. and five Captain’s for Cowardice, & for drawing more Pay & Provision’s than they had Men in their Companies. . . .

in short they are by no means such Troops, in any respect, as you are led to believe of them from the Accts which are published, but I need not make myself Enemies among them, by this declaration, although it is consistent with truth. I daresay the Men would fight very well (if properly Officered) although they are an exceeding dirty & nasty people. had they been properly conducted at Bunkers Hill (on the 17th of June) or those that were there properly supported, the Regulars would have met with a shameful defeat; & a much more considerable loss than they did. . .

it was for their behaviour on that occasion that the above Officers were broke, for I never spared one that was accused of Cowardice but brot ’em to immediate Tryal.
Likewise he told Richard Henry Lee that he “Broke one Colo. and two Captains for Cowardly behaviour in the action on Bunker’s Hill.” Gen. William Heath later told John Adams that Gerrish’s fault had been “Backwardness in Duty on the 17th. of June.”

According to Swett, judge advocate general William Tudor later said that Gerrish “was treated far too severely.” (At the time, however, Tudor’s main complaint to his mentor John Adams was that the courts-martial were unfair to him because of all the work he had to do.)

Samuel Gerrish went back to Newbury. Loammi Baldwin took over the leadership of the regiment. However, not everyone had lost respect for Gerrish since his town elected him to the Massachusetts General Court the next year.

Monday, June 20, 2016

Samuel Gerrish, First Officer of the Massachusetts Army

Last month I wrote about how the Massachusetts Provincial Congress finally started commissioning infantry officers for its army (as opposed to its militia) on 19 May 1775.

The first colonel to receive a commission was Samuel Gerrish (c. 1729–1795) of Newbury. I thought it would be interesting to look at what happened to him.

First of all, according to historian Richard Frothingham, Gerrish’s regiment wasn’t as complete as the congress had been led to believe; “there were difficulties in relation to six of the companies, which were investigated June 2.” Five of the companies originally listed under Gerrish’s name asked to serve under another Newbury colonel, Moses Little. It took another twenty days before eight companies were fully commissioned under Gerrish.

During that spring the regiment was spread out along the north side of Boston harbor with three companies at Chelsea, three in east Cambridge, and two at Sewall’s Point, the finger of Brookline land in front of the Charles and Muddy Rivers. On 16 June the officers of the regiment met at Chelsea and assigned jobs: Loammi Baldwin to be lieutenant-colonel, Richard Dodge major, Christian Febiger adjutant, and so on. This was the New England way, electing from below rather than the colonel appointing from above.

One day after that meeting, of course, came the Battle of Bunker Hill. In 1870 the Quincy family presented to the Massachusetts Historical Society one sheet of what had been a two-page letter describing the fight. Whoever wrote that account took particular notice of Col. Gerrish’s behavior, referring to him by his rank from the French & Indian War:
Major Gerrish was ordered also to Charlestown with a reinforcement, but he no sooner came in sight of the enemy than a tremor seiz’d him & he began to bellow, “Retreat! retreat! or you’l all be cutt off!” which so confus’d & scar’d our men, that they retreated most precipitately, & our soldiery now sware vengeance against him & determine not to be under his commd.
The historian Samuel Swett later wrote that Gerrish “was unwieldy from excessive corpulence”; on reaching Bunker’s Hill above the fighting, “he declared that he was completely exhausted, and lay prostrate on the ground.” Col. Israel Putnam roared at all the men stalled on that hill, hitting some with his sword, but they refused to go farther down and eventually retreated.

There was plenty of blame to go around after that battle. Other Massachusetts officers hadn’t even taken their troops onto the peninsula as Gerrish had. Swett wrote, “A complaint was lodged against him with [Gen. Artemas] Ward immediately after the battle, who refused to notice it on account of the unorganized state of the army.”

Not that Col. Gerrish was helping alleviate that disorganization. On 7 July the new commander-in-chief’s secretary, Joseph Reed, wrote to him to ask a second time for a return of all the men in the regiment. “The Express [to the Continental Congress] has been detain’d some time thro’ this Inattention,” Reed chided, “The Forces raised in Connecticut, New Hampshire & Rhode Island having sent in their Returns very complete.”

Gerrish finally reported having 258 men in his regiment. Even after that, there were administrative problems. In August eight officers at Sewall’s Point wrote to headquarters to complain that most of them had “been here in actual Service, since the Beginning of the Campaign, and been to a vast Deal of Expense, and not receiv’d one farthing of our pay.”

In early August, British floating batteries made some attacks on American positions near the water. One fired on Sewall’s Point. Instead of shooting back at that boat, Gerrish told his men to put out any lights and hunker down behind their fortifications. He was reported to have said, “the rascals can do us no harm, and it would be a mere waste of powder, to fire at them with our 4 pounders.” Technically, Gerrish might have been right. The British shots caused no casualties. But the colonel had used up any benefit of the doubt about his behavior in battle.

TOMORROW: Washington weighs in.

Sunday, June 19, 2016

“That day at Bunker Hill!”

You may have noticed that yesterday’s posting about Bunker Hill differed from the two that preceded it. It didn’t include any nineteenth-century poetry.

This posting corrects that omission. After Sarah Loring Bailey published the story of Pvt. John Barker and Capt. Benjamin Farnum in 1880, it inspired Annie Sawyer Downs to include the story in a long poem for the celebration of Andover’s sestercentennial sixteen years later.
The grass was green upon the lawn
The corn waved dark and tall.
And all day long the oriole,
Whistled his silvery call.
But what the veil, the film, the cloud
That frights the air of June?
And what the hush, the dread, the fear,
To which hearts beat in tune?

And why do men set faces hard
And eyes of women fill?
While trembling age and eager youth,
Press to the distant hill?
No courier swift swept through the street
With beat of martial drum,
And none could tell how the dread news
To Andover town had come.

Only that e’er the cannon’s roar,
Turned every heart's blood chill,
The voice was heard, “Stand fast! They fight
To-day at Bunker Hill.”
Dark rolled the smoke, when on the breeze
Was borne a deaf’ning shout
“We’ve beat the red coats off the field,
We hold the frail redoubt!”

Then there was mounting in hot haste
And hurrying to and fro,
For Doctor, Nurse, and Parson French
Swift to the field must go.
More weary hours wore slow away,
Again the mighty sound,
“A second time the red coats flee,
Once more they leave the ground.”

O maids and wives, and mothers dear,
Whose sad eyes watched the fire,
God grant though on that summer day
You lost your hearts’ desire,
That steadfast pride and courage high
Were yours through earthly ill,
For a great state was born that day,
That day at Bunker Hill!

Loud and still louder roared the guns,
Thick smoke hid all the sky,
And still the silvery oriole
Sang in the chestnut high.
At last the word, “Our powder gone,
We’ve turned us down the hill,
Content to prove this summer day,
This day at Bunker Hill!

That farmer lads can shake a crown
And lay proud England low,
And on a field they have not tilled
Such fearful harvest sow!”
Shot fell like rain on Charlestown Neck,
And brave the deeds oft told,
Of Bailey, Farnum, Frye, and Poor,
And stout John Barker bold.

For he was private in the ranks,
But last in the retreat;
When Captain Farnum struck by shell,
Fell just across his feet,
He lifted and he held him high
Full in the redcoats’ view
And shouted loud, “Now hold on Ben,
The Reg’lars sha’ n’t have you!”

A hundred years have come and gone,
And still in stirring verse,
The children of North Andover
John Barker’s deed rehearse,
And in the old-fashioned burying ground,
Shady and green and still,
On a mossy stone you oft may read,
“He fought at Bunker Hill.”

He fought the fight, he kept the step,
Loyal, and brave, and true,
For a free land he paid the price
Comrades, that day for you.
So lowly kneel, and softly tread,
In the graveyard under the hill
Fame writes aloft no prouder line,
Than, “Fought at Bunker Hill.”

Saturday, June 18, 2016

“The Regulars sha’n’t have Ben.”

In Historical Sketches of Andover (1880), Sarah Loring Bailey set down this story from the end of the Battle of Bunker Hill:
A private, John Barker, seeing his captain and friend, Benjamin Farnum, lying wounded in the path of the retreat, took him upon his shoulders, and steadying him by putting his gun across under his knees, bade him hold fast, and started off on the run, calling out, “The Regulars sha’n’t have Ben.” This is told by descendants of Captain Farnum, and by some of the neighbors.

On the other hand it has been the tradition in the Abbot family, and the Barker family, that Lieut. Isaac Abbot was the man rescued from the “Regulars.” Since the claim is made for the two, it is undoubtedly true that one or the other was carried off.
It’s striking how Barker’s own family said he had rescued Abbot, but the Farnum family’s claim got first position. To be sure, as of April, Abbot’s company had no man named John Barker in it while Farnum’s had two or three (depending on how one reads the roll).

Other sources confirm that both Abbot and Farnum were wounded in the battle. Bailey wrote that Farnum’s family arranged to bring him home to Andover to recover this way:
A sort of litter was placed on poles, and fastened to two chairs, and drawn by horses harnessed tandem. The Captain never wholly recovered from this wound, though he served during the whole war, and lived to a remarkable age; the sore made by the bullet continued to fester and be painful. Pieces of bone and the bullet that were taken from it were long kept, ghastly trophies of his first battle.
Pvt. James Stevens, who was home on sick leave during the battle, paid a sick call on 20 June. Stevens wrote in his diary, “this morning I went up to Captain varnum’s to se him he was wounded in two places in his lag & then I went home”.

Farnum recovered enough to serve as a militia officer in 1776 and then as a captain in the Massachusetts line in 1777, 1778, and the first three months of 1779 (not “the whole war”). Fifty years later he was hailed as the last surviving captain from the Battle of Bunker Hill. He died in 1833. The regulars never had him.

Friday, June 17, 2016

Francis Merrifield’s Bible

Earlier this spring the Bonhams auction house offered for sale a Bible printed in Edinburgh in 1755. What made this particular Bible so notable were the handwritten inscriptions:
[On the reverse of the title page] Cambridge, Jun 17 1775. I desire to bless God for his Kind aperince in delivering me and sparing my life in the late battle fought on Bunker’s Hill. I desire to devote this spared life to His glory and honour. In witness my hand, Francis Merrifield.

[Inside the inside back cover] 1775. Cambridge, June 17th. A batel fought on bunkers hill, on Saterday in the afternoon, which lasted an hour and a quarter, two men were wounded, and
the number of my gun, one hundred eighty three, 183, the seventeenth Rigement, 17.
Francis Merrifield (1735-1814) was a corporal in Capt. Nathaniel Wade’s company in April, a sergeant in August. That unit was part of Col. Moses Little’s regiment, raised in Ipswich, Massachusetts. Merrifield was a veteran, having been part of an expedition to Canada in 1758; by one accounting, he was the oldest man in his company.

According to local historians, in later life Merrifield “used to describe the battle [of Bunker Hill] and the approach of the regulars. ‘When they got so near we could fairly see them, they looked too handsome to be fired at, but we had to do it.’”

Bonhams added, “The specification of his flintlock’s number clearly indicates that, next to this Bible itself, it was Merrifield's most treasured possession.” Perhaps, but Merrifield might just have wanted to get that property back. He had to loan a gun to Nathaniel Lakeman of Capt. Abraham Dodge’s company, probably at the end of 1775 when he left the army. That fall some of the regiment’s officers had told the commander-in-chief “we Shall be able to Serve the common Cause better out of the Army the ensuing Compaign than in it.”

With the Bible is a printed description, perhaps from the Sunday School Times. It quotes three verses said to be written somewhere inside:
O for a strong and lasting faith
To credit what the Almighty saith;
To embrace the message of his Son,
And call the joys of heaven my own.

My spirit looks to God alone;
My strength and refuge is his throne.
In all my fears, in all my straits,
My soul on His salvation waits.

Nothing but glory can suffice
The appetite of grace;
I wait, I long with restless eyes,
Longing to see thy face.

As witness my hand,
Francis Merrifield.
Some of those lines appear in different hymns by the Rev. Lowell Mason (1792-1872) while others date from the eighteenth or even seventeenth centuries. Merrifield, a deacon, seems therefore to have written down verses which meant the most to him.

Francis Merrifield’s Bible was bought by the Museum of the American Revolution in Philadelphia for a total price of $161,000. It will be on display when that museum opens next year.

Thursday, June 16, 2016

Two Swords from the Battle of Bunker Hill

It’s that time of year, when Boston 1775’s thoughts turn to the anniversary of the Battle of Bunker Hill on 17 June.

Boston Magazine’s website just featured one of the Massachusetts Historical Society’s most striking artifacts of that fight: the crossed swords of Col. William Prescott of the Massachusetts army and Capt. John Linzee of the Royal Navy:
Both men figured prominently in the battle—Linzee’s ship fired upon Prescott’s men—and their weapons were passed down through their respective families. Nearly 50 years after the conflict, the bitterness of war gave way to the power of love when Prescott’s grandson—William H. Prescott—married Susan Amory, a descendant of Linzee.
The merchant John Rowe listed the guests at his niece Susannah Inman’s marriage to Capt. Linzee on 1 Sept 1772. According to The Linzee Family of Great Britain and the United States of America, the Linzees had a daughter they named Hannah Rowe Linzee, who married Thomas Coffin Amory. That couple’s child Susannah married the historian William H. Prescott, who bequeathed the swords to the society in 1859.

Another Linzee granddaughter, born Elizabeth Tilden Linzee, married James Sullivan Warren, a grandson of Dr. John Warren and great-nephew of Dr. Joseph Warren, who died at Bunker Hill. And a Linzee great-granddaughter married a grandson of Paul Revere.

The Rev. Nathaniel Frothingham missed the M.H.S. meeting when those swords arrived, but he was nonetheless inspired to write this poem about them:
The Crossed Swords
Transferred from Mr. Prescott’s Library to that of the Massachusetts Historical Society.

Swords crossed,—but not in strife!
The chiefs who drew them, parted by the space
Of two proud countries’ quarrel, face to face
Ne’er stood for death or life.

Swords crossed, that never met
While nerve was in the hands that wielded them;
Hands better destined a fair family stem
On these free shores to set.

Kept crossed by gentlest bands!
Emblems no more of battle, but of peace;
And proofs how loves can grow and wars can cease,
Their once stern symbol stands.

It smiled first on the array
Of marshalled books and friendliest companies;
And here, a history among histories,
It still shall smile for aye.

See that thou memory keep
Of him, the firm commander; and that other,
The stainless judge; and him, our peerless brother,—
All fallen now asleep.

Yet more: a lesson teach,
To cheer the patriot-soldier in his course,
That Right shall triumph o’er insolent Force:
That be your silent speech.

Oh, be prophetic too!
And may those nations twain, as sign and seal
Of endless amity, hang up their steel,
As we these weapons do!

The archives of the Past,
So smeared with blots of hate and bloody wrong,
Pining for peace, and sick to wait so long,
Hail this meek cross at last.

Wednesday, June 15, 2016

The Return of the “Adams,” 17 June

Back in 2014, as I reported, the National Park Service removed the “Adams” cannon from the top of the Bunker Hill Monument for conservation work.

On Friday, 17 June, the anniversary of the Battle of Bunker Hill, the “Adams” will return to that site. It won’t go back in the tower chamber as shown at left in a photograph by Jim Mac. Instead, it will go on display in the lodge at the base.

That event will be the last ceremony of the day, following Charlestown’s traditional commemoration. At 10:00 A.M. the Church of Saint Francis de Sales will host ecumenical services, followed by a procession to the monument. An hour later, the commemorative exercises will begin with music, greetings from various officials, and an oration from Michael Creasey, Superintendent of the National Parks of Boston.

The smaller ”Adams” rededication ceremony will take place inside the Bunker Hill Monument Lodge starting at 1:00 P.M. and last about half an hour. People sharing remarks will include:
  • Michael Creasey, Superintendent, National Parks of Boston
  • Rose Fennell, Deputy Regional Director, Northeast Region, National Park Service
  • John J. Alves, Past President, Bunker Hill Monument Association, which remains the owner of the cannon
  • J. L. Bell, author, The Road to Concord: How Four Stolen Cannon Ignited the Revolutionary War, on the history of the “Adams” cannon
  • David Vecchioli, Curator, National Parks of Boston
  • Margaret Breuker, Conservator, National Park Service, Collections and Conservation Branch
At the end we’ll unveil the “Adams” in its new berth.