Medford in the War of the Revolution.
by Helen T. Wild.[Read before The Medford Historical Society, April 18, 1898.] FOR an old town, Medford is singularly devoid of traditions. Few of the old families are represented by name at the present day. Still, in unexpected places, we find stories which when compared with the records prove true. Even they are imperfect. Medford men who served during the War of Independence are not always credited to the town. The muster rolls, from 1775 to 1778, are very few. Later, more system was adopted, and descriptive lists are common. Men were not mustered by companies, as they were in the Civil War, but six, nine, or a dozen were recruited, and sent to some convenient point where they and the quotas from other towns were combined to form a company, or they were sent direct to fill vacant places in companies already in the field. Although in the Continental army the system of numbering the regiments was in use, they were usually designated by the surname of the colonel. When several bore the same name this custom is confusing. Another difficulty is the repetition of family names, so common in those days. The authorities were by no means careful to write Jr. where it belonged. The Town Records are more correct on this point than the State Papers. Making allowance for mistakes made in this way, I have found over two hundred men who served for Medford—twenty-five per cent. of all the inhabitants of the town in 1776. This does not cover the whole number; for instance, in July, 1776, thirty men went to Ticonderoga, and we have the names of only twelve. The other eighteen were from ‘Hampshire Government.’ Other recruits were, like these, non-residents, hired to fill up the town's quota, but one hundred eighty-nine have been identified [p. 27] as Medford citizens, or bore surnames common in the town at that time. One hundred were tax-payers between 1775 and 1783. In August, 1774, Medford began to be anxious about her supply of powder, stored with that of the surrounding towns in the Powder House on Quarry Hill, near Medford line. Thomas Patten was sent to remove the town's supply on August 27. His services cost five shillings. Three days after, General Gage sent the troops out from Boston and carried all the ammunition that remained to Castle William. This act of Gage caused great indignation, and whatever element of conservatism remained was speedily swept away. Benjamin Hall, the chief business man of Medford, was chosen to represent the town in the General Court, which held its last meeting in Boston March 31, 1774. On June 1 General Gage transferred the government to Salem, and appointed the Assembly to meet June 7. The meeting on that day was so revolutionary that Gage sent his secretary to dissolve it; but he was forced to read his proclamation on the stairs, for the patriots were holding their session behind locked doors. Gage called another meeting of the Assembly for October 5, but countermanded the order. The patriots ignored his right to do this, and ninety Representatives met and formed themselves into a Provincial Congress. They appointed Benjamin Hall a member of the Committee of Supplies. Flour, rice, pease, pickaxes, saws, cartridge-paper, and other necessaries were shipped to Concord and Worcester. In November seven cannon were bought, and Mr. Gill and Mr. Benjamin Hall were desired to get them out of Boston to some place in the country. This was a hazardous undertaking. The guns were loaded with other goods, concealed in loads of hay and wood, and in other ingenious ways the strict watch of the guards was [p. 28] evaded. It seems probable that these cannon were stored in Medford, for April 28, 1775, the Committee of Safety ordered: ‘That the cannon now in Medford be immediately brought to this town (Cambridge) under direction of Captain Foster.’ In the following March (1775) Hall sent to Concord 60 bbls. of pork, 50 axes and helves, 50 wheelbarrows, and materials for constructing barracks. The first mention of a Committee of Correspondence on the Town Records occurs under date of March 13, 1775; but, six months before, Moses Billings, tavern-keeper, was paid for entertaining the Committee of Correspondence 40 shillings. Doubtless the discussions were not dry! Those were by no means total-abstinence days. All conferences were accompanied by more or less wine-drinking. The following bill, dated 1783, is an illustration: Mrs. Martha Leverett ye Administratrix to ye late Thomas Leverett, deceased, To John Stratton, Dr. The following was for ye commissioners for settling said Thomas Leverett's Estate.
|June 3d.||To Punch and Wine 12s. Room, Candles, paper, Ink, pipes, 7s. 4d.|
|June 12th.||To 7 Bowles of Punch at ye Sale 34s. Room, paper Ink, &c., 4s. 8d.|
|July 1.||To Punch and Wine 12s. Room, Candles, paper, Ink, pipes, 7s. 4d.|
|July 24.||To 8 Bowles of Punch at ye Sale 40s. Room, paper, Ink &c., 4s. 8d.|
|August 5.||To Punch and Wine 12s. Room, Candles, pipes 7s. 4d.|
While these men were enduring hunger, cold, and pestilence in Canada the army at home were drawing their lines closer and closer around the enemy at Boston. Captain Hall's company was ordered to Dorchester Heights; fifteen men at least were in Capt. Stephen Dana's company at ‘The Lines.’ Capt. Caleb Brooks was at Prospect Hill. A few other men were at Fort No. 3, March 17, 1776, the enemy, seeing the determined attitude of the Provincials, sailed for Halifax. I suppose this is the origin of the expression, ‘Sent to Halifax.’ A few sail remained in the bay. Medford men assisted in building fortifications on Noddle's Island, and June 13 were stationed behind them. The united efforts of all the towns around the harbor succeeded, that day, in ridding its waters of the last of the fleet. As soon as Boston was evacuated Washington transferred his army to New York, leaving only three regiments on guard. Maj. John Brooks, Thomas Pritchard, and a few others from Medford went with him. At the town-meeting held June 13, 1776, it was unanimously resolved, ‘If the Honorable Continental Congress, for the safety of the United Colonies, declare themselves independent of the Kingdom of Great Britain, the inhabitants of this town will solemnly engage with their lives and fortunes to support the measure.’ In the Town Records the Declaration of Independence is given in full immediately after the report of this meeting. The document was not received [p. 39] in Medford until September. Sabbath morning, September 8, Parson Osgood read from the pulpit the momentous words which freed the Colonies from the mother country. On the day when the Declaration was adopted the voters of Medford were conferring about bounty, which was to be paid to thirty men called for to go to Canada. With reports of Canadian defeats, and the personal experiences of their townsmen fresh in their minds, men were slow to come forward, in spite of bounty offered by town and province. Armed with authority to offer £ 8 per man to all who would enlist, and to pay each $2 at time of enlistment, Lieut. Moses Tufts and Samuel Tufts went out into ‘Hampshire County and elsewhere’ to hire the men. The treasury was empty, and the Town Treasurer was empowered to borrow £ 240 to pay the men. Benjamin Hall loaned £ 66-13-4, Richard Hall, £ 53-6-8, and Stephen Hall, Tertius, £ 120. This did not prove enough, and £ 226-5-4 was raised by private subscription. Seventy-four men contributed sums varying from £ 24 to pay. The Canadian army having retired to Crown Point, these recruits were sent to Ticonderoga. After the defeat of the army at Long Island, alarm men were called for. September 23 thirteen men marched to New York, and served about two months. We have not found the name of one of these men. Drafts followed thick and fast. In November and December men were called for. Some of those drawn enlisted for the war. Others paid substitutes. At that time every fifth man was ordered into the army, either for home defence or in New York. Men were suffering from camp distemper at Ticonderoga; Forts Washington and Lee had been evacuated; the time of many of the troops had expired. The outlook was dark. December 3 the voters met at the meeting-house to draft men and raise money. Washington's victory at Trenton revived the courage of the people, and his [p. 40] call for enlistments, for three years or the war, was nobly responded to. A town-meeting was called March 3, 1777, in Medford, to consider means for raising her quota. The people were beginning to feel the stress of poverty, and many were clamoring for payment of money loaned to the town. The Selectmen were instructed ‘to procure the men at as low bounty as may be.’ Moses and William Bucknam enlisted on the day of the meeting; five or six had enlisted in the artillery during the preceding month. In July, 1777, Medford had forty-four men in the army for three years or the war. The summer passed peacefully at home: the coffeedrinkings, the dinner parties, the weekly lecture, which in those days took the place of the prayer-meeting, went on as usual. Even a wedding or two occurred. But the thoughts of the people were ever on the war. The knitting-needles were busy, the spinning-wheels were humming, and garments were being made for the soldiers. The men were taking care that the town's stock of powder did not run low. Lieut. Stephen Hall, 4th, and Lieut. Jonathan Porter were keeping the ranks of their company full, and drilling the new recruits who had taken the places of those who entered the army in the spring. July brought bad news. Ticonderoga was evacuated. At first only a rumor, the news was speedily confirmed by a letter from Dr. Osgood's brother, who was one of the garrison. The retreating army was overtaken at Hubbardton, Vt., and there Col. Ebenezer Francis, a Medford boy, whose home was then in Beverly, was killed. He had organized his regiment the previous January, and marched to Bennington; and from there to New York State. On the 25th of September news of the first day's battle at Saratoga came to Medford. It had been fought on the 17th. Nearly every man who was in service from the town was in Gates's army. You [p. 41] who remember the Civil War know the thrill which swept over the town when the news arrived. Little cared the people that day for the disagreements of Arnold and Gates. They asked for the safety of John Brooks, Francis Tufts, John Le Bosquet, and the rest. News came soon which made Medford proud. Lieutenant-Colonel Brooks and his regiment had been the last on the field—not leaving it until eleven o'clock at night. During the evening they had kept Breyman's riflemen at bay. The British had not advanced; the Americans held their own. ‘It is what we expected of John Brooks,’ his townsmen said, ‘and the Medford boys will follow wherever he leads.’ October 7th Burgoyne was obliged to fight or retreat. When the battle was at its height, Brooks again distinguished himself. He has been called the ‘Hero of Stillwater.’ His regiment was ordered to take a redoubt occupied by Breyman. He ordered Captain Bancroft, of Reading, to lead the charge. Well he knew the men selected for that perilous duty. They were his neighbors of Reading and Medford. Not hesitating for an instant, Bancroft waved his sword and cried, ‘Come on, boys, and enter that fort!’ Then leading the way he and his company went over the parapet. Surprised at the suddenness of the assault, the enemy wavered, and the whole regiment rushed into the fort. The names of the men who made that gallant charge should be cherished in Medford history beside that of their brave leader. They were William Cutter, Francis Tufts, Aaron Tufts, George Tufts, Daniel Bailey, John Le Bosquet, Henry Le Bosquet, and John Le Bosquet, Jr. And just here a Medford tradition must be modified. The History of Medford says that Sergt. Francis Tufts was promoted to adjutant, on the field at White Plains. This cannot be true, for, at that time, he was at Ticonderoga. [p. 42] On Oct. 7, 1777 (the day of the Battle of Stillwater), he was promoted to ensign, so we can save the story, but change the scene. Francis Tufts, at Stillwater, seeing the standard-bearer fall, caught up the flag and holding it high in air bore it at the head of the regiment over the redoubt. He was commissioned ensign that day by General Gates. Afterward he received several promotions and was made adjutant in 1780. The day after the battle General Gates determined to attack Burgoyne, and sent General Nixon against what he supposed was a detachment of the enemy, but which proved to be the main army. Warned at the last moment, Gates recalled his men. Thankful, indeed, was Medford when the news reached here, for more than half of her men were in Nixon's brigade. Burgoyne surrendered. His army was sent captive to Massachusetts. The officers were placed on parole. The Hessians were quartered at Winter Hill; the English at Cambridge, in the barracks occupied by the Americans during the siege of Boston. Porter's tavern, in Medford, which stood at the corner of Main and Ship streets (then the driftway leading to the distillery), was a favorite resort for British and Hessian officers. These men were very respectfully treated by the inhabitants. Dr. Osgood frequently received the Hessian chaplain. Benjamin Hall entertained him at dinner, and English officers were frequent guests at tea-drinkings and parties. Old-fashioned hospitality would not refuse to make endurable the enforced stay of their conquered enemies. Some of the Hessians made the vicinity of Boston their permanent home. One Huffmaster has descendants in this city. After the surrender of Burgoyne most of the Northern army was ordered South to join Washington. Those Medford men who were in Colonel Greaton's regiment remained at Albany. Captain Bancroft and his company, under Lieutenant-[p. 43] Colonel Brooks, went to Valley Forge. Bancroft wrote in January, 1777: ‘I hope, sir, if my family should stand in need of your assistance you will be ready to afford it. It has been out of my power to do anything for them even so much as to send home any money. I was obliged to give half a dollar for one pint of bread and milk. Sweetening, butter, or cheese I have not had for over three months. We have hard trials to meet yet.’ Afraid of causing anxiety at home, he refrains from telling the pitiful story of privation. The huts on the hillsides of Valley Forge were fourteen feet by sixteen, with side-walls six and a half feet high. A hut was allowed to the commissioned officers of two companies. The huts assigned to non-commissioned officers and privates sheltered twelve men—a space three feet by six to each man. Clothing was so scarce that those on guard borrowed from those off duty. For weeks in succession men were on half allowance—for four or five days being without bread, and then as many more without meat. The unusually severe winter which made Burgoyne's army shiver and complain of ill-treatment at Winter Hill made the condition of the Continentals at Valley Forge almost unendurable. In February, 1778, Rev. Edward Brooks came home from captivity at Halifax. He had been chaplain of the frigate Hancock, built at Newburyport by order of Congress in December, 1775. She had been taken by the British man-of-war Rainbow renamed the ‘Iris,’ and attached to the British fleet. Mr. Brooks was ‘exchanged for Parson Lewis,’ a British chaplain, and left Halifax on the ‘Favorite,’ Jan. 29, 1778. While in Nova Scotia he had the small-pox. He was not strong when commissioned; he returned with health hopelessly shattered. It is said that a large proportion of the graduates of Harvard became Tories. David Osgood and Edward Brooks were exceptions. [p. 44] At the time of the Revolution several gentlemen in Medford owned slaves. They were uniformly well treated. Mr. Zachariah Pool owned a slave named Scipio. In his will Mr. Pool left money to Benjamin Hall and others, in trust, for Scipio's support. He was boarded with a family of free negroes, and when he died his guardians followed him to the grave. This story was told me by one of Mr. Pool's descendants, and is in contradiction of Mrs. Lydia Maria Child's version, in one of her books, which says that Scipio was sold at the settlement of the estate. The negro's name appears on the tax list in 1778. Prince was a negro servant of Stephen Hall, Esq. He married Chloe, the servant of Richard Hall, in 1772. An amusing story is told of Prince's struggle with a sixty-five-pound bass in Mystic river, at low tide. The negro tried to carry the fish to land in his arms. Two trials proved failures, but the third was successful. Prince thought his prize worthy to be presented to the commander at Winter Hill. He dressed the fish, and putting on his best clothes, borrowed his master's wagon, and drove to headquarters with his present. He was rewarded with—six cents! That this extreme liberality did not make a Tory of him is shown by his subsequent career. He ran away and enlisted, March 31, 1777, for the war. Slaves who enlisted with the consent of their masters became free at once. As Prince was a runaway, his master probably claimed him, and he returned to Medford in the early part of 1778. In June, 1778, he went into the army again for nine months, this time with the consent of Mr. Hall, for on May 25 Prince signed the following receipt: ‘Received of the Town of Medford, by Richard Hall $35 in part for my bounty from said town which I promise to march to join the army for nine months for said town, when called for, as witness my hand, Prince Hall.’ Prince was thirty years old and was five feet five [p. 45] inches tall. As he signed his name in a legible hand, –more than a great many of the recruits could do,— his master had not neglected his education. Several negroes served as soldiers for Medford. In 1780 six out of fourteen men who enlisted were colored. Thomas Revallean gained his freedom, as a soldier. He came to Medford after the war, and his family lived on Cross street. His wife was a pensioner. Two of his grandsons were taken prisoners, and were held as slaves in Texas for two years and a half, during the Civil War. In 1778, besides the three years men and the militia guarding troops of Convention at Cambridge, Medford had sixteen men in the Continental Army in New York and Rhode Island. The next year , twenty-two. Seven men, who served for three months in New Jersey, were entirely lost sight of until last October, when an old book and a receipt were discovered at City Hall which gave their names and the amount of bounty paid them. One of them was Hezekiah Blanchard, Jr., the tavern-keeper, who has numerous descendants among the people of Medford. The Continental money had depreciated to such an alarming degree that those who were fortunate enough to have anything to sell would travel miles to obtain hard money, and refuse to supply their next door neighbors, who had only currency. Such exorbitant prices were demanded that the authorities established a price-list which should govern all traders. So many people were disinclined to take paper money, that orders were given that those who refused it should be posted as enemies to the country. Poverty made creditors no respecters of persons. No less a man than Col. John Brooks, when at home on a furlough, was arrested for a family debt, not of his own contracting, and taken to jail at Cambridge. His friends came to his assistance, and he was not allowed to remain over night. [p. 46] The scale of depreciation can be understood by noticing the value of stockings. In hard money a pair was worth 5s. In currency (1780) they were worth £ 15. Capt. Ebenezer Hall received £ 270 for eighteen pairs of stockings. This amount in hard money paid nine years rent of the Garrison House, 1777 to 1786. The men who enlisted in 1776 and 7 were discharged at the end of the year 1779. The story of John Symmes is an example of the situation of all. He came home ragged and emaciated. He was paid in depreciated money, with which he bought a yoke of oxen. He sold them and took pay in the same currency. This he kept for a short time and then paid it all for a bag of Indian meal. Sept. 23, 1779, the famous naval engagement between the ‘Bon Homme Richard’ and the ‘Serapis’ occurred. One little powder boy had a leg shot off that day, but lived in Medford during the memory of some of our oldest residents. His name was William Earl. He was a tailor. His shop was on the easterly corner of Brooks lane, in the old building torn down last winter. The children, going by, peeped in at him as he sat stitching and singing. His cheerful face never forbade them. They called him ‘One-legged Earl.’ He died in 1821. In 1780 Medford had sixteen six-months' men in the field. They were fitted out by the town with clothing and blankets. Wool was bought at the town's expense, and was spun and woven by the women. The poor received compensation, if possible in coin. Others gave their work. The men enlisted on July 4 (a patriotic celebration of Independence Day). Among them was Thomas Savels, who had served as a minute-man, and was a veteran of the New York campaigns. It is said that he was the son-in-law of Col. Isaac Royall. His son Thomas, at his father's death, changed his name to Sables. Thomas Savels the soldier has numerous descendants in Medford. [p. 47] Aaron Tufts and William Bucknam were also veterans, and had been honorably discharged from the army six months before. William Polly, a youth of nineteen, had served three months in New Jersey, in 1779. He was a kinsman of William Polly who was shot at Lexington. The youngest in this levy was sixteen years old—Josiah Cutter, 2d. There were seven others under twenty-one. While these men were in service, Arnold's treason and the execution of Andre occurred. The Medford men were stationed on guard duty at North river. William Bucknam was promoted and served as sergeant. His name is on the muster-roll dated Tappan. At this place Andre was executed, and it is probable that Bucknam stood with the troops drawn up to witness the ignoble death of that brave man. When the six-months' men were discharged they were each given a passport bearing the signature of the colonel to show they were not deserters, and to recommend them to the charity of the farmers, whose help they needed. Some barefooted, others nearly so, ragged and dirty, they set out for their walk of over two hundred miles. They were absolutely penniless. The December weather made their condition worse, but they pushed on, receiving kindness everywhere. A night's lodging, a meal, and the luxury of the chimney corner were readily granted by people who had hardly more money than they. When they did receive their tardy pay it was in worthless bills. Medford not being a seaport, we hardly expect to find record of privateers, but a little document has been saved which is probably the last of several of the same kind. I will read it, supplying the words which the ragged edges have lost:
Witnesses, Jonathan Webb and Ephraim Hall. Benjamin Hall was, like other men of means in his day, interested in underwriting, and assumed risks individually, as there were no marine insurance companies. Losses were frequent during the war, and the premiums were fabulous,—the usual rate being about forty-five per cent., but in some cases rising to seventy per cent. Insurance on privateers was effected by making over to the underwriter a certain per cent. of the prize money. In 1776 Captain Hall insured three sloops for one hundred pounds each. Two were lost. The third, the ‘Rover,’ made a successful cruise, and Mr. Hall received ninety pounds in prize money. The times proved too much for the capitalist before the war was over. In 1784 he said, ‘When the war began, I would not have exchanged property with any man in the county of Middlesex, but now I am worth nothing.’ As a paper has already been read before you in which Governor Brooks has been spoken of at length, I have devoted very little time to him to-night, but I wish to say that the more I study his military and private life, the more I venerate and admire him. Medford may feel honored for all time, to count among her sons this friend of Lafayette and George Washington. One by one the landmarks of the olden time have disappeared. A few are left—among them the Watson House, where General Brooks entertained Washington [p. 49] in 1789; the Royall House, one of the centres of Colonial splendor; and the Garrison House, where Benjamin Hall, Jr., took his bride in 1777, and which was called the ‘old brick house’ long before that day. The site where we meet to-night was the home in the days of the Revolution of Ebenezer Hall, the baker. He was a faithful civil officer in the patriot cause. And just across the street, under the budding trees, we see the graves of those whose hearts beat fast with patriotic fervor on that eighteenth of April one hundred twenty-three years ago. There they rest—the Committee of Safety, the Representatives to the General Court, the heroes of Stillwater, the patriot preachers, the minute-men, and the heroic women, side by side. Over their graves waves the Star Spangled Banner, without a stripe lost and with many stars gained since they fought and suffered beneath its folds. May we preserve what they began!
A union of States none can sever,
A union of hearts and a union of hands,
And the flag of our Union forever.
Sarah Bradlee Fulton Chapter, D. A. R.
Officers for 1899.
|Regent||MRS. Mary B. Loomis.|
|Vice-Regent||MISS Ella L. Burbank.|
|Chaplain||MRS. Sarah E. Fuller.|
|Secretary||MISS Helen T. Wild.|
|Registrar||MRS. Emma W. Goodwin.|
|Treasurer||MISS Sarah L. Clark.|
|Historian||MISS Eliza M. Gill.|