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The route of Revere

[Read at meeting of Medford Historical Society April 18, 1921]

At the present time, with the observance of Patriots' day, it is well for Medford people to consider some of the natural features of one hundred and forty-six years ago. Perhaps others are so doing in the various towns through which the two riders passed, for William Dawes is now being remembered, though there was no poet to tell of his ride.

Longfellow wrote that Revere rode over ‘the bridge into Medford town,’ which is all very fine; but he really rode into Medford near the top of Winter hill. Do those that read the poem know how nearly Medford came to being left out of the ride that night? If it was twelve by the villagers' clocks when he rode over the river, he must have spent a little of the closing hour of the 18th in Medford, if we can credit the somewhat famous poem.

It was a practically straight road through old Charlestown to old Menotomy, where, in changing his plan, he would have turned squarely to the left, and riding but a short distance, reached the Cooper tavern on the Cambridge road which led up the valley of Sucker brook to Lexington. From the top of Winter hill the Menotomy [p. 18] road closely borders the Medford boundary, to near that old powder-house the royal forces had then recently raided.

While still in Charlestown, beyond Winter hill, Revere caught sight of some horsemen he thought to be British officers, and so did not continue in that direct route. To lessen his chances of capture he took the right-hand road, making a detour which a little farther on took him into ‘Medford town,’ but the bridge was a mile and a half away.

We of today know the road well, but a backward look at it as he rode over it and aroused another town, may be of interest. It was the ‘publique country road’ of that day. There were but four branching from it. These were the roads to Cambridge, to Malden and two to Woburn. They are now known as Harvard, Salem, Woburn and Grove streets. It might better be considered as the earliest road to the north, by calling Woburn street its continuation, and High street (onward from Woburn (a branch, or road to Menotomy, then a part of Cambridge. All others were simply lanes, or ways to the scattered farmhouses of Medford, which was but a little town of less than a thousand inhabitants. And it was a little town, too, even with the addition (twenty years before) of the section of Charlestown which moved the boundary from the river to the present lines. Perhaps this may account for the poet's geographical error. But really, if the grouping of dwellings makes a village, we can excuse the poet's mistake, for there were comparatively few, for which there was good reason.

A careful scaling of the map of Medford (and the course of the road is the same today) places Winter brook and Tufts square at approximately a half mile from the boundary line which is near the top of the hill. A half mile further and Revere had passed the Cambridge road (at his left) and crossed Two-penny brook, both more consequential streams than now. Near the latter was a large farmhouse, which, fifty years ago, was [p. 19] a part of the well known Mystic house. A quarter mile farther on, at the left, there loomed up in his sight, stately and grand, a three-storied house with its several outbuildings. It was in the midst of extensive grounds, and far ‘back from the village street.’ This will be easily recognized as the estate of Colonel Isaac Royall, and knowing of his Tory proclivities, it is unlikely that Revere stopped there but rode quickly by.

Another quarter mile brought him to Fish-house lane (the present South street), the old way to the fording place. A few houses were there, among them the Admiral Vernon tavern, and the river and bridge lay ahead. Another quarter and he had passed over it, by the Royal Oak tavern, and turning squarely to the left, he sped on. That quarter mile brought him through the densest settled part of Medford, to where we meet tonight; but it wasn't called Governors avenue then. If we can credit the poet's words about the hour, the good people of Medford were enjoying their midnight rest, when, having passed Colonel Isaac by, he, as he says in his deposition (or rather letter to Dr. Belknap), ‘in Medford, aroused the captain of the minute-men,’ in this case another Isaac, surnamed Hall.

Perhaps Captain Hall, in his night-cap, poked his head out the chamber window to know what the unseasonable racket was about, and he soon learned. It wasn't a time for much ceremony, military salutes or long stories, and the rider was soon on his way, having covered just half of his extra detour through Medford. In the next half mile he had passed the new meeting-house, whose old bell perhaps was already ringing, the old home of the venerable Parson Turell, who was still living, and a house older still beyond it, and probably next a smaller one, to which, ere another midnight hour, the dead and wounded would be brought—victims of the bloody work ahead. That brought him over the brook and up the hill to where the first meeting-house had been.

The roads divided a little further on at its top. He [p. 20] kept to the left. We have no idea it was a silent ride. He doubtless shouted, ‘Wake up, turn out, the regulars are coming!’ as he rode hastily along. Soon the lights twinkled in the windows and the guns were taken down (all probably in readiness) and the village was astir behind him. Another quarter mile and he had passed over Whitmore brook, and a little further, a place where we ‘stop, look and listen’ now. He did not, nor did people, need to there till sixty years later. Another quarter and he passed Rev. Edward Brooks', and still another made three miles and a half through Medford; then over Wear bridge into Charlestown again. Another half-mile (about a quarter of it in Menotomy) brought him to the Cooper tavern. There, he turned to the right toward Lexington, into the course he deflected from at the top of Winter hill, but still ahead in the game.

The time we have referred to (1775) was midway between Medford's settling and today. Its population the following year was nine hundred and sixty-seven. As an immediate result of the alarm thus given, fifty-nine Medford men responded and were in the first of a struggle that lasted seven years. It was a time when people dated important papers as of the fifteenth year of his majesty's reign. The next year they ceased so to do. The public, or town, records show little change other than this. At the close of the Revolution Medford had fourteen less people than in ‘75, and in fifty years its growth was but slow, and changes in the body politic were slow. But how about the body physical? By this we mean the visible and material town, as seen in its land, its waters, its woods and streets, its dwellings and public buildings. How many dwellings along the way Revere rode remain today? How many in our territorial boundary? Certainly the Royall house, possibly one on the slope of Winter hill,—perhaps that which sheltered the Baroness Reidezel after Burgoyne's defeat at Saratoga,—a very few on Main street, toward Moore square, may also be. [p. 21]

Captain Hall's and the one adjoining, the brick house of Jonathan Wade, and the Magoun cottage, opposite First Parish church, are also authentic. A part of the modernized Home for the Aged, and perhaps its unpretentious neighbor across the brook, and perhaps another on the hill slope.

The Bradshaw house at Hastings lane and its three neighbors opposite, Dr. Wilkins' near Brooks street, and (may be) the Wyatt-Cheney cottage, opposite Warren, are all we can name. None of the several homes of the Brooks families are now in evidence; even the stately mansion (erected in 1802-6) disappeared eight years ago. Time, with its agents of neglect, decay and fire, has dealt harshly with all. How many Medford had that night we cannot say; perhaps a hundred is a liberal estimate. Of the outlying ones, the brick house of, Captain Peter Tufts, that of Nathaniel Wade, the Rogers house on Cross street and the Richard Sprague house on old Ship street, we are sure of. There is also one at the end of Canal street, old when the canal was built, and possibly a few near Washington square, but with these we are not familiar. Here and there, an old cellar, nature is doing her best to obliterate, like that on High near Woburn street, are mute reminders of those days long gone.

But out of the homes that were there, whose occupants were aroused by Revere's midnight outcry, went fifty-nine determined men. From all directions they came—over the river and across the brooks, and up the hill they went, and across the river and the plain of Charlestown to old Menotomy, to follow and harass the invading host. Just where they made a stand and met the retreating foe, we cannot say. Perhaps they joined the Danvers company that made a forced march thither as it came through Medford. Who were they, do you ask? Listen! yes, give them the honor due the brave, but who can not, will nevermore, answer ‘Here!’ Perhaps none here tonight bear these names, but let us stand while that old [p. 22]

Medford roll of honor is called:—

Captain Isaac Hall

Lieutenant Caleb Brooks

Ensign Stephen Hall

Sergeant Thomas Pritchard

Sergeant Isaac Tufts

Sergeant Moses Hall

Corporal John Tufts

Corporal Gershom Teel

Corporal Jonathan Greenleaf

Drummer Timothy Hall

Fifer William Farning


David Vinton

John Bucknam

Isaac Watson

Jonathan Laurence

Jonathan Davis

Abel Richardson

James Tufts. Jr.

Samuel Tufts, 3d

Andrew Floyd

Benjamin Floyd

Andrew Blanchard

Samuel Tufts

John Francis, Jr.

Paul Dexter

John Smith

Abel Butterfield

Josiah Cutter

John Kemp

Eleazer Putnam

James Bucknam, Jr

Aaron Crowell

Jonathan Tufts

Benjamin Pierce

Thomas Wakefield

Jonathan Teel

Aaron Blanchard

Richard Cole

William Binford

Thomas Bradshaw

Daniel Tufts

Peter Tufts, Jr.

Ebenezer Tufts

Isaac Cooch

Daniel Conery

David Hadley

Jacob Bedin

Richard Paine

William Polley

Peter Conery

Joseph Clefton

Samuel Hadley, Jr.

Moses Hadley

John Callender

John Clarke

Andrew Bradshaw

Thomas Savels

Francis Hall

Benjamin Savils

On their return Madam Brooks (who had watched from her attic window as the red-coated host came back down the valley) had the big kettle swung over a fire out of doors and prepared chocolate for these Medford men's refreshing—the tea had gone into Boston harbor.

But one was mortally wounded, his comrades bore him home to die, he the ‘only son of his mother and she was a widow.’ Both youth and age was the toll taken from Medford that day. Of the latter, was a man of seventy who had one son among the Medford minute men, and another in the Danvers company. The latter, who bore [p. 23] the father's name, was wounded and brought to Medford, whither his wife came to care for him until his recovery. But, killed at Menotomy, the father's lifeless body was brought to Medford, to the home from whence a few hours before he had gone to the fray. In his youth he had been in the expedition that captured the ‘Gibraltar of America,’ Louisburg. But (as Miss Wild says it) ‘though by age exempt, and having sons in the ranks, he showed his Putnam spunk and went with the rest.’ He had been for ten years a resident of Medford, his home probably in the valley opposite Medford's first schoolhouse.

Gold stars are placed on the service flags and on the memorials of today. Certainly they should be beside the names of these two, William Polley, Henry Putnam, who went out from their homes in Medford on that 19th of April, to their death, on the first Patriots' day.

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