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Medford and her Minute Men, April 19, 1775.

Address by Hon. Richard B. Coolidge, Mayor of Medford, April 19, 1925, at Medford Theatre.

IN Medford, as in the neighboring cities and towns, we meet today in memory of the men and the events of April nineteenth, 1775. On that day and in this region roundabout began the American Revolution. For that reason the nineteenth of April, in whatever year it falls, speaks for itself. Today, after the passing of a century and a half, it speaks significantly to us, citizens of the great and prosperous America, whose beginnings were in the first armed stand of the Minute Men gathered from the towns roundabout us.

Here in Massachusetts, in the decade preceding that year, from event to event grew the resolve of free men to preserve their liberties. Here in Middlesex county on that day, at the flash of the first volley at Lexington, flamed up the unconquerable spirit of the Revolution. Here in Medford her patriot sons, roused in the middle of the night, hurried toward Lexington in the early hours of the morning, and at this moment in the afternoon were pursuing the retreating British down the highways through Cambridge to Charlestown.

It is a day for America to remember, for in the gray light of that April morning, on Lexington common, the course of history changed, and English colonies from that beginning became a great and free people. It is a day for Medford to remember for the part her citizen soldiers played in that eventful drama. If there were reminders needed, they are all about us.

In Medford and all along the battle road to Concord stand sentinels of that day. One need not go to Lexington [p. 38] common or beyond to the North bridge in Concord to feel the consciousness that in that region lay the first battle of the Revolution. One need not scan the roadside markers or read the inscription on the larger monuments. That whole country side of Middlesex county speaks of the days of 1775. The long established roads leading from town to town, the stone walls skirting the highways, the ample houses fitting snugly to the ground against the winter's cold, the generous chimneys where the wood smoke drifted upward from broad hearths, the great elms, the relics of old orchards, the spreading fields and woodlands, all speak of the days of 1775 when families, that were large, lived uncrowded along the Middlesex highways. Indeed, is there not stamped upon the imagination of the school boy of today who lives in this and neighboring towns the half-formed picture of that day? Is there not, in the consciousness of all of us, the proud heritage that hereabouts was enacted the first scene of a drama of momentous import? Before the years take us farther from it, let us pause after the century and a half to bring to mind the spring days of 1775.

When March turned to April one hundred and fifty years ago it ushered in an uneasy spring for the colonists of Great Britain in North America. In Massachusetts, in Boston and the neighboring towns, a new restlessness, stimulated as it were by the rays of the spring sunshine, permeated life itself. It was the outcome of what had gone before. For ten years, in fact, there had been gathering on the part of the colonists of Massachusetts against the mother country resentment, resistance, defiance, and finally determination and action to protect and preserve their liberties by force of arms. The cause lay ten years back in the policy of the English Parliament to impose arbitrary taxes upon the colonists. In 1763 England had wrested from France supremacy in North America. In that seven years struggle the colonists had served the mother country. In recognition of that fact England had remitted to the treasury of Massachusetts [p. 39] substantial sums in part payment of expenses thus advanced. In 1765, however, the financial policy of a majority of the British statesmen sought to reimburse the royal coffers by a tax upon the colonies. Its first form was a stamp act, so bitterly opposed that it was repealed in less than six months. Next was passed a military act, which provided for the partial subsistence of armed soldiers on the colonists. Out of this grew the Boston massacre of March 5, 1770. In the meantime was passed another act taxing tea and other commodities, but repealed upon all articles except tea in April, 1770. In Boston the colonists' response was the Boston Tea Party. Then, in consequence, came the Boston Port Bill, which on June 1, 1774, closed Boston as a commercial port and removed the Custom House to Salem.

This measure, reinforced by the encampment of four thousand British troops in Boston, struck at the livelihood of the whole countryside and goaded the colonists into measures of defence. On October seventh of that year the first Provincial Congress was organized at Salem with John Hancock as president, and the second in Concord on February 1, 1775. In October the Congress, in considering what was necessary to be done for the safety and defence of the Province, determined upon the purchase of one thousand barrels of powder. In February it had gone farther and voted to provide military stores sufficient for an army of fifteen thousand men. In the meantime the Congress, in the language of their resolves, recommended that the inhabitants perfect themselves in the military art.

Such is the skeleton record of events that preceded the meeting of the Congress in Concord on April 15, 1775, when, as the journal states, it adjourned upon call ‘considering the great uncertainty of the times.’ It adjourned, too, leaving some hundred barrels of powder scattered, as General Gage wrote to Lord Dartmouth of the colonial office, ‘in different places up and down the [p. 40] town.’ Three days later, on the evening of the eighteenth, uncertainty had become more acute, for Hancock and Adams slept in Lexington with a guard of eight men posted at the door.

In all the ominous period that ends for the moment as the patriot leaders slept in the fancied security of Lexington, Medford was stirred as were her neighbors.

In 1766, when the Stamp Act was repealed, a great bonfire on Pasture hill celebrated the passing of that odious measure.

In 1773, when the sons of liberty steeped the English tea in the Atlantic, a townsman, John Fulton, wielded a tomahawk in the righteous cause.

In 1774, in town meeting assembled, the inhabitants voted, ‘That we will not use any East India tea in our families until the act be repealed.’

In 1774, too, when the Boston Port Bill brought to a standstill the business of lightering down the Mystic, the town, though trade was at an end and whole families were in calamity and distress, voted ‘not to approve of any bricks being carried to Boston until the committees of neighboring towns shall consent to it.’

When General Gage began the fortification of Boston Neck, the committee of safety in Medford began to collect ammunition. It was stored in the powder house which still stands just across the Somerville line. Three days before the troops of General Gage seized the ammunition, Thomas Patton of Medford removed the Medford stores to a place of safety.

In November, 1774, it was voted in town meeting to pay no more province taxes to the royal treasurer. Later it was voted to pay this money to the treasurer under the Provincial Congress. In that Congress Benjamin Hall of Medford represented the townspeople. As a member of the committee of supplies, he sent to Concord a large consignment of military stores and material for constructing barracks.

When in the October previous the Provincial Congress [p. 41] urged the inhabitants to perfect themselves in the military art, that recommendation had been anticipated in Medford. Indeed, almost a century and a half before 1775 the townspeople had taken steps to that end, for in 1630 the first tax levied on Medford inhabitants was one of three pounds to provide for the payment of instructors in military tactics.

It was John Brooks of Medford, later Dr. John Brooks of Reading, and later Governor Brooks of Massachusetts, who in the years previous to the Revolution drilled the Medford youths into a company of militia. Of that company, in 1775, Isaac Hall was captain. The Minute Men of Medford, while Hancock and Adams were sleeping in Lexington on the evening of Tuesday, the eighteenth of April, had dispersed to their homes. But their flintlocks were within reach, for rumors were rife that action was at hand.

Thus Medford waited for the day that was to follow.

In the late evening of April eighteenth the waning moon cast a phantasy of light and shadow over the sleeping town. Down from the hills to the north, almost to the river bottom, spread the dark forest, the Charlestown wood lots of earlier years, with Pine hill rising in their midst. Along the Mystic ran the way to the Weirs. From the cross roads near Cradock's bridge ran the road to Charlestown, and from the same point, later the market place, led the road to Salem. Between the two lay the river road. From the road to the Weirs, at some distance from Mystic pond, ran the road around the woods. Opposite Rock hill the Woburn road branched off to the towns on the north, reached also by the Stoneham road, leading from the Salem highway, up past the great brickyards, where it was lost in the darkness of the wood lots, disturbed only by the lonely howl of a skulking wolf. Along these highways were gathered most of the houses, but little over a hundred in number, where dwelt less than a thousand townspeople. Up the road to Menotomy the moonlight fell upon the steeple [p. 42] of the third meeting-house, silent in its mid-week desertion. Beyond the square, about an equal distance down the road to Charlestown, it greeted the last flickering candle-light in the Admiral Vernon. There, too, the vague rumors of the day, discussed at the tavern bar over many a round of ‘flip,’ were lulled in the quiet of the surrounding night. Medford slept. But it was a restless sleep, both within and without, where the chill wind of an early spring, coming over the hills, rustled the tree tops as if in apprehension.

In the last hour of that restless day two spots of light carried their rays from the steeple of the North Church in Boston up the valley of the Mystic. With the new day, the nineteenth, a horse and rider burst over the crest of Winter hill and dashed down the slope along the road from Charlestown into the sleeping town. On the left, as they drew nearer the bridge, the rider passed the mansion house of Isaac Royall, set back in the midst of its ample estate. The glint of moonlight fell upon its darkened windows, for Colonel Royall, the Sunday previous, had ridden off in his chariot to Boston, and was then and thereafter absent from Medford. But the house, more steadfast than its master, greets us today as it greeted Revere in that early morning hour.

Across the Mystic, at the town square, the horse and rider turned to the left into the road to Menotomy. There on the right stood the house of Isaac Hall, captain of the Minute Men. Here he drew rein. A knock on the door, a hurried alarm, and with the prompt response of candle light from within, Medford was again astir. That sentinel of the past stands in our midst today. Up the road to Menotomy the messenger of the night pressed on, by the dark meeting house on the right, up the slope of Marm Simond's hill, by the house of Jonathan Brooks, still standing at the fork of the Woburn road, over the bridge at the Weirs, into Menotomy and on toward Lexington. So Paul Revere came into Medford, and so, lost in the moonlight and the shadows of the lonely road, he left it. [p. 43]

It was at Captain Hall's house that he made his first stop on that night ride. But, in his own language, after leaving Captain Hall's, he gave the alarm at almost every house on the way to Lexington.

It is not recorded at what hour of the night Captain Hall assembled his company of Minute Men. It is certain that from midnight to sunrise, in house after house, the flicker of candle light revealed the household aroused, the flintlock and powder horn passed by hands trembling with excitement to the father or brother who, swinging on his accoutrements, hurried out into the night. Doubtless before sunrise every household knew that the British regulars were moving toward Concord and that the moment of action had come. We may well believe, as the chroniclers relate, that the repeated gun shots, the beating of drums and the ringing of bells echoed through the air a general alarm.

Of the fifty-nine Minute Men who trooped up the road to Menotomy where Paul Revere had passed at midnight, nine bore the name of Tufts and five the name of Hall. The names of the entire company are recorded in ‘A True Record of the Travels and Time of Service of the Company of Medford Under the Command of Isaac Hall in the Late Colonel Gardner's Regiment.’

We leave them, then, for a moment tramping along the road beyond the bridge at the Weirs, alert, determined, grasping their flintlocks in the firm grip of men certain of danger but uncertain at what corner of the road it may face them.

The townspeople left behind did not idly leave the business of the day to the fifty-nine who had marched off. After daybreak the town was almost destitute of men, for unorganized volunteers, singly and in groups, took up their own hurried march, eager to be in the fray. One was Henry Putnam, in 1758 a lieutenant in the Louisburg campaign, and past the age of military service. Seizing his flintlock as his wife asked if he were [p. 44] going without his dinner, he answered, ‘I am going to take powder and balls for my dinner today, or to give them some.’ Another was the Rev. Edward Brooks. From his house near the old slave wall on the Grove street of today, he too went over to Lexington, and with full-bottomed wig, rode on horseback, his gun on his shoulder. From the garret window of that house his son, Peter, prompted as we may fancy by the impulse of more than one boy of the age of eight, listened to the guns of the British at Menotomy and saw them glisten under the morning sun.

Along with the volunteers, throughout the morning the country people were moving through Medford toward Menotomy — in their faces curiosity, suspense, apprehension — in their hearts determination, as they realized that the die was cast.

As the day wore on armed Provincials from other towns trooped through the town. The road between Medford and Salem was the highway leading to the country northeast of Boston. To Malden a horseman from Medford dashed along this road in the early morning, scattering the alarm. His name is lost. The clanging of the meeting-house bell, then on Bell rock, brought the townspeople of Malden to the Kettell's tavern. There seventy-six men under Capt. Benjamin Blaney assembled, and with drums beating, marched to Medford under orders to proceed to Watertown. Near Cradock bridge the company halted while the whereabouts of the British was verified, and then at noon proceeded through the town to Menotomy.

The same messenger, perhaps, carried the alarm to Lynn. At some hour of the morning thirty-eight men from Lynn marched through Medford in the direction of the gun-shots up the Lexington road. The word reached Salem and Danvers at about nine o'clock in the morning of the nineteenth. The Danvers men, three hundred and thirty-one of them, without waiting for a full regiment, set off at nine o'clock. Before noon they [p. 45] came striding through Medford and in four hours did the march of sixteen miles to Menotomy.

All these, during the day, came down the Salem road through the square and followed the route taken by Captain Hall and his men during the cool hours of the early morning. The day, in the meantime, had become very warm and the air dry, for the season was so advanced that along the roadside was the waving grass of summer. Over the same route, in the afternoon, as far as the square, came three hundred men from Salem. They turned down the Charlestown road where, as they reached the top of Winter hill at the edge of early evening, they witnessed the running fight upon the exhausted British. To these Minute Men from other towns, as they passed the house from which her husband, the Rev. Edward Brooks, had ridden off in the morning, Abagail Brooks served chocolate—chocolate, but no tea. It was at this house, too, where that militant man of God extended Christian hospitality to a wounded enemy, Lieutenant Gould of the King's Own, wounded at Concord, and while proceeding in a borrowed chaise, captured by the old men of Menotomy. In Medford, he wrote, ‘I am now treated with the greatest humanity and taken all possible care of.’ These, we may imagine, were but instances of the hospitality dispensed by the good wives of Medford, both at the roadside and the hearthside.

So passed the nineteenth of April in Medford, and when night came companies from other towns, too late to enter the fight, were quartered in its midst.

But what, meantime, was the business of Captain Hall and his company who marched off under the waning moon, pressing on after Paul Revere?

It was about half-past 10 in the evening of April eighteenth that eight hundred British regulars under Lieutenant-Colonel Smith, having assembled at the foot of Boston common, now Boylston street, embarked across the Charles for Lechmere point in East Cambridge. [p. 46] There began their midnight march to Lexington through Cambridge, both to capture Hancock and Adams and to destroy the Provincial stores. The expedition was intended to be secret. To prevent his movements from becoming known, General Gage sent out ten or more sergeants, posted along the highways in Cambridge and toward Concord. It was while the troops at rest on the Cambridge shore were receiving a day's rations and thirty-six rounds of ammunition that Revere started from the Charlestown shore, mounted on Deacon Larkin's best horse. He had gone beyond Charlestown Neck, along the Cambridge road to the point where Crescent street now joins Washington street in Somerville, when he caught sight of two British officers halted in the shadows by the roadside. Wheeling his horse, he dashed back along the road to the Neck and turned into the Mystic road, now Broadway and Main street in Somerville, and Main street in Medford. It was the two British officers who intercepted Revere on his intended route to Cambridge that caused him to make the detour through Medford. It is because of those unknown soldiers of the night, lurking in the shadows of the road, that in Medford and at the house of Isaac Hall was sounded the first alarm on that ride.

It was one o'clock before the British column left the Charles river behind them. By that time Revere was in Lexington, and one hour earlier than that Medford had the news that the British were moving. By two o'clock the King's men were in the present Union square, Somerville. By three o'clock, coming up the Lexington and Concord road, now Massachusetts avenue, they had halted at the present Arlington center. Indeed, the Sons of Liberty were aware of the intended march even before the troops themselves. In more than one house along the route, as the steady tramp of the advancing column awakened the householders, they peered out upon the strange sight of the passing red coats. Signal guns and alarm bells rapidly spread the [p. 47] news, and here in Arlington, Smith, realizing the significance of the signal guns and alarm bells, sent back to General Gage for reinforcements.

At five o'clock the troops had covered the eleven miles to Lexington. There on the common, just before sunrise, the light infantry, under Major Pitcairn, exchanged the first volleys with Captain Parker's Minute Men who stood in the path of the invading army.

Here, as the Minute Men fell at sunrise, war began. To the British that encounter was little more than a skirmish. In half an hour, with fife and drum and flying colors, the column moved up the road. By eight o'clock Smith's main body had reached its objective six miles further on in Concord. There they searched out the stores, and there, between the hours of nine and ten, their advance turned into a retreat in the battle of the North bridge.

During the entire advance of the British toward Concord it is not easy to determine the whereabouts of the Minute Men from Medford. The hour of their starting is not recorded. One historian writes that they were early on the march. Nor is the precise extent of their march known. During the British advance to Lexington the troops were unmolested by armed Provincials. At Lexington, Captain Parker's men alone barred the way.

At Concord it is known that both Minute Men and militia from Acton, Bedford, Lincoln and Carlisle, together with the Concord men, bore the brunt of the attack at the bridge. Captain Hall's men were then doubtless further down the road.

It was noon when Colonel Smith gave the order to march back to Boston, a long seventeen miles, long for the able-bodied who had been without sleep since ten o'clock on the evening before, and longer for the wounded, who were now numerous. As the column moved, the hills along the road were swarming with Provincials— five thousand of them, wrote Ensign De Bernice of the [p. 48] tenth regiment. It is probable that some, at least, of the Medford Minute Men were among the unorganized troops skirting the road on the higher level of the hills. Out of Concord about a mile is Merriam's corner, and here it is commonly said that Captain Hall's men fell in with the Reading company under Major John Brooks. Here the battle suspended at the North bridge was renewed, with fatalities on both sides. At this point American reinforcements came in, to the number of one thousand one hundred and forty-seven, bringing their forces, at the most, up to fifteen hundred, somewhat less than the five thousand who appeared in the exaggerated vision of the ensign. In no formal list of the reinforcements do the Medford men appear. Tradition, however, is to the contrary.

For present purposes we may again adopt the words of De Bernice when, in reference to the progress of the troops through Lincoln into Lexington he wrote, ‘The Provincials kept the road always lined and a very hot fire on us without intermission. We began to run rather than retreat in order.’ So, too, later reported his lieutenant-colonel, that the firing on his troops ‘increased to a very great degree and continued without the intermission of five minutes altogether for, I believe, upwards of eighteen miles.’

If the Medford men were not among the Provincials who carried on the running attack both on the main column and the flanking parties, there was other business for them along the road below Lexington.

When Smith reached Arlington on his advance twelve hours earlier, alarmed by the general uprising that was becoming evident he sent back to General Gage for reinforcements. A thousand men under Lord Percy proceeded to his relief. Their progress from Boston Neck through Roxbury, Brighton, Cambridge and Arlington was not unmolested. At Arlington, for instance, the old men of Menotomy lay in wait and captured his entire baggage train, driving the horses off to Medford. Between [p. 49] two and three o'clock his column reached Lexington about opposite the present high school and there, opening their ranks, received into that welcome shelter Smith's exhausted troops.

It was nearly four o'clock when the British forces again moved. Their progress, marked by pillage and burning, evidenced Percy's conception of the warfare that his exigencies warranted. The Minute Men, now bitterly aroused, continued the attack down the road into the present Arlington. There the Americans, under General Heath and Doctor Warren, rallied and attacked Percy's rear guard. Here some eighteen hundred men reinforced the Provincials. Among these companies are all those who are definitely known to have marched through Medford to Menotomy earlier in the day. Here are listed as entering the battle Captain Hall of Medford, fifty-nine men; Captain Blaney of Malden, seventy-five men; Captain Bancroft of Lynn, thirty-eight men; and eight companies of Danvers men, totaling three hundred and thirty-one men. It thus appears that these companies, among others, may have been definitely held at Menotomy, or in the uncertainty that attended the direction of the unorganized American forces, that they awaited the developments of the day at this point. At the base of Pierce's hill, now Arlington heights, the battle raged along the highway to Arlington center. Between the house of Jason Russell, still standing on Jason street, and the center of the village, the fighting reached its climax. Altogether in Arlington on that afternoon twenty-five Provincials fell or were mortally wounded. Among them were Henry Putnam and William Polly of Medford.

It was between five and six o'clock that Percy crossed into Cambridge, then into the present city of Somerville at the corner of Beach and Elm streets, down Somerville avenue into Union square, and so on down Washington street along the then Cambridge road. Soon after sunset the column reached Charlestown common, now [p. 50] Sullivan square, and wheeled up Bunker hill. The British were back in Charlestown.

All along this route the Minute Men kept up the attack upon the exhausted and disordered British, sometimes in organized attack, sometimes in personal encounter. Among the troops that followed the British down into Charlestown were the Minute Men of Medford.

So ended the battle of April nineteenth, and while the women and children of Charlestown were fleeing in terror across the marshes to Medford, the Medford company proceeded to Cambridge, which became the headquarters of the American army.

But how looked at these events Hugh Earl Percy, whose men that night recrossed the Charles in the boats of the Somerset, which swung in the tide as Paul Revere, the night before, passed under its shadow?

On August 8, 1774, Percy wrote to Henry Reveley, Esq., Peckham, Surrey, ‘The people here are a set of sly, artful, hypocritical rascalls, cruel, & cowards. I must own I cannot but despise them completely.’

On April 20, 1775, in an unofficial account of the retreat, he wrote General Harvey, ‘We retired for 15 m under an incessant fire, wh like a moving circle surrounded & fold us wherever we went, till we arrived at Charlestown at 8 in the ev'g, . . . Whoever looks upon them as an irregular mob, will find himself much mistaken. . . . You may depend upon it, that as the Rebels have now had time to prepare, they are determined to go throa with it, nor will the insurrection here turn out so despicable as it is perhaps imagined at home. For my part, I never believed, I confess, that they wd have attacked the King's troops, or have had the preserverance I found in them yesterday.’

To the Duke of Northumberland he wrote on August 18, 1775, ‘My dearest Father: . . . I have enclosed a newspaper containing copies of some letters wrote by some of the principal people at the Congress, wh were intercepted by us. You will perceive from them that [p. 51] their aim is (what I am convinced it has ever been) Independence.’

To that end rose Medford and her Minute Men one hundred and fifty years ago today.

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