Medford and her Minute Men, April 19, 1775.
Address by Hon. Richard B. Coolidge
, April 19, 1925, at Medford Theatre.
, 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
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.
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 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.
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
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
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]
Three days later, on the evening of the eighteenth, uncertainty had become more acute, for Hancock
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
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
Three days before the troops of General Gage
seized the ammunition, Thomas Patton
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
, later Dr. John Brooks
of Reading, and later Governor Brooks
, 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
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.
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.
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
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
and saw them glisten under the morning sun.
Along with the volunteers, throughout the morning the country people were moving through Medford
— 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
was the highway leading to the country northeast of Boston
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
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
The word reached Salem
at about nine o'clock in the morning of the nineteenth.
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
, 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.
There began their midnight march to Lexington
, both to capture Hancock
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.
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
By that time Revere
was in Lexington
, and one hour earlier than that Medford
had the news that the British
By two o'clock the King
's men were in the present Union square, Somerville
By three o'clock, coming up the Lexington
road, now Massachusetts avenue, they had halted at the present Arlington
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
, realizing the significance of the signal guns and alarm bells, sent back to General Gage
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
During the entire advance of the British
it is not easy to determine the whereabouts of the Minute Men
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.
, Captain Parker
's men alone barred the way.
it is known that both Minute Men and militia from Acton
, together with the Concord
men, bore the brunt of the attack at the bridge.
'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]
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
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
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
on his advance twelve hours earlier, alarmed by the general uprising that was becoming evident he sent back to General Gage
A thousand men under Lord Percy proceeded to his relief.
Their progress from Boston Neck through Roxbury
, Brighton, Cambridge
was not unmolested.
, 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
earlier in the day. Here are listed as entering the battle Captain Hall
, fifty-nine men; Captain Blaney
, seventy-five men; Captain Bancroft
, 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
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
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
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
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
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
, ‘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
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.
Bibliography. Wild, Medford in the Revolution. Medford, past and present. Usher, History of Medford. Cutter, History of Arlington. Sears, Menotomy. Arlington, past and present. Corey, History of Malden. Farrington, Paul Revere and his famous ride. Bolton, Letters of Hugh Earl Percy. Murdock, The nineteenth of April. French, The day of Concord and Lexington. Coburn, The battle of April 19, 1775. Hooper, Roads of old Medford and bridges in Medford. （Medford Historical Register, 1899). Old Medford houses and Estates. (Medford Historical Register, 1904.) Dyer, Sons of liberty. Brown, Beneath old roof-trees.