The old colonial banner and flag of the minute-men of Bedford
[An address delivered by the author, April 19, 1895.]
Every event of the Revolution, though incidental and comparatively trifling, should be gathered up and put in enduring form, in order that the rising generation may have a just appreciation of the heritage to which they are born, and which they are bound to maintain and protect.
Monuments and statues have been erected in liberal numbers, especially since the centennial year. Concord, Lexington, and Bunker Hill have become familiar to every schoolboy, while the entire route from Old North Church to Old North Bridge has been indicated by enduring tablets.
But while these greater things have engrossed our attention, the smaller, equally significant, have been lost from view.
Not until a comparatively recent date has the flag of the minute-men been known to be in existence. It matters not whether we are descendants of the brave men who were in the opening scenes of the Revolution, or whether we perpetuate those who were in the Continental army,
[ p 196 ]
we must be interested in the slightest detail of that day when was “fired the shot heard round the world.”
[ object photo ]
Flag of the Middlesex Regiment of the Militia of the Colony of Massachusetts Bay. Carried by Nathaniel Page in the Company of Bedford Minute-men at Concord Fight, April 19, 1775
When Emerson penned the beautiful lines, —
“By the rude bridge that arched the flood,
Their flag to April’s breeze unfurled,”
[ p 197 ]
he had no thought that the “embattled farmers” had a flag. It was a poetical figure. Surprised indeed must he have been, when delivering the address at the unveiling of the Minute-Man in 1875, to rest his eyes upon the only banner carried a century earlier in the heat of that struggle which his pen has so beautifully portrayed. [*1] It proved his poetic thought to have been tinged with double reality.
CONCORD HYMN. [^1]
“By the rude bridge that arched the flood,
Their flag to April’s breeze unfurled,
Here once the embattled farmers stood,
And fired the shot heard round the world.
The foe long since in silence slept;
Alike the conqueror silent sleeps;
And Time the ruined bridge has swept
Down the dark stream which seaward creeps.
On this green bank, by this soft stream,
We set to-day a votive stone;
That memory may their deed redeem,
When, like our sires, our sons are gone.
Spirit, that made those heroes dare
To die, and leave their children free,
Bid Time and Nature gently spare
The shaft we raise to them and Thee.”
Written by Ralph Waldo Emerson, and sung at the dedication of the granite shaft erected in 1836.
The historic bridge was demolished when the original road was abandoned. A rustic bridge was built at the same place preparatory to the centennial celebration, 1875. (See story of “A Concord Patriot” in this volume.) [*2] This bridge was partly carried away by a spring flood, but has been more strongly built.
[ p 198 ]
The minute-men of Bedford had a flag; but I do not presume to assert to any one, much less to the Sons of the American Revolution, that it was a flag planned for this service. We know too well how the yeomen soldiers were organized for service to think of their making any such preparation. Neither Hancock with his abundant wealth, nor Adams with his abounding patriotism, had thought of any standard for the little companies that were being drilled for a moment’s warning. They were too busily engrossed with the weightier matters of the time. [^2]
When Adams from the heights of Lexington saw in that gorgeous April sunrise a figure of the future glory of America, it was with no thought that the flag of the future republic was to be spangled with the galaxy of the heavens.
But in the old town of Bedford was the standard destined to be the flag of the minute-men of that town.
Like many another important event of history, this was not the result of any preconcerted action. Neither were the bloody scenes at Lexington Common and Old North Bridge, which have been subjects for the admiration of all patriots, of every clime, for more than a century. [*3]
[ p 199 ]
the “Three County Troop.” This remained in existence until 1677, or possibly later. It is certain that it was in active service during King Philip’s war. The formation of this company of cavalry leads to the conclusion that there must have been a standard, “cornet” as it was then termed, “upon which arms were emblazoned.” [^3][*4][*5]
With the fact of the cavalry company thoroughly established, and with the ancient standard before us, we naturally conclude that our “Flag of the Minute-men” was the cornet of the “Three Country Troop.” [*15b] In the way of corroborative evidence I would cite an entry said to be in a herald painter’s book of the time of Charles I, which Mr. Whitmore says is preserved in the British Museum. [^4][*6]
It is as follows: —
|For painting in oyel on both sides a Cornett one rich crimson damask, with a hand and sword, and invelloped with a scarf about the arms of gold, black, and silver||£2 0s. 6d.|
|For a plaine Cornette Staffe, with belte, boote and swible at first penny [*7][*8]||1 0 0|
|For silke of crimson and silver fringe and for a Cornett string||1 11 0|
|For Crimson Damask||11 0|
|£5 2s. 6d.|
It is certain that the herald painter’s bill made almost two hundred and twenty-five years ago
[ p 200 ]
identifies our flag. No modern detective could ask for more definite description. [*15a]
The “belte, boote and swible” are gone. The silver fringe is also missing; but I have the word of Madam Ruhamah Lane, late of Bedford, when past her ninetieth year: [*9] “I took that silver fringe from that old flag when I was a giddy girl, and trimmed a dress for a military ball. I was never more sorry for anything than that which resulted in the loss of the fringe.”
Hon. Jonathan A. Lane of Boston, son of the venerable woman above quoted, told me that he had the same story from his mother’s lips when she was in the prime of life.
The presence of the flag in Bedford is easily accounted for.
Nathaniel Page, referred to in the chapter immediately preceding this, was the first of the family in possession of the flag. [*10] He was a military man, connected with the “Three County Troop” as cornet or bearer of the standard. [*11] This was a position held by several generations of his descendants in later military organizations, as witness their ancient gravestones.
Cornet Nathaniel Page, died March 2, 1755, aged 76.
Cornet Nathaniel Page, died April 6 1779, aged 76.
Cornet John Page, died Feb. 18, 1782, aged 78.
The ancient standard was brought to Bedford by Nathaniel Page, when he settled in Shawsheen
[ p 201 ]
(Bedford); and being in the house, it was taken by Nathaniel Page 3d, a Bedford minute-man, and borne to Concord, and there waved above the smoke of that battle, “the first forcible resistance to British aggression.” [*12][*13]
The Page family, as already shown, owned the same house which they occupied for many generations, and which is still in the family. [*14] From the ancestor who hastily seized that flag, and hastened to Concord with the minute-men of Bedford, has come the story to generation after generation. Madam Lane, already quoted, had the story of the standard-bearer, her father, from his own lips. Mr. Appleton, of the Massachusetts Historical Society, says,
“It was originally designed, in 1660-70, for the Three County Troop of Middlesex, and became one of the accepted standards of the organized militia of the State, and as such it was used by the Bedford company. [*15] In my opinion this flag far exceeds in historic value the famed flag of Eutaw and Pulaski‘s banner, *1 and
*1 Count Pulaski, a Polish officer, was appointed a brigadier general in the Continental army on Sept. 15, 1777, just after the battle of Brandywine, and was given the command of the cavalry. [^5] This he resigned, and later organized a corps of cavalry.
Pulaski visited Lafayette while wounded and a recipient of the care and hospitality of the Moravian sisters, at Bethlehem, Pa. His presence and eventful history made deep impression upon the minds of that community. When informed that he was organizing the corps of cavalry they prepared a banner of crimson silk for him. It was beautifully wrought with various designs, and sent to the Count with their blessings.
[ p 202 ]
in fact is the most precious memorial of its kind of which we have any knowledge.”
“The Flag of the Minute-men,” issued by the author of this book in 1894, is thus indorsed: — [*16]
Commonwealth of Massachusetts,
Boston, April 1, 1895.
Dear Mr. Brown, —
Your “Souvenir” is a work of art, admirably planned and executed. I congratulate you on the work.
Concord, Mass., April 1, 1895.
Mr. Abram English Brown, Bedford.
My dear Sir, —
I have read with great interest your Souvenir, and note with peculiar pride “The Flag of the Minute-men,” which is now so valuable, as being the identical flag carried at “Concord Fight.” As the years roll on this flag will be more and more valued by the patriotic people of our land.
Edwin S. Barrett,
President of the Massachusetts Society of the Sons
of the American Revolution
Pulaski received the banner with grateful acknowledgments, and bore it gallantly through many a martial scene, until he fell in conflict at Savannah in the autumn of 1779.
His banner was saved by his first lieutenant, who received fourteen wounds. It was taken to Baltimore, and kept until 1824, when it was carried in the procession that welcomed Lafayette to that city. It was later given to the Maryland Historical Society.
[ p 203 ]
“The Flag of the Minute-men, April 19, 1775.” Its origin and history by Abram English Brown is one of those invaluable historical records, that, once lost, is lost for all time. It is due to the indefatigable, painstaking care of the author that the patriotic effort was put forth whereby the old flag is now held in public trust, — the sacred emblem of freedom and truth, and that equality that gives “to every man the right of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.” It is a book for every member of a patriotic society to own — this little history of the first flag of our country.
After the experience of April 19, 1775, the flag was kept in the Page garret, seldom seen by any one, and by none appreciated, until on the morning of April 19, 1875, a century’s dust was shaken off the damask folds, and it was carried by the Bedford delegation in the procession at Concord, and there unfurled again by the rude bridge. [*17][*18] After the service of that day it was returned to the same hiding-place, and there remained ten years longer, when it was brought out by Captain Cyrus Page, who was the embodiment of the military zeal of his ancestors, and by him presented to the town of Bedford, on Oct. 19, 1885, the anniversary of the surrender by Cornwallis to Washington.
- A. E. Brown’s “The old colonial banner and flag” (1896)
in his Beneath old roof trees pp 195-203
- HYMN. ∨ FIGHT.
- weightier ∨ weighter
- “cornet” ∨ cornet
- Charles I, ∨ Charles I.,
- brigadier general ∨ brigadier
- Historic properties and neighborhoods (2015)
- The Bedford Flag unfurled (2000)
- Whitney Smith’s “The Bedford Flag”  [ no scan ]
in Report of the third international congress of vexillology:
the flag bulletin: Volume X: Numbers 2–3 (pp 46-54)
- The Bedford sampler  (1967)
- Brown’s History of the town of Bedford (1891)
- William H. Whitmore’s “The Standard of the Three County Troop”
in The New England HG register: Volume XXV (1871) pp 138-140
- cf. Emerson’s “Address” (19 April 1875)
in Proceedings at the centennial (1876) pp 79-81
- cf. “A Concord patriot’s secret” (pp 122-138)
- “clime” (i.e., “climate”): region
- “cornet”: flag carried by a cornet
- cf. Worcester’s Dictionary of the English language (1884) p 316,
which cites Fairholt’s Dictionary of terms of art (1854) [ no scan ]
- cf. The New England HG register: Volume XXV (1871) p 93
- Smith glosses “swible” as “swivel-socket” and suggests that the “boote” was “probably a case made to protect or hold the flag”. (Report) p 51
- Whitmore offers that “the term ‘at first penny’ may be the same as ‘at first cost'”. (Standard) p 138
- “Ruhamah Lane”: b. 1788 – d. 1882 (BHB) II: pp 22 and 27
NB: Ruhamah (Page) Lane was Nathaniel Page’s daughter.
- “Nathaniel Page”: b. about 1679 – d. 1755 (BHB) II: p 26
cf. “Through the Old Burial-Ground” (pp 181-194)
- This scenario “does not appear possible”. (BFU) p 71
- Brown here has “less command of his facts than usual”.
cf. McDonald’s The Bedford Flag unfurled (2000) p 75
- cf. Old North Bridge’s memorial inscription (1836)
- “the same house”: the Nathaniel Page homestead
Formerly stood at 85 Page Road. (BS1) p 14
Moved. Now at 89 Page Road. (HPN) p 282
- This statement has since been proven doubly wrong:
The Bedford Flag was painted “certainly not before 1704”, and Brown himself “eventually decided that the Bedford Flag and the Three County Troop flag were in fact not the same”. (BFU) pp 11 and 74
- cf. Brown’s Flag of the Minute Men (1894)
- Charles Lauriat — whose grandfather was Cyrus Page (whose grandfather was Nathaniel Page) — objected to “having it said that . . . the flag was ever kept in a ‘garret'”. (BFU) p 94
- “rude”: rough-hewn