In March, 1775, the town voted
“to pay twenty-five ‘minute-men’ one shilling per week until the first of May next, — they to exercise four hours in a week, and two shillings to be allowed two officers, they to equip themselves according to the advice of the Congress.”
While John Reed was laboring in the interests of the town in the Second Congress, the minute-men were being faithfully drilled and the company of militia as well. The minute-men of Bedford were a fair specimen of those forces, so hastily prepared for war, of whom Lord Percy said: “We never saw anything equal to the intrepidity of the New England minute-men.” [*1] The officers of the minute-men had no commissions, as did those of the militia already in service; hence their authority came through the suffrage of their associates. The Bedford minute-men organized by choosing Jonathan Willson as captain and Moses Abbott as lieutenant; Cornet Nathaniel Page was standard-bearer. [^1]
[ object sketch ]
[[ Bedford Flag ]]
The banner illustrated on this page was carried by Cornet Nathaniel Page in the company of minute-men from Bedford to Concord, April 19, 1775. It had, doubtless, been in the Page family in this town for nearly a century before the Revolution. [*5a] It was returned to the Page mansion after the opening scenes of the war, and there kept until the centennial celebration at Concord, April 19, 1875, when it was carried with the Bedford delegation in the procession of that day. [*2] Ten years later, October 19, 1885 (the one hundred and fourth anniversary of the surrender by Cornwallis to Washington), it was presented by Captain Cyrus Page to the town of Bedford.
It was thus brought to the attention of the Massachusetts Historical Society at their meeting in the following January, when Mr. Appleton reported upon it as follows: [*3]
“It was originally designed in England, in 1660-70, for the three-county troops of Massachusetts, and became one of the accepted standards of the organized Militia of the State, and as such it was used by the Bedford company.” [*4]
Mr. Appleton said that in his opinion
[ p 24 ]
is the most precious memorial of its kind we have any knowledge of.”
The three-county troops, referred to above, originated thus: In May, 1643, the whole Colony of Massachusetts Bay was divided into four shires — Middlesex, Essex, Suffolk and Norfolk, named from the English counties. In the same year, 1643, a new organization of the militia was determined upon, and the Colony forces were divided into three regiments. Middlesex had one, Suffolk one and Essex was joined with Norfolk in one. The valuable relic now owned by the town of Bedford is, without doubt, the banner carried by the Middlesex Regiment. [*5b]
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.
— Emerson. [*6]
The “Lexington Alarm List,” in the archives of the State, gives Bedford credit for twenty-six minute-men, but has no record of the captain, Jonathan Willson, who was killed on April 19, 1775. [^2] This unfortunate omission is, doubtless, to be accounted for by his brief service (the sacrifice of life being made about mid-day) and the few miles of travel, making the demand against the Province too small to receive the attention of the bereaved family.
The same list is authority in regard to the number of men belonging to the Bedford company of militia of the Seventh Regiment, together with their time of service.
According to the sworn statements of the commanding officers of the Bedford companies, there were, from this town, engaged in that part of the opening scene of the Revolution that took place at Concord, seventy-seven men in organized command, besides undrilled citizens who joined the ranks on that morning. If, as a recent writer of Concord fight has recorded, the Provincial forces “numbered possibly three hundred and fifty men” at half-past nine o’clock, more than one-fifth of them were from Bedford. [*7] Thompson Maxwell (before mentioned) was with the minute-men of Bedford on April 19th. His journal of that date is as follows:
“I again happened in Bedford with my team. [*8] I left Boston the 18th, and got to my native town that night, and put up with my brother, Willson (who married my sister), and was Captain of the minute-men. [^1][*9] Next morning early he had orders to march with his company to Concord. He requested me to go with him. I went, well armed, and joined in the fight. My brother, Willson, was killed. [^2] Next day I hired a man to drive my team home.” [*10]
“I never went home until after the Battle of Bunker Hill.” [*10]
It is not certain how early the news of the movement of the Regulars first reached Bedford on the night of April 18, 1775, but it is very probable that the town was warned among the first. Nathan Munroe and Benjamin Tidd, at Captain Parker‘s re-
quest, went up to Bedford from Lexington, some time in the evening, and, according to the sworn statement of one of them, “notified the inhabitants.” The people had but little sleep that night, and were astir long before the break of day.
There is a tradition that Maxwell’s familiarity with war led him to be suspicious of certain movements that he saw in Boston, and that he and Willson were sitting, late at night, discussing the condition of affairs, when the messenger reached the house. [^1] The minute-men rallied at the tavern in the village, kept by Jeremiah Fitch, Jr., and there had some hastily-prepared refreshments. [*11] The Captain gave the following encouraging command as the company left for Concord: “It is a cold breakfast, boys, but we’ll give the British a hot dinner; we’ll have every dog of them before night.” [*12]
It is probable that the militia rallied at the home of their captain, on the Concord road, and were at the scene of action before Captain Willson’s company reached there. [*13][^3] On the arrival of the two companies at Concord they assisted in removing stores to places of greater safety. [*14] It is said that Cornet Page laid down his flag and went to work, and when returning to look for it “found the boys had got it and were playing soldiers with it.” [*15]
The Bedford men were on the ridge when they first saw the British, but, with all the Americans, soon turned and made haste to get to the other side of the bridge.
The Bedford companies met with no loss at the bridge, and were all in the pursuit of the retreating enemy. They left the “Great Fields” at Meriam’s Corner, and engaged in the attack, then hastened in the pursuit, and were in the thickest of the fight near the “Brooks Tavern,” where Captain Wilson was killed and Job Lane wounded. [^4][^5] It is not probable that they continued in pursuit of the retreating enemy, but, with saddened hearts, returned to their homes, bearing their dead and wounded. A British soldier said of them and others: “They fought like bears, and I would as soon storm hell as fight them again.” [*16] Bedford homes were full of anxiety that day. The women were engaged in preparing food and sending it on to Concord. One good lady said, “All day long the bell was ringing and guns were firing; people were dashing back and forth on horse-back, and saying there had been an awful fight.” [*17] She had doubtless seen the Reading and Wilmington companies and others as they passed through the town or halted to rest at Fitch’s tavern.
Admitting the militia roll, taken twenty-six days after the opening scene of the war, to have been substantially that of a month earlier, it appears that all of the able bodied men of this town, between sixteen and sixty years of age, with the exception of eleven, were on duty in the organized companies at Concord, on April 19, 1775. Had this spontaneous uprising of the people been a mad craze for war they would have
[ p 25 ]
rushed to Lexington; but it was rather the natural act of children hastening to the relief of a mother threatened by a common enemy. [*18]
- Brown’s History of the town of Bedford (1891) pp 23-25
- Willson ∨ Wilson
- Willson, ∨ Wilson,
- Willson’s ∨ Wilson’s
- Meriam’s ∨ Merriam’s
- “Brooks ∨ “Brooks’
- Gerrish ∨ Gerish
- Historic properties and neighborhoods (2015)
- The Bedford Flag unfurled (2000)
- The Bedford sampler  (1967)
- cf. Frothingham’s History of the siege of Boston (1849) p 84 [ poor scan ]
- “the Page mansion”: the Nathaniel Page homestead
Formerly stood at 85 Page Road. (BS1) p 14
Moved. Now at 89 Page Road. (HPN) p 282
- Brown has made an omission: the flag was first brought to the Society’s attention by Henry Jenks, at the Society’s meeting that very December. (Appleton then responded at the subsequent January meeting.)
cf. Jenks’ “The Bedford Flag” (December 1885)
in Proceedings of the MHS: Volume II (SS) pp 165-167
- cf. Appleton’s “The Bedford Flag” (January 1886)
in Proceedings of the MHS: Volume II (SS) pp 199-200
- 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. Emerson’s “Concord Hymn” (1837)
- “numbered possibly three hundred and fifty men”: [ source? ][??]
- “team”: team of horses
- “brother”: brother-in-law
- cf. “The narrative of Major Thompson Maxwell” (1865)
in Historical collections of the Essex Institute: Vol VII (pp 97-115)
- “the tavern in the village”: (what was then) Fitch Tavern
Now a private residence: 12 Great Road
- cf. Josiah A. Stearns’ “Bedford” (1880)
in Drake’s History of Middlesex County: Vol I p 244
NB: Stearns appears to be conflating two quotations:
cf. Jonathan F. Stearns’ “Historical discourse” (1879)
in Bedford sesqui-centennial celebration p 22
and cf. “A sketch of the celebration” (1879)
in Bedford sesqui-centennial celebration p 65
- “the home of their captain”: the Colonel Timothy Jones House: 231 Concord Road
- “stores”: stores of ammunition
- cf. Jonathan F. Stearns’ “Historical discourse” (1879)
in Bedford sesqui-centennial celebration p 23
- cf. Richardson’s The history of our country (1875) p 204
NB: This appears to be a corruption of an earlier quotation.
cf. Moore’s Diary of the American Revolution (1860) p 67 (footnote)
- cf. Josiah A. Stearns’ “Bedford” (1880)
in Drake’s History of Middlesex County: Vol I p 245
NB: Stearns seems to be embellishing an earlier account.
cf. Jonathan F. Stearns’ “Historical discourse” (1879)
in Bedford sesqui-centennial celebration p 25
- Concord was one of Bedford’s two “parents”.