Flag of the “Embattled Farmers” (1908)

Banner Carried in the Concord Fight May Still be Seen, in Bedford, Where it is Kept in a Fireproof Vault [*1] — The Page Home, from Which it Was Taken on the Call to Arms April 19, 1775, is Still Standing [*2] — Monuments to Men Who Fell That Day — A Patriot Bartender Who Was Shot by Drunken British Soldiers — Incidents of the Struggle.

[ object sketch ]
THE
FLAG
Copyright by
A. E. Brown
[ house photo ]
MUNROE TAVERN. [^1]
LEXINGTON
Home of Robert Munroe,
who was killed Apr. 19, 1775.
[^2]
[ house photo ]
RUSSELL HOUSE.
ARLINGTON
Here lived Jason Russell,
one of the men killed
[^3]
[ house photo ]
PAGE HOMESTEAD. BEDFORD
Nathaniel Page carried the flag from here

By Abram English Brown.

The flag of the minute men of 1775 has been discussed during the past year, as no other relic of the opening revolution. [*3]

The iconoclast has done his best to down it, but friends of the precious fabric have rallied in localities far and near, to defend it, as their grandsires rallied to defend their rights on that April morning, 133 years ago. [*3]

The old flag still waves, or exists, at Bedford, where it has been carefully treasured since the smoke of battle rolled away.

The town has provided liberally for the more secure protection of the precious memento, and the custodian, with conscious pride, swings open the iron doors of the fireproof vault and bids every visitor, and they are many, behold the only flag existing that waved over “the embattled farmers” on that never-to-be-forgotten morning, when was made the first forcible resistance of British aggression.

This banner is thought to have been made in England about 1670, and brought to Massachusetts bay for an early military company. [*5][*6] It was afterward stored in Nathaniel Page’s garret in Bedford, whence it was taken by his grandson, Nathaniel Page, April 19, 1775, and carried to Concord, and figured in the fight at the bridge. [*7] It was then returned to its former resting place, and brought forth again in 1875 in the centennial celebration at Concord, where Emerson for the first time saw the banner so beautifully portrayed by him in the following lines:

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 [*8][*9]

The old flag, wonderfully preserved, on exhibition today at Bedford, has companion relics that bear mute testimony to the wild crack of musketry that shook the stillness of the April dawn.

One of the funeral handbills not uncommon in the provincial days, was hastily prepared and given wide circulation to impress the provincials with the dastardly acts of the King’s army. It was a fitting broadside with a rude cut of a funeral urn, and the following in bold type: [*10]

A LIST
Of the names of the Provincials who were killed and wounded in the late Engagement with His Majesty’s Troops at Concord, April 19, 1775

So hastily was it prepared that the Christian name is omitted in several instances, and other evidence of the difficulty of obtaining accurate information is detected; but it recalls as no modern sheet can do, the circumstances which prompted its hasty issue.

The list of killed foots up as 41, and that of the wounded is given as 19. Two more are said to be missing. The later authenticated report assigned one of the Medford men to the list of killed; [^4] corrected the name of John Lane of Bedford to Job Lane; says Asahel Reed, instead of Mr Reed of Sudbury; omits the name of Capt James Miles of Concord, as that townsman escaped safely. The reporter failed to get the full name of Abner Hosmer of Acton, giving it as “Mr” Hosmer; Edward Barber of Charlestown was at first reported as “Capt William Barber’s son.” He was a


lad of 11 years, who fell within range of the muskets of the king’s troops when taking the shortest cut back to safety on the retreat of the afternoon. They were so thoroughly incensed at the treatment received on the line of march that they were not willing to spare even the innocent boy whose curiosity had put him in their way.

The title of “Esq” was affixed to the name of Isaac Gardner of Brookline, but the official report omitted this evidence of dignity. The report from Framingham was indistinct, and “Mr —— Hemmenway” was recorded as wounded, but later news gave it as Daniel Hemmenway, the only one of 70 men from that town who comprised the two companies that fell into the day’s experiences at Meriam’s Corner in Concord. [^5] The men listed as “missing” were Mr Samuel Frost and Mr Seth Russell, who later were welcomed at their respective homes by grateful hearts. Of the killed, all but two were privates. These two were Capt Isaac Davis and Capt Jonathan Willson. [^6][*11]

Capt Isaac Davis was a native of the town of Acton, commanded the militia-men of his town, and led the column of attack towards the old North bridge when the firing began. He was shot through the heart.

Capt Jonathan Willson was a native of Bedford, and was in command of the minute men of his town. Possibly, his authority was received only from the courtesy of his neighbors, who when organizing recognized Willson’s ability to command; and, too, his age gave him standing. He passed through the early experiences of the day, and, when bravely battling with the retreating enemy near Brooks’ tavern, in the town of Lincoln, was killed by a musket ball. His connection with the old flag carried that day by his company gives his record increased significance today.

By preconcerted action, upon the “midnight alarm,” the Bedford men rallied at Fitch’s tavern, and there had refreshments before taking up their hasty march to Concord. [*12]

Prominent among the men was Nathaniel Page, the “cornet,” or flag-bearer, with the Bedford flag, then an ancient fabric. [*6]

Capt Willson shouted, after disposing of his glass of flip: “This is a cold breakfast, but we’ll give the red-coats a hot dinner; come on my brave boys; we’ll have every dog of them before night!” [*13]

Capt Davis’ case was later regarded as without a parallel. He is recognized as the one man who headed the first column of attack on the king’s troops in the revolutionary war, the state legislature and the national congress giving emphasis to the honor. He, with other Acton men, are recalled by a granite monument which bears the following:

The Commonwealth of Massachusetts
and
The Town of Acton,
Cooperating to Perpetuate the Fame of Their Glorious Deeds of Patriotism,
Have erected this monument in honor of Capt Isaac Davis
and Privates Abner Hosmer and James Hayward,
Citizen Soldiers of Acton and Provincial Minute Men,
Who Fell in Concord Fight
On the 19th day of April, A D 1775.

It is an interesting fact, detected by the pilgrim of today, that the rude stones erected at the graves of the two captains killed in Concord fight, one at Bedford and the other at Acton, bear similar designs. [*10] On each stone may be seen the uplifted hand clenching the drawn sword, as indicative of how the respective families regarded the sac- [^7]


rifices of that hour, when, as Webster said, “They poured out their generous blood like water before they knew whether it would fertilize the land of freedom or of bondage.” [*14]

The quaint inscriptions read on those memorials erected by the families of the two captains, and only officers who fell on April 19, 1775, are:

In memory of Capt Isaac Davis,
Who was Slain in Battle at
Concord, April ye 19th, 1775, in
the Defence of Ye Just Rights
and Liberties of His Country
Civil and Religious. He was a Loving
Husband, a Tender Father and a
Kind Neighbor, an Ingeneous
Craftsman and Serviceable to
Mankind. Died in Ye Prime of
Life aged 30 years 1 m. and 25 days.

At Bedford the inscription reads:

In Memory of Capt
Jonathan Willson, who
was Killed in Concord
Fight, April 19th, A D 1775,
in the 41st Year of his age.

It is the only memorial erected to his memory. After the Acton captain had been honored by the general court through aid for a granite shaft, the Bedford people made an effort to secure a similar honor for their captain; but to no avail. The Acton captain was the first to fall, which fact entitled Acton to the monument. [*15]


SOURCE TEXT

  • A. E. Brown’s “Flag of the ’embattled farmers'” (1908) [excerpt] [ no scan ]
    in The Boston Globe (20 April) p 9

EMENDATIONS

  1. MUNROE TAVERN.
    ∨ MONROE TAVERN
  2. Munroe, ∨ Monroe.
  3. Russell, ∨ Russell.
  4. killed; ∨ killed,
  5. Meriam’s ∨ Mirriams
  6. Isaac ∨ Issac
  7. clenching ∨ clinching

WORKS CITED


ANNOTATIONS

  1. The Bedford Flag “remained in the basement of the Town Hall”. (BFU) p 86
    Now known as Old Town Hall: 16 South Road
  2. “the Page home”: the Nathaniel Page homestead
    Formerly stood at 85 Page Road. (BS1) p 14
    Moved. Now at 89 Page Road. (HPN) p 282
  3. cf. “Rockingham attacks the Flag” (2000) [ no scan ]
    in McDonald’s The Bedford Flag unfurled pp 77-82
  4. “grandsires”: forefathers
  5. Brown has seemingly ceased to identify said military company as the Three County Troop.
  6. McDonald writes that the Bedford Flag was painted “certainly not before 1704”. (BFU) p 11
  7. 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
  8. cf. Emerson’s “Concord Hymn” (1837)
  9. Brown himself wrote — twelve years earlier — that Emerson “had no thought that the ’embattled farmers’ had a flag”, and that the mention was “a poetical figure”.
    cf. Brown’s “The old colonial banner and flag” (1896)
    in his Beneath old roof trees pp 195-203
  10. “rude”: rough-hewn
  11. “Capt Jonathan Willson”: d. 1775 at age 41 (BHB) p 91
  12. “Fitch’s tavern”: (what was then) Fitch Tavern
    Now a private residence: 12 Great Road
  13. 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
    NB: Brown now embellishes said conflation!
  14. cf. Webster’s “Address delivered at . . . the Bunker Hill monument” (1825) p 15
  15. Brown’s article continues for another two columns, but he writes no further about the Bedford Flag.
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