Bedford Flag (1885)

Mr. Jenks said:—

I have here a photograph presented to this Society at its last meeting, which I think you will agree with me deserves more notice than the mere mention of the donor’s name; and perhaps some here will be glad to have their attention called to it, and to take the opportunity to look at it, for it

[ p 166 ]

is a representation of the flag under which the minute-men of Bedford marched to Concord fight.

It is of red silk, about two feet square, not far (as nearly as I can remember from having seen it borne in processions once or twice) from the size of, and in general appearance resembling, the celebrated Eutaw Springs flag, which is held with such pride and affection by the Washington Light Infantry Company of Charleston, South Carolina; and it seems a pleasing coincidence that there should be in existence, and carefully preserved, two flags of such a nature, — one borne in the first battle of the Revolution, and the other carried in one of its latest conflicts.

The device on the flag is a mailed hand, extended out of what appears to be intended for a cloud, and grasping a dagger or small sword. Three large silver balls are on different parts of the surface, and the whole is partially encircled by a scroll bearing the motto, “Vince aut morire.” [*1]

Perhaps some of our members more familiar with heraldry may explain the significance of the bearings, and tell us more about this flag. It has been kept in the family of the Ensign John Page, who bore it to Concord, and on the 19th of October, of this year, was presented to the town of Bedford by his grandson, now in his eighty-fifth year. [*2]

The long staff to which it is attached shows plainly that it was a cavalry flag; [*3] and it is said to have been carried in the French and Indian war by a cavalry company, largely or entirely made up from this town, in which, I believe, the same Page had been ensign. [*4] When the minute-men were summoned to go to Concord, he came, and naturally brought with him the flag he had borne before; and under it they marched to the fight.

This flag and the event with which it is connected have a special interest for me, because the house before which the minute-men assembled, supposed to be the oldest now standing in the village of Bedford, had been opened some years before by my great-grandfather as a tavern, and has remained for over a hundred years in his family (in the same name of Fitch); [*5][*6] and it is reported that Jonathan Willson, their captain, having drawn them up in line, addressed them, saying, “Boys, we will give you a cold breakfast, but before night we will give the British a hot supper.” [^1][*7][*8]

[ tipped-in page ]

[ object photo ]
[[ Bedford Flag ]]

[ p 167 ]

Willson was killed in the Concord fight. [^2] His body was brought back to Bedford and buried in the old burying-ground. [*9] Whether there is any significance in it I cannot tell, but it is interesting in this connection to know that on his grave-stone is cut a hand holding a dagger similar to that on the flag. Perhaps it refers to his having been killed while fighting under it; perhaps there may have been in the device on the flag some personal reference. Further light upon the flag may also explain this.


  • Henry F. Jenks’ “The Bedford Flag” (December 1885)
    in Proceedings of the MHS: Volume II (SS) pp 165-167


  1. Willson, ∨ Wilson,
  2. Willson ∨ Wilson



  1. “Vince aut morire”: [ Latin ]: “Conquer or die”
  2. “John Page”: [ an error for ] Nathaniel Page: b. 1742 – d. 1819 (BHB) II: p 26
    NB: Nathaniel Page’s father was John Page: b. 1704 – d. 1782 (BHB) II: p 26
  3. The Bedford Flag was removed from its staff “in the early part of the 1900s” in order to be preserved between two panes of glass; the staff was subsequently lost. (BFU) p 6
  4. Nathaniel Page was indeed in the French and Indian War, but “he served in the provincial army, not a militia troop of horse, and he was not carrying the flag”. (BFU) p 45
  5. “his grandson”: Cyrus Page: b. 1801 – d. 1887 (BHB) II: p 27
  6. “my great-grandfather”: Jeremiah Fitch: b. 1742 – d. 1808 (BHB) II: p 10
  7. “a tavern”: (what was then) Fitch Tavern
    Now a private residence: 12 Great Road
  8. “Jonathan Willson”: d. 1775 (BHB) p 91
  9. cf. “A sketch of the celebration” (1879)
    in Bedford sesqui-centennial celebration p 65
  10. “the old burying-ground”: 7 Springs Road
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