Indian Troubles — Individual Service — Experience of Mary Lane —
Maxwell Family — French Neutrals — French and Indian Wars.
The war cry was not an unfamiliar sound to the settlers of this territory. They were accustomed to hardships, many of them had done service in the early campaigns, and sacrificed blood and treasure long before the Revolutionary struggle burst upon the Colonies. Of the garrison-houses ordered by the “Honorable Council” in 1675, during the invasion of King Philip, four were within the present limits of Bedford. As the Bedford of to-day represents out-lying sections of Billerica and Concord, the homes of these scattered settlers did not suffer from any general invasion in the Indian Wars. Many of the men were away in the service, and the women were compelled to do double duty at home.
It is impossible to make up a complete list of those who served in the early campaigns. Job Lane was “impressed,” but doubtless allowed to return and aid in the protection of his own garrison, agreeable to the order of the “Honorable Council” of 1675–76.
Sec. 4. “The said towns have their own men returned that are abroad and freed from impressment during their present state.”
Lieutenant John Wilson, who had a “corne mill” on Vine Brook, did good service “to the Eastward” in 1692–93. Lieutenant John Lane received the following order in August, 1693:
“These are in his Majesty‘s name to require you forthwith to Impress eight Troopers with arms and ammunition for his Majesty’s service, four of which are to be daily Imployed as a scout about yo^r town, especially towards the great swamp.”
“Cambridge, 5 Nov., 1702.
Sir: I desire you with two of your troops to repayr to the towns of Marlboro’, Lancaster, Groton, Chelmsford and Dunstable, and there deliver severally the letters given you and encourage the officers in their duty, agreeable to the several directions, etc.” [*1]
It is evident that the Governor of the Colony was personally acquainted with Major Lane, he having attained that military title at that time, and knew him to be a trustworthy man. In the Lane papers filed in this town is the following:
“A list of the names of the Troopers which served under my command to the relief of Dunstable. July
the fourth, seventeen hundred and six.”
Six of the twenty-nine were from Bedford side of ancient Billerica, viz.: Samuel Fitch, Josiah Bacon, Nathaniel Page, Nathaniel Bacon, Benj. Bacon, Josiah Fassett. In the succeeding August, under the same command, Josiah Bacon served as “Trumpetter” and Josiah Fassett with Benjamin Bacon were privates. The following anecdote was related by Leander Hosmer, a descendant of the heroine of the Lane family:
“Mary, daughter of Colonel John Lane, was left during a season of alarm in the garrison with but one soldier on guard. Something behind a stump excited the suspicion of Mary, as she looked from a window in the roof. The soldier declined to open fire, and she took the gun and discharged it and saw a dead Indian roll into sight.”
The Lanes had an inherent love for military life. One writes from York, April 21, 1724:
“Lt. John Lane has been so imprudent as to suffer his men to kill sundry creatures belonging to the people of the County of York.”
He afterwards made satisfaction for the rash act.
By an act of the General Court, November 17, 1724, men were allowed two shillings per day for time in service and £100 for each male scalp in addition to other premiums established by law. This offer of the government was an approved means of defence against the Indians, and aroused Captain John Lovewell, of Dunstable, to raise a company and set out into the wilderness. He made three expeditions, during which several Indians were killed and others were captured alive. The third and memorable expedition of April 15, 1725, proved the most disastrous to the company, nearly one-third being killed, among whom was their leader. In each of the expeditions Bedford men participated, and Josiah Davis was killed, Eleazer Davis wounded, and others experienced the most painful hardship.
From a published sermon of Rev. Thomas Symmes, preached at Bradford, on the Sabbath following the return of the unfortunate company, the following account of the suffering of some of the number is taken: [^1]
“Eleazer Davis, after being out fourteen days came into Berwick. He was wounded in the abdomen and the ball lodged in his body. He also had his right hand shot off.” [*2]
A tradition says that, arriving at a pond with Lieutenant Farwell, Davis pulled off one of his moccasins, cut it in strings, on which he fastened a hook, caught some fish, fried and ate them. They refreshed him, but were injurious to Farwell, who died soon after. Josiah Davis, another of the four, was wounded with a ball which lodged in his body. After being out fourteen days, in hourly expectation of perishing, he arrived at Saco emaciated and almost dead from the loss of blood. He recovered, but became a cripple. [^2] This manner of dealing with the Indians must be severely questioned, and enlisting to pursue the scattered remnant of homeless natives for such a purpose as actuated Lovewell and his followers must be condemned;
[ p 22 ]
but the narrative serves to show the hardships to which the founders of this town were accustomed and by which they acquired the habits of self-reliance so evident in their later history.
The Maxwell family furnished some brave military men during the French and Indian Wars, and also in the struggle for freedom from British oppression. Hugh Maxwell entered the service as a private, served five campaigns and held a commission from Governor Pownall as ensign, dated March 31, 1759. Thompson, brother to Hugh, was with “Rogers’ Rangers” at the destruction of St. Francis and all through the French and Indian Wars. He entered the service at the age of sixteen years. Lemuel Shattuck says:
“Several of the inhabitants of Bedford sustained commissions.” [*3]
The descendants of Nathaniel Page, who settled here in 1687, were commissioned officers for several generations: Cornet Nathaniel Page, born in England in 1679, died in Bedford, 1755; his son, John, born in 1704, held commission as cornet from Jonathan Belcher, Colonial Governor in 1737. Ensign Josiah Fassett was at the relief of Fort Williams in May, 1758. [*4] Sergeant Page, of Bedford, was with Thompson Maxwell in 1758. Maxwell had a hand-to-hand conflict with two Indians,— he shot one and brought the other “to a halt.” He says in his published journal:
“Being exhausted, I reached a stream and Page swam across with me on his back with his gun and my own. I could not swim. In 1759 our suffering from cold and hunger cannot be described; thirty-seven of our number died on the banks of the White River in Vermont, where Royalton is now built. Sergt. Page was with us and a very stout man. He helped me or I doubt how it would have fared with me.” [^3][*5]
When the “French Neutrals” were taken from their Arcadian homes and portioned out in the Colonies, Bedford had her share to provide for. Joseph Fitch and John Moore filed the following bill:
“The Province of the Mass. Bay Indebted to the Town of Bedford— To providing for the French Neutrals ordered to said town the 16 of Feb. A.D., 1760, ’till the 17th of June, 1761, £21 7s.”
Bedford men were at Crown Point, Ticonderoga and at the decisive engagement on the plains of Abraham, and also on the northern frontiers, where troops were kept to watch the Indians until the treaty of peace was concluded, in 1763, by which Canada became a British possession. [^4] It is gratifying to know that their services were appreciated as appears from the following:
Voted on March 2, 1763,
“To abate Josiah Davis, his son Paul, lately deceased, and Joseph Wilson, their town and Highway Rate and all other soldiers their Highway Rate.”
Thirteen received abatements. In 1763 the people of this town entered into the “Thanksgiving” ordered by the King for the restora-
tion of peace, with the same will that they had manifested during the protracted war. They labored under the disadvantage of having no minister to inspire or guide them from 1766 to 1771. The minister was the vanguard in many towns. Concord had her Emerson, and Lexington her Clark, but in the absence of such a leader in Bedford, there was no faltering on the part of the people. Hugh Maxwell, the “Christian Patriot,” came to the front with somewhat of the heroism and organizing power which inspired his father to lead his entire family across the ocean to escape oppression. [*6] There were other brave men whose names appear in the subsequent years of trial.
- Brown’s History of the town of Bedford (1891) pp 21–22
- Symmes ∨ Symms
- cripple. ∨ cripple.”
- Royalton ∨ Royalston
- 1763, ∨ 1762,
- “repayr” (i.e., “repair”): go
- cf. (perhaps) Nason’s History of the town of Dunstable (1877) p 48
NB: This account says that Davis lost a thumb— not a whole hand.
- cf. Shattuck’s History of the town of Concord (1835) p 257
- “Fort Williams”: [ (seemingly) an error for ] Fort William Henry
- cf. “The narrative of Major Thompson Maxwell” (1865)
in Historical collections of the Essex Institute: Vol VII (pp 97-115)
- cf. The Christian patriot (1833)