Colonial Troubles — Boston Tea Party — Minute-Men —
Concord Fight — Women’s Part — Battle of Bunker Hill.
March, 1768, the town voted
“To concur with the vote of the town of Boston in October last, to encourage the produce and manufacture of the Province.”
The women were not behind in expressions of loyalty. They carried on spinning and weaving at an increased rate. A bride from one of the first families of the town is known to have been led to the marriage altar dressed in a “gown” of her own manufacture, the fruit of her own loom. The town sent no representative to the General Court until the Revolutionary struggle was well under way. The “letter of Correspondence” sent out from a Boston town-meeting asking for “a free communication of sentiments,” was received and acted upon with a spirit of determination on March 1, 1773. In the following March the town voted
“not to use any tea till the duty is taken off.”
In the “Tea Party,” December 16, 1773, Bedford was represented by Thompson Maxwell, although not at that time a resident of the town. His journal reads thus:
“In 1773, I went with my team to Boston, which was shut up (blockaded), with a load of provisions for the poor of the town. [*1] I had loaded at John Hancock‘s warehouse and was about to leave town, when Mr. Hancock requested me to drive my team up into his yard, and ordered his servants to take care of it, and requested me to be at Long Wharf at two o’clock P.M., and informed me what was to be done. I went accordingly, joined the band under Captain Hewes. We mounted the ships and made tea in a trice. This done I took my team and went home as an honest man should.” [*2] *1
*1 Fearing that this narrative and others that will follow, might be regarded as too good to be credited, we have carefully studied the facts and have no doubt of the validity of the journal. [*3] John Hancock, the famous patriot and merchant of Boston, inherited the estate of his
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When “Boston Port Bill” went into operation, June 1, 1774, the old bell pealed forth the sound of alarm over the hills of this town, and the already crumbling “Bell-House” lost its equilibrium, but not so the people. They met on the last day of June,
“To know and determine what measures are Proper to be taken at this present time of Trouble and Distress,” etc.
They unanimously voted to adopt the covenant of non-intercourse. They chose the Committee of Correspondence, which consisted of Deacon Stephen Davis, John Reed, Joseph Hartwell, John Webber and John Moore.
The town was represented by four delegates at the county convention held at Concord on August 30th and 31st. On October 11th the town was represented by Joseph Ballard and John Reed in the first Provincial Congress, which had met by adjournment from Salem on the 6th. John Hancock was chairman and Benjamin Lincoln clerk. After a session of three days the Congress adjourned to meet at Cambridge, and then continued from October 17th to December 10th.
Devotion to a noble cause prompted the Representatives from this town, as there was no offer of compensation from a depleted treasury, but in March, 1775, the town voted
“To allow Doct. Joseph Ballard four shillings per day, for twelve days at Cambridge, and four shillings for expenses at Concord.”
January 18, 1775. They at first voted not to send a delegate to the Provincial Congress of February, but on the 27th, in a second meeting, chose John Reed, and, agreeable to a recommendation of the Continental Congress, chose a “Committee of Inspection ” consisting of Moses Abbott, Thomas Page, Ebenezer Page, John Reed and Edward Stearns. At the Provincial Congress held at Concord and Cambridge, the plan was adopted for enrolling all the able-bodied men, and the order passed
“that these companies should immediately assemble and elect their proper officers; that these officers, when elected, should assemble and elect field officers, and they enlist at least one-quarter of the men enrolled.”
These were the “minute-men.” The people of Bedford gave hearty assent to the appointment of Henry Gardner, of Stow, as treasurer of the Province, and made payment to him rather than to the royal treasurer.
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
uncle, Thomas Hancock. The warehouse alluded to, was a portion, and had been in the family for many years; here the country farmers had exchanged their produce for other wares, the Maxwells among them, very naturally, as they must have been interested in the family through Ebenezer Hancock, brother of Thomas, who had taught the Bedford school and boarded with the family of Rev. Mr. Bowes, whose wife was his sister. The mutual acquaintance had led John Hancock to confide the secret of destroying the tea to a worthy friend whose warlike spirit was gratified in this daring act.
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.” [*4]
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; [^1] Cornet Nathaniel Page was standard-bearer.
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[[ Banner of Concord Fight. ]]
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. [*8a] 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. [*5] 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: [*6]
“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.” [*7][*8]
Mr. Appleton said that in his opinion
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is the most precious memorial of its kind we have any knowledge of.” [*7]
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. [*8b]
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. [*9]
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. [*10] 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. 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][*11] 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.” [*2]
“I never went home until after the Battle of Bunker Hill.” [*2]
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. [*12] 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.” [*13]
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. [*14][^3] On the arrival of the two companies at Concord they assisted in removing stores to places of greater safety. [*15] 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.” [*16]
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 Willson 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.” [*17]
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.” [*18]
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
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rushed to Lexington; but it was rather the natural act of children hastening to the relief of a mother threatened by a common enemy. [*19]
They received no cheer from their minister. When the people were hastening to the scene of conflict, the pastor was comfortably ensconced by his fire-side, where he was found by a neighboring clergyman, who halted while on his way to Concord.
Both companies reported at Cambridge on the following day, and teams were soon on the road with supplies for the army. No Bedford men were at Lexington on the 19th. It fosters a sort of patriotic pride, that one of the daughters, Lucy Bowes, the wife of Rev. Jonas Clark, was the entertainer of Hancock and Adams. In 1776 the entire population of the town, including negroes and mulattoes, was 482. Assuming that to have been the number one year earlier, it appears that one-seventh of the entire population participated in the opening scene of the Revolution. Bedford had credit for seventy-three men, on May 1, 1775, in the regiment under command of Colonel Samuel Gerrish. [^6]
The following is a letter from one of the selectmen:
“Sir,— I have Received a few lines from you, wherein you requested me to take a list of all that are liable to Bare arms, and in compliance to your request I have taken a list of all that are betwixt sixteen and sixty, that are liable to do duty. There is eighty-eight in the list, including officers.
“Bedford, May the 15^th, 1775.”
January 1, 1777, the number of able-bodied men in town, from sixteen years upwards, was 181, including five negroes. In addition to the other burdens, this town had twenty-nine of the poor of Boston to support, during the siege of that city. A Board of Overseers of the Poor, separate from the selectmen, was first chosen at that time.
The Maxwell brothers were both in camp at Cambridge. Thompson went with the Bedford men to camp on the day following his experience at Concord, and there joined his company under Captain Crosby, from Milford, New Hampshire, in Colonel Reed‘s regiment. Hugh was senior captain in Colonel Prescott‘s regiment. Their experience in the Battle of Bunker Hill is told in Thompson’s journal, and is to the honor of their native town:
“On the 16th of June Col. Reed was ordered to Charlestown neck. About twelve o’clock the same day a number of our officers passed us and went on to Bunker Hill. General Ward, with the rest, returned and went to Cambridge. In the evening Colonel Prescott passed with his regiment. My brother Hugh stepped out and asked Colonel Reed and myself if we would come on to the hill that night. We did so; we went to Breed’s Hill. We found Colonel Putnam there, with Colonel Prescott’s command.
“Colonel Prescott requested my brother Hugh to lay out the ground for the intrenchment. He did so. I set up the stakes after him. Colonel Prescott seemed to have the sole command. Colonel Reed and I returned to our command on the neck about eleven o’clock P.M. At day, in the morning, we again went to the hill, found Putnam and Prescott there. Prescott still appeared to have command; no other regiment was there but Prescott’s through the night. Captain Maxwell, after day, suggested in my hearing to Colonel Prescott the propriety of running an intrenchment from the northeast angle of the
night’s work to a rail-fence, leading to Mystic River. Colonel Prescott approved, and it was done. I set up the stakes after my brother. About seven o’clock I saw Colonels Prescott and Putnam in conversation; immediately after, Putnam mounted his horse and went full speed towards Cambridge. Colonel Reed ordered his men to their commands; we returned and prepared for action. At eleven o’clock we received orders from Colonel Prescott to move on. We did so.
“We formed by order of Prescott down to the rail-fence, and part on the intrenchment. We got hay and wadded between the rails after doubling the fence by post and rails from another place. We remained there during the battle.” [*2]
Maxwell also gives a detailed account of the battle, which is substantially the same as given in general history, and we omit it here.
In 1776 the town took action on the question of the Colonies declaring their independence, and voted thus:
“That we, the said inhabitants, will solemnly engage, with our lives and fortunes, to support them in the measure.”
The town hesitated on the adoption of a Constitution and form of government, but in August, 1779, chose John Reed, Esq., as their representative,
“for the sole purpose of forming a new constitution.”
He served in this convention, which was held in the meeting-house at Cambridge, twenty-one days. In the following May the form of government was submitted to the people and received their approval in a meeting, three times adjourned, by a vote of twenty-five to one.
The Declaration of Independence was first read to the people by the minister from the pulpit of the old meeting-house, and is spread, in bold hand-writing, on the records of the town,
“There to remain as a perpetual memorial,”
signed James Webber, town clerk.
- Brown’s History of the town of Bedford (1891) pp 22–25
- 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)
- “team”: team of horses
- cf. “The narrative of Major Thompson Maxwell” (1865)
in Historical collections of the Essex Institute: Vol VII (pp 97-115)
- Suggests the editor: Maxwell’s narrative is “too good to be credited”!
- cf. Frothingham’s History of the siege of Boston (1849) p 84 [ poor scan ]
- “the Page mansion”: home of Nathaniel Page
Formerly stood at 85 Page Road. (BS1) p 14
Moved. Now at 89 Page Road. (HPN) p 282
- cf. Appleton’s “The Bedford Flag” (January 1886)
in Proceedings of the MHS: Volume II (SS) pp 199-200
- 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
- This statement has since been proven doubly false:
McDonald writes that the Bedford Flag was painted “certainly not before 1704”. (BFU) p 11
She adds that Brown himself “eventually decided that the Bedford Flag and the Three County Troop flag were in fact not the same”. (BFU) p 74
- cf. Emerson’s “Concord Hymn” (1837)
- “numbered possibly three hundred and fifty men”: [ source? ][??]
- “brother”: brother-in-law
- “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”.