Supplies for the Army — Financial Troubles —
Vote for Governor under the Constitution in 1780.
In January, 1776, the town furnished six cords of wood and two tons of English hay daily for the army at Cambridge. With each load of hay or wood went packages from the loyal homes to the absent members in camp and the sufferers in the hospitals. Two of the strong young men of the town, who fought at Concord, fell early victims of camp-fever at Cambridge (Reuben Bacon and Solomon Stearns). The town offered a liberal bounty for volunteers in 1776, and at the close of the year voted
“that those who had personally done a turn in any of the Campaigns without any hire be paid the amount of an average of those hired.”
The committee entrusted with the duty of equalizing bounty reported in November, 1777, a bill of £1746 16s. Families of the town cherish with pride the tradition that their grandsires were led by General Washington to Boston, after the
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evacuation by General Howe, and aided in the shout of joy when the British flag gave way to the thirteen gorgeous stripes of red and white. [*1]
It is impossible to make up a complete register or state the exact number of men furnished by this town during the Revolution, and equally difficult to cast up her entire public expenditures. Bedford’s Province tax from 1774 to 1776 increased more than five fold.
The opening of the war made a demand for money, and in May, 1775, the Provincial Congress empowered the treasurer to borrow and gives notes of the Province as security. Soon Continental bills were issued by the General Government. These bills were readily exchanged for cash for a while, but the repeated issues of such bills by both State and nation, and no specie to redeem them, together with the darkening days of the war, caused a depreciation in their value. The British officers and those who favored the royal cause lost no opportunity to weaken the confidence of the people in the bills of credit, until it required about seventy-five pounds in paper to procure one in specie. £1 or 20s. was worth in January, 1781, only 3d. 1qr. [*2] The purchasing value of any sum during the war after January, 1777, can only be determined by referring to a table of depreciation reported once a month, agreeable to a law of the State for the settling of contracts:
January 1, 1777, $1 in silver was rated as $1.05 in currency; January 1, 1778, $1 in silver was rated as $3.28 in currency; .January 1, 1779, $1 in silver was rated as $7.42 in currency; January 1, 1780, $1 in silver was rated as $29.34 in currency; January 1, 1781, $1 in silver was rated as $75.00 in currency.
In 1777 the town chose a committee at the March meeting to hire the soldiers that might be called for that year and empowered them to borrow money. The amount borrowed with interest was £377 3s. 3d., paid as follows:
|For the Continental soldiers‘ hire||236||10||0|
|For the bounty to the Rhode Island men||22||10||0|
|For the bounty to the men to Bennington||48||0||0|
|For one man to guard the Continental stores [*3]||6||0||0|
|For the thirty day men to join the Continental Army||24||0||0|
|For allowance for hiring the men||4||11||0|
|For fire-arms, lead and flints for town stock||35||12||3|
The above amount was assessed and paid that year. An item appears in the records May 8, 1777, which serves to show the cost of powder:
“Then renewed the Town stock of powder from Andover 72 weight at six chellings per pound £21 12s.”
The town allowed for bounties, £293. It was divided as follows:
|1st Tour. 3 men, 2 months, to Rhode Island, May 1, 1777, no bounty voted.|
|2d Tour. 8 men, 3 months, to Bennington, Aug. 21, 1777, each £15||120|
|3d Tour. 8 men, 30 days, “to take and guard the troops,” Sept., 1777 (meaning Burgoyne‘s surrendered army), each £2||16|
|4th Tour. 5 men, 3 months, to Boston with Capt. Farmer, each £12||60|
|5th Tour. 8 men, 3 months, to Cambridge with Capt. Moore, April 1, 1778, £11 each||88|
|John Reed to Rhode Island, the same rate as those with Capt. Farmer||9|
March 23, 1778, the town reimbursed Moses Abbot for money paid for guns, £18 1s. 3d.; also Joseph Convers for the same, £18 1s. 3d.
July 29, 1778, William Page is charged with the overplus of money in collecting clothing by subscription for the Continental soldiers, £9 15s.
Careful research proves that there was scarcely a campaign during the war in which Bedford was not represented by her own citizens, and supplies of boots, shoes, blankets and clothing were continually furnished by the people, who bravely endured hardships in their homes. The soldiers, who had enlisted for three years, were paid in the depreciated currency, of which it was said,
“a hat-full of the stuff would not buy our families a bushel of salt,”
and many saw but little inducement to re-enlist; [*4] and in 1779 the duty of filling the town’s quota became a serious matter. The town added to the commissioned officers three citizens to aid them in procuring men. They were Moses Abbott, Timothy Jones and Jonas Gleason. The commissioned officers were Captain John Moore, Lieutenant Eleazer Davis and Lieutenant Christopher Page.
November, 1779, the following bounties were allowed:
|1st Tour. 2 men to Rhode Island, £39 each||78|
|2d Tour. 2 men to Rhode Island, 48 bushels of Indian corn, each @ £9 per bushel||864|
|3d Tour. 3 men to North River, two of whom have £300 each|
The other to have £138 cash and 51 bushels of corn at £9 per bush.
|4th Tour. 2 men to Boston, to have £22 10s. each||45|
|5th Tour. 6 men to Claverick 1 1/3 months, @ £80 per month||640|
|There was added for interest||200|
|Total for year||£3014|
June, 1780, the town voted to hire the men called for to fill up the Continental Army, and that the treasurer borrow money, if needed. In September the committee reported and it was voted to raise and assess £5500 immediately to pay the debt incurred.
|1st Tour. 7 men to North River, 6 months, to have each 120 bushels of corn||840|
|2d Tour. 8 men to Rhode Island, 3 months, to have each 90 bushels of corn||720|
|Oct. 2, 1780, “voted that ye sum of £8175 be immediately assessed and collected to enable the committee to procure the Beef required from this town for the army”||£8175|
By the resolve of December 2, 1780, Bedford was called upon to furnish eight men for three years or the war. The case now became doubly serious. The records show that previous calls for men had been met by citizens of the town, very generally; but the sight of their ill-paid neighbors returning from three years of service, and the knowledge that hostile fleets were in our ports, and hostile armies were upon our soil,
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[ portrait painting ]
Mary (Rand) Fitch.
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tended to dampen the most ardent patriotism. [^1] One man, Joseph Davidson, was hired by the town for $200 in hard money. Then the town was divided into seven classes to secure the full quota.
The report of the chairman of each class, as filed in the State archives, is as follows:
“Class I. Capt. John Moore, chairman; provided a negro called Cambridge Moore (servant of the above), and agreed to give him, as a bounty, Twenty head of cattle, three years old, in case he continued in the service three years.
Class II. Lieut. Moses Abbott, chairman, hired a negro called Caesar Prescott for the same number of cattle as the first class paid.
Class III. Thaddeus Dean, chairman; hired one Henry Kneelon, at the same rate.
Class IV. Capt. Christopher Page, chairman; ‘this class, by reason of disappointment, have not provided a man, but are still in pursuit to provide one.’
Class V. John Reed, Esq., chairman; hired one James Ingles and gave him as a bounty fifteen head of cattle, three years old, and nine hundred and ninety pound in paper money.
Class VI. Mr. William Page, chairman; hired one John Williams, and gave him, as a bounty, the exchange for two hundred and fifty hard dollars in cash.
Class VII. Dea. Stephen Davis, chairman; hired one Joseph Ross, and gave him, as a bounty, the exchange for two hundred and twenty hard dollars.
Samuel Lane, Jr.,
Selectmen of Bedford.”
While the several committees were at work procuring men, the town voted in January, 1781,
“To choose a committee to procure the portion of beef for the army, and directed the assessors to assess such sums as were necessary to answer the demands of the General Court or their committee then, or in the future.
Agreeable to a Resolve of the General Court of ye 16 of June, 1781, hired one man to go to Rhode Island, he was a citizen of the town, Samuel Hartwell Blood, gave him a bounty of
June 30, 1781. The town sent seven men to join General Washington’s army at West Point. They received £19 16s. each as a bounty
July 2, 1781. Town voted to raise £100 hard money, to buy beef, and on the 16th of the same mouth voted to raise £45 hard money, to pay the above-named soldiers what they shall need before marching, and directed the assessors to make an assessment for the balance.” [^2]
It is plainly seen that town-meetings and assessments occupied the time and minds of the people. In addition to the demands for the war there were the ordinary expenses. It required £3000 of the depleted currency to meet the ordinary charges in the year 1780.
The financial condition of the town became alarming, when in Sept., 1781,
“Voted, to borrow £40 to pay interest on town notes.”
The town also held notes against individuals, received by constables in discharge of the oft-repeated rates.
Jan. 22, 1782,
“Voted, that ye treasurer receive money of ye delinquent constables agreeable to the depreciation scale, only excepting such sums of money as they may have collected before this time and it remaining on hand.”
The same course was pursued in discharging the town’s debts. The selectmen were directed to assist the treasurer in casting the notes and the interest. At the same time
“Voted, to raise £225 for paying notes.”
Constables were authorized
to discount the rates of individuals from notes held against the town, when they could no longer respond to the calls with cash. While in the midst of the financial difficulty the people manifested their integrity in dealing justly with individuals who had entered the service in the early years of the war without regard for remuneration:
“Voted, John Lane, Jr., fourteen pounds in specie, for his services in the army in 1770, and Oliver Reed and Elijah Bacon the same sums for hiring men in 1777, as those had who did personal service in that campaign, $25 each.”
In January, 1779, the town voted
“to abate half of Job Lane’s war rates in consideration of his wounds received at Concord fight.”
In the following year voted
“to abate his poll rates for every year since the war began.”
In 1783 voted
“to abate Ebenezer Fitch’s rates for being in the service in 1775.”
He was a “minute-man” at Concord, April 19, 1775, and at Cambridge ten days. March, 1782, the town was divided into three classes to hire three men to serve for three years or during the war.
That this obligation was readily discharged appears from the following: Springfield, July 3, 1782.
“Reed, of Mr. Moses Abbott forty-five pound as a bounty to serve three years in the Continental Army for the town of Bedford. William Grant.”
Boston, May 11, 1782. Receipt from Caesar Jones for bounty of sixty pounds for similar service.
Boston, May 13, 1782. Receipt from Zephaniah Williams for same amount as paid to Jones.
It is noticeable that three negroes, relics of the days of slavery in this town, not registered as liable to do military duty, were in the army during the greater part of the war— Cambridge Moore, Caesar Prescott and Caesar Jones.
Oct. 26, 1782. Town authorized their treasurer to take up a number of grain notes and substitute notes for hard money, allowing six shillings for each bushel specified and interest for said amount from the time the grain became due.
In justice to the Revolutionary fathers of this town it is recorded that not the slightest evidence can be found of inclination to repudiate the least obligation, either legal or moral.
From the evidence at hand it appears that the men of this town suffered the greatest hardship at the battle of White Plains, New York. Moses Fitch was wounded in the shoulder, and was being aided off the field when his comrade, Sergeant Timothy Page, was killed.
Thomas Cleverly, another Bedford man, escaped, but lost everything excepting what clothing he had on.
In December following this battle, Congress vested Washington with full power to raise an army and gather provisions and to take whatever he might want for the use of the army, if the owners refused to sell. He also had power to arrest and confine persons who refused to take the Continental currency. This was
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the condition of affairs when Moses Fitch was able to leave the hospital; he returned to his home disabled for life, having received for his services a portion of the currency that had but little purchasing value. He was pensioned for life.
With a population ranging from 470 to 482 engaged in agricultural pursuits, it is wonderful that the town could meet the frequent demands for men and money. [*5] Besides the regular calls there were continual demands for delicacies for the sufferers in the hospitals and comforts that could not be furnished by the regular channels of supply. To these the straitened inhabitants were continually responding. The women were busy spinning and weaving. In 1770 the town furnished twelve blankets for the army by order of the General Court of January 4, 1776. Shirts, stockings, shoes and other articles of dress for the soldiers, in addition to the quantities of beef, were supplied by the people of Bedford. The treasurer’s accounts show the cost of a blanket to have been £90, but according to the scale of depreciation, $2 1/4 in silver would have satisfied the busy housewife. In 1780 “Esq. John Reed” was allowed $25 per day for services and expenses, twenty-one days, in forming the Constitution, but he actually realized less than one dollar per day, as one Spanish milled dollar was equal to forty-two of the old emission on April 1st, and before the close of that year was equal to seventy-four.
The $1.00 bill, about two inches square, had on its face the Latin words “Depressa resurgit,” which is, in our tongue, “The down-trodden rises.”
Under the new Constitution of 1780 the vote in this town for Governor, taken on September 4th, gave the successful candidate, John Hancock, twenty-five ballots against two for James Bowdoin. “Esq. John Reed” was sent to the General Court in 1783 and granted five shillings per day for his services while he attended the court. The town chose a committee to give him instructions in relation to the return of absentees and conspirators.
To be eligible to the office of representative at this time, one must be an inhabitant of the town and be seized of a freehold of the value of £100 in the town or any estate to the value of £200. The representative was chosen in the month of May, ten days at least before the last Wednesday. The members of the Executive Department were chosen on the first Monday of April, and inducted into office on the last Wednesday of May following.
- Brown’s History of the town of Bedford (1891) pp 25–28
- ill-paid ∨ illy-paid
- assessment ∨ assessments
- “grandsires”: forefathers
- “qr.” (i.e., “quadrans“): farthing
- “stores”: stores of ammunition
- cf. Richardson’s The history of our country (1875) p 250
- “wonderful”: amazing