Patriots (1896)

CHAPTER XV

Footprints of the patriots at Bedford.
Through the old burial-ground at Bedford with a nonagenarian

On the opposite side of Concord is the town of Bedford, in an interesting manner bearing the same relations to it as does the town of Acton. They were originally parts of Concord, and there were many ties that bound them together at the time of the Revolution. Their families were connected by marriage, and they were very jealous of the honor of the mother town. It required but the slightest warning to arouse them.

The alarm at Bedford was received probably before it reached Concord. Two messengers were despatched at once from Lexington to notify the Bedford people.

The town contains several homesteads that are identified with the early events of the Revolution. Homes through which sounded the alarming cry “To arms! The redcoats are coming!” still echo the voices of the same families. [^1] Sitting by the same fireside, the occupants cherish the firearms, and tell the story as they have heard it from their grandsires who faced the enemy. [*1]

[ p 172 ]

Prominent among these historic dwellings is that of the Page family. Seven generations of patriots of this name have possessed and occupied this estate.

The spirit of patriotism was cradled in this home as in but few others. [*2]

While sitting as a guest about the family hearthstone, I received from Captain Cyrus Page of the sixth generation much of the information which follows. [*3] For two hundred and eight years the family have been in possession. About ten years after the landing of Governor John Winthrop, a large tract of unexplored territory was granted to Cambridge to encourage those settlers, and prevent their removal, following Mr. Hooker and his company to Connecticut. The church stood first in importance; and the benefit of this grant was to go to the church, and the college so intimately associated with it, at Cambridge. [^2] In 1652 the grant was allotted to the settlers. Mr. Edward Oakes received three hundred acres. This he sold to George Farley and others. Farley sold to Timothy Brooks.

It was during Brooks’ possession and occupancy as a residence that the first military tinge is given to the homestead. [^3] At the opening of King Philip’s war, the owner was directed to secure his family at Garrison “No. 10,” that was near by. Brooks sold to George Grimes, of whom the estate was purchased in 1687 by Nathaniel Page.

[ facing page ]

[ house photo ]
Page Homestead, Bedford. Page 172

[ blank page ]

[ p 173 ]

It did not require the presence of a garrison house to arouse the military spirit of this first Page settler in the territory about the Shawsheen, which later fell to Bedford in the incorporation of 1729. [^4] He had already been active in the “Three County Troop,” *1 and he had been commissioned by Governor Dudley as sheriff of Suffolk County. The military spirit was fostered in this home, and transmitted from father to son, becoming manifest in a readiness to take up arms for the protection of home and country during the wars that succeeded King Philip’s, before the Revolution. Nathaniel Page 1st died in 1692, when the town was suffering from the desolating assaults of King William’s war. Sons and grandsons there were to perpetuate the family name and patriotism. One of them was a colonel in the French and Indian war, and several were in the ranks. [*4]

[ portrait photo ]
Cyrus Page

*1 See “Flag of the minute-men” in this volume. [^5]

The midnight alarm of April 18th was first

[ p 174 ]

received at this house. It met with a ready response from Christopher, the sergeant of the minute-men, and Nathaniel, the cornet, or flag-bearer. Two others also responded. They belonged to the company of militia, and all were at Concord Fight.

Says Captain Cyrus Page, “Our people were not surprised when the messenger reached this house. They had seen Gage‘s men several times riding about the town, and were kept familiar with the movements in Boston. The frequent drillings of the minute-men were good opportunities for exchanging ideas, and there was no home that was not in a state of expectancy. My grandfather’s account was:

‘We had agreed at the last drilling to meet, in case of alarm, at the tavern in the centre of the town, kept by

[ house photo ]
Fitch Tavern

[ p 175 ]

Jeremiah Fitch, sergeant of the militia company. [*5] The horseman banged on the house and cried out, “Up, Mr. Page! The regulars are out!” [^6] We were not long in our preparations, and were soon at the tavern, where some had already gathered, and others soon appeared. Our captain lived fully two miles away from the village, but he was on hand. [*6]

Captain Willson had received a report from Boston on the previous afternoon; it was brought by his brother-in-law, Thompson Maxwell, a native of Bedford, but then a resident of Amherst, N.H. He made trips between Amherst and Boston for the conveyance of merchandise, and stopped at Willson’s when on the journey. Maxwell had served in the French and Indian war, and was well known by leading men of Boston as a trustworthy patriot. One of his trips was made in the month of December, 1773. After unloading his freight, he went to John Hancock‘s warehouse to load for his return trip. While there, Hancock asked him to drive the team to his stable, where it would receive care, and then call at his counting-room. He did so, and was there let into the secret of destroying the tea, and was invited to join the enterprise. He did so, assisted in the midnight business, and the next day drove home as “any honest man would.” [*7]

He was on another trip in April, 1775, and on his way home had stopped at Willson’s. They

[ p 176 ]

sat up unusually late, discussing the condition of things. Maxwell had detected some unusual movements that day which led them to be more anxious about the future. They retired at a late hour, and were scarcely asleep when the alarm reached the Captain’s home.

Maxwell accepted an invitation from his brother-in-law, and they both made haste to the village. Our company of minute-men, numbering twenty-six, were all assembled. Many had left their homes without any food, and refreshment was served at the tavern in a most informal manner. This done, Captain Willson gave his order: “Come on, my brave boys; this is a cold breakfast, but we’ll give the redcoats a hot dinner. We’ll have every dog of them before night.” [*8] On we went, little realizing what was before us. The town’s company of militiamen, fifty strong, was also on the way. They had met at the home of their captain, John Moore, a half mile out from the village on the Concord road. [*9]

Circumstances favored an early response from the Bedford men; and we should have been remiss in our military obligations, and unmindful of our filial relations, if we had not reached Concord among the first companies, which we did. We assisted in secreting the stores, and were anxiously awaiting reports, when we saw the army approaching. [*10] That was a sight never to be forgotten, those brilliantly attired soldiers, moving

[ facing page ]

[ house photo ]
Davis Home, Bedford. Page 178

[ blank page ]

[ p 177 ]

in perfect martial order, in solid phalanx, with their bayonets glistening in the morning sun. We went on over to the other side of the river, and there fell in, according to the orders of Colonel Barrett, and marched down to the bridge. [*11] We had a share in the engagement which immediately followed, but fortunately received no injury. Whether we did any, or not, is a question that we could not positively answer. In our pursuit of the retreating enemy we were not so fortunate. When near Brooks’ tavern, just across the line in Lincoln, there was a severe engagement, and our brave Captain was killed, shot through his body. [^3] A comrade, Job Lane, was severely wounded. Some of us returned home bearing the dead and wounded, while the majority continued in the pursuit, going into camp at Cambridge. The place of the dead Captain was filled by Lieutenant Edward Stearns. Those who went home soon started with the loads of provisions which had been prepared during the day, and reached their tired and almost famished companies where they had lain down for rest. [*12]

Being so near home, we were continually in receipt of provisions, and fared better than many who were in camp during the command of General Artemas Ward; but two of our young men, Solomon Stearns and Reuben Bacon, died, as a result of the fatigue of the 19th, and the exposure that followed. Theirs was the fate of a good

[ p 178 ]

many whose homes were farther away from the seat of war. Timothy Page remained in continuous service until the battle of White Plains, where he was killed. A comrade, Moses Fitch, was wounded at the same time.'” [^7]

This story of Nathaniel Page, repeated by his grandson at the old home, is only one of many from the same source, all of which are substantiated by indisputable evidence.

Says Captain Page, “There is another home on the Concord side of this town where the footprints of the patriots are as plainly to be traced as they are at my ancestral dwelling.” This is the Davis estate. [*13] It has been in the family almost two centuries. It was purchased by Samuel Davis in 1696, the conveyance being “In the eighth year of the Raine of our Souvereign Lord William the third, by the Grace of God, over England, Scotland, France, and Ireland, King and defender of the faith.” [^8] The homestead has passed through six generations, in each of which has been found the name of Eleazer. The military spirit was early kindled at that hearthstone. Three of the family went from this homestead with Lovewell, in his famous expedition of 1724-5 in pursuit of the Indians, to the wilderness of Maine; one, Josiah, lost his life, and Eleazer was maimed for the remainder of his days. Two were in the French and Indian war, where Paul lost his life in 1763.

[ p 179 ]

At the opening of the Revolution, Eleazer was second lieutenant of the minute-men, and soon promoted to first lieutenant. His commission, still kept, is evidence of his honorable career on April 19. [*14] He was in service with the company, and his sword has been faithfully kept in the house to which it was brought after that day’s experience. [*15] His musket, used in the Continental army, is also treasured. [*16] Both are most tangible evidence of the patriotism which moved the hearts of the occupant of this home at the opening of the Revolution, and here rare specimens of good citizenship have been found in each succeeding generation. [^9][^10]

When at Lexington we were tracing the footprints of the illustrious patriots, guests at the parsonage, we made the acquaintance of Madam Clark, wife of the minister. [*17] In our circuitous course we have now come to the Bedford parsonage, of an earlier date, from which the minister’s daughter went to become a minister’s wife, and as such the entertainer of Hancock and Adams. [*18]

Although no longer a parsonage, this, the most notable house of the town of that time, was a centre of patriotic influence.

The owner of to-day proudly opens the door, and bids a cheerful welcome to the guest, who is shown the room in which the town’s Committee of Correspondence and Supplies held their numer-

[ p 180 ]

ous meetings. From this house went John Reed, the town’s representative to the first two Provincial Congresses, and to numerous conventions where men of judgment, inspired by patriotism, were wont to meet to devise ways and means for carrying on the struggle for liberty. Here were discussed the questions which were later public actions of the voters, such as: [^11]

“to encourage the produce and manufactures of this Province, and to lesson the use of superfluities;” [*19] “not to use any tea till the duty is taken off;” “to suspend all commercial intercourse with Great Britain till the said act shall be repealed;” “not to buy, purchase, or consume, or suffer any person by, for, or under us, to purchase or consume, in any manner whatever, any goods, wares, or merchandise, which shall arrive in America from Great Britain, and to break off all trade, commerce, or dealing with those who do it, and to consider them as enemies to their country;” “June 17, 1776, voted, That we will solemnly engage with our lives and fortunes to support the colonies in declaring themselves independent of Great Britain.” *1

The master of this house not only served on the various committees incident to the above votes, but shouldered his musket in a campaign to Rhode Island.

*1 The above votes were in substance the action of the towns in general.

[ facing page ]

[ house photo ]
Home of John Reed, Bedford. Page 180


SOURCE TEXT


EMENDATIONS

  1. cry “To arms! The
    ∨ cry, “To arms! the
  2. and the college ∨ and college
  3. Brooks’ ∨ Brooks’s
  4. the Shawsheen ∨ Shawsheen
  5. “Flag of the minute-men”
    ∨ flag of minute-men
  6. “Up, Mr. Page! The regulars are out!”
    ∨ “Up, Mr. Page, the regulars are out.”
  7. same time.'” ∨ same time.”
  8. 1696, the ∨ 1696. The
  9. Both are ∨ Both being
  10. and here ∨ and where
  11. such as: ∨ such as,

WORKS CITED


ANNOTATIONS

  1. “grandsires”: forefathers
  2. “this home”: the Nathaniel Page homestead
    Formerly stood at 85 Page Road. (BS1) p 14
    Moved. Now at 89 Page Road. (HPN) p 282
  3. “Cyrus Page”: b. 1801 – d. 1887 (BHB) II: p 27
  4. Brown made this same statement (five years earlier) in his History. (p 94)
    In neither work does Brown name the Page who was allegedly a colonel.
  5. “the tavern”: (what was then) Fitch Tavern
    Now a private residence: 12 Great Road
  6. “two miles away from the village”: at 261 Old Billerica Road
  7. cf. “The narrative of Major Thompson Maxwell” (1865)
    in Historical collections of the Essex Institute: Vol VII (pp 97-115)
  8. cf. Jonathan F. Stearns’ “Historical discourse” (1879)
    in Bedford sesqui-centennial celebration p 22
  9. “the home of their captain, John Moore”: 191 Concord Road
  10. “secreting the stores”: concealing the stores of ammunition
  11. “fell in”: took our places (in the ranks)
  12. “started”: started off
  13. “the Davis estate”: the Eleazer Davis homestead: 255 Davis Road
  14. Davis’s commission is kept by the Bedford Historical Society. (BS1) p 128
  15. Davis’s sword is now kept by the Bedford Historical Society. (BS1) p 128
  16. Davis’s musket was formally given to the Town of Bedford in 1892.
    Stolen from the Bedford Historical Society in 1965! (BS1) p 128
  17. cf. “The parson and parsonage” (in this volume) pp 52-57
  18. “the Bedford parsonage”: Domine Manse: 110 Great Road
  19. “superfluities”: unnecessary items

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