Stearns (1879) [4/8]

The battle of Lexington and Concord took place right

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here on our borders. I shall not take up your time with any general description of it, nor attempt to tell over again the story which has been told so often and so well. Only so far as I must, in order to place in just and clear view, the part performed in it by the people of Bedford, shall I allow myself to enter into its details.

On the evening of the 18th of April, a beautiful, moonlight evening, a detachment from the force under Gen. Gage was discovered moving up the road leading through West Cambridge (then called Menotomy, now Arlington) towards Lexington. [*1] Parties of British officers had been seen, also, sauntering along over the same road. The object of these, it was suspected, was to explore the way, and the object of the moving force twofold: to capture, if possible, the two men most obnoxious to the British government, and known to be in Lexington, Hancock and Adams, but chiefly (for that alone could not account for so large a force) to destroy the military stores collected at Concord. [^1]

You are all familiar with the preliminaries and with the first act of the bloody tragedy near the Common at Lexington. There the battle began, there the first martyrs in the war of the Revolution stood and received the deadly shot. There the fact became revealed that the American people were actually at war.

It was at the corner of the Bedford road, in Lexington, that the first blood was drawn. I waive, for the present at least, the mooted question, “Did they resist at Lexington?” They took the fire at Lexington! They stood, they fell, in arms!

The troops, having done so much, moved on to Concord, but the news of their coming had preceded them. It had already gone out into all that region, and all that night, in all these peaceful homes, rang out the cry, “To arms!”

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The town of Bedford probably received the news among the first. Two Lexington boys, or young men, Nathan Munroe and Benjamin Tidd, at Capt. Parker‘s request, went up to Bedford, some time in the evening, and as one of them has testified on oath, “notified the inhabitants, through the town, to the great road at Merriam’s Corner, in Concord,” and then returned by that great road, the Boston road, to Lexington. [*2] It may have been one of them that waked up Ensign Page, [*3] so soon after he, with his young bride, who used to tell the story in her old age, had retired. It is quite likely that when they were along there, they made a short détour, and notified Capt. Willson. [^2][*4] No doubt, as they went up the road to Merriam’s Corner, they stopped at Capt. Moore’s. [*5] I have often wondered how the Bedford men got morning so early, and were so early at the fight. This fact seems to account for it. They had all night to rally and equip in. That morning must have been a stirring time in old Bedford, putting the facts together.

First, Capt. Willson and his minute-men, who had been drilling for weeks by the town’s order, and at its expense, marched up the road and halted in front of Fitch’s tavern. [^3][*6] My dear old uncle, Solomon Lane, [*7] — he was Uncle Solomon to all the Bedford folks in his old age, but he was my father’s brother-in-law, a man of rare excellences, some roughnesses, a man who carried under his farmer’s coat a heart as gentle as a woman’s, — was one of the company. I tell the story as he told it to me. “Capt. Willson,” he used to say, “was a fine officer, a fine officer! [^4] I well remember him as he looked that morning. He drew his men up in front of the old Fitch tavern, and said, ‘Come boys, we’ll take a little something, and we’ll have every dog of them before night!’ He was,” said Uncle Solomon,

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“as lively as a bird, but he never came home till they brought him home.”

Then there was the Bedford Militia, under Capt. Moore. I do not know where they rallied. I might think, on the Common near the meeting-house. Perhaps, however, as Capt. Moore lived up the Concord road, they may have rallied there, and by that means may have got the start of the others. [*8]

Both companies, however, were among the first on the ground. Ensign Page, it is said, laid down his beautiful flag, with its gilt fringe, on a stone, while he assisted in moving the stores, [*9] and when he came to look for it, the boys had got it and were playing soldier with it.

The soldiers in the middle of the town who had been engaged in removing the stores, — our soldiers among the rest, — when they heard that the British were coming, went down the road to reconnoitre. The Bedford minute-men were on the ridge when they caught a glimpse of the approaching foe, and some of them said, as they looked upon their glittering arms and accoutrements, flashing in the morning sun, “We must spoil their fine uniforms before night.” As soon, however, as they saw them, and saw what they were aiming at, all the Americans turned back and made haste to get on the other side of the bridge, where were some companies already gathering to prevent the British troops from seizing and destroying it. There, as you know, at the old North Bridge, near where the monument now is, was the first vigorous encounter. There was the first British blood drawn, and the British troops were worsted and compelled to retreat. [*10]

You will naturally inquire, “Where were the Bedford men at that juncture?” [^5] Happily, we know where they were. The venerable Dr. Ripley, of Concord, wrote and published

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a very carefully prepared pamphlet on that battle, many years ago. In describing the forces that were assembled on the farther side of the bridge, he says (p. 17), “A considerable number of the minute and militia companies of Bedford were seasonably on the ground. The former was commanded by Capt. Jonathan Wilson, the latter by Capt. John Moore.” [*11] Then, after various other matters, occupying several pages, he thus describes the order of the battle:

“The Americans being ready, and determined to move on the bridge, orders were renewed” — the same orders that were given at Lexington — “not to fire, nor give any needless provocation, unless fired upon by the British; to which all assented. Col. Barret,” of Concord, “then gave orders to march, and directed Major Buttrick,” also of Concord, “to take the command and lead the companies.” “Capt. Davis,” of Acton, the gallant Davis who fell there, at the head of his men, “followed with his company.” Then “Capt. Brown and Capt. Miles,” both captains of Concord minute-men, “with their companies. Capt. Nathan Barret,” also of Concord, “with his militia company. The captains from Lincoln and Bedford above-named fell in under the direction of Col. Barret, who continued on horseback in the rear, giving directions to the armed men who were momently increasing in number.” [*12][*13]

Dr. Ripley adds, “The precise position of every officer and company cannot now be perfectly known. The forward companies became more noticeable.” [*13] And among these eight forward ones it should be noticed that two, one fourth in number, were from our own town of Bedford.

In that battle, Thompson Maxwell, a native of Bedford as I have said, was also present as a volunteer. He had just before removed his family to Amherst, N.H., but he was still here personally at frequent intervals.

“I remained,”

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he says, ”at my common vocations, till April, 1775. Left Boston on the 18th, and got to my native town, and put up with my brother Wilson, who married my sister, and who was a captain of minute-men. [*14] 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 tight. My brother Wilson was killed. Next day I hired a man to drive my team home, and I never went home till after the battle of Bunker Hill.” [*15][*16]

Meanwhile, the excitement in Bedford was not quelled. “All day long,” as I am assured by one who had the account from an eye and ear witness, “the bells were ringing, the guns were firing, the people were dashing back and forth on horseback,” and all that could be learned was “that there had been an awful fight” and “ever so many killed.” [^6] It was not long after the Bedford companies had disappeared, that two others, one from Reading and the other from Billerica, passed through the town on their way to the scene of action. Both reached their places of destination, Merriam’s Corner, within a few minutes of each other, and were there to meet the returning enemy just as their flank guard descended from the ridge. Both probably met here. Rev. Mr. Foster, who was a volunteer in the Reading company, says of them, referring probably to that from Billerica also, ”We rendezvoused near the middle of Bedford, left horses, and marched forward in pursuit of the enemy.” [*17]

About the same hour, and perhaps in company with one of the parties before mentioned, appeared here, tradition says, a veteran, clerical volunteer. It was the Rev. Isaac Morrill, pastor of the church at Wilmington. I have heard of the anecdote as being told of another party, but I am quite sure that I am not mistaken in the person; I have heard it often from the best authority, and besides, it seems in perfect keep-

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ing with his character. There is now in my possession a sermon preached by him at Wilmington, April 3, 1755, ”to Captain Phineas Osgood and his company of soldiers, before their going out into public service.” That was when the New England States were straining every nerve to defend their country from encroachments in the old French war. Its title is “The Soldier exhorted to Courage in the Service of his King and Country, from a Sense of God and Religion.” [*18] It has the true soldierly ring, and is as sound in morals and religion as it is brave and patriotic. The anecdote in question is this: When the news of the morning reached Wilmington, Parson Morrill at once seized his gun and mounted his horse. As he passed through Bedford, he called to rest his horse for a moment at the house of his brother Penniman, and was surprised to find him quietly at home. [*19] “Why, brother Penniman, are you here? Why on such a day as this are you not at the scene of conflict?” “Oh, I can’t go.” “Can’t go? Yes, you can! Seize your gun, order your horse, and come along with me.” [*20] “Oh, I can’t go, I can’t go! You go and fight, and I will stay here and pray.”

The people, it is said, did not give him much credit for his prayers, seeing he would not act. But perhaps they misjudged him. Every man is not fitted for every kind of service.

Mr. Morrill, tradition says, hastened on, and was at Merriam’s Corner in season to do good service, in the sharp conflicts which followed with the retreating foe.

But I must leave this. Capt. Wilson, as you know, was killed in the hot battles of the pursuit, having already gone through some of the fiercest of them; [^7] and Job Lane, one of Bedford’s first men, severely wounded and disabled for life.

Bedford was represented also in the battle of Bunker (alias Breed’s) Hill, by the two Maxwells. Hugh was the senior

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captain in Col. Prescott‘s regiment; Thompson, a lieutenant in Col. Reed‘s. I follow Thompson’s narrative. Both were on Breed’s Hill on the afternoon of the 16th, at a consultation of the two colonels. At Col. Prescott’s request, Captain Maxwell, who was an engineer, “laid out the ground for the entrenchments.” His brother “set up the stakes after him.” Prescott’s regiment remained on the hill through the night. Reed’s withdrew to their post on Charlestown Neck at seven o’clock in the evening, but were back by daylight on the 17th. It was then that, on Captain Maxwell’s suggestion and Col. Prescott’s order, the connecting link was formed between the “night’s work” and ”the rail fence,” and so the lines were completed. The two brothers executed this order in the same way as the other. There Reed’s regiment formed by Col. Prescott’s order, and there Lieut. Maxwell remained, as he informs us, during the battle. He adds, “We were all drove from the hill. On our retreat we went in disorder, mixed up.” [*16]

And these are but distinguished specimens. All through that protracted war and the political movements that accompanied it, the town records, to a marvellous extent, beat pulse by pulse with the action of the country. Mr. Shattuck, in detailing the contributions made here from time to time to the burdens of the war, both of men and money, closes one of his paragraphs with a note of admiration, and another, the closing one, with the remark, “When it is recollected that the town of Bedford then contained only about four hundred and seventy inhabitants, it is truly wonderful that they could submit to so frequent and so heavy burdens of pecuniary and personal service.” [*21]

And when the great irrevocable step was to be taken, sundering the colonies forever from the British crown, it is on record that “the town being met for the purpose of advising

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their representatives whether the Honorable Congress should, for the safety of the colonies, declare them independent of Great Britain,” the town voted “That we, the said inhabitants, will solemnly engage with our lives and fortunes to support them in the measure.” There may not have been much power, perhaps, there certainly were not large numbers or great resources, but surely there was much “pluck” and readiness, in what our daft, old roving Jester Chaplin used to call affectionately, “Our little disposition Bedford.” [*22]

In “Shays’ Rebellion,” as it has been called, [^8] which broke out several years later, the town seems at first to have leaned strongly towards conciliatory measures. In the first convention of delegates from the towns, which met at Concord, Aug. 28, 1786, such measures seem to have prevailed: and to the second, which was to meet on the 9th of September, its delegates were appointed expressly “in order to devise some salutary measures to quiet the minds of any body or bodies of people that shall attempt to oppose government in any unconstitutional manner whatsoever.” When, however, it became plain that attempts at conciliation served only to aggravate violence, the town showed its hand very decidedly in another direction. First a body of volunteers was called for, who should “march to Worcester for the support of the Government”; and for the encouragement of such enlistments, forty-two shillings per month was agreed upon. This body of volunteers, tradition says, was actually raised, and marched to Worcester under the command of Capt. David Reed. Another body of men marched to Concord and then to Stow in order to join Gen. Lincoln‘s army, under the command of Capt. Christopher Page. It does not appear, however, that any active service was required of either of them, and the insurrection, though very violent at first, was soon suppressed.

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In the war of the French Revolution, the people of this country took a deep and excited interest. At first it seemed to them all as if a new millennium was breaking in, but as time passed, and they saw what atrocities were enacted, and how perfectly mad many of the actors seemed, thoughtful and conservative men began to pause. A little anecdote may serve to illustrate this. An old sage of Billerica, who, however, lived just on the border and had many connections with Bedford, and no doubt spoke its sentiments, being away from his home, had occasion once to stop at a tavern. As he sat by the fire in the chimney-corner, a company of rather noisy young men began discussing the French Revolution. Not relishing their coarse jokes and profane expressions, he kept silent, and being a plain farmer, they did not notice him. By and by, however, the conversation flagging, they turned that way, hoping to get some sport out of him. “Come, daddy,” said one of them, “what do you think of it?” “Humph!” said the old man and kept silent. “Come, come, old daddy,” said they all, “you’ve got to tell us.” At length the old man opened his lips, and began oracularly: [*23] “When the French Revolution began, and they were struggling, as I thought, for liberty, I went heart and hand with them; but when they cast off fear, and restrained prayer, gave their noble for ninepence, and their ninepence for nothing, then I gave ’em up.” [*24] “Well done, daddy!” cried they all, “well done, daddy!” He said afterwards, “I felt small.”

In our own war with Great Britain, the apprehension of French influence affected the minds of many. They thought the war unnecessary, and that it was stimulated by the intrigues of France. Still, when we were fairly in it, the people generally sustained the government. I well remember the panic, when the apprehension got abroad that the

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British were about entering Boston Harbor. The people of Boston scattered in every direction, several families moved up to Bedford, — the Fitches and the Larkins and Esquire Hurd and his family, — and remained, I know not how long. About the same time a call was made for the militia company of Bedford. I well remember the panic that pervaded the families here, as they saw their husbands, brothers, and sons going forth, they knew not to what deadly conflicts. It was on a Sabbath afternoon that the company set forth: they marched first to the meeting-house, where solemn and earnest prayer was offered by the minister on their behalf, after which the company was drawn up on the Common, near the east end of the meeting-house, and the ammunition distributed to the soldiers, and then they marched away, and the people with sad hearts returned to their places in the house of God.

Happily for them all, the call proved to have been a mistake. It was another company that was intended. In a few days they were released. I was playing by the roadside near the school-house, all alone, making forts, I guess, in the cart-ruts, when the sound of fife and drum caught my ear, and presently I saw the whole company march up the hill and pass by.

These wars being over, there was, for many years, no general call for military sacrifices on the part of the people. Peace principles began to be carried to an extreme. Many among us began to fancy that there was to be no more fighting; but the time for that was not yet.

In our great and terrible civil war, when fratricidal hands were raised for the destruction of the nation, our goodly town was true to its ancestral character. The young men responded promptly to its call for soldiers. The women, young and old, busied themselves in preparing comforts for

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the sick and wounded, and lint to stanch the blood, [*25] which, they foresaw, might be soon flowing from the veins of sons, brothers, fathers, husbands, lovers, in the deadly conflict. Some went as nurses to the camp. Fourteen young men gave up their lives in the service. In various ways, I learn on good authority, “not less than $5,000 was contributed to the war by this little town.” The Soldiers’ Monument, a beautiful red granite obelisk, surmounted by an urn, erected at an expense of about $1,600 in our beautiful cemetery, is an affectionate tribute to their memory from the ladies of the town. [*26]



  1. could not ∨ could
  2. Willson. ∨ Wilson.
  3. Willson ∨ Wilson
  4. Willson,” ∨ Wilson,”
  5. “Where . . . juncture?”
    ∨ Where . . . juncture?
  6. killed.” ∨ killed”
  7. Willson, ∨ Wilson,
  8. “Shays’ ∨ “Shay’s



  1. “West Cambridge” became Arlington in 1867.
  2. cf. Phinney’s History of the battle at Lexington (1825) p 38
  3. “Ensign Page”: Nathaniel Page: b. 1742 – d. 1819 (BHB) II: p 26
  4. “Capt. Willson”: Jonathan Willson: d. 1775 at age 41 (BHB) p 91
  5. “Capt. Moore”: John Moore: d. 1807 at age 78 (BHB) p 87
  6. “Fitch’s tavern”: (what was then) Fitch Tavern
    Now a private residence: 12 Great Road
  7. “Solomon Lane”: b. 1756 – d. 1837 (BHB) II: pp 21-22
  8. “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 Wilson’s company reached there.” (BHB) p 24
    “the home of their captain”: the Captain John Moore House: 191 Concord Road
  9. “gilt”: silver-gilt
  10. “worsted”: defeated
  11. cf. Ripley’s History of the fight at Concord (1827) pp 16-17
  12. “momently”: (with) every moment
  13. cf. Ripley’s History of the fight at Concord (1827) pp 25-26
  14. “brother”: brother-in-law
  15. “team”: team of horses
  16. cf. “The narrative of Major Thompson Maxwell” (1865)
    in Historical collections of the Essex Institute: Vol VII (pp 97-115)
  17. cf. Ripley’s History of the fight at Concord (1827) p 32
  18. cf. Morrill’s The soldier exhorted to courage (1755)
  19. “brother Penniman”: fellow preacher Reverend Joseph Penniman
  20. “order”: prepare
  21. cf. Shattuck’s History of the town of Concord (1835) p 260
  22. This appears to be a joke contrasting major political entities that are strong in fact (e.g., “the power England”) with a minor entity that is strong only in will (e.g., “the disposition Bedford”).
  23. “oracularly”: with (wise) authority
  24. “ninepence”: coin worth nine pence
  25. “lint”: linen gauze
  26. “our beautiful cemetery”: Shawsheen Cemetery

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