No sooner was Mr. Penniman fairly settled, than the war of the American Revolution began to absorb all thoughts. Town-meetings could scarcely transact any other than war business. On the first day of March, 1773, after solemn prayer, the town proceeded and made choice of Deacon Stephen Davis, John Reed, Esq., Mr. John Webber, Dr. Joseph Ballard, Mr. John Moore, Mr. Joseph Hartwell, and Mr. Hugh Maxwell, to be a committee to take our grievances under consideration, and to report at the next town-meeting. An adjournment was made to the 31st of May, when the committee reported a series of resolutions which, while professing the utmost loyalty to the crown, made known in language unmistakable the deep grievances of the distressed people.
Not long after occurred the destruction of tea in Boston harbor. In this transaction Bedford was represented. Major Thompson Maxwell gives the following account of his participation in the affair:
“In 1773, I went with my team to Boston. [*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 on 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]
Messrs. Moses Abbott, Thomas Page, Ebenezer Page, John Reed, Joseph Converse, and Edward Stearns were chosen as a committee of inspection. In March, 1775, it was voted to allow Dr. Joseph Ballard four shillings per day for twelve days at Cambridge, and four shillings for expenses at Concord. It was also voted to pay twenty-five minute-men one shilling per week, they to exercise four hours in a week; and two shillings were to be allowed to two officers, they to equip themselves according to the advice of congress.
The skill thus acquired was soon called into requisition at the memorable Concord Fight on the 19th of April. Thompson Maxwell thus speaks of it:
“April, 1775, I again happened in Boston with my team; I left Boston the 18th, and got to my native town that night, and put up with my brother Wilson, who married my sister and who was captain of minute-men. [*3][*4] 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 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.” [*2]
Tradition says that Maxwell, having some familiarity with camps, assured his brother that he had witnessed movements in Boston that indicated some speedy action on the part of the British army, and that he and Willson sat talking excitedly upon the subject till one o’clock, when the messenger summoned them to the fight. [^1] Willson rallied his men at the tavern, then kept by Jeremiah Fitch, Jr., in the house now owned by his granddaughter, Miss Fitch of Boston. [^1][*5] The men partook of some slight refreshment. “It is a cold breakfast, boys,” said Willson, “but we’ll give the British a hot one, — we’ll have every dog of them before night.” [^2][*6] Before night Willson was killed and Job Lane badly wounded. [^1]
On their arrival at Concord the first service of our men was in removing stores to places of greater safety. [*7] Even the standard-bearer laid down his flag, threw off his coat, and went to work. When the British soldiers first came in view, our men looked upon them from Concord Hill, and were perfectly dazzled by the sight, — their brilliant uniforms, their perfect discipline, and their burnished guns flashing in the sunlight charmed and awed
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them into dumb astonishment, till some one broke the spell by a reminder that “we must spoil their fine uniforms before night.” [*8] It was not long before every one was excitedly engaged in the fray. The homes, too, which the soldiers had left in haste, were full of excitement and activity. There women were busily engaged in providing food and despatching it to Concord. Their anxiety was raised to the highest pitch. One good lady said,
“All day long the bells were ringing, the guns were firing, people were dashing back and forth on horseback, and all I could learn was that there had been an awful fight, ever so many killed, and I thought certain husband must be one of them.” [*9]
One of our townsmen, while driving his load of wood with oxen and horse, met the soldiers at Lexington, and having quietly passed them, deliberately unyoked his team as though he were a farmer in the neighborhood, mounted his horse, and slowly repassed the troops till he was far enough to avoid suspicion, then struck into a run, and was at Concord in season to give them a welcome.
Immediately after the Battle of Lexington multitudes of soldiers went into camp at Cambridge. Tradition says the next day after the fight Thompson Maxwell sent his team home with a note to his wife asking for a few necessary articles, and informing her that he should be at home when the war was over. Here he remained till after the battle of Bunker Hill, of which he has given us a general account. He says:
“When I left home I was a lieutenant of minute-men, under Captain Crosby. Next day after Concord Fight my company started to join us at Cambridge. I then took command agreeable to rank in my company under Captain Wilkinson. We were formed into regiments, my company in Colonel James Reed‘s regiment, and engaged for eight months. The next fight was that of Bunker Hill. On the 16th of June Colonel 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 Maxwell, was the senior captain in this regiment; he 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.
“After we had been there awhile I saw Captain Knowlton of Putnam’s regiment come on with perhaps a hundred men, and form on a stone-wall that led from the rail-fence to the river. The men were formed from the river extending towards the rail-fence, and left a space, I should say, of sixty rods between us, [*10] which was manned by parts of regiments until Colonel Stark came and formed on the rail-fence. We were all drove from the hill. On our retreat we went in disorder, mixed up. As we passed the top of Bunker Hill, I there saw Putnam for the first time after he rode away in the morning. *1 (Putnam on horseback with his tent behind.) He had with him a very large body of men who were a little over the turn of the hill out of the rake of the enemy’s shot. When we approached near, Putnam cried out, ‘Halt, you damned cowards! halt, you damned cowards! Turn about and give them another shot.’ I told Putnam it was in vain, for our ammunition was gone and men exhausted. He said, ‘I don’t mean you, it is them damned rascals I can’t get up.'” [*2]
*1 It is, however, well established that Putnam was at the lines during the engagement. — Ed.
On the 17th of June a town-meeting was held to advise the person who should represent them in the
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next General Court whether the honorable congress should declare them independent of Great Britain, and it was voted that,
“We, the said inhabitants [of Bedford], will solemnly engage, with our lives and fortunes, to support them in the measure.”
On the 4th of July, 1776, the town agreed to add to the bounty given to such as should enlist, £6 6s. 8d; it also directed the treasurer to pay the money or give his notes, and if “a commissioner” enlisted to have the above said bounty.
On the 24th of November the compensation of soldiers was again under consideration, and the town voted £377 3s. 3d., with the interest that is due on said money, for the use of hiring the Continental soldiers.
At a meeting on the 11th of May, 1778, John Reed, Esq., Moses Abbott, Stephen Hartwell, Jr., Samuel Davis, and Jeremiah Fitch, Jr., were chosen a committee to hire men to join the Continental army to the southward at the North River for eight months, and then to join General Washington’s army for nine months towards Philadelphia. [??]
On the 14th of July, 1779, a state convention met at Concord, for the purpose of establishing a state price current and adopting other means for preventing monopoly, extortion, and unfair dealing. Hon. Azor Orne was chairman, and Samuel Ruggles secretary. This meeting passed some spirited resolutions, fixed the prices of several articles, and prepared an address to the people. On the 4th of August the town of Bedford accepted these resolves, and chose a committee to see that the said resolves were not violated. At the same meeting the town elected John Reed a delegate to a convention to meet at Cambridge on the 1st of September, for the purpose of framing a new constitution.
When the question finally came up of accepting or rejecting the new form of government, the town held three meetings upon the subject, and finally accepted it by a vote of twenty-five in favor and one against it, leaving it with the convention when the form should take place.
- Josiah A. Stearns’ “Bedford” (1880)
in Drake’s History of Middlesex County: Vol I (pp 244-246)
- Willson ∨ Wilson
- Willson, ∨ Wilson,
- Brown’s History of the town of Bedford (1891)
- “team”: team of horses
- cf. “The narrative of Major Thompson Maxwell” (1865)
in Historical collections of the Essex Institute: Vol VII (pp 97-115)
- “brother”: brother-in-law
- “Willson”: Jonathan Willson: d. 1775 at age 41 (BHB) p 91
- “the tavern”: (what was then) Fitch Tavern
Now a private residence: 12 Great Road
- 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
- “stores”: stores of ammunition
- cf. Stearns’ “Historical discourse” (1879) p 23
- cf. Stearns’ “Historical discourse” (1879) p 25
- “sixty rods”: ~300 meters