W. T. R. M. (1907)

[[ 5482. ]] The Bedford flag. [^1]

It is evident that the statements about the Bedford Flag, which seem to imply that that standard was carried in the war against King Philip, and which have been criticised in Notes and Queries, were made without a careful investigation of the subject. In his recent work, “George Abbott and his Descendants,” Major L. A. Abbott, U.S.A., retired, gives the history of that flag, which he carefully investigated, cites freely the authorities on which his account is based, and gives copies of original documents, and an illustration finely printed in colors, made from an original sketch expressly for his book. [^2] As this gives us the opinion of an expert — Major Abbott having been a professional soldier in the service of his country for nearly half a century — and as he shows very clearly the errors into which some previous writers have fallen, it may interest “Rockingham,” “Vericola” and others to see what he says. I quote from pages 189-190 of the volume cited:

“The [Bedford] Minute Men . . . had no regularly adopted standard, and one resembling a color originally designed in England between 1660 and 1670, for the ‘Three County Troop’ of Massachusetts, was carried by Nathaniel Page.” [*1]

Page was one of the Bedford Minute Men, who went into action under Captain Willson (killed at Meriam’s Corner), and Moses Abbott was the first lieutenant. [^3][^4] In a footnote Major Abbott gives some account of the Three County Troop, and quotes an article by the late William H. Whitmore, first printed in the New England Historical and Genealogical Register, xxv., page 138, in which he gives a “Copy of an entry in a herald-painter’s book in the British Museum, Add. Ms. 26,683, fo. 31b, found in London in 1870 by Mr. Joseph L. Chester,” which was accompanied by a “tricking,” or sketch of the device, reproduced in Mr. Whitmore’s paper. [*2] A comparison shows a similarity between the two flags, but Major Abbott points out the differences, as will be seen below. To resume his story:

“This flag was taken from the Page house in Bedford, and after the Concord fight was again returned to the Page mansion, where it remained till Apr. 19, 1875, when it was carried by a delegation of Bedford citizens in the centennial celebration at Concord, Mass. [*3] Ten years later, Oct. 19, 1885, the 104th anniversary of the surrender of Cornwallis, it was pre-

sented by Capt. Page to the town of Bedford.

When seen by the compiler it was on exhibition, carefully preserved under glass, in the village library in Bedford. It is of heavy, durable crimson silk, but little faded by age, the device an armored arm, the hand grasping a sword, exquisitely painted a soft steel gray, in oil; the Latin motto on the flag translated signifying ‘Conquer or die.’ It is one of the handsomest banners ever seen by the writer, after the experience of a lifetime as a professional soldier, the art, taste in combination and fabric being superior to anything in its line of the present day.” [*1]

A part of the silver fringe which once bordered it is gone.

“Said a lady of Bedford, past ninety years of age: [*4] ‘I took that silver fringe from that flag when I was a giddy girl, and trimmed a dress for a military ball. I was never more sorry for anything than that, which resulted in the loss of the fringe.’ (These words are quoted by Major Abbott from a pamphlet entitled ‘Beneath Old Roof-trees.’) [*5]

At a meeting of the Massachusetts Historical Society, Dec. 10, 1885, Rev. Henry F. Jenks showed a photograph of this flag (see Proceedings, II. Series, iii., page 166, where it is reproduced), and remarked: ‘The long staff to which the flag is attached shows plainly that it was a cavalry flag, and it is said to have been carried in the French and Indian War by a cavalry company.’ [*6] Very possibly (says Major Abbott) it may have been borne in that war (1755-63), but that it was identical with the ‘Cornett’ painted in England a century before, as Mr. Brown (in the work cited) seems to believe, is shown to be untrue by marked differences in drawing the devices — [*7] the relative positions of the sword and scroll; the arrangement and lettering of the latter; the gauntleted hand, of which the back is shown, the arm bent at the elbow and ‘vambraced’ on the Bedford flag, while on the Three County Troop Cornet, as illustrated in the Register, the arm above the elbow does not appear, the fingers are shown clasping the hilt, and arm and hand are bare.” [*1]

In a footnote Major Abbott remarks, “It is absurd to suppose that the flag of any organization, so frequently in the field as the Three County Troop must have been, would have lasted a century.” [*1]

“At the meeting of Jan. 14, 1886, Mr. Appleton, alluding to the two banners, thought the arm and sword might have been borne on the colors of Massachusetts troops in the Colonial wars, and noted the resemblance of the device on the Bedford flag to the crest of the State. . . . This flag, said he, is the most precious memorial of the kind of which we have any knowledge.” [*8]

In the latter statement he was comparing it with the famous Pulaski flag, carried at Eutaw, which alone approaches the Bedford flag, in historic interest. [*9]

The question naturally arises what right had Captain Page to dispose of this flag, or give it to the town of Bedford; it would seem that it should be placed in the highest place of honor in the Hall of Flags, in the state house, rather than where but few can see it, in the Bedford library. This must be the “Flag to April’s breeze unfurled” of which Emerson sang, when the “embattled farmers” “fired the shot heard round the world.” [*10][*11] We hope the adjutant general, or Colonel Olin, our Secretary of State, will investigate the matter, and see whether it should not be claimed by the State as one of its “most precious memorials.”

W. T. R. M.


  • “Notes and queries” answer, signed “W. T. R. M.” (1907) [ no scan ]
    in The Boston evening transcript (23 March) Part Two: p 8


  1. [ paragraph break ]
  2. he carefully ∨ he had carefully
  3. Willson ∨ Wilson
  4. Meriam’s ∨ Merriam’s



  1. cf. Abbott’s Descendants of George Abbott: Volume I (1906) pp 188-193
  2. cf. Whitmore’s “The standard of the Three County Troop”
    in The New England HG register: Volume XXV (1871) pp 138-140
  3. “the Page house”: the Nathaniel Page homestead
    Formerly stood at 85 Page Road. (BS1) p 14
    Moved. Now at 89 Page Road. (HPN) p 282
  4. “a lady of Bedford”: Ruhamah (Page) Lane: b. 1788 – d. 1882 (BHB) II: pp 22 and 27
  5. cf. Brown’s Beneath old roof trees (1896) p 200
    NB: One wonders why W. T. R. M. calls Brown’s work “a pamphlet”.
    Beneath old roof trees is a proper book, well over 300 pages long!
  6. cf. Jenks’ “The Bedford Flag” (December 1885)
    in Proceedings of the MHS: Volume II (SS) pp 165-167
    NB: “II. Series, iii.” is an error for “II. Series, ii.”.
  7. “Cornett” (i.e. “cornet”): flag carried by a cornet
  8. cf. Appleton’s “The Bedford Flag” (January 1886)
    in Proceedings of the MHS: Volume II (SS) pp 199-200
  9. It is ironic that W. T. R. M. — in the midst of arguing against the conflation of two distinct flags — here manages to conflate two other distinct flags: “Pulaski‘s banner” and “the famed flag of Eutaw“.
  10. cf. Emerson’s “Concord Hymn” (1837)
  11. Brown himself wrote that Emerson “had no thought that the ’embattled farmers’ had a flag”, and that the mention was “a poetical figure”.
    cf. Brown’s Beneath old roof trees (1896) pp 196-197
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