Archives for June 2014

Mrs. Nathan Barrett – Concord

Here’s another random pick from the deck.  I don’t know this woman.  But let’s explore.

Colonel James Barrett was the head of the Concord Militia on April 19th, 1775.  His farmhouse was one of the main targets of the Redcoat search on that April morning.  The Tory spies in the area had reported to General Gage that Barrett’s Farm was a depository for weaponry of the "rebels."  But being warned earlier in April, most of those munitions had already been moved.

Even as the Redcoats marched to the Barrett Farm, his sons were "planting" muskets in the ground.  One son was plowing, the next was kicking the muskets into the furrows and pushing the dirt over them with his foot.  All the while waving at the passing Redcoats.

Nathan was one of the Colonel’s sons.  Nathan was 40 years old and he and his Mrs. had a number of children. 

The main Barrett Farm was about a mile west of the North bridge, where the main Concord battle was fought that day.  From there, I suspect, Mrs. Barrett could not have watching the battle as she states on this card.  So, the question is, where was she?

Sadly, we don’t know.

I find her story about chasing down one of the militia members fascinating.  It also raises a number of other questions.

Would you have left your musket? 

There are so many stories from that day, this is just one little one.


Spinning and Weaving

In 1767, in their continuing efforts to raise money from the Colonies, where the economy was in really good shape, Parliament passed the Townshend Acts, which "placed new duties on paper, paint, lead, glass, and tea that were imported into the colonies." **  The response from the Colonies should have been expected after the responses to the Sugar Act and the Stamp Act, but either Parliament didn’t concern itself with consequences or it was tone deaf to the way the tide was turning in the Colonies.

One response was the boycott of British goods being imported into America.

The result of this boycott was that American women stopped buying imported fabric, for the most part.  So, they were stuck with learning forgotten skills of their mothers and grandmothers.

And they began to spin and weave again.

Most homes had at least one spinning wheel.  Many had more than one.  They were usually kept upstairs in the "bedrooms".  Those rooms were used not only for storage but for work as well.  Spinning was one of these jobs.  My guess – and it’s only a guess – is that the spinning wheels might have been brought downstairs or even set up outside when it was too hot to work up stairs.  The wheels were not all that big and could have been easily moved.

On the other hand, looms were not an item in each home.  They were a community item.  I can picture weaving bees much like sewing bees. Weaver of Tartan © Jax Hunter

Add this work into the daily chores – cleaning, laundry, baking break, cooking, gardening and you have very busy moms.

So when you see reenactors in Revolutionary garb, remember the hands that spun the wool or flax and then wove the fabric to make all the clothes represented there.  As I’ve mentioned before, these people had little time for Revolution. 

More fundamentally mistaken notions


From   A Primary History: Stories of Heroism By William Harrison Mace

Here is the text with my comments in red.  (Keeping in mind that I am NOT an expert on the subject.  But I am working on it.)

The Battle at Lexington and at Concord Bridge.

As the British soldiers reached Lexington at sunrise, April 19, 1775, the captain of the minutemen gave the command:  "Stand your ground.  Don’t fire unless fired upon.  But if they mean to have war, let it begin here!"  A bold speech for a captain of only about sixty men when facing as brave soldiers as Europe had ever seen! [Hold the presses!  Right here I pretty much knew that we were going to have issues.  Yes, the British Army was the most formidable army on earth at the time.  But, the vast majority of the soldiers that were stationed in Boston in 1775 either had seen very little actual battle action or had seen none.  They were not seasoned soldiers.] The minutemen stood their ground till seven were killed and nine wounded–nearly one-third of their number.  Then they retreated.  [This is wrong.  The militia (actually Lexington had a training band, they were not officially a militia – but for the sake of simplicity, we’ll call them the Lexington Militia) on the Green that day numbered most likely 77 men.  When Captain John Parker saw the numbers arrayed in battle formation before him, he simply told his men to disburse.  It was as they walked away that the shot was fired.  Then, the Army opened fire on them, and after several volleys, lowered their bayonets and charged.]

The British pushed on to Concord.  But the minutemen, now coming from every direction, made a stand at Concord Bridge.  Their musket fire was so deadly that the British started back, running at times to escape with their lives.  At Lexington they fell upon the ground, tired out with the chase the minutemen gave them, and were met by fresh troops from Boston.

Soon the British soldiers were forced to run again, for minutemen by the hundreds were gathering, and they seldom missed their aim.  From behind rocks, trees, fences, and houses they cut down the tired redcoats.  Nearly three hundred British soldiers were killed or wounded before Boston was reached that night.


*** Hat tip to JL Bell at Boston 1775 Blog for the term "fundamentally mistaken notions."   I highly recommend his blog. 

Revolutionary Symbols – the Snake

The snake as a symbol for the Revolution was an invention of Ben Franklin. It began with a satire Franklin wrote in 1751, criticizing the practice of Great Britain sending their violent criminals to the Americas to get rid of them. Franklin suggested that America might want to send shiploads of rattlesnakes back to the mother country as a way of returning the favor.

Then, during the French and Indian war, Franklin once again used the snake as a symbol to preach unity to the colonies. His Join or Die political cartoon showed a snake cut into eight pieces.**

There was a myth at the time that a snake that had been cut up into pieces would grow back together if the pieces were put back together. So, Franklin used this myth to urge the Colonies to come together for strength.

In 1765, the snake was again popular along with the words “Dont tread on me” as the Colonies joined together to fight the Stamp Act.

The rattlesnake was eventually incorporated into the well-known Gadsden Flag, which was the first official flag of the Commodore of the US Navy. It was also used in the Culpeper flag flown by the Culpeper VA Minutemen (think Patrick Henry.)



In December 1775, Franklin again sang the praises of the rattlesnake as a symbol of America. In an article in the Pennsylvania Gazette, Franklin said the snake was the perfect symbol:

  • No eye-lids so she is always on the watch, always vigilant.
  • Doesn’t begin an attack, but once in battle, she doesn’t surrender.
  • Her defenses are hidden (in her mouth) so she appears weak. And though the bite is small, it’s deadly.
  • She doesn’t attack until after she gives warning.

Here’s the full article.

I observed on one of the drums belonging to the marines now raising, there was painted a Rattle-Snake, with this modest motto under it, "Don’t tread on me." As I know it is the custom to have some device on the arms of every country, I supposed this may have been intended for the arms of America; and as I have nothing to do with public affairs, and as my time is perfectly my own, in order to divert an idle hour, I sat down to guess what could have been intended by this uncommon device — I took care, however, to consult on this occasion a person who is acquainted with heraldry, from whom I learned, that it is a rule among the learned of that science "That the worthy properties of the animal, in the crest-born, shall be considered," and, "That the base ones cannot have been intended;" he likewise informed me that the ancients considered the serpent as an emblem of wisdom, and in a certain attitude of endless duration – both which circumstances I suppose may have been had in view. Having gained this intelligence, and recollecting that countries are sometimes represented by animals peculiar to them, it occurred to me that the Rattle-Snake is found in no other quarter of the world besides America, and may therefore have been chosen, on that account, to represent her.

But then "the worldly properties" of a Snake I judged would be hard to point out. This rather raised than suppressed my curiosity, and having frequently seen the Rattle-Snake, I ran over in my mind every property by which she was distinguished, not only from other animals, but from those of the same genus or class of animals, endeavoring to fix some meaning to each, not wholly inconsistent with common sense.

I recollected that her eye excelled in brightness, that of any other animal, and that she has no eye-lids. She may therefore be esteemed an emblem of vigilance. She never begins an attack, nor, when once engaged, ever surrenders: She is therefore an emblem of magnanimity and true courage. As if anxious to prevent all pretensions of quarreling with her, the weapons with which nature has furnished her, she conceals in the roof of her mouth, so that, to those who are unacquainted with her, she appears to be a most defenseless animal; and even when those weapons are shown and extended for her defense, they appear weak and contemptible; but their wounds however small, are decisive and fatal. Conscious of this, she never wounds ’till she has generously given notice, even to her enemy, and cautioned him against the danger of treading on her.

Was I wrong, Sir, in thinking this a strong picture of the temper and conduct of America? The poison of her teeth is the necessary means of digesting her food, and at the same time is certain destruction to her enemies. This may be understood to intimate that those things which are destructive to our enemies, may be to us not only harmless, but absolutely necessary to our existence. I confess I was wholly at a loss what to make of the rattles, ’till I went back and counted them and found them just thirteen, exactly the number of the Colonies united in America; and I recollected too that this was the only part of the Snake which increased in numbers. Perhaps it might be only fancy, but, I conceited the painter had shown a half formed additional rattle, which, I suppose, may have been intended to represent the province of Canada.
‘Tis curious and amazing to observe how distinct and independent of each other the rattles of this animal are, and yet how firmly they are united together, so as never to be separated but by breaking them to pieces. One of those rattles singly, is incapable of producing sound, but the ringing of thirteen together, is sufficient to alarm the boldest man living.

The Rattle-Snake is solitary, and associates with her kind only when it is necessary for their preservation. In winter, the warmth of a number together will preserve their lives, while singly, they would probably perish. The power of fascination attributed to her, by a generous construction, may be understood to mean, that those who consider the liberty and blessings which America affords, and once come over to her, never afterwards leave her, but spend their lives with her. She strongly resembles America in this, that she is beautiful in youth and her beauty increaseth with her age, "her tongue also is blue and forked as the lightning, and her abode is among impenetrable rocks."
An American Guesser


** 8 Pieces?  There were 13 Colonies.  The key here is that NE stood for New England.  The Colonies of Maine, New Hampshire, Vermont, Massachusetts, Connecticut and Rhode Island made up the New England Colonies.  So, that’s how 8 pieces can represent all 13 Colonies

Jason Russell’s Bloody Battle

On April 19th, 1775, Jason Russell was 59 years old and lame. His beautiful home, built or remodeled on land he inherited just before marrying his wife in 1740, was in Menotomy (modern day Arlington) right on the main road to Lexington.

 After the Redcoats marched by before dawn, Jason took his wife and family to a neighbors home further from the road. But Jason returned. When warned to flee to safety, he is remembered as saying “An Englishman’s home is his castle.”

Late in the day, on April 19th, he is within the walls of his “yard” and is joined by Militia and Minutemen from the surrounding countryside. They set up a defense to intercept the retreating Redcoats. But, even after being warned, they neglect to watch for the Redcoat flankers.

The lot of them – twenty or so – were overtaken by the flankers and rushed into Jason’s house for protection. Jason was slower than the rest, of course, and was shot twice on his doorstep and stabbed multiple times as the Redcoats followed the Minutemen into the house.

Eight were able to make it into the basement and were able to defend their position by firing up the stairs. The rest were mowed down in the front room of Jason’s home.

When Mrs. Russell returned home, the blood was ankle-deep where she found her husband’s body, along with eleven others, laid out in her kitchen. The blood stains never came out of the floor.

This was the bloodiest battle for the Americans on that day. Jason Russell and the eleven others that died there that day were buried in a mass grave near the house. An obelisk that marks the grave reads:
Erected by the Inhabitants of West Cambridge, A.D. 1848, over the common grave of Jason Russell, Jason Winship, Jabez Wyman and nine others, who were slain in this town by the British Troops on their retreat from the Battles of Lexington and Concord, April 19th, 1775. Being among the first to lay down their lives in the struggle for American Independence.


The Children Paid a Price for Liberty


David Wright was 12 years old in 1775.  He was the oldest of six children, then living.  His baby brother, Liberty, was born in 1774 and died before his first birthday.

On April 19th, his father left early that morning from Groton to march to Concord to stand with the militia there. His mother is the amazing part of this story.  I’ll share that in another post.

But the point of this card is that the kids stories were inspiring in their own right.

Many, many of them were old enough to watch the battle on the Green.  They even knew the people killed and wounded there. 

You see Joanna’s story on the right.  A little girl, watching as they bring the dead back through town.   A horrifying scene.

Even the kids paid a price for Liberty.  And yet, David Wright went on to fight in the Continental Army.  And I suspect Joanna truly knew the cost of Freedom.


A Rock and a Tree. . .

For many years, I was a member of a Search and Rescue team. We were called out on a mission to find a climber in a neighboring county. The only map they sent us was a fax of the map on the cafe’s place mat. Not exactly up to topo standards.

Then, they instructed us to go down a certain county road until we came to where the old post office used to be. Okay… Very helpful.

Now, being that most of the SAR members were guys, we drove around a long, long time before stopping to ask for directions. Of course, the people at the house where we stopped knew exactly where the old post office used to be. Eureka!

Small towns are like that. Often you’ll hear county roads not referred to by the number on the sign but by the landmarks found on the road. To locals, that’s dandy. To newcomers, not so much. You’ll also hear directions like “go down to the house where Sam Smith lives…”. Again, not helpful if you don’t know Sam Smith.

On another occasion, when we were looking to buy land, we were given directions that said to drive until you see “a rock and a tree.” Like there is only one rock and one tree in that area of Colorado? Helpful.

So what does this have to do with 1775?

Well, today I’m reading a book that was written in 1868 about the town of Lexington. The section I’m reading tells of the founding families of Lexington – some of whom were represented in the events of April 19th 1775. He’s talking about the Winship family in 1650, telling us that “Lieut. Winship as he was generally called, erected a saw mill on what was then denominated Bill Brook, on or near the site of the present fur factory.”

Since the maps we have of Lexington are almost as good as a cafe place mat, I struggle to place the homes of the people I’m writing about. This little bit in this old book is not helping.

Spring Farming

sheep-50914_150To everything there is a season, and a time for every purpose under heaven.  Or, as the Geneva Bible – the bible our heroes and heroines in Lexington would have read:  To all things there is an appointed time, and a time to every purpose under the heaven.

Remember, the New Englanders were all farmers.  They may have done other things as well, like Isaac Davis in Action, who was a blacksmith, or Nate Mulliken who was a clock maker.  But everyone at least had a farm to feed their family.  Lexington also supplied a good deal of milk and milk products to Boston and Cambridge.

We can even look through old tax records to see what sort of farms they had, how many acres, the types and numbers of animals they had.  It was unusual for a family to own one single parcel of land.  Usually, they owned grazing land, orchard land, woodlot land; all separate pieces in separate places.

The Estabrooks farmed for a living.  They had a lot more going on farm-wise than the Fiske family.

In 1771, the Estabrook farm was made up of 92 total acres.  They had 5 horses, 4 oxen, 8 cows, 1 pig and 9 sheep.  Only 1 voter in this household.

In 1771, the Fiske family (Joseph Fiske was the town doctor) owned a total of 64 acres.  They had 2 horses, 5 cows, 2 sheep, and 1 pig.  They had 1 house and there were 2 voters in the household.

April 1775 was a mild April.  Spring was in full swing.  The farmers were plowing their fields – which was convenient when they decided to hide firearms in the new furrows.  The sheep had just been sheared so the womenfolk, in addition to their usual chores, were cleaning wool for carding.

Everyone in the family had a job.  The toddlers played while older sibblings watched them.  Littles fed the chickens and collected eggs.  Pre-teens and teens helped moms and dads with the real work of the day.

No one really had time for a Revolution.