Archives for July 2014

Slavery and Neglect

http://media-cache-ak0.pinimg.com/236x/13/67/84/136784d102341a62af4020974c6c561a.jpgIn a previous post, I mentioned that the Reverend Jonas Clarke from Lexington probably did more to prepare his people for the eventualities of April 19th, 1775 than any other. Not that he was alone. He absolutely wasn’t. The message of liberty and throwing off the chains of slavery was a message preached from the majority of pulpits in 1775. I’ve also read that, if we didn’t have the writings of the founding fathers, but we had the writings of Clarke, we’d know everything we need to know about the reasons for the Revolution.

I’m reading The History of the Town of Lexington, Middlesex County, Massachusetts, from its first settlement to 1868, by Charles Hudson. It’s an amazing read. I won’t highlight a book that old but I have sticky-tagged almost every page.

Hudson gives us the text of many of the town’s resolutions, all penned by Rev. Clarke. In 1772, a measure was afoot to disconnect the Judges in the Colonies from the people by granting their salaries directly from Parliament. In a resolution of January, 1772, the patriarchs of Lexington were responded. This is from that text:

“That thus, whether successful or not, succeeding generations might know that we understood our rights and liberties, and were neither afraid nor ashamed to assert and maintain them; and that we ourselves may have at least this consolation in our chains, that it was not through our neglect that this people were enslaved.”

And, a week or so ago, in the segment on Robert Munroe, we read this: “Two other descendants of his enlisted from a neighboring city during the Rebellion, and there were probably others who followed their example. Some have predicted that this country will degenerate through a lack of interest in her welfare; but I believe that we shall always have men in time of need of the spirit of Robert Munroe, who will spring to the front, and bravely defend what the fathers won.” (Oct. 12, 1857)

Neglect. The Lexington Patriots were relying on their posterity to make sure slavery did not come upon them by neglect.

Captain John Parker – Lexington

Captain John Parker. Age 46 on the morning of April, 19th, 1775. He’d been a soldier in the French and Indian War. He was the father of seven. Puritan. Farmer. Head of the Lexington Militia.** Dying of tuberculosis.

The leaders of the militia were not appointed, they were elected. Parker wasn’t the smartest or the richest man in town. But he was well respected.

On that fateful morning, after getting word that the Regulars were out, Parker gathered his forces on the Lexington Common. The men he commanded that morning were friends, family, neighbors. Some of the younger men, John had known since they were born. It was not lightly that he ordered these men, “Don’t fire unless fired upon. But if they mean to have a war, let it start here.”

They stood on the Green that morning, not to start trouble, not to start a war. Over the last few months, General Gage had sent troops out into the countryside several times to confiscate arms and powder. The Colonials had made a show of standing, not to fight, but to let the Redcoats know they were there. On a recent occasion, Colonials had stood fast and the Redcoats had been turned away empty handed. No shots were fired.

Parker may have expected a similar effect. Though he knew that the Regulars were headed to Concord, he was not about to let them come into Lexington without resistance. There is also speculation that the Lexington boys were there to stand between the Redcoats and Sam Adams and John Hancock, who were staying just up the road from the Green.

When faced with a force over ten times the size of his band of brothers, Parker ordered his men to disburse. When they turned to leave, a shot rang out. In the following volleys from the Redcoats, seven of his friends were killed, seventeen more wounded. His cousin, Jonas, lay dead as well. The last thing Parker heard as he got his boys to safety was a victory cheer from the Redcoats.

Huzzah, huzzah, huzzah!

Parker would not forget. The same Redcoats that left his men dead and injured on the Green would have to come back through Lexington later in the day.

Parker would have his revenge.

** Lexington didn’t have a militia, it had a training band.

General Percy’s Really Bad Day

“Farmers and merchants with pitchforks.”

That’s what the Redcoats thought we were. And the terms were said with jeers and taunts. One of the most vocal in the British derision of the American Patriots was from Lieutenant-General Hugh Percy, 2nd Duke of Northumberland.

General Percy wakes on the morning of April 19th, after a good night sleep, drops his feet to the floor, where his Lordship’s slippers wait for him. He puts on his Lordship’s dressing gown and sits down to sip tea. And that’s the high point in his day. It’s about to get much worse.

His assistant enters with this mail and, there he finds orders that he should have gotten hours ago. He was called to lead the reinforcements to back up the eight hundred troops that headed out last night on a not-so-secret mission to confiscate weapons and ammunition from the Patriots in Concord.http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/thumb/2/26/2ndDukeOfNorthumberland2_cropped.jpg/200px-2ndDukeOfNorthumberland2_cropped.jpg

That mission had gone horribly wrong early on. And reinforcements had been called for.

But General Percy hadn’t gotten the message.

So now, he’s rushing to put the back-up expedition together without the help of his second in command, Major Pitcairn who is already out in the American countryside, playing second-in-command for the earlier mission.

General Percy will take the relief column out and will get to Lexington in time to see the earlier force returning from being trounced by “farmers and merchants.” At the point the Percy first sees the troops he’s meant to reinforce, what he sees will shock him.

Colonel Smith and Major Pitcairn are out of the battle, both having been wounded. The younger officers and sergeants of His Majesty’s Forces – the finest professional army in the world at the time – are threatening to shoot their own soldiers to regain order. It’s chaos!

Percy actually did save the for those Redcoats. If he hadn’t shown up at that time, there might have been nothing left of the original eight hundred. Even so, getting his troops and Smith’s troops back to Boston was no easy task. It was a grueling retreat.

His report of that day stated: During the whole affair, the rebels attacked us in a very scattered, irregular manner, but with perseverance and resolution, nor did they ever dare to form into a regular body. Indeed they knew too well what was proper, to do so. Whoever looks upon them as an irregular mob, will find himself very much mistaken. They have men amongst them who know very well what they are about, having been employed as rangers against the Indians and Canadians, and this country being very much covered with wood, and hilly, is very advantageous for their method of fighting.

So, disdain turned to grudging respect for his Lordship that day. Those farmers and merchants with pitchforks turned out to be decent soldiers after all.

Robert Munroe – Part 2

From: Proceedings of Lexington Historical Society and papers relating to the history of the town

ROBERT MUNROE.

Read by G. W. Sampson, Oct. 12, 1857.

April 19, 1775, was the last day on earth of Robert Munroe. When aroused from his bed by the message of Paul Revere, it would have been pardonable in a man of sixty-four, who had twice seen service, to have acted on the principle of "old men for counsel and young men for war." He might well have decided that his family was fully represented on the field by his two sons and sons-in-law. But it requires a more vivid imagination than I possess, to think of Robert Munroe as hesitating for one instant.

In the band of minute-men, Munroe and his family played an important part. Lieutenant Tidd was next in rank to Captain Parker; Daniel Harrington was clerk of the Company; Munroe himself was ensign, and next in rank to lieutenant; while his two sons were privates.

Thus the father and his sons and sons-in-law all stood in line on the Common. At the first volley, the old hero was struck down. Much as I dislike a man who holds himself aloof from his fellow-men on account of the superiority of his forefathers, I believe that a proper feeling of pride in one’s ancestry is fitting and right. When I think of that brave old man, and scores like him, I say Lexington people have as good blood in their ancestry as any people of the Commonwealth.

"What the fathers won the sons defended." I was reminded of this sentiment last Memorial Day, when the grave of one of our soldiers was being decorated. Over the spot where he rested stood the color-bearer and Commander of the Post, all three — the living and the dead — direct descendants of Robert Munroe.

Two other descendants of his enlisted from a neighboring city during the Rebellion, and there were probably others who followed their example. Some have predicted that this country will degenerate through a lack of interest in her welfare; but I believe that we shall always have men in time of need of the spirit of Robert Munroe, who will spring to the front, and bravely defend what the fathers won.

The British Red Ensign Flag

The British Red Ensign Flag (top) was the flag that flew over the American Colonies after 1707.

It was a combination of the English Red Ensign Flag (middle) and the Scottish Red Ensign (bottom). In 1707, Scotland’s Parliament, despite the protest of the Scots, united with England to become Great Britain. Of that union, Scots poet Robert Burns said "We’re bought and sold for English gold, Such a Parcel of Rogues in a Nation!" (Not that we’re here to discuss Scottish History.) At that point, Queen Anne decreed that this Union Flag be the official flag of Great Britain.

The flag itself goes back even into the 1600’s but was not much used as neither the English nor the Scots particularly liked having their own flags adulterated with the other.

If you’ll look at the flag of other countries that were formerly part of Great Britain, Australia, for example, you will see that many of these countries simply took this British Red Ensign Flag and added their own identifier.

For the American Insurgents, the Union Flag was a hated flag. It was a constant reminder that, while the Colonies were part of Great Britain, the King was not allowing them the rights they’d always had as British citizens.

One of the flags the Insurgents flew the colors of the Sons of Liberty Flag. Another one, the Taunton Flag, we’ll get to in due time.

On a side note, the state of Hawaii is the only state in the USA that still has the Union flag as part of its flag, a tribute to it’s history with Great Britain.Flag of Hawaii

Robert Munroe – Part 1

From: Proceedings of Lexington Historical Society and papers relating to the history of the town

ROBERT MUNROE.

Read by G. W. Sampson, Oct. 12, 1857.

Lexington GreenAmong old Lexington families, the Munroes stand second to none. In civil life or in time of war, they were always found at or near the front. Perhaps the three most distinguished in the Revolutionary period were Robert, Edmund, and William. I am here to speak for Robert, not because he was superior in any way to the others, but because he was my ancestor. Robert Munroe was born in Lexington, May 4, 1712.

The old stock of Munroes first settled, as I am told, in that part of Lexington which takes its name, "Scotland," from their nationality. They can be traced as far back as the time of Bruce in Scotland. We read of them at Bannockburn, Berwick, Edinburgh, in the Protestant war in Germany, in Sweden, and even in India, fighting sturdily and steadily on every occasion. Up to 165 1 the Munroes could boast of three generals, eight colonels, five lieutenant-colonels, eleven majors, more than thirty captains, and a large number of subalterns. We find the Munroes again in command of large forces in the Irish Rebellion, at Fontenoy, at Falkirk and elsewhere; everywhere, indeed, but in the rear, when there was fighting at the front.

It is an old saying that "blood will tell." When a military spirit becomes infused through generations, it only needs a spark of war to ignite the latent energy in a man and develop a first-class soldier. It follows with almost as much certainty as if he were a chemical compound, the occasion for the display of warlike attributes being the missing link in the component parts. We read with no feeling of surprise, therefore, the name of Robert Munroe as ensign of the Lexington quota in the French and Indian War. In the expedition against Louisburg, in 1758, he was color-bearer in that memorable attack, reflecting honor upon Massachusetts and upon Lexington. In 1762, he was one of a company from this town sent to watch the Indians, and prevent the reopening of hostilities before peace had been declared.

In regard to his private life and characteristics, I can give no information. Those who knew him at all, passed away more than a generation before my time; and those who knew him intimately, more than two generations.

He seems to have been a typical New Englander of that period, firm, upright, of staunch integrity, but of considerable bigotry, superstition, and prejudice; a grand old Puritan, who abhorred idleness, dishonesty, and all things superficial, who constantly attended church, trained in the militia, kept a sharp eye on public affairs, tilled his farm, and cheered his sorrow with good New England rum, after the custom of that time.

He had four children: Anna, wife of Daniel Harrington; Ruth, wife of William Tidd; and Ebenezer and John. Daniel Harrington, my ancestor, was clerk of Captain Parker’s Company at the time of the battle; and William Tidd was lieutenant. Both were afterwards prominent in town affairs, and lived to a ripe old age. From some of the elder members of my family I have heard many anecdotes of "Grandfather Harrington" and his blacksmith shop, and of "Uncle Bill Tidd," as they were familiarly called. Ebenezer and John Munroe, like most of the young men of the town, were in the events of the 19th of April, Ebenezer also seeing service in the Jersey campaign of 1776.

Sons of Liberty Flag

     We’ve all heard of the Sons of Liberty.  They were the secret group of Patriots who organized the Boston Tea Party.  But they were so much more.
     They kept track of British troop movements, rode in secret missions to warn when General Gage was sending troops to confiscate arms and powder, and they organized help for Boston when the Intolerable Acts closed Boston Harbor.
     Their flag was made up of nine vertical strips which represented the Loyal Nine.
      These nine men were the founders of the Sons of Liberty in 1765.  The Loyal Nine were even more secret than the Sons of Liberty.  It is only now that we know who they were.  Their names will likely not even ring a bell with you.  They didn’t with me.
J     ohn Avery, Henry Bass, a cousin of Samuel Adams, Thomas Chase,  Stephen Cleverly, Thomas Crafts, Benjamin Edes, Joseph Field, John Smith, George Trott.
     These men went on to be very active in the Sons of Liberty.  At least four of them participated in the Boston Tea Party. 
     The flag became knows as the “Rebellious Stripes.”  It was outlawed by the Crown.  The Colonists merely switched the strips to horizontal and kept using it.  Eventually, they added more strips to equal 13 strips.
     As you’ll see in future posts, this 13 stripe Sons of Liberty flag was used in many of the famous Revolutionary War era flags.  I can’t wait to tell you about my favorite flag.  No hints – be patient. 
 

Ladies in state of “undress”

     If you’re like me, when you picture the ladies of Lexington, often you see them costumed like Ma Ingalls on Little House on the Prairie.  Obviously, there are many similarities. 
      Remember, the Colonial ladies were used to buying much of their cloth from the stores in Boston and the like.  But, when British goods were boycotted the women relearned the skills necessary to spin and weave their own cloth.  They wore homespun linen (from flax) and wool for the most part.  Print fabric was rare.  Striped fabric was a bit less rare.  But mostly they wore solid colors that they could dye themselves, blue, brown, etc.
Ladies Revolutionary War Era Clothing     What we’ll address today is “undress.”  This is the term they used for everyday work clothes.  Keep in mind that I am hardly an expert on the clothing of the 18th century and there are great sites to further your knowledge if you’re interested. 
      We’ll start with the shift.  This was the “under-est” piece of a ladies attire.  It was likely made from linen and it was a simple one-piece garment that ladies slept in and then put other pieces over in the morning.  Ladies generally had two shifts.  They would actually bathe in their shift, washing it along with themselves.  Then they would hang that shift to dry and switch to their clean one – probably for Sunday meeting.
      Pockets attached to a belt were tied on next.
      Next came stays if she wore them.  These were not to cinch in the waistline as much as to give back support. 
      Over the shift went petticoats – we would likely call them skirts.  The number of petticoats was determined by the weather.  The petticoats again tied on and left room for expansion when pregnant.  Also, slits in the sides allowed our lady to reach into her pockets.
      A “cape” or neckerchief was worn around the neck.  This was more like a large scarf tied in front.  This was worn for modesty and to protect against sunburn.
      Over the petticoats went the gown or a short-gown (like a shirt).  Some gowns were open in the front, showing off the petticoats beneath.
      All these clothes were tied on either with sashes like on an apron or with laces.  There were no buttons or zippers.  Some women held their jackets or gowns closed with straight pins. 
      Aprons might be worn as well, to protect the skirt and served for carrying, as a towel or a hotpad.
      In addition, women wore woolen stockings and shoes. They wore mopcaps, white caps that covered their hair and kept it “clean” – sometimes these were lacy and sometimes very plain.  On top of the mop caps, ladies sometimes wore silk or straw bonnets. 
If you have time, here’s a wonderful video that shows our Colonial lady puts on her layers of clothes.  It is followed by dressing her husband.

 

Preparing the way for us

Because, sometimes, others say it better than I ever could.

I am reading a book, written in 1868, giving the history of Lexington from it’s very beginnings.  Just prior to this passage, Hudson was describing the way the Puritans handled strangers that came to town with no means of support.  This, I thought, was both poetic and so very relevant, even now.

"We may smile at the follies of the past, and think our fathers inhuman and illiterate, but we should remember the spirit of the age; and, when we compare them with the mass of the people at that time on the Eastern continent, we shall find them in advance of the age in which they lived; and I fear that if they were compared with the present generation, and all things taken into the account, we should find no great cause for self-exaltation. 

If we should point to our public charities, as evidence of our moral advance, I fear they might safely confront us with their patient industry, their prudent economy, and strict integrity.  If we should change them with being too strict in the observance of religious rites, they might with equal justice charge us with being too lax; if they believed too much, we believe too little; if they were to rigid, we are too pliant; if they were inclined to ascribe ordinary events to the imeediate hand of God, many at the present day are inclined to ascribe all events to the laws of brute matter, and thereby exclude god from the universe.  If they had their ghosts and hobgoblins, we have our spiritual rappings; and if they had those among them who held intercourse with familiar spirits who would lie and deceive, we have mediums who hold communication with spirits in the "lower circles," who play "tricks upon travelers," and sport with the credulity of the people.

Our faults and infirmities may assume different forms from those of our forefathers, but for downright folly and extravagance, for the neglect of privileges and opportunities, I fear that in the eye of Infinite Wisdom we shall appear nearly on a level with them.  They were imperfect, and we lack perfection.  Appetites and passions, lusts for wealth and dominion, exist in every age.  Our forefathers were not free from them. . .

But comparisons being generally odious and unprofitable, true wisdom requires us to improve the present, rather than censure the past; and if we have arisen above the follies of our fathers, it is because they, as pioneers, prepared the way for us, and so enabled us to stand on vantage ground."

 

HISTORY OF THE TOWN OF LEXINGTON, MIDDLESEX COUNTY, FROM ITS FIRST SETTLEMENT TO 1868.  by Charles Hudson