Robert Munroe – Part 2

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


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.

Robert Munroe – Part 1

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


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.

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."





Puritan Weddings

WeddingMy first book in the Revive 1775 series will revolve around a wedding. I don’t want to give anything away at the moment but what I’ve found out about Puritans and their wedding rituals surprised me and changed things in the plan for the book.

When we 21st-Century Americans think about weddings, we have so many preconceived notions.  I’m no different.  I think about flowers and rings, the minister, the church, the wedding cake.  Then there’s the wedding party.  The bride and groom of course.  But the father of the bride giving her away.  The maid of honor.  The best man. But what I’m finding is that the Puritan wedding didn’t look like that.

The Puritans, if you remember, broke away from the Church of England.  One of the sticking points was the wedding.  Who knew?  Puritans believed that marriage was a civil contract.  Weddings, as such, were performed by the magistrate, who asked each party if they wanted to enter the contract.  If both answered in the affirmative, the deal was done.  This "ceremony" was carried out at the house and there was a modest meal served.  Nothing elaborate.  These were Puritans, remember.

The engagement actually did involve the church though.  When the engagement was announced, it was done so in church and the Rector would give a special sermon of the bride’s choosing.  Then, in the weeks preceeding the marriage contract, the bans were published.  The bans were basically a "if you know any reason" type document announcing the upcoming contract and was published on the church door.  It had to be done three weeks in a row. As I do more research, I’ll share other interesting tid-bits here with you all.  I know a few bits already that you’ll find surprising.