Local Heroes of the American Revolution
By Robert Barboza/Special Writer
Posted Jul 12, 2015 at 12:35 PM
In the earliest days of the American Revolution, Middleborough men were among the first to volunteer to join the fight against the British. Members of the local militia immediately responded to the “Lexington Alarm” on April 19, 1775 – as the British raid on colonial military stores at Lexington and Concord was called at the outbreak of the war – but were not among the Minutemen who chased the Redcoats back to Boston on that fateful day.
The local militia did eventually join the rebel army that surrounded the city and kept British army penned up there for more than a year, but never actually made it to Boston in the days that followed the outbreak of hostilities.
Instead, on April 19, the Middleborough militiamen, led by Captain Abial Peirce, had been directed to march to Marshfield to help other patriot forces attack the Loyalist militia stronghold at the farm of Tory leader Nathaniel Ray Thomas, where British soldiers had been stationed for months.
Here is the story of the men who marched out of Middleborough on the first day of the American Revolution, and their assignment to fight the Redcoats posted in the “Tory town” of Marshfield, 30 miles south of Boston... and some other notes on distinguished Middleborough men who served their country throughout the American War for Independence from Great Britain.
Captain Peirce was already a well-tested veteran of the Middleborough militia when the American Revolution began, having served with distinction in Massachusetts General John Winslow’s 1755 expedition to drive French Arcadians from Nova Scotia during the last of the so-called French & Indian Wars fought in America. He was the leader of the Middleborough minuteman company... those patriot militiamen who volunteered to assemble on “a minute’s notice” to do battle with Redcoats whenever they were called to duty; only 25 to 30 percent of local militia members were typically designated “Minutemen” in the days leading up to the war.
Peirce had served
with the local militia units helping British Army regulars in the 1759 English
attack on Quebec, serving on the staff of General James Wolfe. Local histories
indicate Peirce was by Wolfe’s side when the British general was killed in the
battle to capture the French-held city. Captain Benjamin Pratt commanded the
Middleboro company of 80 men taking part in the campaign, and Captain Samuel
Thatcher was in charge of a second “partial” company of local militiamen that
also marched with the British army to attack Canada.
In April 1775,
Peirce was serving as captain of the Minutemen troop in the Middleborough
militia’s Second Company when word came of the British attack on Lexington and
Concord. The unit’s pre-arranged assignment from rebel leaders was to join
other militiamen headed to the Thomas farm, where British General Thomas Gage
had dispatched 100 members of the Queen’s Guard regiment to protect the
Loyalist camp set up there.
General Gage had
also sent 300 muskets and a store of powder and ammunition to Thomas’
homestead in Marshfield, to arm a Loyalist militia force of 300 men called the
“Associated Loyalists” that had been training there for some months. It was
the first Loyalist militia unit set up in the months before the long-expected
conflict broke out, aimed at countering the increasingly-frequent trouble the
region’s Sons of Liberty had been undertaking.
The local patriot
militia unit had already clashed once with the Redcoats stationed at the
Thomas farm... a strong Queen’s Guard patrol out on “keep the peace” duty came
across a patriot troop not far from the farm in early February, and disarmed
the pro-liberty militiamen at gunpoint. Tensions escalated in the days after a
February 14, 1775 town meeting dominated by “patriotic” citizens had voted to
enthusiastically support the cause of American liberty, when a British officer
stationed at the farm was surrounded by a mob in town that took his sword and
broke it into pieces.
The Middleborough men dispatched to Marshfield on April 19 camped there overnight, and the following day, marched with a force of 500 rebel militiamen to attack the Redcoats and Loyalists at the Thomas farm. Of course, Tory supporters had warned the British that the local patriots were gathering for the fight, and Gage had dispatched two Royal Navy sloops to rescue the Queen’s Guard detachment.
By the time the patriot soldiers arrived, the outnumbered Redcoats had fled the farm on a flotilla of small boats sent out from the two sloops. The local Loyalists never turned out, and the rebels seized some arms and powder, but never fired a shot. Having no one to fight, the Middleborough men returned home by the end of the day.
The whole affair was a virtual replay of a similar raid on the Assonet farm of another Loyalist leader who had been training pro-Tory citizen soldiers to counter the increasing number of pro-patriot militia companies throughout the state.
THE FREETOWN SKIRMISH
Many colonists remained loyal to the Crown in the months leading up to the start of the war. In fact, the American Revolution almost began two weeks before the attack on Lexington and Concord, in our own little corner of southeastern Massachusetts. An April 1, 1775 article in The Providence Gazette reports that Loyalists in the mainly pro-British Assonet Village, only a short distance from Middleborough, were also taking up arms to defend their homesteads and to support the Crown with the blessing of British army authorities.
“We hear a Number of Fire Arms, with a Quantity of Ammunition, have been sent from on board a Man of War at Newport, to Col. Thomas Gilbert, and his Tory-Adherents, at Freetown,” the news report said. Col. Gilbert, a colonial officer who had also served in the French & Indian War, had been asked to raise a Loyalist militia force, and set up an armed camp at his Assonet plantation.
While the Tory recruits were being drilled, Col. Gilbert heard rumors of a potential attack by the local Sons of Liberty, and had traveled to Newport, Rhode Island to beg a detachment of British army regulars to help defend the Tory outpost. The troops never came, and local patriot Committees of Safety debated the threat, and then called out their Minutemen to disarm the Loyalists.
Attleboro patriot John Daggett was the primary organizer of an attacking force, initially composed of his “Rehoboth” militia company, which marched on Assonet two weeks before the Lexington and Concord raid. Dispatches sent out to other Committees of Safety resulted in hundreds of other Minutemen, including detachments from Dartmouth and Middleborough, marching on Freetown and joining Daggett’s troops for the assault.
Ten days later, patriot diarist Dr. Ezra Stiles of Newport recorded the demise of the local Loyalist “uprising” in his April 11, 1775 diary entry: “Above a thousand men assembled in arms in Freetown to lay Col. Gilbert as they had heard he had risen up against his country. They came from all parts round as far as Middleboro’ Rochester etc – they took about 30 of his men and disarmed them, tho’ they had lately taken the King’s Arms.”
Another report indicates that Col. Gilbert himself and a handful of his men had escaped by small boat, rowing downriver and taking refuge on the British warship Rose, which had recently delivered the arms and powder to the Loyalist camp. While the colonel was away, the rebel militiamen seized 35 muskets, several large flasks of powder, and a basket of musket balls, it was reported. Twenty-nine Loyalist prisoners captured that day were sent to Taunton and Providence jails to be locked up, and another 20 escaped, according to reports published in The London Chronicle on June 15-17, 1775.
A British Army deserter who was helping to train patriot militiamen in the neighborhood, recently captured by Gilbert’s men, was also freed by the rebel forces, Dr. Stiles notes in his April 14, 1775 diary entry. Other news reports of the time indicated that Col. Gilbert’s brother Samuel was injured in the confrontation, and among those taken into custody by the patriots; Col. Gilbert returned a few days later, riding to Taunton and convincing the rebels to release his brother, son-in-law and several other prisoners. The Gilberts eventually fled to Boston to seek protection from the British forces occupying the city.
SERVICE THROUGHOUT THE WAR
Middleborough’s militiamen continued to serve both locally on coastal defense assignments in nearby towns and in Rhode Island throughout the eight-year war– or as part of the Continental Army units raised in Massachusetts. Those who enlisted in county or state regiments for Continental Army service took part in virtually every major battle and campaign of the war, and earned reputations as good soldiers wherever they served.
Local men fought in the Northern Army defending the upper New York territory against British forces, as well as serving with General Benedict Arnold at and around West Point. Middleborough men also crossed the Delaware in boats with General Washington for the successful defeat of Hessian troops at Trenton, New Jersey on Christmas night, in 1776; and helped win the first major American victory of the war at Saratoga, New York, in the fall of 1777. More local men serving with Massachusetts regiments spent the awful winter of 1776-77 with Washington at Valley Forge.
In November, 1776, with General George Washington now in command of the new “Continental Army” surrounding Boston, Captain Peirce helped raise a new regional militia company to join the patriot army. The Middleborough troops and fellow recruits from Bridgewater, Wareham and Abington were assigned to Colonel Nicholas Dike’s infantry regiment, and served as part of the siege army that kept the British contained in Boston.
Serving the Middleborough company as non-commissioned officers were Sergeant Josiah Harlow and Corporal James Peirce; 22 Middleboro men were also enlisted in the Plymouth County company commanded by Peirce, totaling 69 men.
According to Thomas Weston’s 1906 History, Captain Nathaniel Wood of Middleborough helped form up and command another county militia company to serve in Col. Simeon Carey’s regiment in the Continental Army that spring. That company was assigned to duty in Roxbury, with an April 1, 1776 muster list containing 81 names, including Job Pierce and Joseph Tupperas lieutenants, and Jesse Vaughan as ensign. The non-commissioned officers were sergeants Caleb Bryant, Andrew McCully, Joseph Holmes and William Bennett; Benjamin Reed, Josiah Jones, John Sampson, and Nathaniel Sampson served as corporals. Sylvanus Raymond was the company drummer and Daniel White served as fifer.
ONE MAN’S SERVICE
The service of militia veteran Samuel Eddy Sr. of Middleborough gives a good indication of the varied terms of service for local militiamen. Eddy was originally listed as a corporal in Captain Peirce’s Second Middleborough Company for the two-day assignment in Marshfield; the following spring, in 1776, he is credited with 84 days service with a detachment of Middleborough men serving a three-month term with the company commanded by Captain Joshua Eddy in Colonel Bradford’s 12th Massachusetts Regiment in the Continental Army.
Muster rolls list his service in the Continental Army again, starting a three-year enlistment on Feb. 1, 1777, and report his service through May 25, 1777, at the siege of Boston. In the spring of 1778, Eddy is listed at age 34 in Muster Master Elisha Paddock’s county muster rolls as part of Capt. Nathaniel Wood’s company of Col. Sproat’s Fourth Plymouth County Regiment; and as a sergeant in that company in pay records detailing the company’s service in July 1778 at White Plains, New York.
Later, Eddy is ranked as sergeant major of Captain Zebedee Redding’s Company in Col. Bradford’s Regiment in a payroll record dated December, 1778; and with the Seventh Company of Col. Bradford’s Regiment from January 1 to February 10, 1780 in the Northern Army serving in New York.
Captain Amos Washburn was the lieutenant of the First Middleborough Company of Infantry which was sent to Boston in late April 1775. He later served as first lieutenant in Capt. Abial Pierce’s Second Middleborough Company in January of 1776, when the unit joined Colonel J. Ward’s Regiment; he was promoted to captain of the Thirteenth Company of the Fourth Plymouth County Regiment in May, 1776, serving under Colonel Ebenezer Sproat.
Parts of the Fourth Plymouth County Regiment were called out in early December of 1776 for the British occupation of Newport, Rhode Island, and served 12 days defending the mainland from possible further enemy attacks, called “alarms” by the patriots.
DARTMOUTH & RI ALARMS
Captain Washburn was commanding Middleborough’s Seventh Company, based in present-day Lakeville, when it was called out for 25 days’ service for another threat to the mainland of Rhode Island and western Massachusetts in June and July 1778.
Washburn stayed with the Seventh Company in Col. Sproat’s county regiment until August, 1780; Weston’s history notes he was in command in early September, 1778, when the company marched to New Bedford to help repulse the British attack on that part of Old Dartmouth then known as Bedford Village. They were stationed there for six days before returning home. Washburn was discharged from county service in 1780, returning to his civilian life as an innkeeper. He died in 1794, and is buried in Thompson Hill Cemetery in Lakeville.
Weston’s history also reports that the First Middleborough Company of Infantry was mustered for duty on the “Rhode Island Alarm” of December, 1776. The officers in charge are listed as First Lieutenant Jonah Washburn and Second Lieutenant James Smith; Sergeants Joseph Smith, Francis Thompson, Caleb Bryant, Isaac Thomas, and Jacob Thomas were the non-commissioned officers, along with Corporals Ebenezer Pratt, Benjamin Cobb, Ebenezer Vaughan, and Nathaniel Wood. The company musicians were Sylvanus Raymond, drummer, and Francis Bent, fifer.
Perhaps it was a scarcity of ready manpower that had a pair of mere lieutenants commanding a “company” with only 44 enlisted men on its muster roll; perhaps the list includes only those Minutemen who were dispatched to the urgent call for aid to counter the sudden threat of a British attack on the mainland.
For the record, the privates of the short-staffed First Company detachment sent to the 1776 Rhode Island alarm were Samuel Smith, Ichabod Cushman, Ebenezer Cobb, Robert Cushman, Jacob Thompson, Samuel Torrey, Silas Tinkham, Jonathan Porter, William Thompson, Thomas Foster, John McFarlin, Jesse Vaughan, Isaac Soule, Sylvanus Harlow, Nathan Darling, Thomas Ellis, Jacob Soule, Charles Ellis, Jr., Abiel Leach, Samuel Eddy, Jr., Ebenezer Bennett, Ebenezer Briggs, John Cobb, Joseph Briggs, Zenas Cushman, Daniel Ellis, Luther Redding, Willard Thomas, Nathaniel Billington, Samuel Snow, Samuel Raymond, John Redding, John Raymond, James Tinkham, John Soule, James Soule, Ephraim Thomas, Elkanah Bennett, Jacob Miller, Solomon Thomas, Daniel Thomas, Noah Thomas, Joseph Cushman, and Ephraim Wood.
Apparently, the threat of Redcoat incursions on the Rhode Island and South Coast mainland was constant throughout the war, as service records show the Seventh Company again called to Rhode Island for defensive service on an August 1, 1780 alarm. They were stationed there for nine days before being dismissed. Colonel Ebenezer White had assumed command of the regiment by that point. Other Middleborough units had varied local “coastal defense” assignments during the war, according to the pay records of local units.
Whenever called to duty – locally or outside Massachusetts— the Middleborough Minutemen and other militia members always answered the call, serving with distinction throughout the American Revolution.
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Paul Revere’s Ride
by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow
my children, and you shall hear
Of the midnight ride of Paul Revere,
On the eighteenth of April, in Seventy-five;
Hardly a man is now alive
Who remembers that famous day and year.
said to his friend, “If the British march
By land or sea from the town to-night,
Hang a lantern aloft in the belfry arch
Of the North Church tower as a signal light,—
One, if by land, and two, if by sea;
And I on the opposite shore will be,
Ready to ride and spread the alarm
Through every Middlesex village and farm,
For the country-folk to be up and to arm.”
he said, “Good night!” and with muffled oar
Silently rowed to the Charlestown shore,
Just as the moon rose over the bay,
Where swinging wide at her moorings lay
The Somerset, British man-of-war;
A phantom ship, with each mast and spar
Across the moon like a prison bar,
And a huge black hulk, that was magnified
By its own reflection in the tide.
his friend, through alley and street,
Wanders and watches with eager ears,
Till in the silence around him he hears
The muster of men at the barrack door,
The sound of arms, and the tramp of feet,
And the measured tread of the grenadiers,
Marching down to their boats on the shore.
he climbed the tower of the Old North Church,
By the wooden stairs, with stealthy tread,
To the belfry-chamber overhead,
And startled the pigeons from their perch
On the sombre rafters, that round him made
Masses and moving shapes of shade,—
By the trembling ladder, steep and tall,
To the highest window in the wall,
Where he paused to listen and look down
A moment on the roofs of the town,
And the moonlight flowing over all.
in the churchyard, lay the dead,
In their night-encampment on the hill,
Wrapped in silence so deep and still
That he could hear, like a sentinel’s tread,
The watchful night-wind, as it went
Creeping along from tent to tent,
And seeming to whisper, “All is well!”
A moment only he feels the spell
Of the place and the hour, and the secret dread
Of the lonely belfry and the dead;
For suddenly all his thoughts are bent
On a shadowy something far away,
Where the river widens to meet the bay,—
A line of black that bends and floats
On the rising tide, like a bridge of boats.
impatient to mount and ride,
Booted and spurred, with a heavy stride
On the opposite shore walked Paul Revere.
Now he patted his horse’s side,
Now gazed at the landscape far and near,
Then, impetuous, stamped the earth,
And turned and tightened his saddle-girth;
But mostly he watched with eager search
The belfry-tower of the Old North Church,
As it rose above the graves on the hill,
Lonely and spectral and sombre and still.
And lo ! as he looks, on the belfry’s height
A glimmer, and then a gleam of light!
He springs to the saddle, the bridle he turns,
But lingers and gazes, till full on his sight
A second lamp in the belfry burns!
A hurry of hoofs in a village street,
A shape in the moonlight, a bulk in the dark,
And beneath, from the pebbles, in passing, a spark
Struck out by a steed flying fearless and fleet:
That was all! And yet, through the gloom and the light,
The fate of a nation was riding that night;
And the spark struck out by that steed, in his flight,
Kindled the land into flame with its heat.
He has left the village and mounted the steep,
And beneath him, tranquil and broad and deep,
Is the Mystic, meeting the ocean tides;
And under the alders, that skirt its edge,
Now soft on the sand, now loud on the ledge,
Is heard the tramp of his steed as he rides.
It was twelve by the village clock
When he crossed the bridge into Medford town.
He heard the crowing of the cock,
And the barking of the farmer’s dog,
And felt the damp of the river fog,
That rises after the sun goes down.
It was one by the village clock,
When he galloped into Lexington.
He saw the gilded weathercock
Swim in the moonlight as he passed,
And the meeting-house windows, blank and bare,
Gaze at him with a spectral glare,
As if they already stood aghast
At the bloody work they would look upon.
was two by the village clock,
When he came to the bridge in Concord town.
He heard the bleating of the flock,
And the twitter of birds among the trees,
And felt the breath of the morning breeze
Blowing over the meadows brown.
And one was safe and asleep in his bed
Who at the bridge would be first to fall,
Who that day would be lying dead,
Pierced by a British musket-ball.
You know the rest. In the books you have read,
How the British Regulars fired and fled,—
How the farmers gave them ball for ball,
From behind each fence and farm-yard wall,
Chasing the red-coats down the lane,
Then crossing the fields to emerge again
Under the trees at the turn of the road,
And only pausing to fire and load.
So through the night rode Paul Revere;
And so through the night went his cry of alarm
To every Middlesex village and farm,—
A cry of defiance and not of fear,
A voice in the darkness, a knock at the door,
And a word that shall echo forevermore!
For, borne on the night-wind of the Past,
Through all our history, to the last,
In the hour of darkness and peril and need,
The people will waken and listen to hear
The hurrying hoof-beats of that steed,
And the midnight message of Paul Revere.