A Stated Meeting of the Society was held, at the invitation of Mr. Henry Herbert Edes, at No. 62 Buckingham Street, Cambridge, on Wednesday, 27 April, 1921, at eight o’clock in the evening, the President, Fred Norris Robinson, Ph.D., in the chair.
The Records of the last Stated Meeting were read and approved.
The President appointed the following Committees in anticipation of the Annual Meeting:
To nominate candidates for the several offices, — Messrs. M. A. De Wolfe Howe, Morris Gray, and Percival Merritt.
To examine the Treasurer’s Accounts, — Messrs. John Eliot Thayer and John Lowell.
Mr. William Bradford Homer Dowse of Sherborn was elected a Resident Member.
Mr. Harold Murdock read the following paper:
The Battle of the 19th of April, 1775, may be divided into three distinct periods. The first has to do with the night march of Colonel Smith’s detachment of Grenadiers and Light Infantry and culminates at daybreak on Lexington Common, where the troops in pursuance of orders to surround and disarm the fleeing minutemen delivered an unauthorized and fatal fire. The second period carries us to Concord and back to Lexington and includes the skirmish at the North Bridge, the destruction of military stores in the village, Captain Parsons’ march and safe return from the house of Colonel Barrett, and the beginning of the running fight so stoutly maintained throughout the afternoon by the fast gathering minutemen. The third and last period concerns Earl Percy, his arrival at Lexington with the First Brigade, his rescue of Smith’s demoralized command at that place, and his conduct of the return march to Boston. It is this final phase of the battle that we are to review.
It was nearly half-past two in the afternoon when Smith’s detachment re-entered Lexington on its return from Concord. As the harried soldiery streamed confusedly into the village they were held to a semblance of military order only by the desperate exertions of the officers. All faith had been lost in the oft-repeated assurance that reinforcements were on their way from Boston. The men were worn down with heat and fatigue, and their ammunition was shot away. With only their bayonets to depend upon, with the bullets of unseen enemies stinging them to death, it was only a question of time, of minutes rather than hours, until a surrender or general disintegration must have occurred. Smith had just received a painful wound and we must assume that Pitcairn had taken over the active command. I fancy that I can see the Major here and there in the midst of this confusion, active and resourceful always, a buoyant influence despite the forebodings that chill his heart—among the wounded and faint-hearted full of bluff courage and cheer, but where panic or insubordination threaten, cursing with a fervor that tends to relegate his exploits of the morning to the level of a tame rehearsal. Now he sees again, close at hand, the meeting-house of the Rev. Jonas Clark, and hears the first glad shout, then the wild cheer from a hundred throats, a cheer that in a moment is rolling all up and down the stricken column. As the air throbs with the glad tumult, the word passes from mouth to mouth that help is close at hand. Weariness and wounds are for the moment forgotten. The hostile fire drops to a mere patter like the passing of a summer shower.509 The gathering stillness oppresses strangely and once again there is heard the tread of marching feet, the creaking of belts, and the rattle of side arms. Then the Major sees through haggard and bloodshot eyes the cause both of the tumult and the stillness, a scarlet line that stretches its imposing length along the rising land in front, hardly a quarter of a mile away. All silent and immovable it stands, glittering and sparkling in the sun, the battle line of the First Brigade.
Engraved for The Colonial Society of Massachusetts from a portrait in the Cary Memorial Library, Lexington
The casual observer who visits Lexington to-day might carry away the idea that Percy was the presiding genius of the place. While he made but one visit to the town and that of a flying nature, he has always been numbered as among its distinguished guests. He received a warm, if not a cordial, reception, and if he did not endear himself to the townsfolk of the time, he might have pleaded in defence that when in Rome he did as the Romans did. The old Munroe Tavern has on quite insufficient grounds been christened “Earl Percy’s Headquarters,” and the renovated rooms of the ancient hostelry contain, among other battle relics, prints and documents that have to do with him. The pleasant road winding up the slope behind the tavern now bears his name, a gun site chosen by his artillerymen is marked by a rude imitation of a cannon carved from solid rock, while in the Cary Library hangs his portrait in oil, a gift to the town from a modern Duke of Northumberland. There is far more in Lexington suggestive of Percy than of Captain Parker. The bronze effigy of the Minute Man gazing steadfastly down the old Boston road idealizes the spirit of Parker’s command, but in no sense portrays the visage of Parker himself. On the Common cut in stone are certain words attributed to Parker which we may hope, nay believe, that he never uttered. These are almost the only reminders of the Lexington Captain that confront the tripper on his hasty rounds. I would not convey the impression that Lexington has proved recreant to its Revolutionary traditions or that it has turned to the worship of false idols. At a town meeting called a few years ago to consider the naming of “Percy Road,” the spirit of 1775 blazed forth in unmistakable fervor. That there was a contest proved that the citizens were keenly alive to their historic inheritance, while the final result reflected great credit upon their sportsmanship and common sense.
Let us now try to imagine ourselves as standing in old Lexington on that bright April afternoon one hundred and forty-six years ago. I will ask you to believe that the First Brigade has been for more than five hours on the march, that the precocious lad in Roxbury has discharged with credit his declamation of the suggestive lines from the Ballad of Chevy Chase, that the absent-minded tutor in Harvard Square has directed Percy along the right road and become one of the most innocent of offenders, that Percy has held his informing interview with the wounded Gould as he reclined in his chaise, and that now, at half-past two in the afternoon, the whole brigade stands drawn up in line of battle on the high ground east of Lexington as we saw it a moment ago.510
We should also refresh our memories as to certain well-known facts; namely, that the Brigade came out in response to Smith’s early warning that the country was aroused, that there was a delay in starting because of a staff blunder thoroughly characteristic of the military annals of the Anglo-Saxon race,511 that the long road through Roxbury was followed because all boats for river transportation were still moored on the Cambridge side of the Charles to await Smith’s return, that the Brigade was made up of the 4th, 23rd, and 47th Regiments of Foot, the First Battalion of Marines, and a detachment of the Royal Artillery, and that the total strength of the command was something less than one thousand men. In considering Earl Percy’s activities let us first review briefly his military conduct in the handling of a difficult problem, and then consider with more care the charges of brutality and vandalism that have been levelled against him. Perhaps at the outset it will be well to glance at the fourth print of Doolittle’s well-known series, entitled “A View of the South Part of Lexington.” This portrays the meeting of Smith and Percy near the junction of the Boston and Woburn roads. The provincials appear in the foreground huddled behind the walls that line the last named thoroughfare. The Brigade is still in route formation facing the Common, while its flank guards are seen at work clearing up the hillsides. A field-piece is just going into action and Smith’s jaded column can be seen in the background moving off by their right flank to gain the rear of the brigade. The British soldiers appear more like birds than men and one’s first thought is that Doolittle has attempted a sinister caricature in portraying them as birds of prey. You will note, however, that the minute-men in the plate present the same aspect and that the phenomenon is all traceable to Doolittle’s faulty conception of the cut of a military coat. From which we may infer that if Doolittle was a bad engraver he would have been a greater failure as a tailor. With a magnifying glass we can make out Percy and Smith on horseback in close consultation. That they appear like scarlet vultures does not detract from the value or realism of the view. But the really dominant features in Doolittle’s engraving are the smoke and flames that hang in rigid petrified masses above three burning houses. It has been asserted that the greatest British devastation in Lexington was wrought almost in Percy’s presence and Doolittle’s print supplies powerful support to the charge.
The work of Doolittle in his series of Lexington prints is invaluable for its portrayal of local topography and for the record it gives of the current idea of the provincial dispositions and activities. On the other hand, his conception of British alignments must in the nature of things be less dependable. It is doubtful if Smith with a ball in his leg was able to sit his horse while he conferred with Percy as indicated in the print. To represent the Brigade as moving along the road in column of twos at this juncture is of course wholly inaccurate. We know on the clearest evidence that at the time the Grenadiers and Light Infantry were passing through Lexington village, Percy had formed in line of battle and was swinging his six-pounders into position. It is probable, however, that, as depicted in the print, Smith did move by his right flank, passing through or around Percy’s left to safety and shelter.
Percy had never imagined such a situation as he found at Lexington. He possessed military experience; he had served under Ferdinand of Brunswick, had fought at Minden, and was well versed in military science as it was then practised on the Continent. But now he found himself for the first time in a supreme command, facing a problem that was unique and bewildering, one for which European military formulas afforded no satisfactory solution. Had he been in telephonic communication with Boston he might have been weak enough to have called up General Gage and sought counsel from that timid and anxious man. Lacking this facility, he had to rely upon his military instinct and resourcefulness. He knew that the aim of his adversaries was to destroy or capture his command and that his plain duty was to conduct that command safely to Boston with the minimum of loss. He was unrestrained by any of those political considerations that benumbed the royal commanders in the later years of the Revolution. He believed that war had begun and that not only was he powerless to avert the shedding of blood, but that the safety of his men would require the infliction of the maximum of damage upon his foe. In this conviction he girded his loins and hardened his heart for the task before him. There can be no doubt that he listened to Smith’s story and probably to Pitcairn’s and Bernard’s as well. We know what he learned as well as if he had recorded it in black and white for the benefit of posterity. The troops had marched from Concord under an incessant fire from unseen enemies concealed in houses and behind walls. Houses apparently deserted had been found by the rear guard to be full of armed enemies. The Americans had reverted to the methods of Indian warfare, not omitting — so it was alleged — the scalping of the wounded.512
The first necessity of the case was to secure for Smith’s shattered detachment some brief opportunity to recuperate from the fatigue and strain of twelve hours’ rough campaigning. So, ordering Bernard and Pitcairn to look well to their men and to care for the wounded at Munroe’s Tavern, Percy proceeded to clear away a zone that should be free from rebel musketry. His orders received prompt and ready obedience. Strong flank guards clambered along the slopes above the road, the field-pieces began to bark, and a round shot went crashing and splintering through the meeting-house of the Rev. Jonas Clark. There has been a persistent effort to include this shot in the list of Percy’s barbarities. The Rev. Abel Muzzey in 1877, in recording his boyish memories of the aged men who had stood with Parker at Lexington, refers to this event as an “act of desecration”513 and quotes from the anniversary sermon of the Rev. Isaac Morrill preached at Lexington in 1780, wherein he also emphasizes the impiety of the deed.514 Inasmuch, however, as British witnesses record a provincial concentration within the shadow of the sacred edifice,515 as we know that the place was used for the storage of the town supply of powder, and that no less a person than Colonel Baldwin of Woburn was narrowly missed by the flying ball, I think we are warranted in including this achievement of the Royal Artillery as among the justifiable acts of war.
“Houses and walls” — how many times had these words been dinned into Percy’s ears during the scant sixty minutes of his halt! They were doubtless in his mind when his glance fell upon Deacon Loring’s buildings and his well-laid stone walls. Perhaps the windows raked the road at too advantageous an angle; perhaps the structures interfered with the range of his artillery; at all events, it is certain that the walls offered tempting cover for a hostile force. So the command was given and Deacon Loring’s buildings went up in flames and two hundred rods of his stone wall came down in dust. Two other dwellings were also fired, and Percy sat his white charger watching the operations of flank guards, artillery, and uniformed incendiaries and grimly approved it all.
It has been customary to ascribe these acts to the revengeful vandalism of a frenzied and humiliated soldiery and to allege that by condoning such outrages Percy made himself an accessory after the fact. But surely it is a more sensible theory to assume that the damage was wrought by Percy’s express command as a necessary measure of protection for his men. We must remember that the Brigade still stood in battle line, that straggling under such conditions was well-nigh impossible, and that there is not the slightest reason to suppose that these men were infected with any fury or that they were not under perfect control. The Grenadiers and Light Infantry had gone to the rear, and must have been concentrated in the vicinity of the tavern. I am very strongly of the opinion that being in close proximity to Landlord Munroe’s bar, they were giving their officers a thoroughly bad quarter of an hour. It is evident that the burning of houses and the destruction of walls were simultaneous parts of an orderly military operation. Smith’s soldiers, described by Stedman as so exhausted that they lay on the ground, “their tongues hanging out of their mouths, like those of dogs after a chase,”516 could certainly be trusted not to bestir themselves against stone walls; nor is it more reasonable to assume that the men of the Brigade after a forced march of sixteen miles, with the knowledge that there were many more to go, would have entered upon any such athletic enterprise except by imperative order. You may demur at this theory and question my decision to regard the destruction wrought by the troops during the halt in Lexington as justifiable military acts, but surely any theory is more reasonable than that on the very threshold of a most difficult enterprise Percy should have been willing to adopt or abet any course of action detrimental to the discipline and control of his troops. If on the other side of Styx, Percy has been permitted to commune with the shades of Deacon Loring and the Widow Mulliken, I am sure that it required but a few words from him upon military practice, and the nature of his problem, to convince them that the destruction of their property was not wanton, but necessitated by certain grave responsibilities that rested upon him as a soldier.
Active along the line of the Brigade and busier still in the confusion down by the tavern are certain young officers with whom generations of American historians have had a long but by no means cordial acquaintance. We are reviewing an old familiar episode of our local history that for nearly a century and a half has inspired all sorts of publications and all sorts of enthusiasm and oratory. If my version proves out of harmony with generally accepted tradition, it is due in part to what I have learned from these youthful soldiers of the King. I set small store by a British official report and treat it with the same caution that I exercise toward a provincial affidavit supplied on rush order from the local Congress at Watertown. But these officers kept diaries, they wrote good manly letters home, they recorded defeat without peevishness, and their criticism was directed as much at their own service as at their foe. They cannot all have known one another, there is no taint of collusion in what they have to say. I do not think we can hope to understand what happened on the road to Charlestown Common if we continue to slight their evidence merely because we dislike the uniform they wear.
Lieutenant Mackenzie of the Royal Welsh Fusileers seems to have carried a watch on the 19th of April and I think that we may, as he did, place some dependence upon it. At 2 o’clock the Brigade came within sound of the firing. At 2.30, “being near the Church at Lexington,”517 they formed in line of battle. At 3.15 the Fusileers then holding the left of the line received orders to form the rear guard. In Mackenzie’s words, “We immediately lined the walls and other cover in our front with some marksmen, and retired from the right of Companies by files to the high ground a small distance in our rear, where we again formed in line.”518 Here they remained “for near half an hour,” partially hidden doubtless by the smoke screen of the burning houses. It must have been close to 4 o’clock before they had disappeared down the road beyond the Munroe Tavern, and Earl Percy had made his parting bow to hosts who were glad to have him go.
As we examine the British evidence it becomes clear that it was not until the arrival of Percy that the officers were conscious of any dominating leadership. Percy is a conspicuous figure in their narratives and commands unmistakably their confidence and respect. There is no attempt on the part of these officers to minimize the desperate condition of Smith’s detachment, and on the other hand there is not a shred of evidence to indicate that they felt the slightest anxiety or solicitude for the safety of the column after Percy took command. Washington on receipt of the first accounts of the action declared that “if the retreat had not been as precipitate as it was, and God knows it could not well have been more so, the ministerial troops must have surrendered, or been totally cut off;”519 but we find little trace of any such apprehension in British sources. The British officers had the sort of afternoon that tries men’s souls, but I think we may safely conclude that they performed their duties undisturbed by any serious apprehension as to results.520
That the officers at the tavern did their duty well is evidenced by the fact that by half-past three the Grenadiers and Light Infantry were moving off in the van, followed in order by the 4th and 47th Regiments, the Marines, with the Fusileers covering the rear. Mackenzie states that the Marines relieved the Fusileers as rear guard after seven miles had been covered, and that they in turn were relieved by the other regiments. The American fire was reopened shortly after the march began. Until Menotomy was reached, officers who had served with Smith regarded this fire as light, while in the Brigade it was considered as incessant and galling. The flank guards were efficient, and the pressure upon the marching column in the road was materially lessened. Within the area of Menotomy nearly eighteen hundred521 fresh minutemen entered the contest, a force in itself much larger than the effective strength of Percy’s command, and in the long street of the village occurred the heaviest fighting of the day. Here unwary Americans were caught between the flank guards and the marching column and bayoneted or clubbed to death. Fierce hand-to-hand fighting occurred within houses where the bayonets of the British gave them a decided advantage. More than half the American slain for the day fell along this short two miles of road. Here Lieutenant-Colonel Benjamin Bernard of the Fusileers was wounded, and Lieutenant Knight of the King’s Own was killed;522 but when the rear guard had passed the Menotomy River the worst of the fighting was over.
By this time the flank guards were becoming exhausted, but on the other hand the country was more open and afforded less cover for hostile marksmen. Percy notes a concentration in force at North Cambridge that portended a determined attempt to block his retreat.523 This formation was broken up by a single cannon shot, and the action resumed its irregular character. Mackenzie records the presence in the column of “about ten prisoners some of whom were taken in arms. One or two more were killed on the march while prisoners by the fire of their own people.”524 Before this Percy, suspecting the destruction of the bridge near the colleges, had determined to follow the short route to Charlestown. When he wheeled to the left in North Cambridge his officers are unanimous in their praise of the move. “We threw them,” writes Barker with an enthusiasm foreign to him, “and went on to Charles Town without any great interruption.”525 Mackenzie records in his diary that Lord Percy “took the resolution of returning by way of Charlestown, which was the shortest road and which could be defended against any number of Rebels.”526 In a copy of Stedman’s History of the American War, General Clinton made this manuscript note: “gave them [the Americans] every reason to suppose they would retire by the route they came but fell back on C’Town thus securing his retreat unmolested.” Unmolested was too strong a word, but Percy’s move was a shrewd one. It took his enemies by surprise, disarranged their plans, and saved both time and lives.
Charlestown had been thrown into a panic by the news that the Cambridge bridge was up, and that the troops were following the road to the Common. Wild rumors of their atrocities were in the air and everyone who could get away fled the town. The sun set at half-past six. An hour later the troops were on Bunker Hill, and all firing had ceased. Here they halted while Percy negotiated an agreement with the selectmen pledging safety to the persons and property of the townsfolk provided they kept their women within doors, and furnished the soldiers with drink. Shortly after eight o’clock the troops moved down into the village. Boats from the men-of-war were found waiting at the waterside, and the wounded were placed in them and rowed across to Boston. Returning they brought General Pigot and a force of five hundred men to occupy the heights commanding’ the neck. The Marines and Fusileers were ordered into the Town House while the officers gathered at the tavern hard by. Everywhere the cry was for drink, but there was no hint of riot or disorder. Jacob Rogers, who had fled with his family in the afternoon, came down in the early evening from his refuge at the house of “Mr. Townsend, pump-maker in the training field.” Finding all things peaceful he started back for his wife and sisters only to meet them coming quietly up the street escorted by a certain Captain Adams. There is a Pepysian flavor about Rogers’s chronicle: “I . . . found an officer and guard under arms by Mr. David Wood’s, baker who continued, it seems all night; from thence, seeing everything quiet came home, and went to bed.”527 The moon rose shortly after ten and revealed the Somerset man-of-war at her old anchorage where Paul Revere beheld her the night before, and the surface of the harbor dotted with a multitude of slow moving boats. The midnight hour had long since clanged out from Christ Church steeple when the tramp of the war-worn Fusileers returning to their barracks echoed in the silent streets below. Percy was closeted with the governor at the Province House, and Charlestown after its fitful fever of doubt and terror slept well. I am inclined to think that the behavior of the troops in the little village across the river should be mentioned to Percy’s credit as a soldier. He might well have complimented the selectmen on the performance of their part of the agreement, despite that transgression of Mrs. Rogers, her appearance on the street in company with Captain Adams.
That Percy displayed real military ability in his conduct of the retreat from Lexington has never been questioned. Friend and foe found themselves in complete agreement with Lord Drummond’s statement528 to Lord Dartmouth that “a piece of masterly officer-ship” had been performed. He had brought his fifteen hundred men nearly a dozen miles along an exposed fire-swept road, standing his enemy off with such success that according to his own statement he suffered a loss of only about forty killed.529 When we consider the peculiar nature of his problem and that the advantages of numbers, initiative, cover, and choice of ground were always with his adversaries, is it too much to say that we are dealing with one of the brilliant military feats of the American Revolution?
We can hardly dismiss this phase of the subject without some mention of what is known as Percy’s baggage train. American annals teem with details of its progress and fate. It came on far behind the column with a sergeant’s guard of twelve men, and was finally ambushed and captured by a group of armed villagers in Menotomy. Some accounts state that it consisted of two wagons, one loaded with provisions, the other with ammunition. As the legend runs, the guard dispersed upon receiving the provincial fire, which killed two men and several horses. The fugitives fled in the direction of Spy Pond, giving themselves up to old Mother Bathericke, whom they found in a field digging dandelions.530 The details of this surrender were transmitted to England, where they stirred caustic comment in the press and on the floor of the House of Commons. Stripped of this dandelion episode, and certain other improbabilities born of local anniversary oratory, the fact remains that the men of Menotomy did lay violent hands upon some portion of His Majesty’s property. Strangely enough there is no mention of the existence or the loss of these supplies in the British official reports, or in the other British evidence upon which we depend. Mackenzie states that the Brigade went out with a vanguard of fifty men, and a rear guard of as many more, but he says nothing of a train. Had it been officially attached to the column, and gone out in its company as far as the Charles River in Cambridge, surely some of our witnesses should have noted and bewailed its disappearance. We are told that Percy was urged to take out a reserve supply of ball for his six-pounders, but insisted on limiting himself to the capacity of the side boxes. This might be construed as an indication that he had an aversion to baggage on a short forced march. I have wondered whether those mysterious wagons could have been an after-thought of the headquarters in Boston. Gage made up his mind slowly, and his best laid plans were wont to miscarry.531 We now come to the consideration of the charges of vandalism and brutality that have been brought against Percy, and I will ask you to listen to the indictments. This is from the first account sent to England by the provincial authorities:
They pillaged almost every House they passed by, breaking and destroying Doors, Windows, Glasses, etc. and carrying off Cloathing and other valuable Effects. It appeared to be their Design to burn and destroy all before them; and nothing but our vigorous Pursuit prevented their infernal Purposes from being put in Execution. But the savage Barbarity exercised upon the Bodies of our unfortunate Brethren who fell, is almost incredible: Not content with shooting down the unarmed, aged and infirm, they disregarded the Cries of the wounded, killing them without Mercy, and mangling their Bodies in the Most shocking Manner.532
Here is an extract from the sermon of the Rev. Dr. Samuel Langdon, President of Harvard College, preached before the Congress at Watertown on May 31st, 1775:
They acted the part of Robbers and Savages, by burning, plundering and damaging almost every house in their way, to the utmost of their power, murdering the unarmed and helpless, and not regarding the weakness of the tender sex, until they had secured themselves beyond the reach of our terrifying arms.533
Hear what the Rev. Jonas Clark has to say in a sermon preached at Lexington, April 19, 1776:
After they were joined by Piercy’s brigade, in Lexington, it seemed as if all the little remains of humanity had left them; and rage and revenge had taken the reins, and knew no bounds! Cloathing, furniture, provisions, goods, plundered, carried off, or destroyed! Buildings (especially dwelling houses) abused, defaced, battered, shattered and almost ruined! And as if this had not been enough, numbers of them doomed to the flames! . . . . Add to all this; the unarmed, the aged and infirm, who were unable to flee, are inhumanly stabbed and murdered in their habitations! Yea, even women in child-bed, with their helpless babes in their arms, do not escape the horrid alternative, of being either cruelly murdered in their beds, burnt in their habitations, or turned into the streets to perish with cold, nakedness and distress! But I forbear — words are too insignificant to express, the horrid barbarities of that distressing day!534
In the middle of the nineteenth century, Bancroft and Frothing-ham reflected these accusations in a fashion that would have satisfied the earliest prosecutors, and in 1880 the Rev. Charles Hudson, the historian of Lexington, declared before the Massachusetts Historical Society “that we have discovered no general traces of barbarity until the troops became subject to Percy’s command, when a general systern of vandalism prevailed.”535 Since then it has been customary to depict the British commander as devising and practising a brutal method of warfare abhorrent to civilized standards. He is held personally responsible for some half-dozen alleged offences of the troops against non-combatants, all that in nearly a century and a half it has been possible to unearth.
Before reviewing these specific acts, let us consider the broad charge of vandalism and brutality. I will ask you to consider first the nature of the problem with which Percy had to deal and will at the outset submit the evidence of some of the King’s officers whose qualifications as witnesses I have already explained.
Engraved for The Colonial Society of Massachusetts from an original owned by the Lexington Historical Society
They “concealed themselves in houses, & advanced within 10 yds. to fire at me & other officers,” writes Percy in discussing the provincial morale in a private letter to General Harvey.536 “The soldiers shewed great bravery . . . forceing houses from whence came a heavy fire.” This is the entry of Ensign Henry de Berniere of the 10th Regiment in his diary found in Boston after the withdrawal of the British garrison.537 Captain W. Glanville Evelyn of the King’s Own writes to his reverend father in Ireland:
We observed on our march [out] . . . that the houses along the road were all shut up as if deserted, though we afterwards found these houses full of men, and only forsaken by the women and children; having executed our orders, and being on our return to Boston, we were attacked on all sides, from woods and orchards, and stone walls, and from every house on the roadside (and this country is a continued village), so that for fourteen miles we were attacking fresh posts, and under one incessant fire. . . . Whenever we were fired on from houses or barns, our men dashed in, and let very few of those they could find escape.538
Here is what Mackenzie of the Fusileers has to say:
Before the Column had advanced a mile on the road, we were firedon from all quarters, but particularly from the houses on the roadside & the adjacent stone walls. . . . The soldiers were so enraged at suffering from an unseen enemy, that they forced open many of the houses from which the fire proceeded & put to death all those found in them. These houses would certainly have been burnt had any fire beenfound in them, or had there been time to kindle any, . . . Some houses were forced open in which no person could be discovered, but when the Column had passed, numbers sallied out from some place in which they had lain concealed, fired at the rear Guard, and augmented the numbers which followed us. If we had had timeto set fire to these houses many Rebels must have perished in them, . . . Many houses were plundered by the soldiers, not withstanding the efforts of the officers to prevent it. I have no doubt this influenced the Rebels, & many of them followed us further than they would otherwise have done. By all accounts some soldiers who stayed too long in the houses were killed in the very act of plundering by those that lay concealed in them.539
And now comes Barker of the King’s Own, a testy young subaltern of a keenly critical mind. In his diary you read as follows:
We set out upon our return; before the whole had quitted the Town we were fired on from Houses and behind Trees, and before we had gone ½ a mile we were fired on from all sides, but mostly from the Rear, where people had hid themselves in houses till we had passed, and then fired; . . . We were now obliged to force almost every house in the road, for the Rebels had taken possession of them and galled us exceedingly; but they suffered for their temerity, for all that were found in the houses were put to death . . .540 Our Soldiers the other day, tho’ they shew’d no want of courage, yet were so wild and irregular, that there was no keeping ‘em in any order; by their eagerness and inattention they killed many of our own People, and the plundering was shameful; many hardly thought of anything else; what was worse they were encouraged by some Officers.541
Lieutenant-Colonel James Abercrombie of the 22nd Regiment did not arrive in Boston until the 23rd of April, or four days after the battle. On May 2nd, after making “the Strictest enquiry amongst the Officers,” he penned his analysis of the event to his friend Lieutenant-Governor Colden of New York: “They were fired on from every House and fense along the Road for fifteen Miles, I cannot commend the behavior of Our Soldiers on the retreat. As they began to plunder, & payed no obediance to their Officers.”542
Here is a body of evidence coming from a variety of sources, all unofficial in its character, and indicating in unmistakable terms that the fighting throughout the afternoon was of the house-to-house variety. The British and American accounts agree on the use of trees, walls, orchards and other cover; but the American witnesses are wholly silent as to the firing from houses. Read what Holmes has to say in his American Annals: “An irregular yet very galling fire was kept up on each flank, as well as in the front and rear. The close firing from behind stone walls by good marksmen put them in no small confusion.”543 Or turn to Thacher’s Military Journal and read the following: “The provincials concealed themselves behind stone walls, and with a sure aim thinned the enemies’ ranks.”544 You find the same note in Gordon’s History: “The close firing from behind the walls, by good marksmen, . . . put the troops into no small confusion.”545 Why this prominence given to houses on the one side and to stone walls on the other? Were our British friends deceived, were they all lying as they wrote their diaries and addressed their relatives and friends, or were our ancestors writing history in ignorance of facts or with an exaggerated sense of duty to their cause? There is something to be said in support of the theory of ignorance. It is doubtful whether any one person acting with the uncommanded thousands that sustained the popular cause that day could have known to what extent houses were being used as a menace to the troops. The men who fought the British in Menotomy and Cambridge were strangers in those towns, they came from long distances, and included several companies of Pickering’s regiment from Essex County. They ranged about at will, in small groups, and all windows appealed to them as convenient loopholes from which to shoot a redcoat. The American contention has been from the first that the damage inflicted by the troops on private property was unprovoked and wanton, and upon this premise rest all the charges alleging against Percy ruthlessness and worse. Mr. Hudson admitted in 1880 that the British were justified in attacking any house from which they were fired upon.546 To my mind it is clear beyond all reasonable doubt that the fighting along Percy’s line of march was of the kind so minutely described by Abercrombie and his comrades. Tons of depositions turned off on provincial presses to meet the political exigencies of the hour cannot break the force of such evidence as this.
When the provincials drifted into the practice of using private houses as fortresses, they certainly adopted the best military policy to retard and demoralize their foe. By so doing they also placed all such private property under suspicion and in actual jeopardy. Their tactics introduced new problems for the British and went far to nullify the control of battalion and company officers. As the aim of the provincials was to impede, wear down, and ultimately capture their foe, so the purpose of the British was merely to cover their distance before the setting of the sun. The movement of the column continued steadily eastward at the rate of about three miles an hour, but the constant detailing of squads to clean up belligerent posts must have resulted in the hopeless mixing of units and the serious impairment of discipline. It was a difficult business to keep track of the groups operating indoors and to get them out before the rear guard came along. Is it reasonable to suppose that anything but the most imperative military necessity would have tempted the officers to engage their men in indoor fighting, conscious as they were of the long miles ahead and of the westering sun sinking surely to its rest? There were bad men in Percy’s rank and file and plenty of light-fingered gentry, as there were in Washington’s army in Cambridge a few weeks later. And so in the words of Abercrombie “they began to plunder.”
We find nothing in the official reports of Gage or Percy concerning the misdemeanors of the troops, and it is well that we can mingle with our youthful witnesses and hear from them the frank gossip of the mess-room. And yet it is possible that we may take their confessions too seriously. The British officer of that day, however easy going in his personal habits, was a martinet in the performance of his professional duty. He had been taught that old-time military maxim that an army that plunders is never a good one. To him, looting was a loathsome thing because it begot straggling and insubordination and was in every way subversive of discipline. We cannot accept our British evidence as confirming the American assertion that Percy’s men staggered along the Boston road under a weight of ill gotten plunder. Looting of some sort was certain to accompany the mode of fighting the British had had forced upon them. But despite Barker’s caustic thrust at some one, the officers were evidently vigilant, the column was cumbered with the transportation of wounded, the flank guards required frequent relief, skirmishing was incessant, there was a heavy pressure on the rear guard, and altogether there was too much to do, and too little time to allow of getting away with substantial plunder. Small articles for which the knapsack was a convenient receptacle did suffer, food and drink for obvious reasons were swept away, but on the whole I fear that from the standpoint of an ambitious looter the day’s work was not altogether a happy one. Now looting begets straggling or is the result of it. If you will turn to the British official report, and there are times in reading American history when official reports as well as affidavits must be consulted, you will find the total British missing for the day given as 26.547 A score of these we can trace from provincial sources to the captured baggage train and to the period of Smith’s command before Percy had arrived upon the scene. Is it reasonable to suppose that a force of fifteen hundred men could have marched under fire twelve miles through an enemy’s country systernatically plundering all the way and have appeared at roll call the next morning with only six men missing? The officers were shamed by the wildness, inattention, and disobedience that cropped up among their men, and yet as you read and re-read the story of the march you are impressed with the fact that on the whole they dominated a difficult situation, and did their duty well.
And then the thought occurs, what wretched propagandists these martial Britons were! The whole countryside was accusing them as destroyers and plunderers of private property, and conscious of a measure of guilt they remained silent and inert. Had they possessed a fraction of the political sagacity displayed by their foes, they might have set up a very plausible defence. Abercrombie had his chance. Might he not have urged in all sincerity that the British were not the first or the last strangers to infest deserted houses on the 19th of April, and that the charge of exclusive opportunity could not be levelled against the troops? Was it not true that for every minute allowed a soldier in which to misbehave, scores of light-fingered provincials had an hour? But his mind could not shape itself to propaganda. He had no interest in the exaggerations or possible misdeeds of his enemy. His Majesty’s troops had misbehaved, they had begun to plunder, and as an honest officer he was disgusted and sick at heart.548 Of course vandalism is an evil of which looting is but a single phase. Houses along the road were battered and shattered in battle and other minor damage was doubtless wrought in wantonness and hate. I think that in any Boston mess-room on the 20th of April we should have received frank admissions from the officers that probably some houses were entered by mistake and that possibly others known to be innocent were invaded by small groups, temporarily out of hand. It is certain that the soldier was in an ugly mood. He had gone out despising the Boston mob, and his temper had not been improved by his experiences on the road. If opportunity offered to drive his bayonet through a mirror or to break china in the corner cupboard, many a man there was who would have regarded the occasion as Heaven sent.
Mackenzie is the only one of the officers we have cited who alludes to the burning of houses. Our gallant Fusileer writes in shame and humiliation of the looting, but he records incendiarism as merely a necessary and ordinary episode of the day. If we admit the contention of the British that the fighting was of the house-to-house character, their disposition to keep the home fires burning falls into the category of a mere commonplace of war. This accounts for omission to mention it in the diaries and letters of our other witnesses. All incendiarism except that practised during the halt in Lexington proved abortive, owing to the closeness with which the provincials followed the rear guard, a fact that Mackenzie records with evident regret.
The earliest provincial account alleged that the British disregarded the appeals of the wounded, killing and mangling without mercy. Now the provincials killed exceeded the number of their wounded, a fact that in some measure confirms the charge;549 but we must remember that, aside from those slain by gunfire at Lexington and at the North Bridge, nearly all of the provincials killed fell in close combat within houses or in hastily constructed defences outside. We have just noted the temper of the private soldier. He had been fooled/ambushed, and shot in the back until he had lost all faith in American non-combatants, and was strongly of the opinion that the only good American was a dead one. On the other hand the hatred of the people for the troops, always fanatical in its intensity, had become inflamed by what they regarded as the unprovoked slaughter at Lexington and Concord. I doubt that quarter was asked, or thought of, in those fierce hand-to-hand fights along Percy’s line of march, and the bayonet and gunstock did make ugly wounds.
We come now to the consideration of specific outrages inflicted by the troops upon the persons of inoffensive non-combatants. There are just six cases of this sort that call for examination. Three of them fall naturally into one group: the killing of Raymond, “a lame man,” at the Munroe Tavern in Lexington; of William Marcy in North Cambridge; and of the fourteen-year-old lad Barber on Charlestown Neck.
John Raymond’s name appeared on the first lists of the provincial slain, but it was not until fifty years later that he took his place in history as the victim of a military outrage. William Munroe, the proprietor of the tavern who was out with the minutemen on the 19th of April, made the following deposition in 1825: “On the return of the British troops from Concord, they stopped at my tavern house in Lexington, and dressed their wounded. I had left my house in the care of a lame man, by the name of Raymond, who supplied them with whatever the house afforded, and afterward, when he was leaving the house, he was shot by the regulars, and found dead within a few rods of the house.”550 This brief statement of Munroe’s suggests an atrocity, and a tradition plausible but none too robust has developed since 1825 to the effect that Raymond, after mixing a punch, left the place in fear of his life and was shot by soldiers as he was hobbling away. The setting for this tragic legend was well chosen if you agree with me that there was probably trouble and disorder within the tavern where maddened men of Smith’s detachment came thronging and panting to the bar. Credible as the story is, it has never become solidly established in the annals of the day. Phinney, Frothingham, and Bancroft ignored it, and we might well follow their example had not Hudson revitalized the tale in his History of Lexington551 and in a contribution to Drake’s History of Middlesex County. Here are his words taken from the last named work:
The officers with Percy resorted to Munroe’s tavern just below. The occupants of the house left the place in affright, leaving only John Raymond, an aged man, who was at the time one of the family. The intruders ordered him to supply them with all the good things the house afforded, which he readily did. But after they had imbibed too freely, they became noisy, and so alarmed Raymond that he sought to escape from the house; but was brutally fired upon and killed in his attempt to flee from danger.552
The credibility of Munroe’s story has not been enhanced by this elaboration of Hudson. I think that I have proved beyond any reasonable doubt that the soldiers about the tavern were of Smith’s command and that the brigade in battle formation nearly half a mile away was involved in skirmishing throughout the halt. It is clear also that, inasmuch as it was close to half-past two when Smith came within sight of the Brigade, and that at half-past three his men resumed their march down the Boston road, their presence in and about the tavern could not have consumed much more than half an hour. Hudson’s tale of Percy’s carousal with his officers suggests poetical or historical licence and may have been responsible for the christening of the tavern as “Earl Percy’s headquarters.” I have tried to show what Percy’s problems and responsibilities were at Lexington and I think you will agree with me that if he galloped down the road once or twice for a momentary inspection of what Pitcairn553 was doing, this was about all the time or attention he could have allowed to the vicinity of Munroe’s tavern. Had the officers of the Grenadiers and Light Infantry spent their precious time in the diversions portrayed by Hudson, drinking themselves into a state of noisy exaltation, the Fusileers would hardly have received their orders to form the rear guard at 3.15 and the van would have been fortunate to have passed over Charlestown Common by the light of the rising moon.
Now Munroe, an honest man, deposing at eighty-two years of age concerning events that happened fifty years before, states that Raymond was lame; Hudson, in every way a worthy and distinguished citizen, declared554 that he was oppressed by the burden of years. If you will turn to the genealogical register appended to Hudson’s History555 of the town, capably edited and handsomely republished by the Lexington Historical Society, you will find that John Raymond was born September 5, 1731, and so was in his forty fourth year at the time of his death. Moreover you will learn here and from other sources that he was a regularly enlisted member of Captain Parker’s company, from which fact we might well infer that the lameness mentioned by Munroe was merely a temporary affliction.556 He was among the sixty-seven absentees from the early morning muster on the Common, but we cannot trace his movements between that time and his appearance at the tavern in the afternoon. Of course if the British had learned or if they suspected his military status, they would have treated him as a prisoner and if as a prisoner he tried to escape, he would very properly have been shot. Fifty years was a long time to wait for Raymond’s conversion from the status of an apparent belligerent to the category of an aged and infirm victim of British brutality. I find it hard to resist the conviction that had murder been committed at the tavern as alleged by Mr. Hudson in 1880, Langdon and Clark would have exploited the fact in 1775. Clark’s silence is the more remarkable because the tragedy occurred within the narrow limits of the parish that had been confided to his spiritual charge.
The first mention of Marcy’s fate is to be found in the sermon preached by President Langdon before the Congress of the Colony, May 31st, 1775: “A man of weak mental powers, who went out to gaze at the regular army as they pass’d, without arms, or thought of danger, was wantonly shot at and kill’d by those inhuman butchers, as he sat on a fence.”557 If we accept this statement at its face value, we may yet question the wanton character of the deed. Perhaps more than one soldier who had been straining his eyes for a fair shot at some of the hidden marksmen who were picking off his comrades saw, through drifting powder smoke, Marcy seated on the fence. I think we may assume that his slayer knew nothing of his mental deficiencies or suspected that he was unarmed. If the fall of the victim was noticed in the column I am afraid that the sentiment aroused was not one of pity, but of grim satisfaction that one enemy had received his just deserts.
We have an interesting side light on this case that is somewhat harmful to Langdon’s hasty conjecture. Near the present corner of Massachusetts Avenue and Spruce Street in North Cambridge, a party of provincials had taken position behind a barricade of empty casks. They fell victims to the vigilance of a flank guard, a hot fight ensued, and Isaac Gardner of Brookline, John Hicks and Moses Richardson of Cambridge, and one or two others were killed. We have it on the authority of the Widow Hicks that, alarmed by the long absence of her husband from home, she in the early evening sent her fourteen-year-old son in search of him. The boy found him lying by the roadside, dead, and near him were the bodies of Moses Richardson and William Marcy. This places Marcy in the midst of undoubted combatants, on the very spot where one of the sharpest encounters of the day occurred, and we know that he was buried with Richardson and Hicks in a common grave on the night of the battle.558 In view of these facts we must regard Langdon’s statement with serious misgiving. All that we know of William Marcy himself is contained in the following extract from the records of the Cambridge selectmen, dated September 3rd, 1770: “Voted, to warn out of the town; William Marcy, a man of very poor circumstances; he for some time hath lodged in Steward Hastings’ barn, the Steward paying the charges.”559 Marcy made a more dignified exit from Cambridge than the selectmen had planned, and his name is now inscribed on a monument erected by the city in 1870 to commemorate “the Men of Cambridge who fell in defence of the Liberty of the People, April 19, 1775.”
Barber was the youthful brother-in-law of Rogers whom we met in Charlestown, from whose affidavit we learn that the lad was shot as he was looking out from a window on Charlestown Neck. Curiously enough Mackenzie mentions these houses “close to the Neck, out of which the Rebels fired to the last.”560 It was a pity that at a time when so many were fleeing for their lives, this boy should have been left gazing from a window among houses from which firing was still going on. The sun had set when the British passed this point. In the gloaming the lad’s youth and innocence were not discernible to the soldiers, but the sight of a face in the window had come to have a sinister significance to them. So Barber went down to his death, but not I think as the victom of a military atrocity.
The fourth case is that concerning Hannah, wife of Deacon Joseph Adams of Menotomy. She made affidavit to the facts on May 17th, 1775. Two weeks later, President Langdon epitomized the case in the following words: “A woman in bed with a new-born infant, about a week old, was forced by the threats of the soldiery, to escape, almost naked, to an open outhouse; her house was then set on fire, but soon extinguished by one of the children which had laid concealed till the enemy was gone.”561 This was the incident that inspired that passionate outburst of the Rev. Jonas Clark, “Yea, even women in child-bed with their helpless babes in their arms, do not escape the horrid alternative, of being either cruelly murdered in their beds, burned in their habitations, or turned into the streets to perish with cold and nakedness and distress!”562 Hannah Adams states563 that as she lay in her bed, three soldiers broke into her room. As one pointed his bayonet at her breast, she cried out in terror, “For the Lord’s sake do not kill me!” There was little comfort in the profane and laconic reply of, “Damn you!” Here a comrade interposed with the words, “We will not hurt the woman, if she will go out of the house, but we will surely burn it.” Leaving in the house “five children and no other person,” she threw a blanket about her and with her babe “crawled into a corn-house near the door,” but fortunately not “to perish with cold, nakedness and distress” on that bright April afternoon.
This is not a pleasant story, but perhaps it hardly justifies the fevered denunciation of the Rev. Jonas Clark. It is notable as the one recorded instance of indignity offered by the soldiery to the gentler sex. Here in this room, so far as the 19th of April is concerned, we see the British soldier at his worst. The stage was set in every detail for a most revolting tragedy, rude and angry soldiers and an unprotected mother with her children. But the villains in the piece were not of the deepest dye, there was no lust for butchery in their hearts, nor had they a mind that Mrs. Adams should be burned alive in her habitation. What the three uniformed offenders would have said in their own defence we shall never know. Were they part of a squad acting under orders to burn the place or were they stragglers? It is certain that no officer was with them. It would be interesting to know a little more of the attendant circumstances and whether it were possible that as Mrs. Adams lay in her room some part of the premises had been put to military uses by armed patriots from out of town. If the house had been so used, or if the soldiers believed such to be the fact, they would of course have regarded Mrs. Adams with some suspicion, and might even have been inclined to question the age of her babe. We cannot summon Deacon Adams as a witness, because he ran away and was throughout the episode lying concealed under hay in the barn of the Rev. Samuel Cooke.564 The soldiers had seen him leave the house and he had drawn their fire in his flight across the fields. Possibly this precautionary measure of his may account in part for the military invasion of his home.565 Now Hannah Adams’s infant was eighteen days old on the 19th of April.566 This child grew into womanhood, married, and must often have heard her mother, who lived until 1803, discuss with the older children the family experiences in which they were participants on that fateful day. We might well expect that the terrors of the episode would increase with repeated telling, but on the contrary under the mild influence of the family tradition the Rev. Jonas Clark’s denunciation has long since lost its sting. We are told that Mrs. Adams was fully dressed on the arrival of the soldiers, having been assisted in that process by two daughters aged respectively twenty and fourteen. The brutal redcoats degenerate into mere burglars of a rather genial type. “Why don’t you come out here?” queries a soldier when the head of nine-year-old Joel Adams is thrust from under a bed. “You’ll kill me if I do,” replies the prudent boy. “No we won’t,” is the prompt and reassuring reply. Then out crawls the child and follows the soldiers about, a rapt spectator of their activities, which are largely of a pilfering nature. We are told that when they laid thieving hands upon the church communion silver, Joel ventured a word of warning and an assurance that the deacon would “lick” them for that offence. A567 touch of the original tragic flavor is restored to the story, when upon leaving, the soldiers break up the chairs and set them alight with a brand from the fireplace. Then comedy once more gaily trips the stage in the person of the youthful Joel, who saves the situation by attacking the flames with a pot of the deacon’s home-brewed beer.568 In the next case we have to consider, the authorities began to disagree at the outset. President Langdon states that “two aged helpless men who had not been out in the action, and were found unarmed in a house where the Regulars enter’d, were murdered without mercy.”569 After a year of reflection the Rev. Mr. Clark referred to the incident in these words, “the unarmed, the aged and infirm, who were unable to flee, are inhumanly stabbed and murdered in their habitations!”570 Between the dates of these statements of Langdon and Clark, the tragedy had been located not in the habitations of the victims but in the bar-room of the Cooper Tavern in Menotomy. Here is an extract from the deposition of Landlord Benjamin Cooper and his wife, Rachel, dated May 19, 1775:
The king’s regular troops . . . fired more than a hundred bullets into the house where we dwelt, through doors, windows, &c. Then a number of them entered the house, where we and two aged gentlemen were all unarmed. We escaped for our lives into the cellar. The two aged gentlemen were, immediately, most barbarously and inhumanly murdered by them: being stabbed through in many places, their heads mauled, skulls broken, and their brains dashed out on the floor and walls of the house.571
Now these two aged, helpless, infirm and unarmed men were Jason Winship and Jabez Wyman, and we learn from the genealogical records of Cambridge and Woburn that they were brothers-in-law, aged respectively forty-five and thirty-nine years.572 We learn too from a letter of that staunch patriot, the Rev. John Marrett of Woburn dated July 28th, 1775, that “they were drinking flip;” and, in utter disagreement with the views of the Rev. Jonas Clark, that they “both died like fools.” He was “not certain they were unarmed,” but on making inquiry was informed that such was the fact.573
Our local historians in accepting the story of the flip are far from admitting that “both died like fools.” To my mind the second fact is a necessary corollary of the first and they must stand or fall together. We must remember that at the very moment these aged and unarmed men were engaged in their legitimate and private business, there was raging all along the half-mile of road to the west the heaviest fighting of the day. Hundreds of newly arrived Americans closed in upon the redcoats, and all along the village street the British gunfire rattled and rolled. Gunstocks thundered on the surface of splintering doors, and from within houses came shouts and shrieks of angry men battling to the death. Old Samuel Whittemore, seventy-nine years of age, went clanking by the tavern door with his newly cleaned musket and pistols, and a newly ground edge upon his sword. He concealed himself at a point but a few hundred feet distant from where Landlord Cooper stood at his bar, and opened fire as the British vanguard came along. He was discovered after killing his man. From the road and from the rear there was a rush upon him. It is alleged that two more Britons fell before a bullet from the flank guard entered his head. Wounded and helpless upon the ground he was savagely clubbed and bayonetted by the infuriated soldiery. Sturdy efforts have been made to include this affair in the list of Percy’s barbarities, notwithstanding the fact that the old gentleman made a happy and complete recovery, dying finally at the ripe age of ninety-seven, leaving, we are told, a virile progeny of one hundred and eighty-five souls.574 Must we believe that in this perturbed environment, Benjamin Cooper and his wife Rachel, Winship, and Wyman, did play their unconcerned and stolid parts at the tavern bar as has been long alleged? Can we doubt that a fire, or a runaway horse in Menotomy street on the day before, would have tin-own all four into a fever of excitement, and a whirlwind of motion? The quaffing of flip was not the opportunity of a life-time; prohibition had not then been born. Yet there they stand at the bar as those hundred bullets come whistling through the place, and the soldiers come roaring and cursing into the room. The landlord and his wife vanish away, but the two victims stand their ground until such brains as the legend leaves in their possession are beaten out and spattered upon the walls.
It is reasonably clear that the Rev. John Marrett believed the victims at the Cooper Tavern to have been drunk, and if we accept this theory it goes far to explain an otherwise incomprehensible incident. Marrett speaks plainly, as witness these words: “They were drinking flip. Wyman was warned of the danger but says he, ‘let us finish the mug, they won’t come yet.’ He died as a fool dieth.” If they were very drunk, their condition would warrant Clark’s allegation that they were “unable to flee;” if their intoxication had reached the surly or quarrelsome stage, the tragedy explains itself. It may occur to you that a political aroma hangs about that deposition of Benjamin and Rachel Cooper. That they prevaricated through inadvertence or design respecting the ages of Winship and Wyman, we must regretfully admit. In view of this fact are we justified in accepting the balance of their assertions, particularly such as have reference to the number, condition, activities and armament of guests upon their premises? The tavern stood within the limits of a battle-field, three Britons had just been killed within a few rods of the door, and while we shall never know just what happened within the house, most assuredly in that warlike atmosphere non-combatants drunk or sober would have been allowed scant time in which to prove their innocence. The affair at the Cooper Tavern has long been cherished as authority for that sweeping charge of the Rev. Jonas Clark, “the unarmed, the aged and infirm, who are unable to flee, are inhumanly stabbed and murdered in their habitations.”575 The names of Jason Winship and Jabez Wyman are now inscribed with that of William Marcy upon the monument erected in Cambridge to honor those “who fell in the defence of the Liberty of the People, April 19, 1775.”
Finally some mention must be made of Jason Russell of Menotomy, if for no other reason because he with Winship and Wyman was in the mind of the Rev. Jonas Clark when he uttered the lament I have just quoted. Russell was fifty-eight years of age and is said to have been lame. Until the middle of the nineteenth century he was generally referred to as a helpless bystander, an infirm victim of British brutality. Since that time he has been placed where he doubtless belongs, in the ranks of the brave and determined men who opposed the King’s troops in arms. Singularly enough this change of status has in no way abated the persistence of the allegation that he “was barbarously murdered in his own house, by Gage’s bloody troops.”576 If he was a slaughtered innocent, well and good; but if a combatant, he is entitled to the honors of a soldier, dead.
The story of Jason Russell is briefly this. He started across the fields to conduct his family to a place of safety, but he left them by the way, and returned to his house alone. “He barricaded his gate with bundles of shingles, making what he thought would be a good cover from which to fire on the enemy as they returned.”577 Ammi Cutter sought to dissuade him from his purpose, but he refused to leave, declaring that “an Englishman’s house was his castle.”578 A party of the Essex militia who were “unsuspiciously lying in wait” at this point were surprised by the flank guard and took hasty refuge in Russell’s house. Jason Russell was shot as he was entering the door and the troops followed, “killing all they found inside, save a few who fled to the cellar, the latter shooting whoever of the British attempted to descend the cellar-stairs.”579 Unless we are prepared to assert that every shot fired and every wound inflicted by the British was a wanton atrocity, I think we may dignify the memory of stouthearted Jason Russell by declaring that he fell in battle in defence of a cause that was more to him than life.
Is Percy guilty or not guilty of the charge of instigating or abetting a systern of savagery on his retreat? I admit that I find nothing to support such a charge either in our knowledge of the man or in the American evidence that is offered in support of the indictment. That he embittered the fighting after taking over the command is indisputable, but only in the same sense that Grant embittered the fighting in Virginia as compared with the standards of McClellan. He knew nothing of the cases of Raymond, Marcy, or Barber, of Hannah Adams, Jason Russell, or the two men at the Cooper Tavern. We may be sure that he ordered buildings to be fired or instructed his officers to burn them as military circumstances required. He must have known of the looting, and it is preposterous to suppose that he did not adopt through his officers the most strenuous measures to break it up. He could have known little of the petty details of the fighting, but he kept the column moving at its even steady pace and, in spite of irritating circumstances and some unavoidable confusion, brought it over Charlestown Common on schedule time with about forty killed and only six men missing.
Unlike Colonel Smith he carried away no bitter memories of the day and harbored no resentment against his enemies for the methods they employed. In fact he highly commended their tactics as admirably adapted to their purpose. He had believed the people to be cowards and had so expressed himself in letters to his father. After Lexington he frankly confessed his error. “Whoever looks upon them as an irregular mob will find himself much mistaken” is his comment to General Harvey. “For my part, I never believed, I confess, that they would have attacked the King’s troops, or have had the perseverance I found in them yesterday.”580 In Almon’s Remembrancer in 1775, there appeared this bit of Boston gossip: “Lord Percy said at table, he never saw anything equal to the intrepidity of the New England minute men.”581 I should like to feel that there was sitting at the same table that other soldier who remarked, “the rebels were monstrous numerous, and surrounded us on every side; . . . but they never would engage us properly.”582 We know what Percy’s reply would have been to that, for we have it in his letters: “they knew too well what was proper, to do so. . . . They have men amongst them who know very well what they are about.”583 The comments of Percy’s officers, while less sportsmanlike than those of their chief, are for the most part free from criticism of the tactics employed by their enemy on the 19th of April. Lieutenant William Carter was an exception;584 Evelyn still insisted that the provincials were cowards, but sustained by a mad fanatical zeal; while Captain George Harris, afterwards Lord Harris of Indian fame, expressed a wish to meet the Americans in a fair stand-up fight and give them the drubbing they deserved.585 Aside from these we find no trace of rancor in the battle narratives of the King’s officers. To my mind these officers from their commander down conducted the retreat in the spirit of gentlemen, and not of brutes. As long as war is war, and nations and peoples continue to assert their just or fancied rights by force of arms, I think we may regard the story of Earl Percy’s march in its incitements to barbarities and in its freedom from such excesses upon either side, as a creditable chapter in the military annals of the Anglo-Saxon race.
In conclusion, despite his faults and misdemeanors, I can almost find it in my heart to say a kind word for the British common soldier. I wonder if, after the lapse of nearly one hundred and fifty years, it would be sacrilege to include the name of Thomas Atkins in the list of the heroic sufferers of the day. He had undergone trials that were long and sore, he had been insulted and his uniform reviled, he had encountered New England rum, and for resulting offences he had been rigorously punished by his officers. He went out on an excursion through the King’s dominions, he was upon the King’s business, and was affronted by armed men who denied the King’s authority. He was marched and driven to the last ounce of his strength, and believed that he had been made the victim of sneaking, scalping assassins who were afraid to show their faces. It was a far cry from the military ethics of the French Guard at Fontenoy to those of these rebels of kindred blood. He did not know that he was contending with unselfish patriots who were risking all in a righteous cause, who were willing to die that liberty might live. As footsore and weary he strode manfully along, nursing that wicked bayonet of his, and devoid of all compassion toward his foe, we should at least remember that he had suffered much, that he was very brave, and that he did not understand.
Mr. Worthington C. Ford announced a forthcoming volume of the Collections of the Massachusetts Historical Society, being a check-list of broadside issues of the press in Massachusetts, 1639-1800. The broadside was the forerunner of the news-sheet and later newspaper and was used for official announcements and political controversy. The first issue from the press in Massachusetts was a broadside — the Freeman’s Oath. Twenty years later a sheet of verses, and after another twenty years regulations for small-pox treatment, marked the developing use; but to Benjamin Harris is due the first political broadside and the first news-sheet. Customs and legal forms came into use towards the end of the seventeenth century, but not before 1704 were the behavior and dying speech of a criminal embalmed in that form. Attempts at illustration were crude and infrequent. The colony seal, engraved by John Foster, decorated some laws and proclamations, and Andros introduced the royal arms, but only on a single occasion. Harris, the printer, was successful in introducing it after 1692. The first true illustration is found on a sheet of 1718. Mr. Ford also glanced at the ballad literature of the day, a field yet to be studied carefully.
Mr. Albert Matthews spoke as follows:
In his interesting paper on “Germanisms in English Speech: God’s Acre,” contributed in 1913 to the Kittredge Anniversary Papers,586 Dr. John A. Walz showed that this term had for three centuries been occasionally employed by English travellers in Germany; that it is an adaptation of the German Gottesacker, first found in the sixteenth century, and not, as Longfellow asserted in 1841, “an ancient Saxon phrase;” and that the vogue which the term now enjoys is due to Longfellow’s poem bearing the title “God’s Acre.”
Whenever the philologist pits himself against the poet he is bound to lose, though he have analogy, etymology, and usage on his side. It is true that “acre” in nineteenth-century English is used exclusively as a measure; generations ago it ceased to have the meaning of field, as a look at the New English Dictionary tells us; yet Longfellow’s adaptation of the German word became a permanent part of the modern English vocabulary, especially the poetic vocabulary. Without knowing it, yes, without intending it, Longfellow added a beautiful word to the stock of English. Its adoption into the language was doubtless greatly favored by the general misunderstanding which saw in it a revival of an old English phrase.587
With these conclusions, there can be no dispute. But on one point it is possible to take issue with Dr. Walz — namely, the application of the term to the old burial place at the corner of Massachusetts Avenue (formerly North Avenue) and Garden Street. “I do not know,” says Dr. Walz, “who first called the old burial-ground in Cambridge ‘God’s Acre;’ my earliest reference is Palfrey’s History of New England, 1860, but the name cannot have been applied to it before 1841. There is not a scrap of evidence in the early records or town histories that the old Cambridge burying ground or any other burying ground in New England was ever called ‘God’s Acre’ before the publication of Longfellow’s poem, or that the phrase was at all known.”588 When Dr. Walz was preparing his paper, he asked me whether I had noted instances of the term before 1841, and though I pointed out one or two from English travellers I was unable to adduce any from American sources. But since then three American examples have come to light. The earliest is the most interesting. Speaking of John Rogers, who was President of Harvard College from 1682 to 1684, Cotton Mather wrote in the Magnalia, printed in 1702: “But that the Character of this Gentleman may be more perfectly exhibited, we will here take the Leave to transcribe the Epitaph engraved on his Tomb, in God’s-Acre, at Cambridge.”589 In two other places in the same work Mather also mentions the Cambridge burial ground. Alluding to Charles Chauncy, who was President from 1654 to 1672, he says: “All that we will add of this Good Man, shall be the Epitaph, which is now to be read on his Tombstone in Cambridge.”590 And referring to Urian Oakes, who was President from 1675 to 1681, he remarks: “The Rest of the Report that we will give of this Memorable Person, shall be but a Transcript of the Epitaph on the Tomb-stone in the Sleeping-place at Cambridge, dedicated unto his Memory.”591
After the lapse of more than a century and a quarter the term is again met with in Cambridge. In an article called “Historical Sketches of Harvard College,” confessedly derived from the Magnalia, a writer in the Harvard Register for October, 1827, said that “President Rogers died on the 2d July, 1684, three days after Commencement,592 and during an eclipse of the sun. He was interred in God’s-acre, (probably the present burial ground). A stone was placed over his grave with a Latin inscription thereon, written by Mather, at the expense of the students.”593 Finally, in the same magazine for December, 1827, in an article entitled “Commencement in Olden Time,” the writer draws a fancy sketch of the College as it existed about 1720 and says:
Massachusetts was raising her modest walls, blushing in her maiden beauty, beneath the encouraging glances of maternal “old Harvard;” and Stoughton stood exulting in youthful prime. The Hotel, Market, and College-house, and all the rest of our Classic buildings sunk into the dust. Post office, there was none! — Lawyer’s office, there was none! — Printing office, there was none; and the Barber’s pole slipt from its fastenings, and rolled off, a little acorn, into the surrounding forest. The place of Divinity Hall was occupied by a dismal swamp; Professors’ Row was overgrown with brushwood; the church disappeared, and God’s acre arose on a little knoll, with a few roughly hewn stones to mark where two or three worthies had laid themselves down to rest.594
Quite possibly these two articles were written by the same person, though there is no means of knowing with certainty. The “Advertisement” to the Harvard Register states that “The articles, with a few exceptions, have been written by undergraduates in the few leisure moments which could be snatched from more important pursuits, and the pieces not written by undergraduates, were the composition of those who are otherwise connected with the University.”At all events, Longfellow did not come to Cambridge until 1836, and so he is eliminated as the possible author of the two articles.
Mr. Percival Merritt read the following communication:
The second French newspaper to be published in Boston was the Courier Politique de l’Univers.595 The Columbian Centinel of Wednesday, November 21 1792, contained “Proposals, for publishing a periodical Paper in the French Language, entitled Le Courier Politique de l’Univers.” The publication was projected with the view of giving a just idea of the present state of France, and a connected summary of the French Revolution, by a succinct account of all events which had occurred in France since 1788. It was also proposed to furnish details of such occurrences in the sugar colonies as were connected with events in France, or which might be of interest by their relation to the commerce between the United States and those colonies. The paper was to be published on Monday of every week, and consist of four pages in quarto, the first number to be delivered in Boston on the 10th of December, and to be sent by post the same day to other parts of the Continent. The subscription price at Boston was two dollars for six months, and three dollars for the same period in places distant more than fifty miles from Boston. Subscriptions were to be received by J. Bumstead, Printer, Union Street; by the Editor of the Columbian Centinel; and by the different printers in the United States and West Indies. The prospectus was followed by a supplementary statement in the nature of a postscript:
After these Proposals were sent to the Press, a wish to conciliate the favour of the publick, induced the Editor to seek for some American assistance, in which he has been successful. The Courier de l’Univers, will therefore be published in French and English, in columns corresponding to each other.—The Editor who has engaged to furnish four quarto pages in a number, will frequently give six, and sometimes eight, without adding any thing to the price of subscription. In this form the Courier de l’Univers, by supplying an English Translation, will be serviceable to those who are imperfectly acquainted with the French Language.596
The proposals appeared again in the Centinel of Wednesday, December 12, prefaced by the statement that “The PROSPECTUS of a News-paper, in French and English, publishing in this town, the first number of which was issued on Monday last, contains sentiments and observations worthy general perusal, — we therefore reinsert it.” The same issue of the Centinel contained a reading notice of the Courier Politique, stating that it had “commenced publishing . . . on Monday last,” and that “The Editor is a man of talents; and has resources of information, direct.”597
Now the “American assistance” to which the Proposals referred was supplied, in part at least, by John Quincy Adams. In a letter to his father written from Boston, December 16, 1792, Mr. Adams stated that —
A French and English newspaper has been commenced in this town which is to contain among other things a summary account of the French Revolution. This account is very handsomely written by one of the Aristocratic party now here, having been driven from the Island of St. Domingo by the triumphant faction there.598 He has aimed at impartiality as much as he could; but if you read the narrative you will find he is very bitter against the Duke of Orleans to whom he attributes all the calamities of his country. The first number only has been published, and the editor has forwarded one of them to you which he will continue to do. The translation of that part of the paper will be done by me, and I imagine the paper itself will not be continued long after that publication is finished. The proposals are only for six months.599
Brief references to the Courier Politique are to be found in the issues of the Centinel of Wednesday, December 26, 1792, and Wednesday, January 9, 1793, and an extract from it is quoted in the Argus of January 8, 1793.600 The life of the paper, however, was even more brief than Mr. Adams’s expectation. The Centinel of Saturday, January 19, 1793, contained the following advertisement:
M. Rousselet, Editor of the Courier Politique de l’Univers, being suddenly called to the Island of Guadeloupe, by the desire of a great number of its inhabitants, in order to fulfill the duties of an apostolic missionary has the honour to testify his regret to the subscribers to his paper, that he is unable to complete the task he had undertaken. Professionally engaged in support of the religion of which he is a minister, he makes this sacrifice to his duty, of an undertaking, the object of which was to promote the triumph of truth. He thanks his subscribers for the encouragement, with which they have favoured him: requests their acceptance of the numbers which they have received, and informs those of them to whom he has given receipts that by calling in the course of the next week, at Mr. Joseph Bumstead’s printing office in Union-Street, thier Subscription money shall be returned to them.601
The advertisement apparently implies that the final issue of the paper was that of Monday, January 14. If this supposition is correct the total number of issues was six, December 10, 1792, to January 14, 1793, inclusive.602 It is not surprising, therefore, that Mr. Brigham states that “no copy of this paper has been located.”603 With regard to the identity of the editor, Mr. Rousselet, it may be said that he was the Abbé Louis de Rousselet, a French Catholic priest and the second pastor of the Church of the Holy Cross, Boston.604 His sudden call to the Island of Guadeloupe proved to have unhappy consequences. The practical control of Guadeloupe was wrested from the English in October, 1794, by the French Revolutionists under Victor Hugues, appointed Commissioner to the Island by the National Convention. After his success some three hundred French Royalists were put to death. It is stated that fifty were guillotined in the space of an hour, and that the Abbé, who had ministered spiritually to them while in prison, shared their fate on the scaffold.