The Loyalists of Massachusetts
By James H. Stark
After the skirmish at Lexington, the king’s troops marched into Concord in two columns, the infantry coming over the hill from which the Americans had retreated, and the grenadiers and marines followed the high road. On reaching the Court Colonel Smith ordered six companies (about two hundred men) under Captain Parsons, to hold the bridge and destroy certain stores on the other side. With the balance of his command he remained in the center of the town destroying such warlike stores as could be found, this being the object of the expedition.
Captain Parsons in the meantime, posted three accompanied under Captain Laurie at the bridge, while he proceeded to Goìonel Barretfs home in search of stores. The Americans had gathered on the high ground, west of the bridge, and now numbered about four hundred and fifty men, representing many of the neighboring towns. The Acton Company in front, led by Capt. Isaac Davis, marched in double tile and with trailed arms for the bridge. The British guard, numbering about one hundred men, drew up in line of battle on the opposite side of the bridge, and opened fire upon them. Capt. Davis, and Abner Hosmer, of the same company, both tell dead. Seeing this, Major Buttrick shouted “F1re, fellow soldiers! for God‘s sake tire!” The order was instantly obeyed. One of the British was killed and several wounded, one severely, who was left on the ground, when the British to the center of the village.
The Americans turned aside to occupy favorable positions on the adjacent hills1. A young man named Amm! White was chopping wood’ for Rev. William Emerson at the “Old Mance” at the east end of the bridge, while the man was going on he hid under cover of the wood-pile, when it was over he went to the bridge, saw one British soldier dead, another badly wounded, grasping his axe he struck the wounded soldier on the head crushing in his skull, then taking the soldier’s gun he went home. The gun is now in the rooms at the Antiquarian Society of Concord. In the meantime, the detachment under Captain Parsons returned from the Barrett house, crossed the bridge, passed the dead bodies of the soldiers and joined the main body unmolested. They reported when they arrived at Boston, that the wounded soldier at the bridge had been scalped and his ears cut off.
Very little was said during the past hundred years concerning the inhuman act of Ammi White, in fact this is the first time the name of the outrage has been published. It was not a. popular subject to be discussed in the Council of the “Sons and Daughters at the American Revolution” when assembled to recount the “brave deeds of patriotic forefathers.” Hawthorne mentions it in the “Old Manse” pp. 12, 13.
The wr1ter’s attention was first drawn to lt by an article in the Boston papers concerning the observances of “Patriots Day,” April 19th, 1903. It was as follows:
“A story of the Concord fight not told by guides who take tourists to the graves of the soldiers by the Concord Bridge was told by the Rev. Franklin Hamilton preaching on Day and Its lessons that evening at the First Methodist Episcopal Church.
“It shows,” said he, “Then the British soldiers were men like you and me. It shows that the story of that fateful battle hour round many weeping hearts across the sea. Your histories tell you how two British soldiers, a sergeant and a private were killed, and are buried under the pines by the wail. One was killed and the other wounded. As the wounded soldier was crawling away he was met by a boy who had been chopping wood and who inflamed with the spirit of the hour, struck him dead with his axe. Mr. Bartlett of Concord tells me that not so long ago a young woman came to Concord and asked to be shown where the British soldiers lay. She came from Nottinghamshire and was a relative of one of them. She went to the graves and placed upon them I wreath, singing as she did so ‘God Save the King.”
This led me to examine into the case. I found that there was considerable rivalry of feeling between the towns of Concord and Acton as to the part each took in the fight. There was a saying that “Acton furnished the men, and Concord the ground.” And then there was not a Concord man killed, wounded or missing in the “Concord Fight.” In the Centennial observances at Acton in 1835, the Address was delivered by Josiah Adams. He said:
“That two were killed at the bridge is certainly true, and it is true too that have ‘to the world were in the engagement.”
It is true also, that a monument is about to be placed over the spot to perpetuate American valor. The manner in which one of them met his death as disclosed in the depositions of Mr. Thorp, Mr. Smith and Mr. Handley, namely by a hatchet after he was wounded and lent behind, was well known at the time. It was the action of an excited and thoughtless youth who was afterwards sufficiently penitent and miserable and whose name therefore will not be given. But the attempt to conceal the act from the world which was made at the time, and has since continued, cannot be approved. It would surely have been better to have given it to the world accompanied by the detestation and horror which it merited and received. Thorn in his deposition said: “Two of the enemy was with a hatchet after being wounded and helpless. This act was a matter of horror to all of us. I saw him sitting up and wounded as we passed the bridge.”2 Smith said:
“One of them was left on the ground wounded and in that situation was killed by an American with a hatchet.” Handley said: “The young man who killed him told me in 1807 that it worried him very much.”
This inhuman act was of course reported by the British and a Boston paper represented that one killed at the bridge at Concord was scalped and the ears cut off from his head. This led to a deposition from Brown and Davis that the truth may be known. They testified that they buried the bodies at the bridge, that neither of these persons was scalped, nor their ears cut off.
If there be any one left to advocate such a proceeding he will say that the deposition was true to the letter. But alas! It was in the letter only. I had the most essential characteristic of falsehood – the intention to make a false impression in regard to what was known to be the subject of inquiry to have it believed that both men were killed In the engagement.”
“Let a monument be erected by the authority of a town, one of the most respectable in the County of Middlesex, let it be seen that its inscription contains the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth, relative to the subject matters thereof.”
My attention was next attracted to the soldiers’ graves at Concord Bridge by the following letter that Appeared in the Boston Transcript:
British Graves at Concord
To the Editor of the Transcript:
I want to say in your columns something which has been on my mind frequently since I went to Concord Bridge on my recent visit to America. It has mingled some sadness with an otherwise most delightful visit.
By the side of the road there are the graves or the British soldiers who fell there, unnamed and unhonored by us yet they died doing what they conceived so he their duty Just as your men did. The loneliness and unrecognized character of these graves struck me sadly, and I have often since wished that they, too, might have some tribute to their stanch, if misplaced bravery. Now in looking (as I constantly do) through the writings oil my most dear friend and counselor, James Russell Lovell, I and he has exactly struck the note I want in his poem. “Lines suggested by the graves ot the two English soldiers on Concord Battleground.” The third verse would make a fitting tribute to the character of these men! It runs as follows:“These men were brave enough and true
To the hired soldiers’ bulldog creed;
What brought them here they never knew,
They ‘fought as `suits the English breed:
They came three thousand miles and died
To keep the past upon its throne
Unheard beyond the ocean tide,
Their English mother made her moan.”
Do you think there might be found among the splendidly patriotic Daughters of the Revolution, some similarly generous-minded to put this American poets recognition of the worth of these poor fellows on a small tablet near the graves? I would at least ask whether the last two lines of this verse do not move the heart of any woman.
I do not know how public sentiment toward the sacred ground of Concord battlefield might regard such an intrusion, and it the words were those of any but such a man as Lowell, so associated with the locality and imbued with all that that tight meant to your nation, I would not be so bold as to suggest it. I know that this is really a. national, not an individual, matter and that a stranger not to intermeddle with it. I am only making little moan in sympathy with the English mother whose heart Lowell so beautifully understands.
– Albert Webb
Elderlie, London Rpm. Worcester, England, March 31. 1909.”
The comments on the letters were In part as follows:
“The letter in another column pleading for a memorial tablet bearing suggested and suggestive lines from Lowell at the grave of the two British soldiers slain at the North Bridge, Concord, should challenge attention and it is difficult to see why it should challenge antagonism. The grave is now marked by two stones have sunken in the mold with which kind nature everywhere seeks to replace the evidences of human strife. It is protected by chains which were provided some thirty years ago by a British resident of Boston. On a stone ol.’ the wall sheltering the grave is an inscription setting forth who sleep below. Neither the inscription nor the defense was strictly necessary, for all Concord knows where the grave ls, and tradition has preserved the names of the two men who buried the slain, giving them hasty but not irreverent interment. Nor has there ever been danger of vandalism. The old New England reverence for the last resting place of the dead protected the sleepers for one hundred years, and the chain fence ls more the tribute of a. countryman to these friendless and nameless victims of George III.’s policy than a. precaution. The same spirit which protected these two soldiers’ resting place would doubtless not see anything objectionable in a. bronze tablet carrying Lowell‘s lines. Certainly the people of Concord, the descendants of the Minutemen, would be the last to feel incensed at this tribute, if tribute it be, or this reminder of permanent material, of the dust that must in these one hundred and th1rty-four years have turned into earth.
These two soldiers are none the less historic characters because their identity is unknown. What their names or grades neither history nor research tells. They were just common men in the ranks in the era when the private soldier was simply so much food for powder.
But apart from the influence of local sentiment, there is a broad public opinion that guards a. soldier’s sepulchre, even it he was an enemy in life. This opinion is expressed in the general custom in this country to allow both sides memorials on the great battlefields of our Civil War.
It the suggested tablet should be erected at Concord, if “patriotism” should at first think too much honor were done these “hireling soldiers,” would not refection remind that when the “embattled farmers”- who, by the way were led by a veteran and accomplished officer – and the regulars faced one another across the narrow stream both were proud of the name of Englishmen? Concord was then a microcosm of English America, which up to the very verge of hostilities had drunk the king’s health and had clung desperately to the foolish fond belieff that he was a good sovereign misled by designing ministers.
This led me to further investigate this matter, for I had been informed that the graves had been desecrated some years ago under authority of the town officials. I therefore caused to be published in the Transcript under the heading of “Notes and Queries” the following query:
- Can anyone give the names of the two British soldiers killed at Concord Bridge, or inform me it there were any papers taken from their bodies that would identify them? I have been informed that there were.
- One of the soldiers was left wounded on the bridge; what was the name of the “young American that killed him with a hatchet”?
- When did the selectmen of Concord give Professor Fowler permission – to dig up the two bodies of the British soldiers and remove the skulls to be used for exhibition purposes?
J. H. S.
April 6. 1906.
- This description of the affair at Concord Bridge, we written by Reverand e.g. Porter, President of the New England Historic Genealogical Society for a work entitled “Antique Views of Boston”, pp. 234-8 complied by J.H.Stark in 1882.
- In a Centennial Address delivered at Acton, July 21, 1835 by Josiah Adams. pp, 44-6.