J. L. BELL is a Massachusetts writer who specializes in (among other things) the start of the American Revolution in and around Boston. He is particularly interested in the experiences of children in 1765-75. He has published scholarly papers and popular articles for both children and adults. He was consultant for an episode of History Detectives, and contributed to a display at Minute Man National Historic Park.

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Thursday, April 22, 2010

The Aftermath of Asahel Porter

Asahel Porter was killed in the confusion and rancor that followed the first shots at Lexington on 19 Apr 1775. He fell “close by the stone wall below [Rufus] Merriam’s garden, east of the Meeting house,” according to Levi Harrington, speaking in 1846.

In 1824, Amos Lock of Lexington recalled seeing Porter’s body. Amos and his brother Ebenezer had mustered with the militia, heard there weren’t any British regulars on the way after all, and headed home.

We had not proceeded far, before we heard a firing; upon which we immediately returned, coming up towards the easterly side of the common, where, under the cover of a wall, about twenty rods distant from the common, where the British then were, we found Asahel Porter, of Woburn, shot through the body;

upon which Ebenezer Lock took aim, and discharged his gun at the Britons, who were then but about twenty rods from us. We then fell back a short distance, and the enemy, soon after, commenced their march for Concord.
Elias Phinney published Lock’s deposition in his History of the Battle of Lexington, written to prove that the Lexington militiamen had fired back at the British.

In 1775, the Massachusetts authorities had wanted to emphasize victimhood, not resistance. They listed Porter among the provincial dead, and published little about Lexington men firing back. The earliest reports don’t present Porter’s death as an atrocity, as they do with some of the people killed later in the day.

There was a funeral for Porter and another Woburn casualty, Daniel Thompson, on 21 April. He was noted in the newspapers, though some rendered his first name as “Azel.”

In 1782, Asahel’s widow Abigail married Ephraim Peirce, who was a couple of years younger. He died in 1810. She lived until 1840, dying at age 84. A younger Asahel Porter settled in Reading, christened his oldest son Asahel, and thus carried the name into the new century.

On 21 Apr 1875, a Grand Army of the Republic post erected the first stone in Asahel Porter’s honor in Woburn’s cemetery. It was described as “a plain marble slab suitably inscribed.” And a century later, apparently, it had disappeared.

In 1975 a group called the Baldwin Historical Society erected a new stone, carved in a startling approximation of eighteenth-century style. I can find only a few traces of this society today, but I suspect it was named after Woburn’s Loammi Baldwin. That monument reads:
Although a Man of Peace
he was caught in a conflict
not of his choosing.
As a result he became
one of the first to die
for his New Country.
(Here’s a clearer photo on Flickr.)

COMING UP: What happened to Porter’s companion Josiah Richardson?

2 comments:

Charles Bahne said...

It's interesting that you publish this story in the same week as the Boston Globe:

http://www.boston.com/news/local/massachusetts/articles/2010/04/19/who_started_the_revolution_heres_one_smoking_gun_theory/

Or maybe I should say "in the same year", since it's expected that stories like this would be published in the 3rd week of April.

J. L. Bell said...

It’s not entirely coincidental since earlier this spring I attended a talk by Bill Poole (focus of the Globe story) in which he discussed his ancestor Ebenezer Locke. That reminded me I had gathered information on Asahel Porter for some April. I’m now wondering about a posting on the Globe story by itself.