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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Saturday, May 15, 2010

Lydia Barnard: “a woman of strong mind and body”

Sidney Perley’s History of Boxford (1880) includes this ungraceful sentence in a footnote:

When the British drove the General Court from Boston in 1775, Mr. [Aaron] Wood and some of the representatives boarded with Mrs. Lydia Barnard,—daughter of Phineas and Grace (Hastings) Warren of Waltham, Mass., and widow of David Barnard—(who was born Jan. 18, 1745), in Watertown, where, it will be remembered, many of the members of the General Court took refuge.
Already we’ve veered off the historical track. The royal authorities didn’t “drive the General Court from Boston in 1775.” Gov. Thomas Gage had used his constitutional power to dissolve the legislature in mid-1774 while it was meeting in Salem. The towns elected a shadow legislature called the Massachusetts Provincial Congress late that year, and Aaron Wood was the first representative from Boxford, though he didn’t attend all the later sessions.

In mid-1775, after the war had begun, Massachusetts towns decided they could resume electing a General Court. The legislature then met in Watertown, and Wood was once against a Boxford representative. And, since his wife died on 15 June 1775, he was also available.

Perley’s footnote continues:
Mr. Wood fell in love with his buxom hostess, married [on 8 May 1776 in Cambridge], and brought her to Boxford. After the death of Mr. Wood, who died childless, she married Benjamin Spofford of Boxford, Nov. 14, 1792. She was a woman of strong mind and body, weighing over two hundred pounds, and died Sept. 6, 1839, aged ninety-five years [actually ninety-four].

When the British retreated after the battle of Lexington, they passed by her house. One of the privates stole a horse, and was making his retreat in better style. He said something to Mrs. Barnard that was not acceptable to her patriotic mind, and she pulled him from his horse, and took him prisoner; and, it is said, this was the first prisoner taken during the Revolution.
But the British column didn’t withdraw from Concord through Watertown, so they couldn’t have “passed by” the Barnard house.

TOMORROW: Lydia Spofford’s own story?

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