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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Sunday, May 16, 2010

Lydia Barnard: “a woman of strong mind and massive physique”

Yesterday I continued this year’s exploration of the stories of the Battle of Lexington and Concord with the story of Lydia Barnard (born Lydia Warren and died Lydia Spofford), as first set down in an 1880 history of Boxford, Massachusetts.

Another version of this tale appeared in Jeremiah and Aphia Tenney Spofford’s 1888 genealogy of the family. This book calls Lydia Spofford “a woman of strong mind and massive physique,” and quotes what it says is her own account of 19 Apr 1775, “transcribed by her grandson, Benjamin S. Barnes, of Boxford”:

The day of the battle of Lexington, I was living in Watertown. The able-bodied men had all gone to the battle, leaving only women, children, and a few old men, at home, anxiously awaiting the result. Toward night several women came running to my house, crying, “Mrs. Barnard, the Regulars are coming!”

I looked up the street, and saw a redcoat riding toward us on a horse. He came up and inquired if that was the road to Boston. I stepped to his side, took the horse by the head with one hand, and the soldier by the collar with the other, saying, “You villain; you’ve been killing our folks, and deserve death yourself” (my husband and five brothers had gone to the fight). I pulled him to the ground, while he begged piteously for his life.

I then gave him up to some old men, who took him to the tavern and kept him till the proper authorities had him exchanged for one of our men. It was asserted that he was wounded, and was trying to find his way to Boston, having stolen the horse from the roadside, where it had been tied by its owner, Col. Stedman, of Cambridge, who had ridden him to Lexington that morning, whither he had gone to fight for his country. He was made glad, a few days after, by the recovery of his valuable horse.
I don’t know of any colonel named Stedman in Cambridge, but Capt. Ebenezer Stedman (1709-1785) was a selectman and important Patriot activist in that town. Local historian Lucius Paige wrote: “He kept a tavern many years on the southerly side of Mount Auburn Street, about midway between Brighton and Dunster streets.” We know from contemporaneous notes that Stedman sent express riders up to Woburn between midnight and dawn on 19 Apr 1775, so he got word of the British march early. Still, he was in his late sixties that day, and might have left the actual riding and fighting to younger men.

This version of the tale offers an explanation of how a Watertown woman could have grabbed a redcoat when the main British column never passed through that town: this particular soldier was separated from the rest, and lost. He also seems to have been wounded, and not carrying a gun—easy prey for “a woman of strong mind and massive physique.”

TOMORROW: Apparently, yet more details of Lydia Spofford’s tale.

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