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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Friday, June 11, 2010

The Documented Life of Hezekiah Wyman

There really was a Hezekiah Wyman in Middlesex County on 19 Apr 1775. In fact, there were two, father and son.

The son was born in Woburn in 1747 and married in Weston in 1770. Daniel S. Lamson’s History of the Town of Weston (1913) lists this Hezekiah Wyman as marching with the Weston militia company on 19 April and serving seven days in all. But he was only twenty-eight years old, presumably far from having white hair. So we have to focus on his father.

At the start of this series of postings, what seems like so many weeks ago, I quoted David H. Fischer’s Paul Revere’s Ride: “On the morning of April 19, 1775, Hezekiah Wyman turned fifty-five.” I suspect that was a misreading of a sentence in Henry Smith Chapman’s History of Winchester (1936): “Hezekiah was fifty-five on the morning of the Lexington alarm.” Chapman meant only that Wyman was that age, not that he turned fifty-five on 19 April.

But Chapman’s math was wrong. The vital records of Woburn, published in 1890, say that Hezekiah Wyman was born on 5 Aug 1720. He was therefore fifty-four years old during the Battle of Lexington and Concord. Not “sixty years last November,” as “The White Horseman” says.

This Hezekiah Wyman was also living in the southern part of Woburn, which later became Winchester. But according to “The White Horseman,” he lived within sight of Lexington common: “the window of [his] house overlooked the ground where these murders were committed.”

Samuel Sewall’s History of Woburn (1868), one of the best nineteenth-century local histories of Middlesex villages and towns, has only one thing to say about this Hezekiah Wyman’s military service. As of 1777 he had been called up for service, but had either served or paid for a substitute. Sewall recorded no details about him on 19 Apr 1775, and his name doesn’t appear on the muster lists of Woburn’s companies that day.

Is there any detail that the real Hezekiah Wyman of Woburn shares with the hero of “The White Horseman”? Chris Hurley kindly sent me this quotation from Wyman’s will, which is docket #25880 in the Middlesex County Probate records:

I give unto my son Daniel my pair of red Oxen, my Stears coming two Years old, one red & two speckled Cows, & three Heifers one coming three, & two coming two years old, and my white mare
So Hezekiah Wyman really did have a white horse. He wrote that will shortly before dying in 1779.

TOMORROW: The literary life of Hezekiah Wyman.

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