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 04, 2010

“An Old Man by the Name of Hezekiah Wyman”

As I discussed on Tuesday, the story about Hezekiah Wyman that appeared in The Boston Pearl and Literary Digest in 1835, titled “The White Horseman,” isn’t accurate history. The story’s first main character, a young militia captain named Roe who dies on Lexington common, is fictional.

However, the story is still based on history. The anonymous author was obviously inspired by what he (or she) had read about the actual shooting on Lexington common on 19 Apr 1775. Could that writer have also borrowed details of the actual Hezekiah Wyman’s activities?

If so, “The White Horseman” certainly built on those details in a high literary style. The paragraph that tells us of the death of “Captain Roe” continues:

There was an old man by the name of Hezekiah Wyman, the window of whose house overlooked the ground where these murders were committed; and no sooner did he see his brave countrymen fall, than he inwardly devoted himself to revenge the unhallowed slaughter.

“Wife,” said he “is there not an old gun barrel, somewhere in the garret?”

“I believe there was,” said she, “but pray what do you want with it?”

“I should like to see if it is fit for service,” replied he, “If 1 am not mistaken, it is good enough to drill a hole through a rig’lar.”

“Mercy on me, husband! are you going mad? An old man like you—sixty years last November—to talk of going to war! I should think you had seen enough of fighting the British already. There lies poor Captain Roe and his men bleeding on the grass before your eyes. What could you do with a gun?”

The old man made no reply, but ascended the stairs, and soon returned with a rusty gun barrel in his hands. In spite of his wife’s incessant din, he went to his shop, made a stock for it, and put it in complete order for use. He then saddled a strong white horse, and mounted him. He gave the steed the rein, and directed his course toward Concord.

He met the British troops returning, and was not long in perceiving that there was a wasp’s nest about their ears. He dashed so closely upon the flank of the enemy that his horse’s neck was drenched with the spouting blood of the wounded soldiers. Then reining back his snorting steed to reload, he dealt a second death upon the ranks with his never failing bullet. The tall gaunt form of the assailant, his grey locks floating on the breeze, and the color of his steed, soon distinguished him from the other Americans, and the regulars gave him the name of “Death on the pale horse.”
Obviously we’re in the realm of myth here. Wyman makes his own weapon from “an old gun barrel” and a new wooden stock. He must not have been shooting lately—yet he turns out to be a crack marksman, commanding a “never failing bullet,” and never getting hit himself. And all to avenge an “unhallowed slaughter” that takes place outside his very window.

I see Mel Gibson in the role, once all his hair turns white. Then again, he’s already tried this character in The Patriot; that movie wasn’t historically accurate, but it matches the tone of this story, doesn’t it?

TOMORROW: Hezekiah Wyman finishes his ride.

1 comment:

John L. Smith said...

I DO see the similarities of Wyman to the Mel Gibson character in "The Patriot", which I've always seen as (very) loosely based on Francis Marion. The need for action heroes have always been around...then and now!