Yesterday I quoted an 1848 anecdote about women in Pepperell seizing a Loyalist suspected of carrying “despatches from Canada to the British in Boston” in April 1775. Over the next half-century, other authors added to that story.
In an 1873 address in Dunstable, New Hampshire, Samuel T. Worcester filled in some information:
The maiden name of Mrs. David Wright, the heroine of the bridge guard, was Prudence Cumings, a daughter of Samuel Cumings, one of the first settlers of Hollis, and first town clerk. It appears from the Hollis records of “births and marriages,” that Prudence Cumings was born at the parish of West Dunstable, now Hollis, Nov. 26, 1740, and married to David Wright, of Pepperell, Dec. 28, 1761.In 1899, Mary L. P. Shattuck delivered a talk to the local D.A.R. called “The Story of Jewett’s Bridge,” which she published in 1912. (Here’s the text in P.D.F. form.) This appears to be the most comprehensive telling of the bridge story.
Shattuck collected two versions of the tale, one each from descendants of:
- the suspected Loyalist, Leonard Whiting (1740-1807) of Hollis; unlike some other men arrested for favoring the Crown, he stayed in the U.S., moving only as far as Cavendish, Vermont.
- Prudence Wright (1740-1823), the leader of the women at the bridge.
Another addition to the original tale isn’t possible to confirm through town records. It says Whiting was riding with another suspected Loyalist named Samuel Cumings, who recognized the voice of the woman shouting at them to stop—because Prudence Wright was his sister. Shattuck even quoted Samuel as saying, “Hold, that’s Prue’s voice, and she would wade through blood for the rebel cause.”
Yet a third addition to the tale was that Prudence Wright had actually overheard her brother (either Samuel or another one, Thomas Cumings) and Whiting discussing how they would ride to Boston and tell the British authorities about what the Patriots were doing. In this version, she organized the guard specifically to block them. And after hearing her voice, Thomas (in one version) left the area for good. That telling plays up family ties the most, and provides an even stronger justification for Wright’s actions.
I’m always dubious about stories that grow better over time without supporting documentation. And this tale strikes me as missing a particular type of evidence.
TOMORROW: The missing documents.