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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Wednesday, April 20, 2011

A View of Battle Road from Needham

Continuing Boston 1775’s look back at the first major battle of the Revolutionary War, here’s a description of that event from the manuscript memoir of the Rev. Samuel West of Needham’s first parish, as transcribed here, courtesy of the town’s historical society and schools. This Rev. Samuel West of Needham and later Boston (1738-1808) was not the Rev. Samuel West of Falmouth (1729-1807) who deciphered Dr. Benjamin Church’s secret letter into Boston.

In the night after the eighteenth of April a detachment of the British troops marched out of Boston for the purpose of securing to themselves or destroying the provisions etc. which had been deposited at Concord, by order of the Provincial Government. They in part effected their purpose, but were soon attacked by our people and a continual skirmish was kept up during their march from Concord to Boston. About one hundred on both sides were killed and many were wounded.

The news reached us about nine o’clock A.M. The east company in Needham met at my house as part of the Military stores were deposited with me, they there supplied themselves, and by ten o’clock all marched for the place of action with as much spirit and resolution as the most zealous friends of the cause could have wished for.

We could easily trace the march of troops from the smoke which arose over them, and could hear from my house the report of the cannon and the Platoons fired by the British. The Needham company was soon on the ground, but unhappily being ignorant of what are called flank-guards they inserted themselves between them and the main body of the British troops. In consequence of which they suffered more severely than their Neighbors who kept to a greater distance. . . .

In the evening we had intelligence that several of the Needham inhabitants were among the slain, and the next morning it was confirmed that five had fallen in the action and several others had been wounded. It is remarkable that the five who fell all of them had families, and several of them very numerous families so that there were about forty widows and fatherless children made in consequence of their death.

I visited these families immediately, and with a sympathetic sense of their affliction I gave to some the first intelligence they had of the dreadful event, the death of a Husband and a Parent. The very different manner in which the tidings were received, discovered the very different disposition of the suffers. While some were almost frantic in their grief others received the news with profound silence as if in a consternation of grief they were incapable of shedding tears or uttering sighs or groans. . . .

Their treatment of such as the British left dead on the road was such as I could have supposed. They were stripped for the sake of their cloths and left naked on the highway until buried by order of our Government…

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