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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Thursday, April 25, 2013

The Soldier Who Died in Buckman Tavern

I was planning to start this entry by stating: “Because Pvt. John Bateman left a deposition on 23 Apr 1775, we know he hadn’t died from his wounds by that date. And that suggests he wasn’t the soldier buried near Buckman Tavern in Lexington, as memorialized by this stone.”

Except that last night Don Hagist kindly left a comment on yesterday’s posting to report that a British army muster roll says grenadier Bateman died on 21 April—two days before that deposition.

Now I believe the most likely explanation is that the muster roll is in error, based on information transmitted to the British command across the siege lines during an exchange of prisoners or talks leading up to it. My experience is that Patriot depositions were one-sided and incomplete, but not made up out of whole cloth and signed with a dead man’s signature. So I think it most likely that Bateman died after 23 April. Still, it’s a good reminder that our sources might be a crucial day or two off.

As for that stone in Lexington, the basis for it seems to be this passage from an article by Dr. Francis H. Brown, published by the Lexington Historical Society in 1905:
A British soldier was buried in the ground of the Munroe purchase. He was wounded on the 19th of April, and carried to the Buckman Tavern, where he died on the 22d. He was buried at a spot near the Eustis monument. Mr. Eli M. Robbins had the exact spot pointed out to him by Abijah Harrington, who died within a few years. Harrington’s father was sexton in 1775, had buried the soldier and knew the spot well. The exact spot has been pointed out to the writer. The grave should have a permanent mark.
At the same time Brown, Robbins, and the historical society published a collection of “Lexington Epitaphs” which included one non-epitaph for that soldier with an unfortunate typo:
An English soldier
wounded April 19, 1775; died
April 12, 1775; no stone marks
his grave.
The Abijah Harrington “who died within a few years” seems to be the man who lived from 1804 to 1893. His father was Nathan Harrington (1762-1837)—old enough to remember the fighting in Lexington but not old enough to have been the sexton at that time. So there seems to be some confusion along the line: Brown was referring to another Abijah Harrington, the sexton was really that man’s grandfather, or something else. In any event, we can only hope the information about the soldier’s death date was transmitted accurately in one form.

Charles Hudson’s 1913 history of Lexington reprints a bill from Dr. Joseph Fiske (1752-1837) to the Massachusetts Provincial Congress for treating wounded British soldiers, which hints at how many there were. Here are the appointments Fiske billed for:
  • 19 April: one soldier in Woburn, another at the Buckman Tavern in Lexington.
  • 20 April: seven British soldiers at that tavern (probably including the man who died two days later), two in Lincoln (perhaps including Bateman), three more at his uncle’s house in Lexington.
  • 23 April; one soldier in Cambridge.
  • 26 April: back at Buckman Tavern; he dressed the wounds of that last soldier “three times.”
Fiske submitted his bill in June, suggesting that was his complete work for the congress. Meanwhile, as I quoted yesterday, Concord historians say Dr. John Cuming was treating another batch of wounded soldiers in their town.

(Photograph of the modern marker for this soldier’s grave by Caitlin G. D. Hopkins.)

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