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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Sunday, May 19, 2013

James Hall, “a British soldier”

Today I’m pleased to share with you the first half of an essay by Dan Lacroix. As a historical researcher, Dan has worked for years with the Westford Museum & Historical Society. As a reenactor with the Westford Colonial Minutemen, he also has a specialty in eighteenth-century house joinery (carpentry). And a while back Dan clued me in on a fascinating mystery from New England’s Revolution, so I asked him to write up some of his findings as a guest blogger.

About eight years ago my research into the lives of Westford’s Revolutionary War soldiers took an unexpected turn. A short passage in Edwin Hodgman’s 1883 History of Westford describes a past resident by the name of James Hall as “a British soldier, born at Ashton-under-line [Lyne], England, who during the retreat of the Regulars from Concord, April 19, 1775, voluntarily surrendered to the Provincials and came to Westford and worked for Ephraim Hildreth, 3rd, whose daughter he married in 1784.”

An interesting story in itself, but wasn’t James Hall also the name of one of the British soldiers from the 4th (King’s Own) Regiment killed at the North Bridge? The precise identities of those three soldiers have been debated for years, and I won’t be delving into that debate here. Though it may not be possible to conclusively prove that two men named James Hall are one in the same, there is considerable evidence supporting the core facts within some engaging nineteenth-century family stories.

One of Hodgman’s sources might have been an article in the Boston Journal from 26 Apr 1875, which was repeated with annotations two weeks later in the Lowell Daily Courier. Written by an accomplished lawyer and Civil War veteran, Capt. Henry B. Atherton (1835-1906, shown above), the article was based on family stories and traditions from his home town of Cavendish, Vermont, where James Hall, born 29 Sept 1753, ultimately settled and established his family.

From Atherton we learn that at about the age of twenty James “awoke with the fatal shilling of the recruiting sergeant in his pocket,” and then was “engaged with the rest of his regiment in laying roads in Scotland.” A six-week passage (with two of them becalmed off of Newfoundland) brought him to Boston Common with his regiment in 1774.

In true Centennial-era detail we learn of his experiences on April 19th of the following year:

At Concord, he was among those stationed at the bridge. As they were about to begin the retreat, Minuteman Wright of Westford called to them “Boys, don’t pull up the planks!” whereupon Hall took deliberate aim at Wright and shot, but failed to hit him.
And further,
On the retreat through Lincoln Woods, a shot from one of the Minutemen grazed his shoulder, and worn out with fatigue, he threw himself on the ground, his comrades exclaiming, “There goes Sergeant Hall; he is dead!”

After they passed, he rose and returned to the Wright Tavern in Concord. There he suffered no indignity, except that John Gray of Westford pulled off his military cap with its ostrich feathers, which he retained and subsequently gave to his daughters.
The colorful nature of the story aside, certain details immediately raise some questions.

TOMORROW: Details and discrepancies in the legend of James Hall.

1 comment:

J. L. Bell said...

Just an observation of time’s passage: Dan’s son was the first person to appear in a photograph on Boston 1775, back in a May 2006 article about a spinning bee. That photo had been taken a few years before. And now I understand that little boy’s in college.