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, January 17, 2016

Elkanah Watson’s “embryo military duties”

I’m skeptical about a bunch of the stories Elkanah Watson told in his memoir, Men and Times of the Revolution, but I like this early anecdote of growing up in Plymouth:
I remained at the ordinary common-school until the age of fourteen. This school was kept by Alexander Scammel and Peleg Wadsworth, both afterwards distinguished officers in the revolutionary army. In common with the other patriotic spirits of the age, they evidently saw the approach of the coming tempest. I remember them as early as 1771, intently studying military tactics, and have often seen them engaged in a garden adjoining my father’s, drilling each other.

They formed the boys into a military company, and our school soon had the air of a miniature arsenal, with our wooden guns and tin bayonets suspended around the walls. At twelve o’clock, the word was given, “to arms,” and each he seized his gun; then, led by either Scammel or Wadsworth, we were taught military evolutions, and marched over hills, through swamps, often in the rain, in the performance of these embryo military duties. A sad and impressive commentary upon the effect of these early influences, is afforded by the fact that half this company perished in the conflicts of the Revolution.

Scammel was tall in person, exceeding six feet, slender and active. He was kind and benevolent in his feelings, and deeply beloved by his pupils. He was eminently distinguished during the Revolution for his conduct and bravery. In 1777, he was very conspicuous at the battle of Saratoga, leading his regiment of the New-Hampshire troops, in a desperate charge upon Burgoyne’s lines. At the siege of Yorktown, he held the important station of Adjutant-General to Washington’s army, and there fell in a reconnoisance upon the British works.
Actually, Scammell (shown above) had resigned as adjutant earlier in 1781 to take up a battlefield command. But otherwise Watson had accurate information about him.

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