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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Monday, April 18, 2016

“Now the war has begun and no one knows when it will end.”

When we left the nonagenarian Amos Baker of Lincoln yesterday, he had just described how the commanders of the Middlesex County militiamen massed above the North Bridge in Concord agreed to march toward the British regulars holding that position.

Baker then recounted:
And the order was given to march, and we all marched down without any further order or arrangement.

The British had got up two of the planks of the bridge. It is a mercy they fired on us at the bridge, for we were going to march into the town, and the British could load and fire three times to our once, because we had only powder horns and no cartridge boxes, and it would have been presumptuous. I understood that Colonel Abijah Pierce got the gun of one of the British soldiers who was killed at the bridge, and armed himself with it.
Pierce had come out with nothing but a walking-stick as a weapon. Baker probably exaggerated when he said the provincials had “only powder horns and no cartridge boxes,” emphasizing how much the locals were underdogs. At the bridge they had a clear numerical superiority, which is why the regulars soon retreated.
There were two British soldiers killed at the bridge. I saw them when I went over the bridge, lying close together, side by side, dead.

Joshua Brooks, of Lincoln, was at the bridge and was struck with a ball that cut through his hat, and drew blood on his forehead, and it looked as if it was cut with a knife; and we concluded they were firing jackknives.

When we had fired at the bridge and killed the British, Noah Parkhurst, who was my right hand man, said, “Now the war has begun and no one knows when it will end.”
Baker then told the story of James Nichols, an Englishman in the Lincoln company. Richard C. Wiggin wrote about that story and the records behind it here.
I believe I was the only man from Lincoln that had a bayonet. My father got it in the time of the French war.

I went into the house where [Isaac] Davis and [Joseph] Hosmer were carried after they fell, and saw their bodies. I supposed the house to be Major [John] Buttrick’s.

When we marched down to the bridge, Major Buttrick marched first, and Captain Davis next to him. I did not see Colonel [John] Robinson [of Westford] to know him.

I verily believe that I felt better that day, take it all the day through, than if I had stayed at home.
After justice of the peace Ebenezer Rockwood Hoar finished writing this down, the text was read back to Baker and he signed it in front of three witnesses. Baker died later that year, thought to be the last veteran of the Battle of Lexington and Concord.

(The picture above is Don Troiani’s painting of the fight at the North Bridge. True to form, he has given the provincial militiamen up front bayonets.)


Mr Punch said...

Hoar was presumably acting in the capacity of a justice of the peace for the purpose of recording Baker's statement (in effect, notarizing it); he was actually at that time a judge of the Court of Common Pleas, roughly equivalent to our modern Superior Court.

J. L. Bell said...

Yes, Baker's statement took the form of an affidavit in front of Judge Hoar rather than, say, a letter. As such, it resembles the testimony veterans left when applying for pensions, though as far as I know it wasn't used for that purpose. Most of those depositions and affidavits speak of length of service rather than the details of just one day, and Rick Wiggins has written that Baker did serve at other points in the war.

Brian Mcmurdo said...

I enjoyed your posts about Amos Baker. I am a descendant of his brother in law, Daniel Homsmer, Jr., as well as Baker's father, Jacob Baker. We are descended from Daniel Hosmer's daughter, Grace Hosmer Wilder, who with her husband Abel Wilder, moved from the Concord / Lincoln area to Abbott's Plantation (now Temple), Maine, in the late 1790's. It appears that Daniel Hosmer Jr. moved to Temple or the adjacent village of Farmington sometime around 1810, according to his veteran's deposition. It would appear that he either lived with his son (confusingly called Daniel Hosmer Jr. also) or perhaps with his daughter Grace Hosmer Wilder, or perhaps farmed his own land although he would have been in his sixties at this time. It's interesting to imagine the stories that he, as an old man, might have shared in their little farm near Drury Pond in the woods. Hosmer was alive in Farmington as late as 1832, but I don't know of a death date for him. Of interest also is that the Baker farm associated with Amos Baker's family in Lincoln, MA later became a haunt of Henry David Thoreau (Chapter 10 of Walden--"The Baker Farm"), and was in the 1990's protected by preservation efforts led by Don Henley, one of the rock band Eagles to preserve its tie to the history of American environmentalism. Finally, Rick Wiggins, mentioned above in another post, was very helpful to our family's research on Daniel Hosmer and the Baker brothers a few years back.

J. L. Bell said...

Yes, Rick Wiggins is the man for Lincoln-related information. Our modern custom of having men keep the "Jr." or "III" suffix throughout life makes it confusing to read records from a time when they were circumstantially assigned—i.e., the oldest man of a certain name in a community was "Sr.," the next oldest (not necessarily the first one's son) "Jr.," and so on, with the suffixes reassigned when the oldest man moved or died. I think that reflects how there are now more adults with living grandparents, and how people move around more. But the transition must have been tricky.