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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Saturday, June 18, 2016

“The Regulars sha’n’t have Ben.”

In Historical Sketches of Andover (1880), Sarah Loring Bailey set down this story from the end of the Battle of Bunker Hill:
A private, John Barker, seeing his captain and friend, Benjamin Farnum, lying wounded in the path of the retreat, took him upon his shoulders, and steadying him by putting his gun across under his knees, bade him hold fast, and started off on the run, calling out, “The Regulars sha’n’t have Ben.” This is told by descendants of Captain Farnum, and by some of the neighbors.

On the other hand it has been the tradition in the Abbot family, and the Barker family, that Lieut. Isaac Abbot was the man rescued from the “Regulars.” Since the claim is made for the two, it is undoubtedly true that one or the other was carried off.
It’s striking how Barker’s own family said he had rescued Abbot, but the Farnum family’s claim got first position. To be sure, as of April, Abbot’s company had no man named John Barker in it while Farnum’s had two or three (depending on how one reads the roll).

Other sources confirm that both Abbot and Farnum were wounded in the battle. Bailey wrote that Farnum’s family arranged to bring him home to Andover to recover this way:
A sort of litter was placed on poles, and fastened to two chairs, and drawn by horses harnessed tandem. The Captain never wholly recovered from this wound, though he served during the whole war, and lived to a remarkable age; the sore made by the bullet continued to fester and be painful. Pieces of bone and the bullet that were taken from it were long kept, ghastly trophies of his first battle.
Pvt. James Stevens, who was home on sick leave during the battle, paid a sick call on 20 June. Stevens wrote in his diary, “this morning I went up to Captain varnum’s to se him he was wounded in two places in his lag & then I went home”.

Farnum recovered enough to serve as a militia officer in 1776 and then as a captain in the Massachusetts line in 1777, 1778, and the first three months of 1779 (not “the whole war”). Fifty years later he was hailed as the last surviving captain from the Battle of Bunker Hill. He died in 1833. The regulars never had him.

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