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, July 14, 2016

A Child’s View of the Revolution in Marshfield

In his History of Shipbuilding on North River, Plymouth County, Massachusetts (1889), L. Vernon Briggs recorded some recollections he remembered hearing from Isaac Thomas (1765-1859) of Marshfield.

Isaac was nine years old when the Revolutionary War began. His father Zenas was one of the men who signed the letter complaining about the town’s official condemnation of the Boston Tea Party in 1774. (Zenas Thomas was, therefore, protesting the protest against a protest.)

Briggs wrote of young Isaac:
On Dec. 20, 1774 he beheld and followed with boyish curiosity the Queen’s Guards commanded by Capt. [Nisbet] Balfour as they marched by the common, where his school room was situated, on their way from North River to their destined quarters at the mansion house of Nathaniel Ray Thomas. He often spoke of the brightness of their bayonets as they glittered in that midday sun of one of the mildest days that the annals of past Decembers have recorded.
Actually, that arrival occurred on 23 Jan 1775. But it still should have been cold. As for “the Queen’s Guards,” that seems to be poetic license; those hundred soldiers in Marshfield were drafted from several regiments in Boston.
He also, on the morning succeeding the battle of Lexington, witnessed Capt. William Thomas and his young kinsman as they ascended to the summit of the hill, and saw him discharge the three alarm guns while his attendant beat the drum, which was the concerted signal to acquaint the surrounding inhabitants of the commencement of hostilities.

He saw the burning of the obnoxious tea on the height which yet bears its name, and saw the torch touched to the fire fated pile by that devoted Whig, Jeremiah Low.
That tea-burning happened in December 1773, shortly after the Tea Party.
He was fond of relating descriptions of the olden school room.
Surely ’twas a rustic school-room
All unplastered there it stood,
Broad and deep its ancient hearthstone
Where they rolled the logs of wood;
Coarse the furniture within it,
Diamond lattices for light,
Cross-legged table for the master
Where he did the copies write.
I haven’t found a source for those lines aside from Isaac Thomas.

TOMORROW: Withdrawal from Marshfield.

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