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, March 25, 2019

James Reed and His Prisoners of War

In 1825 James Reed of Burlington testified about his experiences on 19 Apr 1775. At that time, Burlington was still part of Woburn, and Reed turned out with a company of Woburn militiamen. They reached Lexington shortly after the British column had passed through, killing eight men on the common.

Reed stated:
I also saw a British soldier march up the road, near said meeting-house, and Joshua Reed of Woburn met him, and demanded him to surrender. He then took his arms and equipments from him, and I took charge of him, and took him to my house, then in Woburn Precinct.
Reed’s house appears in the photo above, from the collection of the Cary Memorial Library in Lexington. That shows the house in 1955 as Route 128 was constructed nearby. Rob Cotsa reported last year that “The house was moved to construct the Burlington mall and later was destroyed by fire.”

Back to Reed’s recollection:
I also testify, that E. Walsh brought to my house, soon after I returned home with my prisoner, two more of said British troops; and two more were immediately brought, and I suppose, by John Munroe and Thomas R. Willard of Lexington; and I am confident, that one more was brought, but by whom, I don’t now recollect. All the above prisoners were taken at Lexington immediately after the main body had left the common, and were conveyed to my house early in the morning; and I took charge of them.
Thus, Reed had taken one redcoat to his house, but by noon he was in charge of six. All of these men were stragglers from Lt. Col. Francis Smith’s column. They hadn’t seen any fighting, and there was no chance they were wounded. Not did Reed mention any of them putting up any resistance. They were deserters as much as prisoners of war.

Reed’s “I suppose” suggests he had heard John Munroe’s recollection in his own 1825 deposition:
On the morning of the 19th, two of the British soldiers, who were in the rear of the main body of their troops, were taken prisoners and disarmed by our men, and, a little after sun-rise, they were put under the care of Thomas R. Willard and myself, with orders to march them to Woburn Precinct, now Burlington. We conducted them as far as Capt. James Read’s, where they were put into the custody of some other persons, but whom I do not now recollect.
Remarkably, Munroe’s father Robert had just been one of the first men killed on the town green, as he stood nearby. Thomas Rice Willard had watched the firing from the window of a house.

As for Reed’s house in Woburn, it was just beginning to fill:
In the afternoon five or six more of said British troops, that were taken prisoners in the afternoon, when on the retreat from Concord, were brought to my house and put under my care.
Those men had been all the way out to Concord and seen hard fighting on the way back. Reed said nothing about any of those regulars being wounded, however. It looks like the hurt regulars were cared for by local doctors closer to the line of march instead of marched up to the next town. With ten to twelve of the enemy to look after, Reed might have been getting nervous.

TOMORROW: What to do with the Massachusetts army’s first prisoners?

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