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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Tuesday, May 14, 2019

Dr. John Cuming, Justice of the Peace

The other Concord magistrate who collected depositions from captured British soldiers on 23 Apr 1775 was John Cuming according to one printed version and John Cummings according to another.

Dr. John Cuming (c. 1728-1788) was from a branch of an aristocratic Scottish family that had settled in Concord. His sisters Ame and Elizabeth Cumings were shopkeepers and “she-merchants” in Boston. They defied the non-importation boycott of 1769-1770, at one point publicly criticized as “enemies of the country.” The Cumings sisters would remain loyal to the Crown.

John Cuming, in contrast, established deep roots in Massachusetts. He became a Concord selectman, chairman of the committee of correspondence, colonel of the local militia, in 1776 a representative to the state legislature, and in 1779 a delegate to the convention to write a new state constitution. He owned slaves and lots of land. He left substantial bequests to Harvard College and the poor of Concord. Even today there’s a building at the local hospital named for him.

After the battle on 19 April, Cuming treated the wounded, including redcoats. According to Concord historian Lemuel Shattuck, based on an interview with Mary Barrett in 1831, “Eight of the wounded [prisoners] received medical attendance from Dr. Cuming, at the house then standing near Captain Stacy’s.” (I don’t know if that’s the same as the Cuming house shown above, but let’s assume.) Reportedly those men included Pvt. John Bateman, one of the redcoats who gave a deposition.

But Bateman doesn’t appear to have been Cuming’s patient yet on 23 April. That deposition was said to have been signed in Lincoln, not Concord. An invoice from Dr. Joseph Fiske that Joel Bohy found in the Massachusetts state archives shows that on 20 April he dressed two prisoners’ wounds in Lincoln, and one of those men was probably Bateman.

After Pvt. Bateman recovered somewhat, the provincial authorities moved him out to Concord to be held with other British men at the county jail. That’s when Dr. Cuming presumably took over caring for him.

TOMORROW: A visit to the jail.

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