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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Friday, May 07, 2021

Commanding Lt. Col. Abijah Brown

As I related yesterday, Lt. Col. Abijah Brown chose not to reenlist in the Continental Army for the year 1776. He remained in Waltham as the army moved south.

But Brown remained active in the Massachusetts militia. As much of a headache as he was to work with, Brown really was committed to the Patriot cause. And he appears to have been capable. Within a couple of years he resumed his work in the Waltham town government as well.

It looks like authorities who had dealt with Brown before might have learned to be really strict with him, to leave him as little wiggle room as possible.

For instance, in late 1776 Brown led some Massachusetts militia troops north to Lake Champlain, but then balked at further orders. On 10 September, Gen. Horatio Gates, who no doubt recalled how Brown had escaped serious punishment a year earlier during the siege of Boston, wrote from Fort Ticonderoga to Lt. Col. Philip Van Cortlandt:
On receipt of this you will immediately order Lieutenant-Colonel Abijah Brown (who is now at Skenesborough) to this post. If he offers to make any hesitation or delay, you will instantly put him under an arrest and send him down under a good guard.
There might be a sad backstory to that conflict. Two days after that letter, Lt. Brown’s teen-aged son, Abijah, Jr., died at Skenesborough (now Whitehall).

In the spring of 1778 Lt. Col. Brown mustered militiamen for another mission to upstate New York. He wrote to the Massachusetts General Court about those troops needing arms. On 9 June the legislature resolved:
On the Petition of Colo. Abijah Brown praying that a number of militia-men mentioned in his petition, who are now on their march to join their regiment at North River, may be supplied with Fire Arms and accoutrements.

Resolved that the Board of War be, and they hereby are directed to deliver to said Colo. Brown twenty-two Fire Arms and accoutrements for the use of said men, he giving security to said Board of War that said Fire Arms and accoutrements shall be returned in good repair at the expiration of their tour of duty; and that there be stopped out of each one’s wages who shall so receive Fire Arms, the sum of ten shillings for the use of the same, unless any one or more shall choose to purchase said Fire Arms and accoutrements, in which case the Board of War are directed to sell to such as choose to purchase and give them a receipt for their payment.
Evidently some people thought that law wasn’t strong and specific enough to ensure the state would be fully repaid. The next day, the General Court resolved:
WHEREAS some doubts have arisen with respect to the Resolve on the Petition of Lieut. Colo. Abijah Brown of the 9th instant, for solving of which it is

Resolved that the Board of War be directed without delay to deliver to Lieut. Colo. Abijah Brown, twenty-two Fire Arms and accoutrements compleat for the use of that number of men belonging to the regiment of militia from this State, commanded by Colo. [Thomas] Poor; and that the Board of War take an obligation of Lieut. Colo. Brown for the return of the arms and accoutrements aforesaid in good order, at the expiration of the term for which said regiment is raised, and also said Brown’s obligation for ten shillings for the use of each Fire Arm and accoutrement delivered as aforesaid, as also to pay the said Board of War for each of the said arms and accoutrements as may be deficient, or that may be purchased by any of the men, such price as they shall determine, and that the Board of War be directed to set the price of said Fire Arms and accoutrements previous to their being delivered out.
Abijah Brown lived to the age of eighty-one, dying in 1818 at the home of a widowed daughter in Lincoln.

TOMORROW: Back to Col. Gridley’s horse.

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