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, February 11, 2008

Bill to Add Barrett’s Farm to Minute Man Park

Today’s Boston Globe reports on a historical preservation effort that I support for both scholarly and personal reasons: the attempt to add the James Barrett house in Concord to the Minute Man National Historical Park. Reporter Peter Schworm wrote:

Three centuries have weathered the Colonial home’s timber beams, rusted its door hinges, and faded its King of Prussia marble hearth. The home’s original floorboards, 23-inch-wide hardwood planks, have buckled.

But little has changed in the muster room where Barrett, a colonel in the Colonial militia, met with John [actually Samuel] Adams, John Hancock, Paul Revere, and other patriots in the days before the Battle of Lexington and Concord. History reveres those men as founding fathers yet scarcely remembers Barrett and his farm, which was also a massive munitions hold that provoked the British march to Concord that April morning in 1775.

The British arrived too late.

Colonists had already armed themselves with the weapons and made their way to Old North Bridge, where the American Revolution began.
There are some problematic details in that last sentence, and not just because folks from Lexington have their own ideas about “where the American Revolution began.” That sentence makes it sound like the militiamen who fought at the North Bridge picked up their weapons from Barrett.

That seems unlikely since the whole point of the militia system is that individual citizens owned their own muskets and other basic weaponry. Barrett was guarding supplies that belonged to the Massachusetts Provincial Congress and were to be used collectively: artillery, shovels and tents for camps, replenishments of gunpowder and musket balls. The royal authorities in Boston could make the case that those supplies were part of a rebellion against the Crown.

As the Globe reports:
“Everyone knows that Paul Revere rode out to Concord to warn that the British were coming,” said Jim Cunningham, a Lincoln resident who is managing the restoration of the farmhouse.

“But why were they coming? For munitions that were hidden right here at this farm. This was their objective.” . . .

British spies had learned that Barrett, a leader of the Middlesex Militia, had amassed an impressive arsenal of guns, powder, and ammunition on his farm. Of particular concern were four cannons the colonists had stolen from British troops in Boston.
That’s my research—the connection between artillery pieces that disappeared in Boston in September 1774, the British march on Concord in April 1775, and one cannon on display in Concord today. So I of course would love to see the Barrett site become part of Minute Man Park. It was the end of the British march in both meanings of the term: the farthest point and the objective. Though there was no actual fighting on Barrett’s farm, it was the reason the British army came to Concord.

Adding to a national park requires an act of Congress. Rep. Marty Meehan introduced the Minute Man National Historical Park Boundary Revision Act (H.R. 2815) last June; his successor, Rep. Niki Tsongas, has taken up the issue. Sen. Ted Kennedy introduced a similar bill with the specifics filled in (S. 2513) on behalf of himself and Sen. John Kerry in December. Once it passes, there will probably have to be a private fundraising effort since the federal government’s fiscal deficits have grown so much since 2000.

(Photo by Dominic Chavez/Globe Staff. I’ll get back to Oscar Marion tomorrow.)


Anonymous said...

I thought that I saw two of the cannons from Concord are currently located in Charlestown. One being in storage at the USS Constitution museum and another in the bunker hill monument. Climb to the top, the cannon there should be from Concord.

Please correct me if I'm wrong

J. L. Bell said...

That was the situation as of early 2005. Through the efforts of the National Park Service, the Bunker Memorial Hill Association (which owns the cannons), Save Our Heritage (a Concord-based preservation group), myself, and some generous donors, the cannon that was in storage at the Charlestown Navy Yard was moved to Minute Man National Historical Park’s Concord Visitor Center.

That cannon's mate remains on display at the top of the Bunker Hill Monument, clamped to a wall. Back in the 1780s, Henry Knox had it labeled the “Adams,” after Samuel Adams, and the gun in Concord is labeled the “Hancock.”