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, August 19, 2013

Ceremony for Noah Wiswall of Newton, 7 Sept.

Noah Wiswall of Newton was born in 1699, but age didn’t stop him from turning out during the militia alarm on 19 Apr 1775. In his Life of the Rev. Joseph Grafton, Late Pastor of the First Baptist Church, Newton, MS. (1849), S. F. Smith recorded this tradition from a descendant:

After the companies of men, including his own sons, had gone towards Cambridge, he started on foot and alone to follow them, on the day of the battle of Lexington, saying, “I wish to see what the boys are doing.”

Standing with some Americans not far from the field, three British soldiers came in sight. He immediately pointed them out to his companions, saying, “if you aim at the middle one, you will hit one of the three.” The American did so and was successful; the other two fled.

But that which was remarkable is that as he held out his hand to point towards the Britons, a ball fired from some quarter passed directly through it. He coolly bound up the hand with his handkerchief, picked up the gun of the fallen regular, and returned home with it as a trophy.
Francis Jackson’s History of the Early Settlement of Newton, published five years later, quotes that anecdote and adds of Wiswall:
He was Selectman three years; one of the early Baptists in Newton, having been bap. 1754, and one of the founders of the Baptist Ch. in Newton, 1780. The first meetings of the Ch. were held at his dwelling house [near Crystal Lake]. He gave the land on which their first M. H. was erected. . . .

He was then [in 1775] 76 years old: It may seem incredible that a man of his years could have performed the march and endured the fatigues of that day, but the roll of the East Newton company, in the battle of Lexington, now in the office of the Sec. of State, of Mass., and sworn to by the Capt. of that company, before Judge Fuller, shows that he was with the company, and not only he, but Ebenezer Parker, then 78 years old, and Dea. Jonas Stone, Dea. David Stone, Dea. William Bowles, and several other aged men, were volunteers in the ranks of the company on that day.
Wiswall was the only Newton man whom the Massachusetts Provincial Congress listed as wounded on the first day of the war. He survived the whole war and died in 1786.

On 7 September, there will be a ceremony at the Wiswall Tomb in Newton’s South Burying Ground on Winchester Street. This is meant to honor Wiswall and disabled American veterans (though I don’t see anything in the traditions to suggest that Wiswall considered himself disabled by his wound). The event is open to the public, and Gardner’s Regiment of reenactors will be among the honor guards.

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