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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Saturday, April 23, 2016

The Rev. David McClure Finds Refuge with Joseph Mayo

When we left the Rev. David McClure on the afternoon of 19 Apr 1775, he had just managed to get out of Boston to Roxbury by the neck. Here’s what he witnessed the rest of that day.
The sun was about half an hour above the western horizon. Saw several men on horseback, on a rising ground, looking over to Cambridge, I rode up to them & immediately heard the noise of battle from Cambridge across the bay. There was a constant firing of small arms. The sound was dreadful. It was the first time, I had ever heard a gun fired in anger.

I found it difficult to perswade myself that people who had lived so long peaceably together, were now killing each other. But such was the dreadful reality. O War, “thou shame to man!” O why will “men forget that they are brethren!” Were there no other proofs of the deep, and universal depravity of our moral nature, the existence of war, is a sufficiently dreadful proof.

I was informed by one of the gentlemen, Major [Joseph] Mayo, that I could not get to Cambridge, as was my intention, for the bridge was taken up, to prevent the british returning that way. He invited me to go to his house, about 3 miles. I willingly accompanied him.
Mayo (1721-1776) owned a large farm a little past the intersection of modern Washington Street and South Street in Roslindale. He served as foreman of the jury that acquitted most of the British soldiers tried after the Boston Massacre. “I am much inclined to make him a major,” wrote Gov. Thomas Hutchinson, and he indeed promoted Mayo within his Suffolk County militia regiment. Nevertheless, Mayo was a part of many Roxbury town committees protesting new Crown measures.

Since the summer of 1774, Francis S. Drake’s history of Roxbury says, Mayo had hosted Elizabeth Checkley, widow of a Boston minister and first mother-in-law of Samuel Adams; her daughter Nancy; and a cousin named Sally Hatch, among others. The merchant John Andrews (whose numbers often seem to be off by a factor of two) stated that they formed “an agreeable, social family of about twenty-five females, with the master of the house.”

The atmosphere was not so happy on 19 April, McClure reported:
The house was a place of anxiety & sorrow. It was evening. 7 or 8 Ladies from Boston were there, & their husbands & families were in town. The night was spent by them in wakefulness & weeping. About 10 O’Clock in the evening, the Major’s son returned from the battle, to the great joy of his parents, & gave us the first information of particulars. It was wonderful that a collection of militia men, should be inspired with such courage, & drive the disciplined troops of Britain before them.

Several circumstances in providence, appeared to be ordered in favor of our righteous cause. These circumstances, struck the minds of all; and men of no religious principle at other times, now seemed to be affected with them. Among other things, it is proper to mention, that the element of air helped our cause. He who caused the stars in their courses to fight against Sisera, who wared against Israel, caused on this day, the wind to rise, & follow the retreating enemy, covering them with such a cloud of dust, that blinded them, yet not so but that they were, in their crowded ranks in the road, a plain mark for the militia.

All night, the people were silently marching by the house, from neighbouring towns. I did not take off my clothes; but lay down a little while on the bed.
Some traditions among Mayo’s descendants say he was with Israel Putnam at the time of the Lexington Alarm, but McClure’s diary says otherwise. Those traditions also say Mayo became a major in the Continental Army, but it appears his rank came from the militia before the war; no source identifies Mayo’s Continental regiment.

(The picture above is John Ritto Penniman’s painting of Meetinghouse Hill in Roxbury from the 1790s. It is now owned by the Art Institute of Chicago.)

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