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 24, 2016

“Concerning our chusing a sargent”

On 19 April 1775, Thomas Poor was captain of a minute company from Andover. His sergeants were named John Chickering, Cyrus Marble, Philip Farrington, and William Johnson, as stated on a muster roll for the first week of the war.

One of the privates in that company was James Stevens. He kept a diary, later published in the Essex Institute Historical Collections. It shows that the Andover minutemen remained in Cambridge, with occasional patrols into Charlestown, for the next few weeks.

During that time Massachusetts’s emergency assemblage of militia regiments was formally reorganized into an army. We see a little of that process from Pvt. Stevens’s diary entry of 10 May:
Wednsday ye 10 we got our brecfast & then went on the pread in the morning & Capt Poor come out & spok very rash concerning our chusing a sargent & said that we had no right to

wich displesd the soldiers very much thay went of & did no duty that day

about leven a clok we praded & capt Poor come & said that he was mis under stod & the comping setld with him by his making som recantation
This was the New England way of war, privates insisting they had the right to choose whom they would serve under and refusing to do duty if they didn’t get their way. Their captain, a respected veteran, had to make a “recantation” of his scolding before the men settled down.

Ten days later, Capt. Poor got a little distance from that situation by getting promoted to major of the regiment. Benjamin Farnum, a lieutenant in April, became the captain of Poor’s company. (Farnum’s gravestone above comes courtesy of Find a Grave.)

The men probably chose their new sergeant to replace Cyrus Marble, promoted to ensign by 7 May. John Chickering, Philip Farrington, and William Johnson all remained sergeants under Capt. Farnum. Chickering became an ensign by October while Farrington later transferred to another company as an armorer.

And the new sergeant? That was John Barker (1753-1839). (Just to keep things confusing, the minute company had two men of that name.) Presumably the enlisted men chose Barker, and then the officers agreed. Like most of his Andover comrades, he served to the end of the year, and then in short stints later in the war. I’ll get back to him in mid-June.

Lest we think that only enlisted men complained about ranks, on 6 June the captains of that regiment, including Farnum, petitioned the Massachusetts Provincial Congress to have more lieutenants in their companies:
According to the Recommendation of the Congress 20th of Octobr Last [i.e., in 1774] Six Companyes in Sd Regiment have appointed two Lieutnts & Since that time to the 19th of April have ben Diciplined in the Art Military with two Lieutnts & Ever Since ye Lo 19th of April have been Imbodied & have Regularly Done Duty in the Army & So have ben Deprived of the Advantages of Returning to the Country for Recruiting of Troops much to our Disadvantage & as we are informed that the Presant Congress have Determined That Each Company may have but one Lieutnt & an Ensign your Petitioners, Conceiving great Difficulties will Arise in our Companies upon Account thereof, beg that if it may be Consistant with the Honour & Dignity of the Congress That Each of the Seven Companies may have two Lieutnts
Like Capt. Poor, the congress bowed to that demand from below. Cyrus Marble received the rank of second lieutenant by October.

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