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, April 29, 2019

A Prisoner at Reuben Brown’s

At the end of the day on 19 Apr 1775, the British commanders inside Boston had no idea what had happened to 2d. Lt. Isaac Potter of the marines.

For days Potter was listed as missing—the only officer whose fate was unaccounted for. Just before sending his report on the battle to London, Gen. Thomas Gage added at the bottom:
N.B. Lieutenant Isaac Potter reported to be wounded and taken prisoner.
Yesterday I followed Ellen Chase in guessing that Potter was traveling back to Boston in a chaise ahead of the withdrawing column, which suggests he had been wounded back in Concord. It’s also possible he was wounded and captured during the withdrawal. Whatever happened, it must have been chaotic for his fellow officers to have lost track of him.

The evidence suggests the provincials captured Potter in Menotomy and then sent him back to Concord, to the house shown above. That was the home of Reuben Brown, a maker of harnesses, saddles, and other leather gear. It stood beside a large workshop on the main road. Brown’s business helps to explain why the regulars took a chaise from his yard to transport their wounded.

The harness-maker lived until 1832 and evidently loved to tell stories about the opening of the war. After he died, the New England Farmer reprinted an obituary from the Boston Courier which said of Brown on that morning:
his wife with her infant children [was] instructed to manage for herself in the woods north of the town, with many other females and infirm people of the place. Mr Brown then mounted his horse again, it being now about day-break, and commenced the task of alarming the neighboring country. And his efforts will need no comment when we say that he rode that day about 120 miles in the performance of this noble duty.
Likewise, the author of a profile of Gen. Benjamin Lincoln published in The National Portrait Gallery of Distinguished Americans in 1865 mentioned:
The writer has frequently conversed with a venerable citizen of Concord [named in a footnote as Brown], since deceased, then an artisan in the village, who, having at the first news of the approach of the enemy some time before day-break, commenced the voluntary labor of alarming the neighboring country, actually rode on horseback more than one hundred miles during the next twenty-four hours…
Apparently Brown wasn’t even home for most of the day of the battle. It’s therefore unclear why Lt. Potter ended up in Brown’s house.

But he was there within a couple of days. According to Lemuel Shattuck’s 1835 history of Concord:
Lieutenant Isaac Potter, of the marines, was taken prisoner, and confined some time at Reuben Brown’s. Colonel [James] Barrett was directed, April 22d, to give him liberty to walk round the house, but to keep a constant guard of three men, day and night, to present his being insulted or making his escape.
David Mason was in Concord working with Barrett to prepare cannon for the provincial army. Mason wrote “Lieut Potter of the Marines” in a notebook, so he must have crossed paths with the prisoner, too.

TOMORROW: Lt. Isaac Potter, house guest.

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