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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Sunday, April 21, 2019

More Glimpses from the Lexington Parsonage

Yesterday I quoted the recollections of Dorothy Quincy about her experiences at the Lexington parsonage on 19 Apr 1775, where she was staying as fiancée of John Hancock.

As recorded in 1822 by William H. Sumner, the widow Dorothy Scott described the aftermath of the battle this way:
Mrs. Scott was at the chamber window [i.e., upstairs] looking at the fight. She says two of the wounded men were brought into the house. One of them, whose head was grazed by a ball, insisted on it that he was dead; the other, who was shot in the arm, behaved better. The first was more scared than hurt.
In 1912 the Lexington Historical Society published another woman’s memory of that morning in the parsonage. This came from Elizabeth Clarke (1763-1844), the Rev. Jonas Clarke’s oldest daughter, writing to a niece in 1841:
this day which is sixty six years since the war began on the Common which I now can see from this window as here I sit writing, and can see, in my mind, just as plain, all the British Troops marching off the Common to Concord, and the whole scene, how Aunt [Lydia] Hancock and Miss Dolly Quinsy, with their cloaks and bonnets on, Aunt Crying and ringing her hands and helping Mother Dress the children, Dolly going round with Father, to hide Money, watches and anything down in the potatoes and up Garrett, and then Grandfather Clarke sent down men with carts, took your Mother and all the children but Jonas [1760-1828] and me and Sally [1774-1843] a Babe six months old. Father sent Jonas down to Grandfather Cook’s to see who was killed and what their condition was…
The hiding of valuables and wringing of hands probably preceded the arrival of the redcoats, though the appearance of those soldiers and the shooting must have increased the anxiety.

Back to Dorothy Scott:
After the British passed on towards Concord, they received a letter from Mr. H. informing them where he and Mr. [Samuel] Adams were, wishing them to get into the carriage and come over, and bring the fine salmon that they had had sent to them for dinner. This they carried over in the carriage…
Back in Lexington, the minister and his family eventually turned to look after the community:
…in the afternoon, Father, Mother with me and the Baby went to the Meeting House, there was the eight men that was killed, seven of them my Father's parishoners, one [Asahel Porter] from Woburn, all in Boxes made of four large Boards Nailed up and, after Pa had prayed, they were put into two horse carts and took into the grave yard where your Grandfather and some of the Neighbors had made a large trench, as near the Woods as possible and there we followed the bodies of those first slain, Father, Mother, I and the Baby,

there I stood and there I saw them let down into the ground, it was a little rainey but we waited to see them Covered up with the Clods and then for fear the British should find them, my Father thought some of the men had best Cut some pine or oak bows and spread them on their place of burial so that it looked like a heap of Brush.
Clarke’s recollection didn’t include anything about the British returning to Lexington from both east and west—Col. Percy and his relief column arriving from Boston at the same time the remnants of Lt. Col. Francis Smith’s expedition made it back from Concord. That occurred about 2:30 P.M.

In his biography The Patriot Parson of Lexington, Richard P. Kollen posits that the Clarkes kept hidden until the combined British forces had withdrawn to the east and then went to the meetinghouse to view the bodies around 4:00.

Other sources say that the weather on 19 April wasn’t even “a little rainey” but cool and dry. It’s possible that the wet interment Betty Clarke remembered occurred on the next day, or that her memory combined a couple of events. Three more Lexington men were killed in the afternoon fighting, and the town also had a British soldier to bury.


Chris Hurley of Woburn said...

The Clark's may have had another visitor that morning, if one trusts this account
From Silvanus Wood's pension file:

In an [unsworn] statement dated Woburn October 1 1828
"...& ware fired upon about sunrise & when we dispersed I went to Mr Clarks thee minister, whare was - Samuel Adams and Govenor Hankok, & as soon as thee English marched for Concord I returned ..."

J. L. Bell said...

So many Sylvanus Wood accounts! Each with its own special charm.

Hancock and Adams were not of course at the meetinghouse at the time of the shooting, if Wood indeed dispersed there.

In another pension document Wood described carrying dead men from the common into the meetinghouse.