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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Friday, February 12, 2021

Four Representative Men

I’ve been analyzing a letter about cannon sent to the Massachusetts Provincial Congress’s committee of safety in February 1775.

This posting looks at the four men who signed that letter, in order of their signatures.

James Barrett (1710-1779) of Concord is already a big presence in The Road to Concord and on Boston 1775. He was a sixty-five-year-old farmer, patriarch, and community leader. In the fall of 1774, the town made Barrett a militia colonel and a representative to the Massachusetts Provincial Congress.

Secretly, Barrett oversaw the collection of provincial military supplies in Concord in the early months of 1775. This letter is one piece of evidence about that effort. Barrett’s lists of weapons, equipment, and food survive in the collection of the American Antiquarian Society. His farmhouse was the furthest target of the British march in April 1775, and that building is now part of Minute Man National Historical Park.

Jonas Stone (1710-1790) was born in Concord, grew up in Sudbury, and then established himself on land his father had purchased in Rutland. In 1751 Stone moved back east to Lexington, having inherited a family estate there. He soon married his second wife in that town.

Starting in 1755, Stone served in many Lexington offices, including treasurer, selectman, and assessor. In the 1770s he became the town’s representative to the Massachusetts General Court and Provincial Congress. Stone was also a deacon and member of the committee of correspondence.

The letter addresses Lexington’s work to prepare two iron cannon for use in 1775. Stone himself may not have been personally involved in that work but rather speaking for neighbors. He didn’t hold an officer’s rank in the militia and did only four days’ of duty himself in May 1775. But his son Jonas, Jr., was among the local militiamen on the town common on the morning of 19 April.

Braddyll Smith (1715-1780) was a long-time town official in Weston. He was clerk of the town militia company in the 1750s and captain by 1774, a selectman from 1758 to 1771, town clerk from 1758 to 1768, and treasurer from 1771 to 1773.

Smith was also a wealthy man. The town’s 1759 tax list, made in part by himself, said he owned more personal property and far more real estate than anyone else on the north side of town. Three men on the south side had larger fortunes, and Elisha Jones (the only “Esquire” on the list) owned more valuable land. In 1773 Smith also held title to two enslaved people, as many as anyone else in Weston; one was named Salem Middlesex, but this seems to have been a different man from the man who became Peter Salem of Framingham.

Smith had several children by his first wife, Mary Hagar, before she died. He remarried to Sarah White of Medford in 1763 and again to widow Ruth Flint of Lincoln in 1766—finding wives in the upper echelon of other towns.

In January 1774, as I mentioned yesterday, Braddyll Smith led a group that petitioned the town meeting to “To Chuse a Committe to take into Consideration the circumstances of our Publick affairs and to Corrospond with the NEIGHBOURING Towns and to Consider what is Best to be Done that our Injured Rights and Priviledges may be Restored and Secured”—i.e., to form a committee of correspondence and participate in Massachusetts’s political resistance. Under the influence of militia colonel and General Court representative Elisha Jones, the town rejected that idea.

But after the Boston Port Bill, Massachusetts Government Act, and other royal measures, local histories say that on 29 September Weston voted to form that committee and to send representatives to the first Massachusetts Provincial Congress. The voters replaced Jones as the town’s representative with none other than Braddyll Smith. Jones soon moved into Boston. By the end of the year Smith replaced Jones as militia colonel and was overseeing the town’s preparations for defense—including cannon.

Jonathan Brown (1724-1797) of Watertown was captain of the town’s military company at Lake George in 1758. When he returned, he began serving in town offices as clerk, treasurer, justice of the peace, and representative to the General Court starting in 1772.

In 1774 Brown as clerk kept the town records showing himself elected to the provincial congress. On 12 December, Watertown also chose him to be “Capt of the train”—the artillery company. That was a couple of weeks after the town had voted to equip two of the eight cannon brought out from Boston that fall.

During the war, Brown remained in town, working in civil posts. He kept busy recruiting soldiers, paying them for their service, and collecting supplies. He continued to represent Watertown in the Massachusetts legislature until 1786.

All four of these men were thus elders in their communities; the youngest was fifty years old. They were all farmers, not professionals and not college-educated, but well off. They had served in town offices for years, and now those civic responsibilities included representing their neighbors in an illegal legislature and preparing for war with the Crown.

TOMORROW: Who will pay for it all?

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