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 18, 2021

Joseph Hayward Comes Home from the Fight

Yesterday we heard William Tay, Jr., of Woburn describe the opening of the Revolutionary War and finally get to the point of why he was petitioning the Massachusetts General Court in September 1775.

Tay was part of the loosely organized Massachusetts militia force chasing the British troops back east along what we now call the “Battle Road.” In or near Charlestown he and “several others” came across a house with three redcoats firing from inside it. They stormed the house, killed two of those men, and captured the third with his weapons.

But that wasn’t the end of the story.
But so it happened, that while your petitioner was busied in securing his prisoner, others coming up and rushing into said house, those arms were carried off by some person to your petitioner unknown, which arms are since found in the hands of Lieut. Joseph Howard, of Concord;…
A rival claimant!

We actually have the other side of this dispute in Lemuel Shattuck’s 1835 history of Concord:
Lieutenant Joseph Hayward, who had been in the French war,…observing a gun pointed out of the window of a house by a British soldier, he seized it, and in attempting to enter the house found it fastened. He burst open the door, attacked and killed by himself two of the enemy in the room, and took a third prisoner. One of their guns is still owned by his son, from whom I received this anecdote.
Hayward thus passed on much the same story as Tay, except his son got the impression that he had singlehandedly killed two soldiers and captured the third.

We also have a contemporaneous record of Lt. Hayward grabbing a horse and carriage back from British army officers racing to Boston. He had returned the carriage to Reuben Brown and was offering to return the horse to its owner.

But the captured gun? Hayward kept that. He was more senior than Tay. He had just turned sixty years old and held the rank of lieutenant since the last war. Tay was eleven years younger and wouldn’t become a lieutenant until later in the year. But he wanted the gun back.

How can we resolve this 1775 chapter of Grumpy Old Men?

TOMORROW: A third voice, and government action.

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