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, May 02, 2021

How Maj. Abijah Brown Went to War

Abijah Brown was born in Watertown in 1736, and on 24 May 1758, at the age of twenty-one, he married Sarah Stearns of Waltham.

Their first child, Abijah, Jr., was born in Watertown the following March. By the next year they had moved to Waltham, where Sarah gave birth to:
  • Edward (1760)
  • Anna (1763)
  • Elizabeth (1765)
  • Jonathan (1767)
  • Abner (1769)
Abijah Brown became involved in town politics as a selectman and meeting moderator. He served on committees to respond to the Boston committee of correspondence, draft instructions for the town’s legislators, and attend the Middlesex Convention of late August 1774.

Brown was also active in the town militia company, rising to captain in 1773 and major at the start of the war. According to Henry Bond’s Family Memorials (1855), he was “one of the first to ascertain the proposed march of the British upon Concord and was active in giving the alarm.” I’m not sure what that means because most histories say that Waltham never got word about the British march on 19 April and had to catch up to its neighbors.

Contemporaneous evidence leaves no doubt that Brown was militarily active in the first weeks of the war. On 28 April the Massachusetts committee of safety declared “Major Brown appointed to give such repairs to the cannon at Waltham, as may be judged proper.” Three days before the committee had ordered that “three Cannon now at Marlborough, be brought to the Town of Waltham, and mounted on carriages prepared for them, till further orders.” 

In this period Maj. Brown probably supplied Col. Richard Gridley, the commander of the artillery regiment, with a horse and sulky so he could move around the siege lines as quickly as possible, overseeing fortifications and gun emplacements.

On 17 May the committee of safety issued new orders:
That the three pieces of cannon, with the stores, now at Waltham, be immediately removed to Watertown, near the bridge, by the advice of the general [Artemas Ward], and that Mr. Elbridge Gerry, one of the Committee of Supplies, be desired and empowered to remove the same.
Where did that leave Maj. Brown? On 19 May he wrote back to the committee:
Agreeable to your order I have removed the cannon under my care at Waltham, to the Town of Watertown, and have delivered them to the Committee of Correspondence for the same Town; and shall have my company in readiness to march to Cambridge to-morrow morning.

I am, gentlemen, with much respect, your most obedient and most humble servant…
TOMORROW: But was he? Was he really?

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