Charles Hudson.

Abstract of the history of Lexington, Mass. online

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JULY 4, 1876.






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In conformity with the recommendation of Congress, the undersigned, in
behalf of the citizens of Lexington, have caused the following Abstract of the
History of Lexington to be prepared and published.


Select?nen of Lexington.
Lexington, June, 1876.


Lexington is a post town in the County of Middlesex, State of
Massachusetts, situated in latitude 42^^ 26' 50" North, and longi-
tude 70" 13' 55" West. It is about eleven miles West-northwest
from Boston, and about fifteen miles Southeast-by-south from
Lowell. It has Winchester, Woburn, and Burlington, on the North-
east ; Burlington and Bedford, on the North ; Lincoln, on the West ;
Waltham on the Southwest, and Belmont and Arlington on the
Southeast. The township, like most of those in the neighborhood,
is somewhat irregular in shape, and contains about twenty square
miles, or about 13,000 acres. It is generally more elevated than
any of the adjoining towns, unless it be Lincoln ; and hence the
water from Lexington runs in every direction, and finds its way to
the ocean through the Shawshine, Mystic, and Charles rivers.

The hills in some parts of the town rise to a considerable height.
These afford a delightful prospect, both near and remote. The soil
is generally productive, and the rich peat meadows which are found
in most parts of the town, add materially to the value of many farms.
Lexington has been somewhat celebrated for its hay and fruit
crops ; but at present more particularly for its milk dairies. Some
of our farmers keep from twenty to fifty, and some as high as sixty
or seventy cows, making an aggregate of from 350,000 to 400,000
gallons of milk sent annually to market. Lexington has always
been distinguished as a healthy town, and many invalids, on the
advice of their physicians, resort to the place. It lias a railroad
passing directly thrt)ugh the centre of the town, furnishing frequent
and easy communication with lioston. There is no town in the
region, so near and accessible to Boston, which affords more pleas-

ing and rural scenery than Lexington ; and the Revolutionary
associations are more and more attracting visitors to the place.

Lexington was formerly a part of Cambridge, and was known by
the designation of " Cambridge Farms," supplying the main village
with hay and wood. There was no permanent settlement at the
"farms" till about 1640. The early settlers came mostly from Cam-
bridge and Watertown, but they were at first few in number. It
was not till after the close of Philip's war, that there was any con-
siderable increase of the population. In 1670 there could not have
been over eighty-five or ninety inhabitants at the " farms," but in

1690 there was probably three times- that number. Among the first
wants of every early New England settlement, were those of church
privileges. In 1682 the settlers petitioned to be set off as a distinct
precinct. The old parish of Cambridge opposing, it was not till

1691 that the Court granted the "farms" a separate corporate
existence. Their first object after being made a precinct, was to
provide for religious worship. They erected a meeting-house, and
employed a minister before 1693. But he unfortunately died in 1697,
and after some delay, in 1698, they settled John Hancock, a gradu-
ate from Harvard, a young man of good promise. He remained
with his people till his death in 1752. He was a man of superior
talents, and of great usefulness, and probably exerted more influence
than any clergyman in the county. If a dif^culty arose in any of
the churches, and a Council was called, Mr. Hancock must be on
the Council, where he generally became Moderator, and frequently
the Council itself. In those days, when the churches were much
fewer in number than at present, and ministers were usually settled
for life, he gave the solemn charge to tzveiity-oue ministers at their
induction into office. He was as influential at home as abroad, and
always managed to keep his own people united and happy. He had
three sons : — First, John, who was settled a minister at Braintree,
and was father of John Hancock of the Revolution ; second, Thomas,
a successful merchant of Boston, who adopted and educated his
nephew John, who was left an orphan at the age of seven, and to
whom he bequeathed his large fortune ; third, Ebenezer, wlio was
settled as a colleague with his father, and died in 1740, after a brief
ministry of six years. John Hancock the elder, built a house on
what is now called Hancock Street, in Lexington, soon after his
ordination in 1698, and about 1735 his son Thomas, built an addition


to the house. Both the original and addition are still standing, each
showing the architectural taste of the age in which it was erected,
and are subjects of interest at the present day.

Mr. Hancock was succeeded in the ministry by Jonas Clarke, who
was inducted into the pastoral office in 1755. He married Lucy
Bovv^es, who was a grand-daughter of his predecessor. Rev. John
Hancock. Mr. Clarke purchased and resided in the house erected
In' his predecessor ; so that the old building, now an object of atten-
tion, had been the ministerial mansion for more than a century.
Mr. Clarke was a man of distinguished ability, and has left his mark
upon his country's history. During the later years of the French
and Indian wars, Mr. Clarke encouraged a warm devotion to his
country, but when the English ministry first attempted to impose
taxes upon the colonies, he was among the first to raise his voice
against it. It was customary in those days for towns to instruct
their Representatives to the General Court. When Lexington had
elected their Representative, if there was any particular question
before the people, he was not simply advised how to act, but he was
presented with an able elaborate State paper, entering into the
merits of the question, and teaching the duty of rulers and the
rights and privileges of the ruled.

The Lexington Records contain a number of these valuable papers,
all prepared by Mr. Clarke, which would do honor to any states-
man in the country. He had a thorough knowledge of the science
of civil government, and in his masterly documents he met the par-
ticular issues of the day, and showed in the clearest manner that, as
English subjects, we were deprived of the rights and privileges of
British freemen, which were granted to us bv our charter, and con-
firmed by the Constitution of Great Britain ; and that, during the
whole controversy, we were in the right, and Parliament in the
wrong ; that they, in truth, and not we, were the rebels, ignoring,
disregarding, and trampling upon the fundamental principles of their
own organic law. These papers not only instructed his own towns-
men, but by their publication they enlightened tlie public mind and
prepared the people, not simply to resist the encroachments of Great
Britain, but to establish free institutions, and to perform all the
duties of Republican citizens. Mr. Clarke {possessed a clear, vigor-
ous, aiul well-balanced mind, and was always exercised by high
moral principles, whether acting the divine or the statesman. He

was, in fact, religiously political and politically religious, and was
progressive and conservative at the same time. He was the friend,
adviser and compeer of Adams, Hancock, and Warren, who fre-
quently found a home under his roof and wise instruction from his

Lexington was peculiarly fortunate in being favored by two such
clergymen as Hancock and Clarke, whose united ministry exceeded
a century, and whose wisdom guided the people in the arts of peace
and in the perils of war. Their lives, their teaching, and their char-
acters, were so blended with the affairs of the town, that they are as
necessarily a part of the history of Lexington, as Washington is of
the American Revolution.

But Lexington has a civil and a military, as well as an ecclesiastic
history. Lexington was made a precinct in 1691, but incorporated
as a town in 1713. As a municipal corporation they laid out high-
ways, provided for the support of the poor, and established that
indispensable institution of New England, free schools. The town
being exclusively agricultural, and lying near the neighborhood of
manufactures and commerce^ their young men, too frequently, have
been induced to leave Lexington, and hence the increase of popula-
tion has been very gradual. And this natural growth received a
further check in 1754, when a thousand acres of their territory, with
the inhabitants thereon, were taken from them to help form the
town of Lincoln.

But Lexington has a military history which reflects no dishonor
upon the place. In the French and Indian war Lexington acted no
insignificant part. From 1755 to 1763, taking the number of men
in each year will give a total of one hundred and fifty men, who
were found on every battle-field — at Louisburg, Quebec, Crown
Point, Ticonderoga, Fort William-Henry, and wherever a foe was to
be encountered or a daring deed to be performed. Some of the
Lexington men were attached to the famous corps known as
" Rogers' Rangers," a corps in which Stark served his military
apprenticeship ; a corps whose name was expressive of the life they
led, ranging through the wilderness, seeking their wary savage foe
by day and by night, in silent glens or secret ambush ; a corps whose
winter quarters were in tedious marchings amid drifted snows and
ice-clad hills, relying sometimes upon snow-shoes and sometimes
upon skates for locomotion, and carrying their only arsenal and

commissariat in ihcir packs. In such a corps were some of the
hardy sons of Lcxin^i;ton trained, they knowing that their lives were
in their own hands, and that their escape from the tomahawk and
scalping knife, the tortures of the fagot or ignominious slavery,
depended entire}}' upon tlieir own severe trials, perpetual watchings,
and determined courage. The further military history of Lexington
will appear hereafter.

We have already alluded to the controversy of the Colony with
the mother country. This was continuous from the passage of the
Stamp Act in 1765 to the opening of the Revolution. This contro-
versy, which excited the attention of every town and village, was in
no place better understood than in Lexington. The clear and
elaborate instruction of parson Clarke, the frequent visits of Han-
cock and Adams, kept these questions constantly before the people ;
and the whole subject was discussed, not merely in a declamatory
and passionate way, but on its real merits. So that when our fathers
resorted to arms, they rallied not as an ignorant, infuriated mob,
but as a band of patriots, knowing their rights, and resolved to
resist unjust oppression.

After pouring out their blood and treasure in the cause of Great
Britain, in subduing the enemy in Canada, the people of the Colony
flattered themselves that they should be permitted to rest in peace,
and recover from their exhaustion in the royal cause. In this
expectation the people of Lexington participated. They had served
faithfully in his Majesty's cause, and, feeling oppressed by imposi-
tions already made, and others in prospect, they had united with
their fellow citizens in other towns, in urgent petition for relief, and
earnest but humble remonstrance against these acts of oppression.
Hut finding all such measures fruitless, they felt called upon by
every patriotic consideration, and even by the sacred obligations of
religion, to assert their manhood, vindicate the rights implanted by
their Creator, and to hand these rights and privileges down to their
posterity. They had, therefore, prepared themselves to meet the
crisis whenever it should come, or whatever form it should assume.
Whatever others might do, the citizens of Lexington stood firm. In
1773, two years before the breaking out of hostilities, when pre-
tended patriots, even in Boston, faltered, Lexington gave them this
assurance: — "We trust in God that, should the state of affairs
require it, we shall be ready to sacrifice our estates ami ever)- thing


dear in life, yea, and life itself, in support of the common cause."
Nor was this an empty boast ! When their affairs did require it.
they made the first offering in freedom's sacred cause.

But the good people of Lexington did not rely upon declarations
alone. They made all the preparation their limited means would
allow, to supply themselves with the munitions of war. They voted
"To provide a suitable quantity of flints," "to bring two pieces of
cannon from Watertown and mount them," " to provide a pair of
drums for the use of the military company in town," " to provide
bayonets at the town's cost, for one-third of the training soldiers,"
" to have the militia and alarm list meet for a view of their arms," &c.
And that these votes should not prove a mere dead letter, commit-
tees were chosen to carry them into effect ; all of which showed that
the people were in earnest, and expected that war would ensue.

It is due to the patriots of Lexington and our fathers generally, to
correct an error which has prevailed extensively, that they took up
arms rather than pay a tJiree-penny tax upon tea. This is a narrow
view of the subject. They did object to taxation, while having no
representation in Parliament. But the claim of Great Britain was
not limited to taxation. They claimed the right of legislating for us
in "■all cases whatsoever,'' — a right to deprive us of all our civil privi-
leges, such as the right of trial by jury, of suffrage, of taking or hold-
ing property, — a doctrine by which they could compel us to serve in
their army or navy, and fight their battles in any part of the world,
— in a word, the right to make us slaves. And in fact, before we
took up arms, their Parliament reduced some of these principles to
practice. Their act changing the Charter of Massachusetts, practi-
cally deprived us of trial by jury, and of other domestic rights and
immunities which we all held dear, and was their first bold step of
exercising absolute control over the Colonies. They had passed
such laws, and had sent a Governor, backed by military power, to
enforce them. The resolution, on their part, was made, — the
purpose was fixed. Their law should be executed, even at the point
of the bayonet.

Nor were the Colonists undecided. Old Middlesex had been in
council, and from a full view of the subject they say: — "Life and
death, or what is more, freedom or slavery are, in a peculiar sense,
now before us ; and the choice and success, under God, depend
greatly upon ourselves." And after asserting that the law was

unconstitutional and ought not to be obeyed, they add, "No danger
shall affright, no difficulties shall intimidate us ; and if in support of
our rights, we are called upon to encounter death, we are yet
undaunted, sensible that he can never die too soon who lays down
his life in support of the laws and liberties of his country."

Such was the resolution and sentmient of the county. And
Lexington was not a whit behind the foremost in this patriotic self-
devotion. In fact its citizens, two years before, had annoiuiced to
their fellow sufferers their trust in God that they should be ready to
sacrifice fortune and life in the common cause, whenever the crisis
should require it. The people were also sustained by the policy of
the Provincial Congress, which had ordered the organization of
minute-men, appointed general officers, and practically made the
Chairman of the Committee of Safety. Commander-in-Chief of all
the military force of the Province. They had also, in a moral sense,
ordered disobedience to the late laws of Parliament; but directed
the people to refrain from direct acts of war. and " not fire unless
fired upon." The issue was practically made up, and nothing was
wanting but an occasion to try the same. And the few military
stores at Concord furnished an opportunity to test the spirit of the


The Spring of 1775 opened with strong indications that some
military demonstration by General Gage was about to be made.
The state of things at that period was this: Gage was in Boston with
about three thousand men, who were wearied with inaction, and
anxious for an opportunity to display their prowess in the field.
Colonel Leslie had been sent to Salem to destroy some stores, but
the expedition was abortive. Two British officers in disguise had
been sent to Worcester and to Concord, where a few military stores
were collected, to spy out the land, ascertain the location of the
stores, and the most feasible approach to the respective towns.
General Gage had been accused at home of inactivity, and he knew
that Generals Howe, Clinton, and Hurgoyne were soon to join and
probably supersede him. The ministry and Gage had concurred in
the ])olicy of seizing Hancock and Adams, and sending them to
England for trial. All these facts would naturall)- prompt the royal
Governor to action.


On the other hand, the patriots were not inactive or bHnd to these
indications. Hancock, as President of the Provincial Congress, had
irHportant duties to perform, and great responsibility to incur ; and
as Chairman of the Committee of Safety, he was practically the
Chief Magistrate of the Province, and the Commander-in-Chief of
her troops. And Samuel Adams, who exerted more influence in the
Province than any other man, was devising measures to prepare the
people for self-government, and instructing them in the best means
of attaining that rich blessing ; while Warren and other vigilant
patriots were watching the actions of Gage, and concerting signals
by which his movements might be heralded to their friends in the
country. It seemed obvious to the whole community that Gage had
his eye upon Hancock and Adams, who were sojourning in Lexing-
ton with their friend and compeer, Rev. Jonas Clarke, whose teach-
ings had fully impressed his people with their rights and duties as
citizens. The patriots were aware that the few stores collected at
Concord had attracted the Governor's attention, and measures were
adopted to ensure their safety. Such was the outward appearance
of things on the morning of the 19th of April, 1775.

On the previous day some twelve or fifteen British officers were
detailed to pass over the different roads leading to Concord, to inter-
cept all travellers, and to return late at night, as is believed, and
seize Hancock and Adams, known to be at Lexington. To remove
all suspicion, these officers were to dine at Cambridge, and so be
thus far on their midnight expedition. Other precautions were
taken by the Governor to avoid suspicion. The troops selected for
the expedition were removed from the main body on the pretence of
being taught some new evolution and drill. Boats from the ships in
the stream were collected, for the ostensible purpose ol having them
painted, but really to transport the troops across the river.

Believing that these arrangements had secured perfect secrecy,
about eleven o'clock at night, the command under Colonel Smith
was safely landed on Cambridge shore, near where the present Court
House stands. The evening was propitious, and Gage flattered
himself that he had eluded the vigilance of his watchful enemies,
when, to his surprise, he was informed that the departure and desti-
nation of the troops were known. To avoid any spread of this intel-
ligence, he ordered sentinels to be posted forthwith, in all suitable
places, to see that no person be permitted to leave the town that


night. Rut the bird had flown. Warren, ever watchful in freedom's
cause, had sent Paul Revere by way of Charlestown, and William
Dawes by way of the Neck, to convey the intelligence of the move-
ment to Hancock and Adams at Lexington. Thus, while Smith's
conmiand were marching, or rather wading stealthily through the
marshes in Cambridge, these messengers were spreading the alarm,
and the lantern at the old North (Christ) Church was. with the
velocity of light, conveying the tidings of the march, and, by infer-
ence, the destination of the troops, in every direction. Smith had
not moved far before the church bells and the alarm guns taught
him that his movement was known, and that danger was impending.
He consequently sent back for a re-enforcement, and at the same time
ordered Pitcairn, with the light troops, to proceed with the utmost
despatch to Concord, and take possession of the bridges.

Meantime, the people of Lexington had taken the alarm. The
passing of the British officers up the road at a late hour of the day,
created a suspicion that they had a design upon Hancock and
Adams ; and a sergeant's guard was stationed at Clarke's house,
where the patriots had their temporary abode. But when Revere
arrived about midnight with the intelligence that a large force,
supposed at that time to be an entire brigade, had left Boston, des-
tined, in all probability, for Lexington and Concord, Captain Parker,
commanding the Lexington minute-men, summoned them to meet
forthwith at their usual place of parade. Obeying readily, they were
paraded on the Common between one and two o'clock, when they
were ordered to load their pieces with balls, but "not fire unless they
were fired upon." The night being chilly, and no further intelligence
of the approach of the British troops being received, the company
at about two o'clock were dismissed to reassemble at the rin"-in2" of
the bell, beating of the drum, and the firing of the alarm guns.
The first certain intelligence they had of the approach of the troops,
was that they were near by, marching rapidly upon the town. The
bell rang, the alarm guns proclaimed the approach, and the drums
beat to arms. The men, who had been dismissed, were scattered
about the village. Some had gone to their respective homes, others
who lived at a distance, had repaired to Buckman's tavern, hard by,
and upon the alarm they rushed to the parade ground in haste.

But not more than fifty had reached the spot, when the rash and
impetuous Pitcairn, at the head of his troops, rushed upon them


with a shout, denouncing them as rebels, and with an oath com-
manding them to throw down their arms and disperse. The little
band, realizing that they were standing upon their own ground,
where they were wont to assemble, manfully retained their position ;
a volley of blank cartridges was fired, but the Provincials stood firm.
Enraged at this, Pitcairn discharged his pistol, and ordered the
whole platoon to fire. A fatal volley ensued, which decimated the
patriot line. Several of the Provincials returned the fire on the
spot. Captain Parker, seeing the folly of confi'onting eight hundred
regular troops with fifty undisciplined militia, ordered his men to
disperse, which order they obeyed, several of them returning the fire
as they left the Common. The British pursued the retreating
patriots, and two were shot down as they were leaving or had left
the green. One or more British soldiers were wounded by the
return fire, and Pitcairn's horse was struck in two places.*

Here let us pause for a moment ! Fifty undisciplined yeomanry
stood up manfully in the face of eight hundred veteran troops, and
would not disperse at their bidding, and returned the fire when fired
upon ! A Spartan steadfastness rarely equalled. This was truly
orgmiized resistance, both morally and legally. The Provincials had
resolved in Congress, in conventions, in town meetings, and in all
private gatherings, that they would resist if the British should
attempt to enforce their oppressive laws by military force, but would
not fire unless they were fired upon. This was morally an organized
principle, well understood and controlling. The Lexington men

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Online LibraryCharles HudsonAbstract of the history of Lexington, Mass. → online text (page 1 of 3)