Ebenezer Smith Thomas.

Reminiscences of the last sixty-five years : commencing with the Battle of Lexington : also, sketches of his own life and times (Volume 01) online

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Online LibraryEbenezer Smith ThomasReminiscences of the last sixty-five years : commencing with the Battle of Lexington : also, sketches of his own life and times (Volume 01) → online text (page 1 of 20)
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Formerly Editor of the Charleston (S. C.) City Gazette, and lately
of the Cincinnati Daily Evening Post.






According to act of Congress, in the year 1840,

in the Clerk s Office of the District Court of Connecticut.


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It is to your innumerable kind notices of such parts
of the following Work, and of their author, as have been
published in the Cincinnati Daily Evening Post, within
the last two years, that this work owes its existence in
its present extended form; and ingratitude for your good
feelings thus extended towards me, I DEDICATE this work
to you. With the single remark that you will

" Speak of me as I am, nothing extenuate,
Nor set down aught in malice;"

I subscribe myself your obliged friend,




IN my youth I read a great deal, and had
read many works without ever having read a
preface, until I was going to read Montesquieu,
when, as luck would have it, I happened to
open at the preface, and my eye lit upon the
passage, where he quotes the exclamation of
Corregio, on viewing a painting, the production
of one of his great predecessors, " and I also
am a painter" From that time, I never read
a book without having first read the preface,
which, I at once discovered, was necessary to
a correct understanding of the author.

The following work consists solely of my
personal recollections, except in a very few
instances, the sources of which are distinctly
pointed out, where they occur. The first remi
niscence was of JOHN HANCOCK, about four years
ago, the next was of SAMUEL ADAMS; finding,
by my exchange papers, that their circulation


was almost co-extensive with our country, I
was induced to proceed with them, and the
many calls made upon me, through the press,
to continue, has, within the last two years,
brought them to their present state. A large
portion of the reminiscences have never been in
print before, and none of the sketches of my Life
and Times. The correctness of those that
have been published, has never yet, in a single
instance, to my knowledge, been called in ques
tion, although it is scarcely possible but that
there must be errors, from the very nature of
the work.

The APPENDIX will be found to contain a
mass of miscellaneous articles which have been
thought worthy of preservation, by competent
judges, to whom they were committed for their





Written April 20, 1837.

IN turning over the pages of Grimshaw s History of
the United States, written for, and used in, our schools,
I was forcibly struck with the errors in point of fact,
and the total want of those particulars, which alone give
interest to events leading to such results as were produced
by the battles of Concord and Lexington, and Bunker s

I had not entered upon the threshold of existence, when
these battles W 7 ere fought, but that event happened soon
after. My father was in both of them, as one of the
minute men of those days, that is, one who had bound
himself to turn out, at a minute s notice, in defence of his
country. The sketch I am going to give of the first of
these battles, I received from my parents, both of whom
often gratified my childish inquiries, by a recital of the
events of that ever memorable day, in which they were


both participants my mother, much against her incli
nation, as I shall show.

The British, in possession of Boston, had learnt that a
quantity of public stores were deposited at Concord,
nineteen miles distant, and determined to send out a force
sufficient to destroy them. Another, and a much more
important object of the expedition was, to capture, if
possible, John Hancock and Samuel Adams, who were
known to be in that neighborhood, and upon whose heads
a price had been set.

On the night of the 18th of April, 1775, the British
landed eight hundred men in Charlestown, who took up
their line of march through Menotomy (now called West
Cambridge) and Lexington, to Concord ; it was a calm
star-light night, and they moved with all possible still
ness ; at West Cambridge, they passed my father s house,
and their tread awoke him ; he arose, stood at the win
dow, and counted the platoons. As soon as they had
all passed, he seized his musket and started across the
country, every road of which was familiar to him ; in
his progress, he fell in with numbers on the same errand,
that was, to get ahead of the enemy, and alarm the coun
try, in both of which they succeeded, so that when the
British arrived at Lexington, eleven miles from Boston,
about five o clock in the morning, they found the militia
assembling ; they had intelligence of the enemy s move
ments some hours before, and had promptly assembled ;
but, the enemy not then making their appearance, were
dismissed, to assemble again at beat of drum. When the
British came within striking distance, major Pitcairn rode


forward and called out, " disperse, you damrfd rebels, dis
perse ;" and without waiting to see whether they would
or not, fired his pistol, which was the signal for a volley
from the advance, which killed eight ; the others dispers
ed, and the British pursued their way to Concord, where
they arrived without interruption, and destroyed the
stores, but Hancock and Adams had made their escape.
They then commenced a retreat, to do which they had to
pass the north bridge : at the foot of it captain Davis had
drawn up his company, (the Concord Light Infantry) and
then and there the first volley was fired by the Americans,
in that cause which gave independence to America, and
freedom to a world. In the meantime the minute men were
pouring in from all quarters, and the British found them
selves so hotly pressed, that had it not been for a reinforce
ment of about a thousand men, with two field pieces, under
Lord Percy, whom Governor Gage had despatched to
their assistance, not a man of the detachment would have
got back to Boston. The reinforcement met the retreat
ing column near Lexington, greatly diminished in num
bers, and almost exhausted, having taken no refreshment
since they left Boston, from whence they were yet distant
eleven miles, and had to fight every inch of the way.

The plan then adopted by Lord Percy, was one of the
most savage warfare : his troops fell off from the front,
entered the houses of the Americans, plundered them of
whatever they could carry, set fire to the buildings, and
then joined the rear, thus giving an opportunity to their
whole force to plunder ; but, so hot was the pursuit, a
large portion of the fires were extinguished before they


had done much damage. When they had passed " the
foot of the rocks" they entered the plain of West Cam
bridge, seven miles from Charles River, and quite a vil
lage for about two miles ; at least I found it so, when a
school boy ten years after, and there was no appearance
of any addition to it since the Revolution.

It is proper here to remark that there were two taverns
in West Cambridge, the one kept by a Mr. Cooper, and the
resort of the Whigs ; the other kept by a Mr. Bradish, and
the resort of the Tories. There were three families on the
road within a fourth of a mile, by the name of Adams, a
name hateful to the British ; in one of these Mrs. Adams
was confined the night before ; the enemy entered the
house, took the bed on which she lay with her infant at
the breast, and carried them into the yard, and left them
there. A little boy, about four or five years old, had
taken shelter under his mother s bed his foot projected
from beneath the drapery, a British soldier thrust his
bayonet through it, and for a moment pinned it to the
floor ; the boy did not utter even a cry : this fact I had
from his mother. They then plundered the house and
set it on fire, but the Americans entered in a few minutes,
extinguished the fire, and restored the mother and infant,
to their room and bed. Their next exploit was at the
Whig tavern, into which they fired more than a hundred
bullets ; the holes made by them were filled up, but the
marks are visible to this day. It was a singular fact that
three old men, of seventy years and upwards each, who
were tories, the battle coming on them so unexpectedly,
took shelter in this tavern, (Cooper s) where the British


found them and put them to death. The name of one of
them was Winship, I well remember his son. The
heavy discharges of musketry at this tavern, brought my
mother into the street or road, who had learned nothing
certain of what had been going on, from the time my
father had left her the previous evening. To her utter
astonishment she saw the battle raging at less than half
a mile distance ; she instantly returned into the house,
secured a small bag of the currency so much wanted at
this time, and a few small articles, then taking one child,
of two years old, in her arms, and having two older ones,
hanging to her apron, she sallied forth to go to a captain
Whitemore s, about two miles distant, across the fields,
on the bank of Mystic river, (women and children had
already fled there to the number of a hundred of the
former, and two or three hundred of the latter.) She
had scarcely set foot in the road, when one cried for
bread ; she returned into the house, and cutting a loaf,
gave a piece to him that wanted it, and tying the remain
der up in her apron, she was again in the road. In the
mean time, the battle had approached so near, she was
within point blank shot of the retreating enemy, who let
go a whole volley at her, which did no other damage
than to pass two balls through her cap. The Americans
saw her perilous situation, and called out to her, " run,
good woman, run ;" she did so, and arrived safe at the
house of refuge. The enemy, in the mean time, sent out
a flanking party with the intention to cut off this resort
of the mother and child, an object which they came
nigh accomplishing; for the Americans did not succeed


in turning their flank until they had approached the house
near enough to lodge bullets into it ; and a very large
elm tree, within twenty-five feet of the house, was spat
tered with them, which I took great pleasure in cutting
out ten and twelve years after. After my mother s es
cape, they entered the house, took every article of cloth
ing and bedding, except the beds themselves, which they
ripped open, split up the furniture, and then set fire to the
house ; but the building was saved. They also killed a
horse in the stable, and some hogs in a pen.

Near my father s dwelling, was Bradish s Tory tavern ;
when they arrived at that, Mrs. Bradish, who was in
delicate health, rose from her easy chair, to retire from
the front of the house ; she had not left it a minute, when
a bullet passed through the back of it ; it was the only
one fired at the house, and was probably done inadver
tently. The British officers, who had been in the habit
of making trips to the country, particularly on Sundays,
knew every family, which was whig and which was tory,
for many miles round, and dealt with them accordingly,
when they had the opportunity. It was not until dark
that they arrived in Charlestown, when the Americans
withdrew from the contest, and they (the British) en
camped on Bunker s Hill. The next morning they en
tered Boston. The loss on both sides has been differently
stated, and my memory does not serve me with certainty
on this subject ; but a pamphlet which I remember to
have read, containing affidavits of many of the occurren
ces of the day, it seems to me put down the loss of the
British at two hundred and forty-five, besides many


wounded, and that of the Americans at about one hundred
and forty ; but I am not certain, nor have I any authori
ties at hand, to refer to, on the subject.

Thus terminated the first battle, in which every enor
mity, that time permitted the perpetration of, marked the
conduct of a licentious soldiery on the one part, while on
the other, our patriotic sires conducted with all that bra
very, coolness and good conduct, which should ever
distinguish the citizen soldier, fighting in defence of his

A monument has been erected on the spot where the
first blood was spilt, on which is the following inscription:

Sacred to the Liberty and the Rights of Mankind ! ! !

The Freedom and Independence of America,
Sealed and defended with the blood of her sons.

This Monument is erected

By the Inhabitants of Lexington,

Under the patronage, and at the expense of

The Commonwealth of Massachusetts,

To the memory of their Fellow-Citizens,

Ensign Robert Munroe, Messrs. Jonas Parker,

Samuel Hadley, Jonathan Harrington, jr.

Isaac Muzzy, Caleb Harrington, and John Brown,

Of Lexington, and Asahel Porter of Woburn,

Who fell on this field, the first victims to the

Sword of British Tyranny and Oppression,

On the morning of the ever memorable

Nineteenth of April, An. Dom. 1775.

The Die was Cast!!!

The Blood of these Martyrs

In the cause of God and their Country,

Was the Cement of the Union of these States, then

Colonies, and gave the spring to the Spirit, Firmness

And Resolution of their Fellow-Citizens.
They rose as one man to revenge their brethren s
Blood, and at the point of the sword to assist and

Defend their native Rights.

They nobly dared to be free ! !

The contest was long, bloody and affecting;

Righteous Heaven approved the solemn appeal ;

Victory crowned their arms ;

And the Peace, Liberty, and Independence, of the United
States of America, was their glorious Reward.

Built in the year 1799.
VOL. J. 2


BOSTON FROM 1781 TO 1705.

Written June 10, 1838.

MY first visit to Boston was in 1784. There was no
bridge then, and at very high spring tides, the neck, by
which the peninsula on which the town is built is con
nected with the main land, was sometimes overflowed,
making the town an island. The north erd of the town
was entered by a ferry from Charlestown. At this pe
riod very little improvement had been made in it since the
Revolution, and there was much talk about the possibility
of building a bridge to Charlesto\vn, many believing it
impossible, from the great depth of \vater in the channel
of Charles river; others insisted, that if built, the ice
would destroy it ; and others, that it w r ould be greatly
injurious to the navigation ; but by far the greater num
ber disbelieved in the possibility of building one. There
was th^n living at Mystic, (now Medford) about three
miles from Boston, an ingenious shipwright by the name
of Cox ;* he insisted upon the practicability of building
the bridge ; was anxious to undertake it, and willing to

* The complete success of Mr Cox, in the construction of this bridge,
occasioned his being sent for to go to Ireland, to build one over the Boyne,
at Londonderry. He took his Yankee workmen with him ; built the
bridge to the satisfaction of his employers, and opened it on the fourth
of July, 1788, when a battle took place between his workmen and the
Irish, v/hich, but for the prompt interference of the magistracy, aided by
the rniliUuy, would have been a very serious business. He was after
wards applied to by the corporation of London to take down the monu
ment which was built to commemorate the great fire of 1666, and which
was supposed to threaten destruction by a fall, as it leaned a little ; but
they would not give him his price, and he declined the undertaking. I
lost sight of him after this entirely.


stake his all upon the result. He succeeded in bringing
the enterprising and influential to his views ; a charter
was obtained, and the bridge built, and was opened on
the 17th of June, 1786, the anniversary of the battle of
Bunker s Hill, when Boston poured forth her thousands
in grand procession over it to celebrate the event. I
have been thus particular upon this subject, because it
was the building of this bridge that first gave an impetus
to improvement in Boston. It was the longest bridge in
the world, and, with the exception of the abutments,
built entirely of wood : it yielded a profit of from thirty
to forty per cent, per annum, until the West Boston
bridge was built in 1793. This far surpassed in length,
and beauty of architecture, the other ; add to which, it
was connected with a causeway, on the Cambridge side,
about the same length as the bridge the two forming
a beautiful promenade of about two miles in length,
splendidly illuminated every evening with a profusion of
lamps. A little incident occurred when the two ends of
this bridge were being brought to a close in the middle,
which I have good reason to remember. There were
present the master builder and a number of persons in
terested in the undertaking, waiting for the connecting
plank to be laid down, that they might first cross the
bridge ; it was just at the close of day ; I, with a number
of others, was looking on ; the first connecting plank was
laid, and before the w r orkmen were aware of my inten
tion, I had crossed: a hot pursuit commenced, with the
intention of catching and punishing me for my temerity;
but I was not to be caught, and was amply punished in


being compelled to walk round through Cambridge and
Charlestown, and pass into Boston over Charlestown
bridge, a distance of six, or seven miles.

The prominent political men of Boston, at the period
alluded to, were John Hancock, Samuel Adams, Robert
Treat Paine, James Sullivan, Oliver Wendal, Charles
Jarvis, Benjamin Austin and Benjamin Russel, editor of
the Centinel, who, backed by the Essex junto, * with his
press, swayed the political destinies of Massachusetts,
and through her, New England, a great portion of the
time for nearly half a century. Hancock, Adams, Sul
livan, Jarvis, and Austin, were of the Republican party.
The most conspicuous among her commercial men, who
had also great political influence, were Thomas Russel,
Joseph Barrel, David Sears, John Coffin Jones, John
Codman, Frazer & Son, Nathaniel Fellows, Joseph
Parsons, Frederic W. Geyer, Jonathan Harris, S. & S.
Salisbury, and Stephen Higginson, the latter a man of

* There is a hiatus in the political history of New England, which
no man, that I know of, can fill up, but the venerable ex-editor of the
Boston Centinel, the Hon. Benjamin Russel ; it is the want of a history
of the "Essex Junto" The vast influence exercised by the few indi
viduals composing that junto, aided by Mr. Russel and his press, was
not confined to New England even, but was felt through all the ramifi
cations of the federal party, from Maine to Georgia. They were con
trolled by hands and heads unseen. If Mr. Russel could be induced to
undertake such a task, a blank in our political history would be filled
up, which never can be done without him and an essential service
rendered to the country. I doubt if the history of parties affords a
parallel to this a party who once possessed themselves of the whole
power of the country, under the administration of the elder Adams, yet
never knew the springs by which they were moved.


talent, and a distinguished political writer ; he wrote
"Laco" against the administration of Hancock, by which
he became very obnoxious to the Republican party.
Mr. Higginson did business upon long wharf, and passed
down State street on his way to his counting house.
The truckmen who stood in State street, took great pains
to teach a parrot (that hung in a cage at the corner of
Merchants Row) to know " Laco," and to curse him,
and so completely successful were they, that " pretty
poll" no sooner saw Mr. Higginson approach, than she
began to " Hurra for Hancock ; damn Laco," and con
tinued to do so while he continued in sight. These
merchants carried on a very extensive commerce with
Russia and Sweden, from the former of which they im
ported immense quantities of iron, hemp, canvass, and
sheetings ; from the latter, iron only. There was also
an extensive commerce with France, Spain, and Portu
gal, carried on through the ports of Bordeaux, Lisbon,
and Barcelona. The trade w 7 ith Great Britain at the
time here spoken of, was very limited ; there were but
five or six houses engaged in importing her manufac
tures : at the head of them was Frazer & Son. The
trade with China commenced about this time, not in
specie, but in seal skins taken on the northwest coast of
America, carried to Canton and exchanged for teas,
silks, and nankeens. This business for many years, was
immensely lucrative, and large fortunes were made by
it. Instances occurred where vessels that took out
nothing but their provisions and some trifling articles to
trade with the natives, brought back return cargoes that



paid nearly a hundred thousand dollars duties. The
trade to France, Spain, and Portugal, consisted princi
pally in the export of fish, and the import of their wines,
brandies, and fruit, with some silks from the two former.

There were a few, and but a few, elegant mansions in
Boston at this time, and they were all built before the
Revolution. Among the first modern improvements
was that of Jonathan Harris, near Fort Hill, which was
said to have cost nearly two hundred thousand dollars ;
this was followed by numerous others, many of which
far surpassed that in expense and elegance until Boston,
the last time I saw it, in 1816, could boast more splen
did private dwellings than any city, (of four times its then
population,) I ever saw even in Europe.

In 1792, there was but one four story building in Bos
ton, and that was on Union street, not far from Wing s
Lane. In 1816 there were a number of ranges of four
and five stories high. There was not, if my memory
serves, a solitary brick warehouse on any wharf in the
town. Long wharf stretched out into the harbor with
its seventy-four frame stores that did not appear to have
been painted since the Revolution. Then there was
Minot s T, projecting from the back of Long wharf,
Sears wharf, and, at the north end, Hancock s wharf,
with others of minor importance.

In 1792 or 3, the first vessels of war, carrying the
tri-color of the French Republic, arrived at Boston.
They were the Concorde, of 44 guns, Capt. Van Dogan,
and the Marseilles, of 20 guns, Capt. . Van Do
gan was afterwards blown up in the Ville de Paris, of


120 guns, at the battle of the Nile. Their arrival crea
ted a great excitement, and the opposite political parties
for a while forgot their differences to unite in doing
honor to their country s allies. French victories follow
ed each other in such rapid succession on the continent,
that the enthusiasm in their behalf became extreme, and
the Bostonians determined to celebrate them in the most
splendid manner. This celebration took place in mid
winter, when the cold was intense. An ox was roasted
whole in State street, and then placed upon a car drawn
by thirteen pair of white horses, preceded and followed
by music, with an immense multitude carrying banners
of various descriptions, and all wearing the tri-colored
cockade, paraded through the streets, marshalled by Col.
Waters. They then returned to State street, and the
hard frozen roast beef was cut up with axes and distri
buted among the multitude. In the evening the State
House, the French Consul s office, and a few other build
ings were splendidly illuminated. The old State House
made a most beautiful appearance. My old friend Rus-
sel, of the Centinel, tuned his harp to the Marseilles
Hymn at this time, and after firing a broadside at John
Bull one day, he wound up with the following distich :

" Tis the boast of a Briton to bluster and threaten,

But hangs his tail like a puppy when handsomely beaten."

His harp was new strung in 1798, to a very different
tune, and Britons and black cockades were all the fash
ion. But to proceed : the principal ship yard then was
at the foot of Milk street, intersecting with Kilby street,


and there Nathaniel Fellows had built a ship which he

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Online LibraryEbenezer Smith ThomasReminiscences of the last sixty-five years : commencing with the Battle of Lexington : also, sketches of his own life and times (Volume 01) → online text (page 1 of 20)