Wife of General William Alexander
Sarah Livingston was born in October 1725, the daughter of Philip and Catharine Van Brugh Livingston and a member of that prominent Hudson Valley family. Her brother Philip was a signer of the Declaration of Independence, and her brother William was Governor of New Jersey.
William Alexander was born in 1726 in New York City. His father, James Alexander, was a Jacobite who emigrated to America in 1715. William received an excellent education, and was especially proficient in mathematics and astronomy. He became a lawyer, and held various public offices.
Sarah Livingston married William Alexander on March 1, 1748, and they had two daughters – Mary and Catharine (Kitty).
After his father died, in 1756, William engaged with his widowed mother as a merchant in New York, and later became a commissary for the British army in the French and Indian War. He served as aide-de-camp and secretary to Governor William Shirley, and when the latter was being tried for dereliction of duty, William Alexander traveled to London to testify on Shirley’s behalf in 1756.
The Earl of Stirling
In 1757, William and his family believed that, as senior male descendant of the first earl’s grandfather, he was the rightful heir to the estate of the Earl of Stirling. Stirling is part of Scotland, and it had been given to one of his relatives in 1603 for service to the then king, George II. The issue of importance here is that the king also gave the new Earl possession of half of Long Island, and all of Maine, New Brunswick, Nova Scotia, and Newfoundland, which were immensely valuable.
William spent the next four years in Great Britain chasing this inheritance by gaining the recognition of first the family in Scotland, then the Scottish courts and parliament. He lived in London among the leaders of society as he lobbied Parliament for recognition of his claim. Eventually, at the cost of much of his fortune, he realized that his efforts would be futile. There was little chance that the King or Parliament would give away so valuable a prize, no matter how valid his claim might be. But he continued to call himself Lord Stirling all his life.
William Alexander returned to New York in 1761, after a voyage of three months. He was allowed his title in America by courtesy. In Timothy Trueman’s Almanac for the year 1776, printed by Isaac Collins, of Burlington, his name is given among the members of his majesty’s council of New Jersey as The Honorable Lord Stirling. General George Washington in his correspondence invariably addressed him as my lord.
Lord Stirling immediately assumed a prominent part in colonial affairs. He was appointed Surveyor-General of the Province of New Jersey, and was a member of the Provincial Council. He was one of the founders of King’s College (predecessor of Columbia University), and became its first governor.
Basking Ridge Estate
Soon after his return to this country, Stirling closed his mercantile business, and began building a summer residence on the estate at Basking Ridge, New Jersey. This tract of about 700 acres was inherited from his father, James Alexander. The most skilled gardeners in America were hired to design and lay out the immense park, containing an enclosure for deer, a rose-garden, an Italian vineyard, and other accessories.
The estate was chiefly meadowland, but a gently sloping knoll near the center of the tract furnished a beautiful site for the stately residence he erected there. It was known as The Buildings, and this large dwelling, together with its connecting offices, stables, and coach-houses, were ornamented with cupolas and gilded vanes, and surrounded a paved court or quadrangle. There was a grand hall, and an imposing drawing-room, with richly decorated walls and stucco ceilings.
In 1768, Stirling sold his home in New York, and retired with his family to the Basking Ridge estate. His wife, Lady Sarah, and two daughters, Lady Mary and Lady Kitty, were the admiration of the surrounding country. During the early years of the war, his manor house among the hills of Basking Ridge was still a center of social activity.
The improvement of his estate and his public duties as Surveyor-General of New Jersey and Member of the Provincial Council, occupied his energies until the American Revolution. At the first sign of the severance of the relations between the colonies and the British government, Lord Stirling ardently embraced the cause of liberty. He became a personal friend of General Washington, who placed the utmost confidence in his ability and integrity.
Here this American nobleman lived the life of a gentleman of fortune; he rode a great coach with gilded panels, emblazoned with coronets and medallions. Lord Stirling was so generous to the poor on the outskirts of his estate that they bobbed and curtsied to him whenever he passed in his carriage. He dabbled in mining and agriculture, and lived a life befitting an English Lord.
This was an expensive lifestyle, and by the early 1770s, after spending so much of his inheritance in England trying to claim his lordship, Alexander was bankrupt. Only his position in society had kept him afloat, despite expensive failures in mining operations and a failed sale of lottery tickets for his huge and heavily mortgaged real estate holdings. In the end, only his leadership in the Revolutionary army kept him out of jail.
When the Revolutionary War began, William Alexander organized the first two regiments of militia raised in New Jersey, and those who were unable to do otherwise, he equipped at his own expense. He was always willing to spend his own money in support of the cause. Congress commissioned him a colonel in the New Jersey militia on November 7, 1775, and appointed to command the First New Jersey Regiment.
Alexander was soldierly in bearing; according to one writer, “of the most martial appearance of any general in the army save Washington himself.” He was brave, intelligent, energetic and yet cautious; a good organizer and military engineer; “a great acquisition to the army,” in the words of a contemporary.
In January 1776, with forty volunteers in a pilot boat, Alexander captured the armed British transport, Blue Mountain Valley, near Sandy Hook, which was laden with stores and provisions for the British troops at Boston, and carried it into the port at Perth Amboy. For this bold feat, he received the earliest votes thanks of Congress, and on March 1, 1776, the commission of brigadier general in the Continental Army.
The Patriotic Ladies Stirling
In 1776, while William was at White Plains, Sarah joined him in camp. While there, she went to New York – then in possession of the British – with her youngest daughter, Lady Catharine Alexander. They visited the eldest daughter Mary, whose husband, Robert Watts, had remained quietly in the city, taking no active part on either side of the Revolution. The letters of both mother and daughter descriptive of this visit show the situation and temper of those Americans who had remained in the city during its occupation by the enemy.
Lady Catharine wrote about her hope of soon seeing her relatives as zealous patriots as herself. Watts, she says, “is among the number of those who are heartily sick of the tyranny witnessed;” and “as to Mary, her political principles are perfectly rebellious… The sentiments of a great number have undergone a thorough change since they have been with the British army; as they have many opportunities of seeing flagrant acts of injustice and cruelty, of which they could not have believed their friends capable. This convinces them that if they conquer, we must live in abject slavery.”
Lady Stirling exhibited her patriotism when she refused to take advantage of the permission sent from Sir Henry Clinton to take anything she pleased out of the city; fearing “there would be a handle made of it,” if she accepted the offer. “The last time I saw him, he told me I must take a box of tea; but I stuck to my text.”
In February 1777, when General Nathaniel Greene’s division of the Continental Army moved to Basking Ridge, the General’s headquarters were at The Buildings, where he was the guest of Lady Stirling and her daughter, Lady Kitty. The latter was married there to Colonel William Duer in July, 1779, which was remembered as a brilliant social event.
Many exiles from New York and other places had retreated there with their families for safety, and it was naturally the social center of the surrounding country. During the war, Sarah’s brother, Governor William Livingston of New Jersey, moved his family from Elizabethtown to Basking Ridge for safety.
In Defense of New York City
In spring 1776, General Alexander was in charge of the defenses of New York City, and prepared for an imminent British invasion. He was fifty – an old man for that time. Under his direction Forts Lee and Washington were built on opposite sides of the North River above the city. Other fortifications were constructed – nine forts in all, two along the shores of Manhattan, one in what is now Battery Park, and six at various strategic points in Brooklyn.
On June 25, 1776, a British fleet of 130 ships and an army of 9000 arrived in New York Harbor from Halifax, Nova Scotia. In July, the British attempted to contact George Washington to offer terms and forgiveness. Because the British refuse to address him as General, their letters were refused. Later that month, the British forces that had been blockading Charleston arrived, and soon the largest fleet in history, larger than the Spanish Armada, was anchored off Staten Island.
The British hope was to end the American Revolution in a single battle, in which they could bring to bear an overwhelming force and crush the fledgling Continental Army. The largest and best- equipped expeditionary force the British had ever mounted, carried on board the largest armada North America had ever seen, was sent to invade New York, which was judged to be the most important strategic position to occupy.
The British invasion of New York was led by the brothers General William Howe and Admiral Lord Richard Howe. The British force made its initial landing at Staten Island, which was used as the staging ground for the invasion, crossing to Brooklyn on August 22, 1776. Using landing craft built with drop-down bows, the British landed 20,000 troops in four hours. Washington was in Brooklyn on the 24th, examining the ground and the works. When he returned to New York late that afternoon, he gave the command in Brooklyn to General Israel Putnam.
On August 26, General William Howe divided his army, moving a small force of 5000 men under General James Grant along the shore of New York Harbor, and the larger force under General Charles Cornwallis began a flanking expedition that started about 9 pm in the woods of Brooklyn. They marched all night long on a narrow road and through the Jamaica Pass to the east and found it guarded by only a few men, who were easily overpowered.
On the day of the battle (also called the Battle of Brooklyn), August 27, 1776, General Israel Putnam was in overall command of the 10,000 American troops on Long Island. General John Sullivan was in command of the advanced position with 3,500 men on the low hills. General William Alexander was in charge of 1500 troops along the Gowanus Road near the Harbor.
Unfortunately for the Americans, there were only small units at the passes to the east. At Battle Pass, the Americans had chopped down a large oak tree to block the Flatbush Road where it went through the low hills. They were also dug in higher up and flanking the pass. The Hessians (German mercenaries) began a cannonade of the pass defenses at about 1 am.
General Israel Putnam sent 1500 men – two companies from Maryland, two from Delaware, and three from Pennsylvania – under the leadership of Brigadier General William Alexander, Lord Stirling, to oppose the advance of General James Grant on Brooklyn. About 1 am, the British attacked Alexander’s advanced positions, and he moved to reinforce his outposts, stopping the English advance at about 3 am. The Patriots knew nothing of the army in the forest.
As the sun rose on August 27, “17,000 of the best troops of Europe met 5,500 undisciplined men in the first pitched battle of the Revolution,” one observer commented. When General John Sullivan arrived about 8 am, the Germans were still firing their cannon, but the Americans were holding their ground.
The Americans first learned of impending disaster at 9 am, when everyone in the valley heard the bark of a cannon – which announced the arrival of the larger British army in the woods. At the signal, both General Grant and the Hessian mercenaries under General De Heister began to move. The Germans launched an infantry attack on the Americans in the pass, while the British closed in on the rear.
The British forces executed a three-pronged battle plan, engaging the Americans on two fronts, while the largest of the three attacking corps – composed of the most experienced units of the army commanded by General Howe – flanked the American forces from the east. The Americans in the hills along the Gowanus Road were trapped in a vise by the overwhelming combined forces of the British and Hessian soldiers, who were intent on ending the American rebellion and rendering the Declaration of Independence meaningless.
General William Alexander had been ordered by Putnam to repulse the enemy, and for lack of orders to the contrary, he and his men had held on for nearly four hours, but they stayed too long. At eleven am, British General James Grant’s Redcoats hit hard at the center of Alexander’s line, as thousands of Hessians struck from the woods to the left. When he finally pulled back, it was too late.
By 11 am, the Americans near the harbor could hear firing in their rear. In the pass, General John Sullivan’s men were overwhelmed. Many Americans were surrounded in the woods by rings of Hessian troops, who closed in for the kill with bayonets. Some were able to fight their way past the British before the envelopment was completely closed. The fleeing Patriots headed back toward the American lines on Brooklyn Heights. Some tried to surrender, but because of language and cultural differences, many were executed.
More British were coming at him from the rear, on the Gowanus Road, the line of retreat he had been counting on. Realizing that he had been surrounded, Alexander ordered most of his men to fall back in good order, through the marsh and across the creek, while continuing to retard the advance of the British in their front.
The Old Stone House
At mid-day, General Alexander decided to check the British advance by attacking the British at what is now known as the Old Stone House (also known as the Vechte-Cortelyou House). This Dutch farmhouse was built by Nicholas Vechte beside the Gowanus Creek in 1699. Its two-foot-thick wall of fieldstone and brick and its heavily shuttered windows protected the family. The Vechtes prospered, farming the rich bottomland beneath the Heights of Guam and ferrying produce to market in Manhattan.
This house and its strategic position at a crossroads made it the focus of the most dramatic event of the day. Taken in the morning by an estimated 2000 British soldiers, they had occupied the house and turned it into an artillery position to fire on the defeated American soldiers, who were fleeing for their lives.
After Alexander’s main body had escaped by fording Gowanus Creek, he and a contingent of some 400 Maryland Continental soldiers attacked the Redcoats under General Charles Cornwallis, who had established their line on the Gowanus Road beside the stone farmhouse. Into a rain of British fire the Marylanders charged, and Cornwallis recoiled, stunned by the unexpected rebel onslaught.
In a desperate maneuver to enable other American troops to flee to the safety of Washington’s encampment on Brooklyn Heights, with 400 men against 2000, Alexander attacked the British at the Old Stone House. Each attack was met with withering counter fire as the British masses swelled against this fanatically determined American rearguard, but bought precious time for the majority of their comrades to retreat.
Though the ground became littered with dead and dying Maryland militia, Alexander formed the men up again. Again they went forward, closing up the line when comrades fell, reforming and attacking again, their numbers diminishing by the minute. Six times General Alexander charged, and twice the assaults drove the British from the stone house.
As Alexander launched his last assault, with a remaining handful of men, more British reinforcements arrived. At last, the remnant of Marylanders broke into small parties to fight their way to safety. Of the 400 Patriot soldiers, 256 were dead in front of the Old Stone House, and more than a hundred others were killed or captured. Only ten successfully escaped to Brooklyn Heights. But their heroic actions delayed the British, and Howe decided not to attack the Heights that day.
In the last attack, Alexander was captured by some Hessians, but he refused to give up to Cornwallis. He found the Hessian officer, de Heister, and surrendered his sword to him. He had, however, accomplished his objective, which was to facilitate the retreat of the American army. He was put onboard Lord Howe’s flagship. Cornwallis later said, “General Lord Stirling fought like a wolf.”
General Washington had joined his army of 9000 men, and he witnessed the last part of the battle from the fortifications on Brooklyn Heights. He expected Alexander, seeing that resistance was useless, would surrender at once. But when he saw Alexander deliberately sacrifice himself to save the army, he cried, “Good God! what brave fellows I must this day lose!”
“We were on the point of driving Cornwallis from his station,” Alexander wrote after the battle; “but large reinforcements arriving rendered it impossible to provide for more than safety.” He was commended for his bravery by the British as well as by Washington. Several correspondents described him as “the bravest man in America.” Alexander’s bravery that day hardened the resolve of the American Army to continue the fight for freedom.
The Battle of Long Island was the largest battle of the Revolutionary War, and the first fought after the signing of the Declaration of Independence. The American commanders, constantly changing, some in ill health and poorly trained, were not prepared for the feints and maneuvers the British had launched. Far from being aliens in a foreign land, many British officers had spent much of their careers in America, sometimes knowing the ground better than the Patriot generals brought in from other colonies.
Though casualty figures were disputed, the Americans apparently lost about 1,100 men captured, many of them wounded. Estimates are that 300 Americans were killed. Another 100 wounded were evacuated to within the new American lines. The British lost about 370 killed and wounded, plus 23 prisoners who were carried to Brooklyn Heights in the retreat.
While the British had taken the low hills of Brooklyn through superior tactics, they had also begun to realize the terrible truth. It was expensive to take even small pieces of ground from the American army. The Patriots could match the best soldiers in the world for hours, and then retreat to fight another day. The continent was huge and even with a very determined king, there would never be enough time, money, and men to subdue the Patriots.
On August 28, Washington’s officers reported that approximately 1000 American soldiers were killed or captured. The bodies of the dead lay in forests, swamps, and fields; many were buried where they fell. Washington was prepared to defend Brooklyn, but observers reported that the English siege works were coming closer to their own inner line. After a council of war, Washington ordered the evacuation of Brooklyn.
A storm during the day of August 29 hid their preparations. That night under the command of Colonel John Glover, the American army was ferried to Manhattan in anything that could float. Nature granted the retreating Americans the gift of a heavy fog that cloaked their movements. One boatman from a Gloucester, Massachusetts, company was said to have crossed the mile-wide river twenty times.
Shortly after dawn on August 30, Hessian patrols reached the Brooklyn ferry in time to see the last of the American soldiers, who had been moved across the mile-wide river in the space of one night. General Washington had left with the last boat.
General Howe arrived at the now-empty American positions at 8:30 am. All that remained were four spiked cannon. The British began to dig trenches, and 25-pound cannons were hauled up the road to begin the siege. The British fleet, with its 26 major battle ships, were prevented from sailing up the East River, because the wind was blowing from the north. If they had been able to bring the fleet up, the entire American army could have been destroyed, which would very likely have been the end of the revolution.
General William Alexander was released in a prisoner exchange a few weeks later. He then rejoined the army in New Jersey, and fought with Washington throughout the balance of war. He was promoted to major general February 19, 1777. Subsequent battles cemented his reputation for bravery and sound tactical judgment. He led a division at the Battle of Brandywine (September 11, 1777), and commanded the reserves under Washington at Germantown. He took over command of West Point after Benedict Arnold turned traitor.
In the melancholy winter of 1777-78 at Valley Forge, he also played a part in exposing the Conway Cabal, a conspiracy of disaffected officers looking to remove Washington as commander of the Continental Army and replace him with General Horatio Gates. Alexander overheard a conversation between the conspirators, and reported their remarks to Washington. It was named after Brigadier General Thomas Conway, whose letters criticizing Washington were forwarded to the Continental Congress. The proposed removal failed when it became public; Conway resigned and General Horatio Gates apologized to Washington.
When Washington led his army south to chase Cornwallis, Alexander was named General of the Army of the North. He was an important second-tier general who was respected and recognized by his peers. His last important battle was at Monmouth (June 28, 1778), where he commanded the left wing. By his brilliant tactics in posting and handling a battery of light artillery, he repelled with heavy loss the enemy’s attempt to turn his flank. In 1778, General Light Horse Harry Lee made his attack on Paulus Hook, and Alexander received the thanks of Congress for the manner in which he had supported Lee’s advance and covered the retreat.
In the record-breaking winter of January 1780, when the bays and sounds near New York were frozen solid, Alexander led an expedition with 2500 men across the ice from Elizabeth, New Jersey, to attack the British position on Staten Island; but the British had received warning, and the enterprise was a failure.
When Washington took his army south in 1781, he appointed Alexander commander of the Northern Department at Albany. Always a heavy drinker, he was in poor health by this time, suffering from severe gout and rheumatism. Among his last military reports was a letter to Governor Clinton (September 10, 1781) giving details of recent events in the Northern Department.
Hearing that the British were advancing by way of Lake George, he went to Saratoga to meet them; but on November 2, 1781, he heard of the surrender of Yorktown, which deterred the British from any further advance. He therefore dismissed the militia and retired to Albany.
General William Alexander, Lord Stirling, died at Albany on January 15, 1783, at the age of 57. His untimely death just months before the official end of the war is the probable reason that he is not as well known today as many other generals. Still, his significant contributions made him one of the most important figures of the American Revolution.
After his death, Lady Stirling received a letter of condolence from General Washington to Lady Stirling, which has been preserved in the Historical Collections of New Jersey:
Newburg, January 20, 1783
Having been informed by letter from Captain Sill of the unspeakable loss which your Ladyship has experienced, I feel the sincerest sympathy those sorrows which I am sensible cannot be removed or effaced. For this purpose, I would also have suggested every rational topic of consolation, were I not fully persuaded that the principles of Philosophy and Religion, of which you are possessed, had anticipated everything I could say on the subject.
It only remains, then, as a small but just tribute to the memory of Lord Stirling, to express how deeply I share the common affliction, on being deprived of the public and professional Assistance, as well as the private friendship, of an officer of so high rank, with whom I have lived in the strictest habits of amity; and how much those military merits of his Lordship which rendered him respected in his lifetime, and now regretted by the whole army. It will doubtless be a soothing consideration, in the poignancy of your grief, to find that the general officers are going into mourning for him.
General Alexander’s creditors stripped his mansion and his estates and put Lady Stirling out on the street. She lived out her life in a Manhattan rooming house.
Sarah Livingston Alexander, Lady Stirling, died in March 1805, at the age of 79.
Wife of General John Stark
One of Wilmington, Vermont’s most prominent landmarks is the statue of Revolutionary War heroine Molly Stark. Her descendants donated the statue to mark the center of the Molly Stark Trail, which crosses southern Vermont and is thought to be the route taken by General Stark on his victory march home from the Battle of Bennington. To confuse the enemy, General Stark referred to the route they were taking as the Molly Stark Trail, and it is identified as such on the official Vermont Highway Map.
Elizabeth (Molly) Page was born February 16, 1737, in Haverhill, Massachusetts. Around 1755, she moved with her family to Dunbarton, New Hampshire. Her father, Caleb Page, was the first postmaster of New Hampshire.
John Stark was born in Londonderry, New Hampshire, on August 28, 1728. When he was eight years old, he and his family moved to Manchester. His father had emigrated from the north of Ireland and settled on the extreme frontier of New Hampshire, near the local Indians. He owned extensive tracts of land, and was an original proprietor of Dunbarton.
Growing up in a frontier community gave John Stark the skills he would use later as a military leader. Hunting, fishing and scouting were among the pioneer activities necessary for survival in the harsh wilderness. Stark’s first military action was during the French and Indian War (1754 – 1763), when he was appointed a lieutenant in Major Robert Rogers’ famous corps – Rogers’ Rangers.
Rogers’ Rangers were an independent colonial militia company attached to the British Army during the French and Indian War. The unit was trained as a rapidly mobile light infantry force tasked with reconnaissance and special operations. Stark and his comrades picked up new strategies from their Indian allies and their enemies that helped them fight the British during the Revolutionary War.
In 1758, hearing of his father’s death, Stark obtained a leave of absence to come home to help settle the estate. At this time, he was a frequent visitor to the Page homestead in Dunbarton, New Hampshire. Molly Page married John Stark on August 20, 1758. Together they had eleven children.
John and Molly settled in the Page home, but after a few weeks of inactivity, Stark eagerly responded to General Amherst’s request to build a road from Crown Point to Fort No. 4, Charlestown. It soon became apparent that resentment of the British was building. The Rangers were consistently made to feel inferior to the British. Army discipline was severe and unyielding.
At the end of the French and Indian war, John retired from the army. Marriage and his farm and mill occupied his attention for the next sixteen years. His father’s estate settled, he bought the land his brothers and sisters had inherited, and became sole owner of a substantial estate near Manchester, New Hampshire.
The Revolutionary War
Resentment of the British following the French and Indian Wars came to the surface as King George imposed more and more taxes on the colonies. The Stamp Act of 1765, the Boston Massacre of 1770, the tea tax resulting in the Boston Tea Party of 1773 – all were sparks helping ignite the conflagration which would soon envelop the colonies.
The Battles of Lexington and Concord on April 19, 1775, signaled the start of the war. On April 23, John Stark was appointed colonel of a regiment of New Hampshire militia, and was given command of the 1st New Hampshire Regiment. The militia was created to protect the colonies from attacks by the French and their Indian allies, and had more at stake than those serving in the regular army; they were protecting their homes and families.
Stark and his men were dispatched to aid the militias of Massachusetts, who were trying to keep the British in Boston. When the British tried to push out of Boston by attacking the colonists, the colonists fought valiantly at the Battle of Bunker Hill (June 17, 1775). John Stark and his men filled a gap in the lines, and held off the British longer than expected, due mainly to John Stark’s strategy and encouragement.
After the Battle of Bunker Hill , as General George Washington prepared to return south to fight the British there, he knew that he desperately needed experienced men to command regiments in the army. Washington immediately offered Stark a command, and Stark and his New Hampshire regiment agreed to attach themselves temporarily to the Continental Army.
After the British evacuated Boston on March 17, 1776, Stark marched with his regiment to the New Jersey colony with General Washington and fought bravely in the Battles of Trenton (December 26, 1776) and Princeton (January 3, 1777).
After Princeton, Washington asked Stark to return to New Hampshire to recruit more men for the Continental Army. Stark was in a cheerful mood as he traveled around the settlements, talking to farmers and townsmen. But he soon learned that while he was fighting in New Jersey, a fellow New Hampshire Colonel Enoch Poor had been promoted to Brigadier General.
Enoch Poor had refused to march his militia regiment to Bunker Hill to join the battle, instead choosing to keep his regiment at home, and Stark believed he had been passed over for promotion by someone with no experience and apparently no will to fight. On March 23, 1777, Stark resigned his commission in disgust. In spite of urgent efforts to get him to reconsider, Stark remained adamant, though he pledged his aid to New Hampshire should it be needed.
Battle of Bennington
In July 1777, John Stark was offered a commission as Brigadier General of the New Hampshire militia. He consented on condition that he be answerable only to New Hampshire. Stark led his men to meet the British at Bennington, Vermont, where British General John Burgoyne had dispatched Colonel Frederick Baum with 500 men to seize American storehouses to restock their depleted provisions.
Sending out expresses to call in the local militia, Stark assembled approximately 2200 men – some 1400 came from New Hampshire, 600 from Vermont and the balance from New York, Massachusetts and Connecticut. The volunteers were mostly farmers and townspeople. There was no time for training, and no money for uniforms or weapons. The volunteers left their businesses and farms wearing their usual clothing and often carrying their own guns.
Stark and the militia marched out to meet Baum, who had entrenched himself in a strong position and sent to General Burgoyne for reinforcements. Before reinforcements could arrive, Stark attacked Colonel Baum on August 16, 1777. Prior to attacking the British and Hessian troops, Stark prepared his men to fight to the death. Molly Stark became a legend thanks to her husband’s battle cry:
There are your enemies, the Redcoats and the Tories. They are ours, or this night Molly Stark sleeps a widow!”
Stark’s men, with some help from Seth Warner’s Vermont militia, the Green Mountain Boys, routed the Hessian forces there. A second British force of 500 men, under Colonel Breymann, presently arrived on the scene, and were also totally defeated. Of the 1,000 British, not more than a hundred escaped, all the rest being killed or captured. The American loss was only about seventy.
Colonel Baum, who was mortally wounded, said of the militiamen: “They fought more like hell-hounds than soldiers.” Washington spoke of it immediately as “the great stroke struck by General Stark near Bennington.” Loyalist Baroness Riedesel, then in the British camp, wrote: “This unfortunate event paralyzed our operations.”
John Stark became widely known as the Hero of Bennington for his exemplary service. Stark’s decision to stop the British advance at Bennington prevented Burgoyne from resupplying, and contributed directly to Burgoyne’s surrender on October 17, 1777, after two unsuccessful battles in Saratoga.
A grateful Continental Congress raised Stark’s rank to Brigadier General in the Continental Army two months after Bennington. The war dragged on for six more years. Stark sometimes took part, but when cold weather set in, he sometimes went home to recuperate from the attacks of rheumatism that were to plague him the rest of his life. He fought in several decisive battles, and achieved a reputation as a leader and shrewd tactician. He was popular with his men, and his success was due to his independence and decisiveness.
In 1783, John Stark was ordered to headquarters by Washington, and given the personal thanks of the Commander-in-Chief and the rank of Major General. Following this promotion, he retired to his farm in Manchester, New Hampshire. He and Molly then had ten children, five boys and five girls, having lost one daughter in infancy.
When he was 89 years old, Congress allowed General Stark a pension of sixty dollars per month; but with his simple tastes, this was not essential to his comfort. He was a good type of the class of men who gave success to the American Revolution.
In 1809, a group of Bennington veterans gathered to commemorate the battle, and General Stark, then aged 81, was asked to speak at the celebration. He was not well enough to travel, but he sent a letter to his comrades, which he signed: “Live free or die. Death is not the worst of evils.”Live Free or Die became the New Hampshire state motto in 1945.
Molly Page Stark died of typhus in 1814, aged 78. John was 86, and he slept that night a widower.
General John Stark died on May 8, 1822, at the age of 94, reportedly the last surviving Continental general of the American Revolution. He was buried with military honors on May 10, 1822.
The location of the little cemetery that contains his remains was selected by him for a family burial place several years before his death. The site is a commanding plateau, overlooking the Merrimack River within the boundaries of what was then his farm.
The Molly Stark Cannon
The famous Molly Stark cannon, named for the general’s spirited wife, was captured from the British at the Battle of Bennington by New Hampshire troops under the command of General John Stark. The cannon had been cast in Paris in 1743, and ornately decorated with a shield and crown flanked by American Indians armed with bows and arrows.
The cannon served in defense of the British siege at Detroit, Michigan, during the War of 1812, and was recaptured by the British after the surrender of the city. The Americans captured it from the British once again at the Battle of Fort George during the same war.
Prior to his death in 1822, General John Stark removed the cannon from storage at the first arsenal built by the United States in Watervliet, New York. Old Molly was retired from active duty and presented to the New Boston Artillery Company of the 9th Regiment of the New Hampshire Militia by General Stark for the company’s contributions to the success of the Battle of Bennington. Old Molly is fired every year on July 4th.
Molly Stark, one of our Founding Mothers, is also known for her success as a nurse to her husband’s troops during a smallpox epidemic, and for turning her already-crowded home into a makeshift hospital for ailing soldiers during the war.
Elizabeth Wells Adams
Second Wife of Patriot Samuel Adams
Samuel Adams was an American statesman, politician, writer, and political philosopher, and one of the Founding Fathers of the United States. Adams was instrumental in garnering the support of the colonies for rebellion against Great Britain, eventually resulting in the American Revolution, and was also one of the key architects of the principles of American republicanism that shaped American political culture. Samuel Adams is sometimes called the Father of the American Revolution, because of his early stand against the tyranny of Great Britain, and his speeches and writings that drew many American colonists into the fight for freedom.
Samuel Adams was born September 27, 1722, in Boston to Mary Fifield and Samuel Adams, Sr, their tenth child. He attended Boston Latin School, and received bachelor’s and master’s degrees from Harvard University. In 1748, his father died, and Sam Adams, as he was called, inherited the family brewery and a sizable estate. Within ten years, he had spent and mismanaged most of it, to the point where creditors attempted to seize his home. By 1760, Adams was bankrupt and working as a Boston tax collector.
After a few years of courtship, Samuel Adams married Elizabeth Checkley on October 17, 1749. In September of the following year, Elizabeth gave birth to a son named Samuel, but the infant died only eighteen days after birth. On October 16, 1751, Elizabeth again gave birth to a son they also named Samuel. Fortunately, there were no health issues with the child. Another son named Joseph was born just two years later, but he died the following day. Exactly a year after Joseph’s birth, Elizabeth gave birth to the couple’s first daughter, Mary. Mary lived for only three months and nine days. Another daughter, Hannah, was born eighteen months later, and stayed healthy. Only Samuel and Hannah survived to adulthood.
After giving birth to a stillborn son, Elizabeth Checkley Adams died on July 25, 1757 at the age of thirty-two. After this date Samuel wrote in the family Bible:
To her husband she was as sincere a friend as she was a faithful wife. Her exact economy in all her relative capacities, her kindred on his side as well as her own admire. She ran her Christian race with remarkable steadiness and finished in triumph! She left two small children. God grant they may inherit her graces!
On December 6, 1764, forty-two-year-old Samuel Adams married Elizabeth Wells, the twenty-nine-year-old daughter of his good friend, Francis Wells, an English merchant who came to Boston with his family in 1723. They had no children, but Elizabeth helped raise Samuel and Hannah, the surviving children of the first Mrs. Adams.
Elizabeth Wells Adams was a pleasant and hard-working woman who, through the forty years of life that remained to Sam, supported him in every way. She turned out to be a good manager. While he nurtured the birth of Independence, he was quite careless about his home and the condition of his own children’s clothes and shoes.
Sam Adams was not a successful man according to the standards of his neighbors, though looked upon as one of strict integrity and morality. He wasn’t good at making money and, and he seemed to have no desire to accumulate property. More than once the family would have become objects of charity if not for his wife. His hair was already turning gray, and a peculiar tremble of the head and hands made him appear old, but his health was remarkably good.
His father had left him a fairly profitable malting business, a comfortable house on Purchase Street, and 1000 pounds in money. Half the money he had loaned to a friend who never repaid him. The malt business was neglected and mismanaged, so it did not pay expenses. Sam Adams was always talking politics, writing newspaper articles, debating before the town meeting, or framing up some act for the Assembly to strengthen the rights of the people. This is where his talents lay.
He remained as poor as ever. He was a tax collector for years. Times were hard, money woefully scarce, and the collections became sadly in arrears. Then it came out that Sam Adams had refused to sell out the last cow or pig or the last sack of potatoes or corn meal or the scant furniture of a poor man to secure his taxes. He had told his superiors that the town did not need the taxes as badly as most of these poor people needed their belongings, and that he would rather lose his office than force such collections. He had connected with the plain people of Boston, who would be ready to elect him to any office that he would accept.
As an influential member of the Massachusetts House of Representatives and the Boston Town Meeting in the 1760s, Sam was a part of a movement opposed to the British Parliament’s efforts to tax the American Colonies without their consent. By 1765, he was drafting protests against the Stamp Act that protested British efforts to tax the colonists.
Adams’s next move was to protest the Townshend Acts of 1767, which placed customs duties on imported goods. His stand placed him in the front ranks of the leading colonists, and gained him the hatred of both British General Thomas Gage and England’s King George III. To protest the Townshend Acts, Adams and other radicals called for an economic boycott of British goods. Though the actual success of the boycott was limited, Adams had proved that an organized minority could effectively combat a larger but more disorganized group.
While a member of the legislature, as clerk of the house, Sam was responsible for drafting written protests of various British governmental acts. In February 1768, he drafted the Massachusetts Circular Letter as a response to the Townshend Acts, which was distributed among the other colonies in an effort to achieve a united front of resistance. King George III demanded that the contents of this letter be rescinded, but the legislature refused, which resulted in the stationing of British troops in Boston in 1768. The British troop presence in Boston, aggravated by protests such as Adams’ formation of the Non-Importation Association, led to the Boston Massacre (a term coined by Adams) in 1770.
Writing of Adams in 1769, biographer James Hosmer wrote:
For years now, Samuel Adams had laid aside all pretence of private business and was devoted simply and solely to public affairs. The house on Purchase Street still afforded the family a home. His sole source of income was the small salary (one hundred pounds) he received as clerk of the Assembly. His wife, like himself, was contented with poverty; through good management, in spite of their narrow means, a comfortable home life was maintained in which the children grew up happy and in every way well trained and cared for.
John Adams tells of a drive taken by these two kinsmen on a beautiful June day, not far from this time, in the neighborhood of Boston. Then as from the first and ever after there was an affectionate intimacy between them. They often called one another brother, though the relationship was only that of second cousin. ‘My brother, Samuel Adams, says he never looked forward in his life; never planned, laid a scheme, or formed a design of laying up anything for himself or others after him.’ The case of Samuel Adams is almost without a parallel as an instance of enthusiastic, unswerving devotion to public service throughout a long life.
Elizabeth was doing needlework and kitchen gardening to eke out the scant allowance she had to furnish a livelihood for herself and family. Yet there is no evidence that she complained – no chiding because of Sam’s waste of time and talent working for other people without compensation and neglecting his own affairs and family. She and his children seemed to think that whatever he thought or whatever he did must be right.
To help coordinate resistance to what he saw as the British government’s attempts to violate the British Constitution at the expense of the colonies, in 1772 Sam Adams and his colleagues devised a committee of correspondence system, which linked Patriots throughout the Thirteen Colonies. Continued opposition to British policy resulted in the coming of the American Revolution.
Sam Adams is best remembered for helping organize the Boston Tea Party, in response to the Tea Act passed by Parliament on May 1773. The intention of this law was to prop up the East India Company, which was floundering financially and burdened with eighteen million pounds of unsold tea. This tea was to be shipped directly to the colonies, and sold at a bargain price, which would have undercut the business of local merchants.
Colonists in Philadelphia and New York turned the tea ships back to Britain. In Boston, the Royal Governor held the ships in port, where the colonists would not allow them to unload. Cargoes of tea filled the harbor, and the British ship’s crews were stalled in Boston looking for work and often finding trouble. This situation lead to the Boston Tea Party on December 16, 1773.
The British were shocked by the destruction of the tea in Boston Harbor and other colonial protests, which they believed were clearly undermining their authority in the colonies. The Parliament passed a series of laws called the Coercive Acts, and known in the colonies as the Intolerable Acts. These acts included the closing of the port of Boston, until the East India Company received compensation for the tea dumped into the harbor. The Royal governor took control of the Massachusetts government.
The Coercive Acts succeeded in uniting the colonies to take action against the Crown. The angry reaction from all the colonies was to expedite the opening of a Continental Congress, and when the Massachusetts legislature met in Salem, Adams locked the doors and made a motion for the formation of a colonial delegation to attend the Congress. A loyalist member, faking illness, was excused from the assembly and went immediately to the governor, who issued a writ for the legislature’s dissolution; but when the legislator returned to find a locked door, he could do nothing.
Sam Adams was one of the major proponents of the Suffolk Resolves, which called for disobedience to the Coercive Acts, endorsed military preparations for defense, and called for the meeting of a provincial congress. Adams opposed a compromise and advocated boycotts of British imports.
In September 1774, he left the legislature and was a delegate to the First Continental Congress in Philadelphia. He was at the head of several committees devoted to the relief of Boston. Because of the closing of the port, the city was in bad circumstances. Donations were coming from far and near and were distributed by one of the committees of which Adams was chairman. Another of his committees laid out public works, opening streets and wharves, and furnishing work for many citizens.
In the series of events in Massachusetts that led up to the first battles of the Revolution, Sam Adams wrote dozens of newspaper articles that stirred his readers’ anger at the British. He appealed to American radicals and communicated with leaders in other colonies. In a sense, Adams was burning himself out. By the time of the Battles of Lexington and Concord in Massachusetts on April 18, 1775, which marked the beginning of the Revolutionary War, his career as a revolutionary leader had peaked.
Sam was one of the first and loudest voices for independence, and was a workhorse member of the Second Continental Congress beginning in May 1775, serving on numerous committees. He served in the Continental Congress from 1774 to 1781, but after the first session his activities lessened and his ties to other leaders cooled. He was uncertain about America’s next steps and where he would fit into the scheme.
Letter from Samuel to Elizabeth Adams:
Philadelphia, June 28, 1775:
My Dearest Betsy,
Yesterday I received Letters from some of our Friends at the Camp informing me of the Engagement between the American troops and the Rebel Army at Charlestown. I cannot but be greatly rejoiced at the tried Valor of our Countrymen, who by all Accounts behaved with an intrepidity becoming those who fought for their Liberties against the mercenary Soldiers of a Tyrant.
It is painful to me to reflect on the Terror I suppose you were under, on hearing the Noise of War so near. Favor me, my dear, with an Account of your Apprehensions at that time, under your own hand. I pray God to cover the heads of our Countrymen in every day of Battle, and ever to protect you from Injury in these distracted times.
The Death of our truly amiable and worthy Friend Dr. [Joseph] Warren is greatly afflicting; the language of Friendship is, how shall we resign him; but it is our Duty to submit to the Dispensations of Heaven ‘whose ways are ever gracious and just.’ He fell in the glorious Struggle for public Liberty.
Remember me to my dear Hannah and sister Polly and to all Friends… [General Thomas] Gage has made me respectable by naming me first among those who are to receive no favor from him. I thoroughly despise him and his proclamation… The Clock is now striking twelve. I therefore wish you good Night.
Yours most affectionately,
Letter from Elizabeth to Samuel Adams:
I received your affectionate Letter by Fesenton, and I thank you for your kind Concern for my Health and Safety. I beg you Would not give yourself any pain on our being so Near the Camp; the place I am in is so Situated that if the Regulars should ever take Prospect Hill, which God forbid, I should be able to make an Escape, as I am Within a few stones casts of a Back Road, Which Leads to the Most Retired part of Newtown…
I beg you to Excuse the very poor Writing as My paper is Bad and my pen made with Scissors. I should be glad (My dear), if you shouldn’t come down soon, you would Write me Word Who to apply to for some Money, for I am low in Cash and Everything is very dear.
May I subscribe myself yours,
Early in August 1775, Samuel Adams and the other delegates from Massachusetts hurried home to their families. Congress had adjourned from August 1 until September 5, and when Adams arrived from Philadelphia, he found the General Assembly of the Territory of Massachusetts Bay in session and himself entitled to sit as one of the eighteen councilors. The delegation was in charge of $500,000 for the use of General Washington’s army. Samuel Adams was at once elected Secretary of State.
Elizabeth Adams, who had been forced to leave Boston, was living with her daughter at the home of her aged father in Cambridge, and Samuel Adams, Jr. held an appointment as surgeon in Washington’s army. Friends were looking after all of them. Mr. Adams’s visit with his family was a short one, and on September I2, he started on his return to Philadelphia, on a horse loaned him by John Adams.
The coming years of Elizabeth’s life brought more of peace and comfort than during the Revolution or the years leading up to it. After the British evacuated Boston in March 1776, she and her family returned to the city to live. Sometimes they were “low in cash,” as she naively put it, but with her fine sewing and Hannah’s “exquisite embroidery,” they managed to live in comfort.
The climax of Sam’s political career came when he signed the Declaration of Independence in 1776. After that, Adams, wary of a strong central government, was instrumental in the development and adoption of the loose government embodied in the Articles of Confederation, which he also signed in 1777.
Samuel Adams retired from Congress in 1781 and returned to Boston, but was constantly in office in Massachusetts. He was elected to the state senate of Massachusetts, and served in that body until 1788, becoming its president.
At the time of the drafting of the United States Constitution, Adams was considered an anti-federalist, but more moderate than others. His contemporaries nicknamed him “the last Puritan” for his views. He finally came in on the side of ratification, with the stipulation that a Bill of Rights be added.
Dr. Samuel Adams, Jr. died in 1788, only in his late thirties. He had studied medicine under Dr. Joseph Warren, friend and fellow patriot. The younger Adams had served as surgeon in General George Washington’s army during the Revolutionary War, but had fallen ill and never fully recovered. The death was a stunning blow to the elder Adams, but there was joy in the happy marriage of his daughter Hannah to Captain Thomas Wells, a younger brother of Elizabeth Adams.
In 1794, Sam Adams was elected Governor of Massachusetts, but he retired from politics at the end of his term in 1797. He suffered from what is now believed to have been essential tremor, a movement disorder that rendered him unable to write during the final decade of his life. His daughter Hannah had to sign his name for him.
Upon his death, young Sam had left the certificates he had earned as a soldier – about $6000 – giving Sam and Elizabeth unexpected financial security in their final years. Investments in land would make them relatively wealthy by the mid-1790s, but this did not alter the frugal lifestyle of the old patriot and his wife.
The bronze statue in front of Faneuil Hall portrays the Revolutionary patriot just after he demanded that Governor Hutchinson immediately remove the British troops from Boston after the Boston Massacre.
Samuel Adams died at the age of 81 on October 2, 1803, and was interred at the Granary Burying Ground in Boston. The city’s Republican newspaper, the Independent Chronicle, eulogized him as the Father of the American Revolution.
Elizabeth Wells Adams died in 1808.
Samuel Adams Quotation:
If ye love wealth greater than liberty, the tranquility of servitude greater than the animating contest for freedom, go home from us in peace. We seek not your counsel, nor your arms. Crouch down and lick the hand that feeds you; May your chains set lightly upon you, and may posterity forget that ye were our countrymen.
~ From a speech delivered at the State House in Philadelphia on August 1, 1776.
Margaret Kemble Gage
Wife of British General Thomas Gage
Image: Margaret Kemble Gage
By John Singleton Copley
Margaret began to sit for Copley within three days of his arrival in New York City in 1771. She is depicted wearing an iridescent caftan over a lace trimmed chemise with a jeweled brooch and an embroidered belt. Pearls and a turban-like swath of drapery adorn her hair. Her sleeves are held up with ropes of pearls and her hair is wrapped in a length of green silk fashioned as a turban. Her languid and informal pose, shockingly different from the upright posture of Copley’s Boston sitters, underscores the sensuality of the image.
Margaret Kemble was born into a well-known family in East Brunswick, New Jersey, in 1734. Her father, Peter Kemble, was a wealthy merchant and politician; her grandfather was Stephanus Van Cortlandt, the Mayor of New York. Margaret was related through her mother, Gertrude Bayard, to the Van Rensselaers, the de Lanceys, and other leading New York families. Her ethnic lineage included English, Greek, Dutch, and French ancestors, making her rather exotic for her day. She was considered a beautiful and intelligent woman.
Thomas Gage was born in Firle, England, the second son of the first Viscount Gage. In 1728, Gage began attending the prestigious Westminster School, where he met such figures as John Burgoyne, Richard Howe, Francis Bernard, and George Sackville. Upon graduation, Gage joined the British Army, first as an ensign, and was promoted to lieutenant colonel in March 1751. His regiment was sent to America in 1755.
In December 1757, Thomas Gage spent the winter in New Jersey, recruiting for the British army. While it is uncertain exactly when he met her, his choice of the Brunswick area may well have been motivated by his interest in Margaret Kemble, a well-known beauty of the area. By February 1758, Gage was in Albany, preparing for that year’s campaign.
On December 8, 1758, Margaret Kemble married Thomas Gage, the couple played a prominent role in New York society for more than 10 years. They were a happily married pair, and observers often remarked on the closeness of their relationship and the apparent strength of their marriage. Five daughters and six sons were to be born to the couple.
By the time of their marriage, Gage had become a brigadier general. In 1760, he was appointed military governor of Montreal, a task Gage found somewhat thankless. Margaret came to stay with him at Montreal, and their first two children, Henry and Maria Theresa, where born there.
In 1761, Gage was promoted to major general, and in 1762 he was placed in command of the Twenty-Second Regiment, which assured him a command even in peacetime. In October 1763, Gage was promoted to commander in chief of the British North American forces, a position he held from 1763 to 1775.
Gage immediately left Montreal, and took command in New York on November 17, 1763. He spent most of his time as commander-in-chief, the most powerful office in British America, in and around New York City. While Gage was clearly burdened by the administrative demands of managing a territory that spanned the entirety of North America east of the Mississippi River, the Gages clearly relished life in New York, actively participating in the social scene.
During Gage’s administration political tensions rose throughout the American colonies. As a result, Gage began withdrawing troops from the frontier to fortify urban centers like New York City and Boston. As the number of soldiers stationed in cities grew, the need to provide adequate food and housing for these troops became urgent. Parliament passed the Quartering Act of 1765, permitting British troops to be quartered in private residences.
In the fall of 1768, British troops landed in Boston and marched to Faneuil Hall, causing great unrest. To calm the citizenry, the king ordered General Gage to Boston. Events moved quickly after his arrival. The nonimportation movement cut imports from Britain by nearly half in 1769. Thomas Hutchinson succeeded Francis Bernard as governor of Massachusetts, and the local citizens found the British troops in Boston to reinforce Hutchinson’s authority increasingly hateful.
On March 5, 1770, taunts from an angry mob caused inexperienced British soldiers to fire on civilians. The incident was dramatized in a provocative and deliberately inaccurate print by Paul Revere that established the Boston Massacre as a symbol of British tyranny. That same year, Gage was promoted to lieutenant general. Late that year, he wrote “America is a mere bully, from one end to the other, and the Bostonians by far the greatest bullies.”
Thomas and Margaret Gage and their ten children returned to England in June 1773, and settled at the family estate in Sussex. While in England, they missed the Boston Tea Party in December 1773. In the resulting controversy, British forces shut down Boston Harbor until the colonists had made reparations in full for every leaf of tea lost.
In 1774, the British Parliament passed a series of measures known in the colonies as the Intolerable Acts, as a way to punish the colonies, and specifically the Province of Massachusetts Bay, for this and other acts of protest against British colonial policy. In May 1774, King George III sent Gage back to Boston, naming him military governor of Massachusetts, with hopes that Gage could restore order to the colony, and enforce the Parliamentary acts.
Margaret Gage arrived in Boston in late 1774, sometime after her husband’s arrival. Although Gage had initially been respected by the colonists, he was also regarded with a measure of suspicion. Margaret was anguished over the conflict in the colonies and her divided loyalties. She hoped that her husband would not cause a conflict resulting in the loss of the lives of her countrymen.
In September 1774, Gage ordered a mission to remove gunpowder from a magazine in what is now Somerville, MA. This action, while successful, caused a huge popular reaction known as the Powder Alarm that prevented Gage from successfully executing other raids. This was in large part due to Paul Revere and the Sons of Liberty. The Sons of Liberty kept careful watch over Gage’s activities after this point, and successfully warned others of future actions before Gage could mobilize his British regulars to execute them. Gage was criticized by his own men for allowing groups like the Sons of Liberty to exist.
By 1775, tensions between the American colonies and the British government had approached the breaking point, especially in Massachusetts, where Patriot leaders formed a shadow revolutionary government and trained militia to prepare for armed conflict with the British troops occupying Boston. General Gage received instructions from Great Britain to seize all stores of weapons and gunpowder accessible to the American insurgents.
The Tories – Americans who were loyal to Britain – had spies who monitored the activities of the colonists. Margaret Gage’s brother, Major Stephen Kemble, was General Gage’s Chief Intelligence Officer. He obtained the services of Dr. Benjamin Church, a member of the Provincial Congress and Committee of Safety, who was secretly spying for the British – the doctor had an expensive mistress and spying brought ready cash.
Thus, while the Patriot Congress met in Concord (October, 1774, and March through April, 1775), sworn to secrecy, Dr. Church regularly provided summaries of the proceedings to Gage.
From Tory spies, General Gage learned that the Massachusetts militia were storing arms and ammunition in Concord, about 20 miles northwest of Boston. He also heard that Samuel Adams and John Hancock were in Lexington.
By early 1775, the Boston rebels under Dr. Joseph Warren had an elaborate spy network to monitor British military activities. He received intelligence about British troop movements on April 18; to verify this information, Warren relied on a confidential informant, who was well connected to the top levels of British command. The informant confirmed that the British planned to seize Samuel Adams and John Hancock at Lexington, and then destroy patriot military stores at nearby Concord.
Based on this information, Dr. Warren sent Paul Revere on his famous Midnight Ride through the Massachusetts countryside to warn the Patriot leaders and the townspeople of Lexington and Concord of the British plans. Warren was killed a few months later in the Battle of Bunker Hill, and the true identity of his informant may never be known.
The Shot Heard ‘Round the World
On the night of April 18, 1775, General Thomas Gage ordered 700 British regulars to arrest John Adams and John Hancock in Lexington, and to continue on to Concord and destroy the military supplies the colonists had stored there.
About 5 am on April 19, the Redcoats arrived at Lexington to find 77 armed Minutemen waiting for them on Lexington’s common green. They ordered the outnumbered Patriots to disperse, and after a moment’s hesitation, the Americans began to drift off the green. Suddenly, a shot was fired from an undetermined gun, and a cloud of musket smoke soon covered the green. When the brief Battle of Lexington ended, eight Americans lay dead and 10 others were wounded; only one British soldier was injured. The American Revolution had begun.
When the British troops reached Concord at about 7 am, they found themselves encircled by hundreds of armed Patriots. They managed to destroy the military supplies the Americans had collected, but were soon advanced against by a gang of Minutemen, who inflicted numerous casualties.
The commander of the British force ordered his men to return to Boston, without directly engaging the Americans. The militia had its revenge, killing several British soldiers as the Red Coats hastily marched through town. As they retraced their 16-mile journey, their lines were constantly beset by Patriot marksmen firing at them from behind trees, rocks, and stone walls. By the time the British reached the safety of Boston, nearly 300 British soldiers had been killed, wounded, or were missing in action. The Patriots suffered fewer than 100 casualties.
The Americans followed the British back to Boston, and occupied the neck of land extending to the peninsula the city stood on. This began the Siege of Boston. Initially, the 6,000 to 8,000 rebels (led mainly by General Artemus Ward) faced some 4,000 of General Gage’s British regulars, bottled up in the city. British Admiral Samuel Graves commanded the fleet that continued to control the harbor.
The British Army had failed to capture Hancock and Adams, and their search for weapons had been largely unsuccessful – the colonists had removed most of the supplies. They did destroy a small colonial arsenal and caused some damage to the town of Concord. No one doubted that the Patriots had received advance warning.
The warning had been sent days before the soldiers departed Boston. Because of this, General Thomas Gage was called into question, where he revealed he had told only one other person about the Concord march before revealing it to top officers. Many believed Gage had been betrayed by someone very close to him – his American-born wife, Margaret Kemble Gage.
In particular, Margaret supposedly warned Dr. Joseph Warren on April 18, 1775, that her husband’s troops planned to arrest the Patriot leaders at Lexington, and then raid the armories at Concord. Roxbury clergyman, William Gordon, wrote that Warren’s spy was “a daughter of liberty unequally yoked in the point of politics.”
Several historical works have suggested that she was sympathetic to the colonial cause and may have supplied the rebels with military information. True, Margaret’s political sentiments were not always those of her husband, and she had long felt cruelly divided by the growing rift between Britain and America. One acquaintance noted that “she hoped her husband would never be the instrument of sacrificing the lives of her countrymen.”
There is no proof of her complicity, but Margaret was packed aboard a ship called the Charming Nancy and sent back to England, supposedly to “tend to the family estate.” The General remained in America for another long painful year. Thereafter, they were estranged, and their marriage deteriorated.
On May 25, Gage received about 4,500 reinforcements and three new Generals — Major General William Howe and Brigadiers John Burgoyne and Henry Clinton. With his new generals, Gage began to lay out a plan to break the grip of the besieging forces at Boston. They would use an amphibious assault to remove the Americans from the Dorchester Heights, or take their headquarters at Cambridge. To thwart these plans, General Artemus Ward gave orders to General Israel Putnam to fortify Bunker Hill.
On June 17, 1775, British forces under General Howe seized the Charlestown peninsula at the Battle of Bunker Hill. While they took their objective, they failed to break the siege. The Americans held the ground at the base of the peninsula. Gage called it, “A dear bought victory, another such would have ruined us.” British losses were so heavy that from this point, the siege essentially became a stalemate.
On June 25, 1775, Gage wrote a dispatch to England, notifying Lord Dartmouth of the results of the June 17 battle. This report repeated his earlier warnings that “a large army must at length be employed to reduce these people” and would require “the hiring of foreign troops.” Soon thereafter, Gage was recalled to England; he received the order in Boston on September 26, and sailed for England on October 11. Major General Howe replaced Gage as acting Commander-in-Chief of the British Army in the American colonies.
Thomas and Margaret Gage remained married, and settled into a house in London. While Thomas was presumably given a friendly reception in his interview with a sympathetic King George, the public and private writings about him and his fall from power were at times vicious. His health began to decline early in the 1780s.
General Thomas Gage died on the Isle of Portland on April 2, 1787, and was buried in the family plot at Firle.
Margaret Kemble Gage spent the second half of her life in England, and died at the age of 90 in 1824, surviving her husband by almost 37 years.
Rachel Walker Revere
American Patriot and Wife of Paul Revere
Rachel Walker was born in Boston, December 27, 1745. Born in Boston’s North End in December, 1734, Paul Revere was the son of Apollos Rivoire, a French Huguenot immigrant, and Deborah Hichborn, daughter of a local artisan family. Rivoire, who changed his name to Revere some time after immigrating, was a goldsmith, and eventually the head of a large household. Paul Revere was the second of at least nine, possibly as many as twelve children, and the eldest surviving son.
Paul was educated at the North Writing School and learned the art of gold and silversmithing from his father. When Paul was nineteen (and nearly finished with his apprenticeship) his father died, leaving Paul as the family’s main source of income.
Paul Revere was one of the finest American craftsmen of the late eighteenth century. Following his father’s death in 1754 and military service during the French and Indian War, Revere took over the family goldsmithing business. Within a few years, he had established one of the largest shops in Boston, where he crafted and repaired silver and gold items, and engraved trade cards, bookplates, billheads, illustrations for magazines, and other commercial works.
In August, 1757, Revere married Sarah Orne. Together, they had six children who survived. In February 1770, Paul Revere moved his family from their Clark’s Wharf residence into a newly purchased home, which proved ideal for Revere’s growing family and his mother Deborah. On May 3, 1773, Sarah Orne Revere died.
When Rachel Walker married Paul Revere on October 10, 1773, she took on the care of the six children from his first marriage. Rachel gave birth to eight children, three of whom did not reach maturity. Large families and a high infant mortality rate were common during colonial times.
Revere’s silver shop was the cornerstone of his professional life for more than 40 years. As the master silversmith, Revere was responsible for both the workmanship and the quality of the metal alloy used. He employed numerous apprentices and journeymen to produce pieces ranging from simple spoons to magnificent full tea sets. His work is regarded as one of the outstanding achievements in American decorative arts.
Revere also supplemented his income with other work. During the economic depression before the Revolution, Revere began his work as a copper plate engraver. He produced illustrations for books and magazines, business cards, political cartoons, bookplates, a song book, and bills of fare for taverns.
He also advertised as a dentist from 1768 to 1775. He not only cleaned teeth, but also wired in false teeth carved from walrus ivory or animal teeth. Contrary to popular myth, he did not make George Washington’s false teeth. Fabricating a full set of dentures was beyond his ability.
The Revolutionary War
Paul Revere was one of the key figures of the revolutionary movement in the New England colonies. When the revolutionary mood began growing in Boston, Revere became involved as an active member of Boston’s Sons of Liberty chapter led by Samuel Adams. He also used proceeds from his business to finance revolutionary activities.
Revere played a major role in popularizing resistance to the Stamp Act and the Boston Massacre, through his widely circulated engravings. He helped plan and carry out the Boston Tea Party in 1775, when members of the Sons of Liberty climbed three ships anchored in Boston Harbor and dumped tea chests into the ocean to protest British taxation.
Between 1773 and 1775, Paul Revere was employed by the Boston Committee of Correspondence and the Massachusetts Committee of Safety as an express rider to carry news and copies of resolutions. He also relayed messages about British troop movements from Boston to Philadelphia, New York, and Hartford.
In the year before the Revolution, Revere gathered intelligence by watching the movements of British Soldiers. Having learned of British General Thomas Gage’s plans for a surprise midnight raid, the movement of the British on the night of April 15, 1775, aroused the suspicion of the patriots who had remained in Boston. The logical conclusion was that they were moving to capture John Hancock and Samuel Adams at Lexington or the military stores at Concord, or both.
King George had put a price upon the heads of these two patriot leaders, who were attending the daily sessions of the Provincial Congress at Concord; but they lodged nightly in the neighboring town of Lexington at the house of Reverend Jonas Clarke, whose wife was Hancock’s niece.
At 10 pm on the night of April 18, 1775, Paul Revere received instructions from Dr. Joseph Warren to ride to Lexington to warn Hancock and Adams that British troops were marching to arrest them. After being rowed across the Charles River to Charlestown by two associates, Paul Revere borrowed a horse from his friend Deacon John Larkin.
While in Charlestown, he verified that the local Sons of Liberty committee had seen his pre-arranged signals. Two lanterns had been hung briefly in the bell-tower of Christ Church in Boston, indicating that troops would approach by sea across the Charles River to Cambridge, rather than marching by land out Boston Neck. Revere had arranged for these signals the previous weekend, because he was afraid that he might be prevented from leaving Boston.
On the way to Lexington, Revere warned the countryside, stopping at each house, and arrived in Lexington about midnight. As he approached the Hancock-Clarke house, where Samuel Adams and John Hancock were staying, a sentry asked that he not make so much noise. “Noise!” cried Revere, “You’ll have noise enough before long. The regulars are coming out!” He roused Hancock and Adams from sleep; the two fled to safety.
After delivering his message, Revere was joined by a second rider, William Dawes, who had been sent on the same errand by a different route. Deciding on their own to continue on to Concord, MA, where weapons and supplies were hidden, Revere and Dawes were joined by a third rider, Dr. Samuel Prescott.
Soon after, all three were arrested by a British patrol. Prescott escaped almost immediately, and Dawes soon after. Revere was held for some time and then released. Left without a horse, Revere returned to Lexington in time to witness part of the battle on the Lexington Green.
After delivering his message to rebel leaders, Revere continued on to Concord, intent on warning citizens along the way. The unarmed Revere was captured on the Concord Road and questioned by ten British Regulars. In their haste to join the impending fray at Concord, the British officers decided to release him.
Though it was partially foiled, Paul Revere’s ride brought 130 Minutemen to meet the British troops before they entered Concord. The patriots were outnumbered, and began to disperse when the British fired a shot, starting a skirmish that left eight colonists dead and ten wounded. Who fired the first shot at Lexington that began the war for independence is still disputed.
Rachel Revere’s Letter
Concerned that her husband would be stranded away from home with no means of feeding himself or the horse, Rachel Revere sent prayers and 125 pounds in British currency in a wax-sealed letter, entrusting it to Dr. Benjamin Church for delivery to her husband. Church was a member of the Provincial Congress of Massachusetts and the surgeon general of George Washington’s troops, and seemed able to easily pass through enemy lines.
By Doctor Church I send a hundred & twenty-five pounds, & beg you will take the best care of yourself and not attempt coming into this towne again, & if I have an opportunity of coming or sending out anything or any of the Children, I shall do it. Pray keep up your spirits & trust yourself & us in the hands of a good God, who will take care of us. ‘Tis all my Dependence, for vain is the help of man.
Adieu my Love from your affectionate,
The rebellious spirit among the colonists was by no means unanimous. Many leading citizens viewed the extremes to which Samuel Adams and the Sons of Liberty were going with very dubious forebodings. By this class, Adams and his fellows were regarded as political agitators.
In their loyalty to the King, the Tories believed it was true patriotism to report the activities of the Patriots to British authorities. One of these, Dr. Benjamin Church, was so bold in his public alliances with the of rebels that he escaped detection for a long time. He was well-known, a member of the Provincial Congress from Boston, and also physician-general to the army. Pretending to have an active interest in the plans for resisting British aggression, he became a member of the Sons of Liberty, and was in the habit of attending the caucuses at the Green Dragon Tavern.
Unfortunately for Rachel, instead of conveying her letter to her husband, Dr. Church handed it over to British General Thomas Gage. History gives no mention of Rachel’s cash, but it is presumed that either Gage or Church kept the 125 pounds.
Immediately after the Battle of Lexington, Revere decided to take up residence for a time in Charlestown, conceiving that this would be a more congenial place of abode than Boston, where it had become quite uncomfortable for persons known to be in sympathy with the patriots. So Revere told his wife to pack up the household goods, and leave his shop in the custody of a friend:
My Dear Girl
I received your favor yesterday. I am glad you have got yourself ready. If you find that you cannot easily get a pass for the Boat, I would have you get a pass for yourself and children and effects. Send the most valuable first. I mean that you should send Beds enough for yourself and Children, my chest, your trunk, with books, Cloths &c to the ferry tell the ferryman they are mine.
I will provide a house here where to put them, & will be here to receive them. After Beds are come over, come with the Children, except Paul. Pray order him by all means to keep at home that he may help bring the things to the ferry. Tell him not to come till I send for him.
You must hire somebody to help you. You may get brother Thomas. Let Isaac Clemens, if he is a mind, take care of the shop and maintain himself there, he may, or do as he has a mind. Put sugar in a raisin cask or some such thing & such necessaries as we shall want. Tell Betty, My Mother, Mrs. Metcalf if they think to stay, as we talked at first, tell them I will supply them with all the cash & other things in my power, but if they think to come away, I will do all in my power to provide for them, perhaps before this week is out, there will be liberty for Boats to go to Notomy, and then we can take them all.
If you send the things to the ferry send enough to fill a cart, them that are the most wanted. Give Mrs. Metcalf [the letter is torn at this place] in, their part of the money I don’t remember the sums, but perhaps they can. I want some linen and stockings very much. Tell Paul I expect he’ll behave himself well and attend to my business, and not be out of the way. My Kind love to our parents & our Children Brothers & Sisters & all friends.
Boston was immediately occupied by the British army, and most supporters of independence were evacuated. Rachel held the family and business together when the British wouldn’t allow Paul to return to Boston after his famous ride.
Rachel Revere and her children eventually joined Paul across the river at Watertown, and the family remained there until they were able to return to their home after the British evacuated Boston on March 17, 1776.
Revere’s exploits in the colony’s service had attracted wide attention and were even chronicled in the London newspapers. One of the first acts of the second Continental Congress, which met in Philadelphia May 10, 1775, was to authorize the issue of a sum not exceeding two millions of Spanish milled dollars in bills of credit “for the defence of America.”
John Adams and Benjamin Franklin were members of the committee appointed to superintend the printing, and they gave the job to Paul Revere, who engraved the plate and printed the bills on such thick paper that the British called it the “paste-board currency of the rebels.”
The war erupted and Revere went on to serve as lieutenant colonel in the Massachusetts State Artillery and commander of Castle Island in Boston Harbor. Revere and his troops saw little action at this post, but they did participate in minor expeditions to Newport, RI and Worcester, MA.
Colonel Revere and his son accompanied the expedition to Rhode Island in July, 1778, to reinforce General Sullivan. The month of August was passed there in what proved to be an unimportant campaign, and the Massachusetts troops were back in their old quarters by September 9. We get a glimpse of the affectionate relationship of Revere and his wife in a letter which was written during this absence:
MY DEAR GIRL,
Your very agreeable letter came safe to hand, since which I have wrote, but received no answer. I believe you are better: what a pleasure to hear! Pray take care of yourself & my little ones. I hope ere this to have been in Newport; my next I hope will be dated there. We have had the most severe N. East Storm I ever knew, but, thank Heaven, after 48 hours it is over. I am in high health and Spirits, & [so is] our Army.
The Enemy dare not show their head. We have had about 50 who have deserted to us; Hessians & others. They say many more will desert, & only wait for opportunity. I am told by the inhabitants that before we came on, they burned 6 of their Frigates; they have destroyed many houses between them & us. I hope we shall make them pay for all. The French fleet are not returned, but I just heard they were off Point Judith with 3 frigates, prizes; this, I am told, comes from Head Quarters. I do not assert it for fact, but hope it is true.
You have heard this Island is the Garden of America, indeed it used to be so; but those British Savages have so abused & destroyed the Tress (the greatest part of which was Fruit Trees), that it does not look like the same Island; some of the Inhabitants who left it hardly know where to find their homes. Col. Crafts is obliged to act under Col. Crane, which is a severe Mortification to him. I have but little to do with him, having a separate command.
It is very irksome to be separated from her whom I so tenderly love, and from my little Lambs; but were I at home I should want to be here. It seems as if half Boston was here. I hope the affair will soon be settled; I think it will not be long first. I trust that Allwise being who has protected me will still protect me, and send me safely to the Arms of her whom it is my greatest happiness to call my own.
Paul is well; send Duty & love to all. I am surprised Capt. Marett has not rote me. My duty to my Aunts, my love to Brothers & Sisters, my most affectionate love to my children. It would be a pleasure to have a line from Deby. Lawson desires to be remembered to you. My best regards to Mrs. Bennet, Mr. Burt, Capt. Pulling & all enquiring Friends. Col. Mareschall, who is one of Gen. Sullivans Adj Camps, tells me this minute that the French have took a Transport with British Grenadiers, but could not tell the particulars.
Revere expanded his business interests in the years following the Revolution. He imported goods from England and ran a small hardware store until 1789. By 1788, he had opened a foundry which supplied bolts, spikes, and nails for North End shipyards, produced cannons, and cast bells. One of his largest bells still rings in Boston’s Kings Chapel.
Concerned that the United States had to import sheet copper from England, Revere opened the first copper rolling mill in North America in 1801. He provided copper sheeting for the hull of the U.S.S. Constitution and the dome of the new Massachusetts State House in 1803. Revere Copper and Brass, Inc., the descendent of Revere’s rolling mill is best known for Revereware, copper-bottomed pots and pans.
By the 1790s, Paul Revere had turned over most of the day-to-day operations of his shop to his oldest son, Paul Jr. In 1811, at the age of 76, Paul Revere retired and left his well-established copper business in the hands of his sons and grandsons. Revere seems to have remained healthy in his final years, despite the personal sorrow caused by the deaths of his wife and son Paul in 1813.
Rachel Walker Revere died June 26, 1813.
Paul Revere died of natural causes on May 10, 1818 at the age of 83, leaving five children, and several grandchildren and great-grandchildren. The son of an immigrant artisan, not born to wealth or inheritance, Revere died a modestly well-to-do businessman and a popular local figure. An obituary in the Boston Intelligence commented, “seldom has the tomb closed upon a life so honorable and useful.”
Paul Revere was buried in Boston’s Granary Burying Ground next to his second wife, Rachel, with whom he had four surviving children.
Henry Wadsworth Longfellow’s poem Paul Revere’s Ride, written in 1860 and published in 1861 in the Atlantic Monthly, transformed Paul Revere from a relatively obscure figure in American history into a national folk hero. As a result, most people know him only for his famous ride to Lexington on the night of April 18-19, 1775. Revere’s life, however, was a long and productive one, involving industry, politics, and community service.
On December 31, 1902, John Phillips Reynolds Jr., a great-grandson of Paul Revere, purchased Paul Revere’s house in the North End of Boston to prevent it from being torn down. Over the next few years, a committee of antiquarians, politicians, businessmen, and other Revere descendants formed the Paul Revere Memorial Association. They hired well-known restoration architect Joseph Chandler to renovate the building – the only surviving seventeenth-century residence in downtown Boston and one of the few examples of traditional post-and-beam English construction in the area. When the Paul Revere House opened its doors to the public in April 1908, it was one of the earliest historic house museums in the United States. In 2008, the Paul Revere House celebrated being open to the public for one hundred years.