the Concord MagazineSeptember '98

Liberty's Daughters

By D. Michael Ryan, Sergeant/drummer with the Concord Minute Men, an 18th Century historical interpreter for the National Park Service, and Associate Dean of Students at Boston College.

gloveIn the telling of our colonial history, often the norm is to find absent much mention of the women and their roles in defining moments. Yet even surrounding the 19 April 1775 events, the daughters of America's liberty were visible and actively involved.

For example, might it be that the actions of two ladies were a major factor in the fight at Concord's North Bridge? Margaret Kemble Gage, American born wife of Boston's British military governor, was suspected by both sides and harbored hopes that her husband's actions would not be the cause of blood-spilling. It is believed that she may have been the "spy" who leaked word of the Regulars' mission to Concord.

lock and keyAt age 71, Concordian Martha Moulton was at home when the soldiers entered town. When sparks from burning captured materials caught the Town House roof on fire, Martha begged and harangued the British into extinguishing the blaze. Resulting smoke, observed by the Americans mustered near Buttrick's farm, caused them to march to the town's rescue precipitating the "shot heard 'round the world".

Various acts of bravery were inacted that day by women. Mrs. Amos Wood, Concord, saved military stores from British capture by insisting a locked room harbored women and thus it was left unopened.

serving a mealHannah Barron (also Barns, Burns), protected the Provincial Treasurer's chest of money and important papers by blocking soldiers' entrance to a tavern room, claiming it and the trunk to be hers.

Abigail Wright, wife of the Concord Tavern proprietor, is said to have secreted the Church communion silver in soap barrels to avoid their being stolen. The same tale is attributed to Mrs. Jeremiah Robinson, who supposedly gathered the silver, hid it in her basement soap barrels and barricaded her door against British intrusion.

Rebecca Barrett, wife of Concord's militia colonel, helped hide military stores and equipment about the farm then remained at home to protect family and property from the expected British. She fed the searching soldiers upon request but refused money thrown at her commenting that "we are commanded to feed our enemy" and that their coins were "the price of blood". Rebecca's actions saved valuable military materials from discovery as well as her property from damage and her son from arrest.

Another Barrett woman - James and Rebecca's granddaughter, Meliscent, age 15 - had learned from a British officer how to roll powder cartridges. On the night of 18 April, she supervised young women of Concord in preparing these items which were most likely used against the Regulars at North Bridge.

phobe bliss e.For most wives and mothers, it was a time of fear, trauma, uncertainty, terror and often sadness as their husbands and sons went off to fight. Yet the women contributed to freedom's stand as best they could. Lydia Mulliken, Lexington, watched her fiance Dr. Prescott ride off with Revere and Dawes to warn Concord of the British threat. During the enemy's retreat, the soldiers would burn her house and shop.

Lincoln's Mary Flint Hartwell, hearing Dr. Prescott's night alarm for her minute man husband, handed their baby to a servant and ran a distance in the dark to warn Lincoln's Captain Smith of the approaching danger.

From her house near Lexington Green, Ruth Harrington watched her husband Jonathan (standing with Parker's company), struck by a British musket ball, crawl to their house and die at her feet.

From the Manse, Phoebe Bliss Emerson, the Concord minister's wife, would watch in dismay the Bridge fight and wonder after the welfare of William.

slipper Hannah Davis, Acton, like many wives, would see husband Isaac march to Concord, intuition telling her that she would never see him again. He died in the British volley at the Bridge.

In Menotomy (Arlington), Mother Batherick while digging dandelions accepted the surrender of six fleeing British soldiers with the admonishment, "...tell King George that an old women took six of his grenadiers prisoner."

Throughout the day, many women would gather family valuables and children then flee to neighboring towns or into nearby woods for protection from the marauding British.

Others like Alice Stearns Abbott with her mother and sisters remained at home (Watertown) making cartridges and sending food for the army. Later she would write, "I suppose it was a dreadful day in our house and sad indeed for our brother, so dearly loved, never came home."

p.cummingsIn Menotomy, Mrs. Butterfield would return home to find a bleeding, dying British officer in her bed. Though accused of being a Tory, she cared for him some 10 days until he died. When a neighbor threatened to kill the officer, Butterfield protected him shouting, "Only cowards would want to kill a dying man."

Some women went to extraordinary lengths in liberty's cause. At Pepperell, following the men's departure for Concord, the women met, formed a military company, dressed as men, armed themselves and patrolled the town. Prudence Cummings, elected captain, captured a Tory officer at gun point. Such exploits would set the stage for later female military heroes such as Margaret Corbin ("Captain Molly", 1776, Battle of Ft. Washington, NY, wounded/ captured); Mary Ludwig Hays ("Molly Pitcher", 1778, Battle of Monmouth, NJ); Deborah Sampson (Continental Army soldier 1782-83, disguised as a man, wounded twice).

Thus from its earliest days, America's struggle for liberty and freedom was waged by and had great impact upon America's women and as well as its men. Such should never be overlooked, ignored or taken lightly.


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Sources

"Paul Revere's Ride" by David H. Fischer 1994

"The Day of Concord and Lexington" by Allen French 1925

"Concord: American Town" by Townsend Scudder 1947

"History of Concord, Mass." by Lemuel Shattuck 1835

"We Were There!" by Vincent J-R Kehoe 1974

"Heroine of the Battle Road" by Palmer Faran 1995

(some of these books are on the Concord Reading List)



Text: ©D. Michael Ryan Illustrations: Kristina Joyce
Background: Dreamfires


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