Embattled Farmers

Campaigns and Profiles of Revolutionary Soldiers
 from Lincoln, Massachusetts, 1775-1783

Excerpts from Embattled Farmers

Ephraim Flint's Prisoner of War Read...
Amos Baker's 75-Year-Old Recollection Read...
How Could Jeduthan Bemis Have Been in
        Two Places at Once?
John Wheat's Divided Family Read...
David Mead Discovers the Price for Not Serving Read...

John Wheat's Divided Family

     To most modern Americans, it was the Civil War that split families apart.  But for many Lincoln families, the Revolutionary War was equally destructive of family cohesiveness.  The sons of Joseph Adams appear to have fought on both sides of the conflict.  Brothers Ebenezer and Zaccheus Cutler took up arms for the Crown, while their father remained a patriotic citizen of the town.  William Lawrence, Jr. served in the patriot army, while his sister awaited an opportunity to join her Loyalist husband in England, and their father—the town’s pastor—faced outspoken criticism for his suspected Tory sympathies.  Daniel and Nathan Brown served multiple stints in the service of their country before Daniel may have fled to the opposite side.  But nowhere are family divisions more vividly documented than in the Wheat family.

     John Wheat raised seven children (plus five step-children) on a large farm where the towns of Lincoln, Concord, and Bedford come together, portions of the farm having been inherited from earlier generations.  His two sons, Benjamin and Joseph, and stepson Jesse Smith were all active in supporting the Provincial war effort.  Joseph Wheat was a minute man at Concord.  He and his brother, Benjamin both joined the Massachusetts Provincial Army at Cambridge, later serving both during the siege of Boston and in support of the Continental Army.  Jesse Smith served for much of the war, and he became a member of General Washington’s Life Guard. 

     For two of John Wheat’s daughters, however, it was a different story.  Sisters Betty and Mary Wheat had married brothers John and Robert Semple, Boston merchants who remained loyal to the Crown.  In 1774, John Semple expressed support for Royal authority in a farewell letter to Governor Hutchinson.  When the war broke out, he joined a Loyalist militia in Boston.  John and Robert were both well-wishers to General Gage in October 1775, when he was recalled to England.

     Betty’s and Mary’s sentiments naturally fell with their husbands.  When the British evacuated Boston in 1776, Mary and Robert (evidently with a child), and John (presumably with Betty, but this detail has been lost) were among the refugees that left for Halifax with the troops.  About four months later, en route from Halifax to New York aboard the ship Peggy, Mary and Robert and John were captured and taken to Marblehead, then imprisoned in Boston.  Details of their release are unknown, but in 1778 John and Robert were officially proscribed and banished, as having “left this state…and joined the enemies thereof…manifesting an inimical disposition to the said states, and a design, to aid and abet the enemies thereof in their wicked purposes.…”

     The following year, in 1779, John Wheat made out his will, amply providing for his sons and daughters.  He made two notable exceptions.  “To my daughter Betty Semple,” he wrote, “only six shillings, because she has left this state and gone as a friend to the enemies of this continent, to be paid only on condition that she return a friend to America.”  And, “To my daughter Mary Semple six shillings for she has gone from this state an enemy to the country.”

     What became of Betty and Mary is unknown.  Despite his 1778 banishment, John Semple is reported to have returned and died in Marlborough in 1793.  Other than that, no record has been found to suggest any sort of reconciliation.

     The Wheats were only one of many families in and outside of Lincoln to be torn apart by divided loyalties during the Revolution.  Many years later, the Civil War would divide families again, making an indelible imprint on the American consciousness.  But by no means was the Civil War the first war in which American families had experienced such tribulations.

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