Embattled Farmers

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


     It was a simple task that turned out to be not so simple: as captain of the modern company of Lincoln Minute Men, I had a list of Revolutionary War soldiers buried in Lincoln cemeteries that needed verification. The list was of unknown provenance and accuracy, but the Lincoln Minute Men had been using it ceremonially for forty years. Had these individuals really served in the Revolution? If so, where? Were they really buried here? And of equal importance, were there other deserving patriots who had not made it onto the list and were thus going unrecognized in our April ceremonies?
     To my surprise, I found that reliable data about service by Lincoln residents in the American Revolution was scattered and not easily accessible. I had assumed (naively, as it turned out) that this information would be readily available, having been carefully compiled and chronicled by preceding generations of historians.

     Lincoln, after all, is justifiably proud of its rich April 19, 1775, history. The minute men and militia companies from Lincoln had been the first to arrive to the assistance of Concord. Lincoln men had participated in the fight at the North Bridge, shoulder to shoulder with their neighbors from Concord, Acton, and Bedford. The fighting along Battle Road had boiled over, through Lincoln, leaving more casualties at the Bloody Angles and the Hartwell, Smith, and Nelson farms in Lincoln than had occurred at Lexington’s Green and Concord’s bridge combined. I was eventually to discover that in the eight years following the explosive outbreak of the American Revolution at Lexington, Concord, and Lincoln, Lincoln sons had served at nearly every major engagement and iconic venue of the war. But despite this proud heritage, compiled information about Lincoln’s Revolutionary soldiers seemed to end with sundown on April 19, 1775.

     So this work began quite by accident. In time, I found a couple of old compilations of Revolutionary soldiers from Lincoln. But material differences between these lists and the data I was generating from the records drove me to dig deeper. I found 52 new individuals missed in the previous lists, and in the end, I had to “de-list” 21 who had previously been credited with service, but for whom I could find no corroborating record. The picture that emerges is, I believe, a more complete close-up of the sons—and fathers—of Lincoln who became soldiers of the Revolution.

     The composite picture is an interesting one. Among the myriad cousins, brothers, father-and- son combinations, in-laws, and extended family connections, an estimated 75 to 80 percent of Lincoln’s service-age male population served during the war. Comparable data has been hard to find, but this appears to rank among the highest participation rates to be found anywhere in the 13 rebellious colonies.1  More than a dozen slaves and free-blacks provided service. In addition to the 62 members of the minute company, an estimated 43 to 53 others marched on the Alarm of April 19th as members of the militia company, as part of the command structure, and as volunteers. Another 22 to 26 Lincoln-connected individuals marched on the Alarm of April 19th as members of various other units from other towns. In all, at least 255 Lincoln boys and men, ages 11 to 68, participated in the war. And lest the modern reader assume that they all served as patriots, four of them—remaining loyal to their King—served on the opposite side of the conflict.

     As my investigation progressed, additional questions began to present themselves. Who were these people, and how did they fi t into the local community? Why and where did they serve? What were their experiences? What were their backgrounds? And what became of them after their war service? I have tried to preserve individual stories, and to present this information within the contexts both of the progress of the war and of the real-life circumstances that motivated individual behavior. However, all too often, the individual stories have been lost with the passing generations, and my focus in this work has always been first and foremost to identify and document those who served, and where they served.

     Unfortunately, the reality is that some of the individuals in the picture remain out of focus. Others may yet be discovered in the mists of history by future researchers. My hope is that this work will inspire further investigation, and trigger further discoveries to the delight and respect of future generations.

     Eighteenth-century records presented some interesting challenges. I quickly discovered a number of idiosyncrasies of eighteenth-century recordkeeping which generate some curious interpretive pitfalls for the researcher. To get the story right, I occasionally had to strip away errors or misinterpretations of previous researchers. These, along with the judgments I had to make in defining the scope and parameters of the work, are discussed in general terms in the Introduction. Many of the specific instances are explained in individual footnotes. Such is the nature of historical investigation that future historians may find errors or problems with my interpretations. I welcome any future efforts that collectively lead us closer to an accurate understanding of the historical record.

     I have been most fortunate throughout this work in having invaluable guidance and encouragement from a number of very able professionals.

     Local historians Jack MacLean, Don Hafner, Mike Ryan, and George Quintal have been wonderful sources of leads for digging deeper and deeper into the historical record. In addition, they have served yeoman duty as sounding boards with which to discuss data, test hypotheses, and explore entirely new interpretations of the available evidence. I have appreciated their seemingly endless enthusiasm and enjoyed the many sessions during which, eyes sparkling, we pondered and debated differences in how to read various records.

     Jack MacLean, in particular, deserves special recognition. No one knows Lincoln history better, and no one is a more competent and careful researcher. In editing my manuscript and assisting with illustrations, he tirelessly kept me on my toes, questioning my interpretations, challenging me to dig deeper into the historical record, and in many cases prompting me to rewrite whole sections of the manuscript. If the additional expenditure of time was sometimes frustrating, the result is a vastly superior product.

     With similar dedication to historical accuracy, Lincoln historian Peg Martin also provided valuable guidance. Minute man Alex Hoar guided me enthusiastically through his family history. Jeanne Bracken, Barbara Miles, and Marie Wasnock at the Lincoln Public Library kept me enthusiastically supplied with archival materials from the town’s vault.

     Kathy Ludwig, at the David Library in Washington’s Crossing, PA, John Hannigan at the Massachusetts Archives, and Leslie Wilson in Special Collections at the Concord Public Library helped source valuable records that I had not been able to find elsewhere.

     Gail Hamel, Steve Humphrey, Ruth Hodges, Jim Hogan, Don Hafner, and Mike Ryan, who as fellow re-enactors, friends, and colleagues in the modern company of the Lincoln Minute Men, gave their valuable time to read and comment on my draft. From the Lincoln Historical Society, Connie Lewis, Mary Ann Hales, Palmer Faran, and Harry Hoover provided valuable advice about how to present and package my findings for publication. My nephew Ted Wiggin enthusiastically provided expertise to complete the collection of maps.

     All of this came together through the patient professionalism of layout designer Erica Schultz, whose masterful work turned the manuscript into the book you are now reading.

     I had no idea when I stumbled into this project that it would be quite the marathon that it became. The seemingly endless hours over many years spent researching, compiling, and fact-checking took much time that rightfully belonged to my family. I thank my wife Agnes and my daughter Allison for their encouragement, constructive suggestions, and proofreading, as well as for their understanding, forbearance, and love.

     Finally, I thank generations of future readers, the anticipation of which drove me onward. My sincere hope is that future readers will honor the legacy of these Lincoln soldiers of the American Revolution; that they will continue to derive inspiration from the spirit of these men, and that they will rededicate themselves to the principles of Liberty and self-government for which these Lincoln men put their lives on the line.

Richard C. Wiggin

Lincoln, Massachusetts

1 Most other estimates (typically derived using aggregate data) fall in the 20 percent to low 30 percent range. Differences in methodology may account for some of the difference in the magnitude of the estimates, but certainly not all.

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