A Look At Lynnfield In The American Revolution
Referring to the 1909 book "Lynn In The Revolution," we find numerous Minutemen from Lynnfield - including one who was (technically) the first military casualty of the American Revolution.
Many Lynnfielders with an interest in local history know that Daniel Townsend gave his life at the Battle of Menotomy, and that the abandoned Danforth House was once home to the captain of local Minutemen. But, these details barely scratch the surface of the story - so for Patriot's Day 2012, let's take a closer look at the role Lynnfield played in this momentous time in our nation's history.
Using the book "Lynn In The Revolution," which is available at the Lynnfield Library geneaology room as well as on Google Books in its entirety, we find a number of interesting details that help color the story of Lynnfield.
For example - did you know that the first military casualty of the American Revolution was technically a Lynnfielder? The term is admittedly used rather loosely in this case. After all, Crispus Attucks, an African-American civilian bystander shot down by British soldiers in the Boston Massacre (March 5, 1770), is credited by history as the first man to die in the Revolution. Still, flash back to late February, 1775, some two months before the Battles of Lexington and Concord. A British party led by Colonel Alexander Leslie landed at Marblehead intending to capture weapons hidden in Salem. Minutemen from around the region were dispatched to Salem that day, and the ensuing tensions could have easily made that day mark the opening point of hostilities. Not a single shot was fired that day of "Leslie's Retreat," - but, town church records indicate Mr. Joseph Newhall died on March 9, 1775 "by a violent seizure after a few days illness suppos'd to be occasioned by a cold taken when he went out upon an alarm, in the 52nd year of his age."
So there you have it. Newhall Park is named after Donald Newhall, an active and highly regarded town official who died in a car crash in the 1950s. However, Mr. Newhall's ancestors were among the most highly represented of any family in the region in the Minuteman era. In fact, the Lynn-based (including Lynnfield) Minuteman squads consisted of five companies with 247 men. The Newhall family reportedly sent 42 of its men from the area to this effort, along with 17 members of the Mansfield family and seven from the Bancroft family. Another member of the Newhall family, Calley Newhall, is mentioned as having made powder for General George Washington.
At the time of the Revolution, Lynn reportedly had as many as 90 homes, while Lynnfield and Saugus had about 25 (widely scattered) each.
Speaking of the Bancroft family, the home of Captain Nathaniel Bancroft now sits abandoned and boarded up next to the Reedy Meadow golf course in Lynnfield, awaiting either a massive infusion of renovation resources or a final death by the elements. From history, we learn that Captain Bancroft commanded the smallest of the five Minuteman companies, with 38 men (a separate reference uses the number 58).
When the alarm came for Bancroft and the Minutemen to march toward Lexington/Concord, they assembled at the Joseph Gowing Tavern in Lynnfield Centre, which burned down in June, 1896. Gowing himself was apparently the original leader of these Minutemen.
There was also another "minit company" of Lynnfield-based soldiers led by Captain Ezra Newhall, who was a veteran of the French and Indian War. This group consisted of 49 men and had its headquarters on the Lynn Common.
On a side note, in a separate article several weeks ago, this website noted in passing that the father of longtime Lynnfield resident John C. Smith, the 1902 founder of the Pocahontas Spring Water company, happened to be the grandson of a Revolutionary War veteran. A look at this list of all Lynnfield soldiers to serve in the American Revolution suggests that it was Sergeant Amos Smith, born in 1748 and later lost at sea at an unknown age.
But back to Captain Bancroft. He was a well-established Patriot by the time the war actually broke out, having also voted at the 1772 town meeting in favor of setting up committees of correspondence to discuss grievances against the British with other nearby towns.
When the Minutemen marched out of Lynnfield, they would not have had time to make it to Lexington and Concord while hostilities were still underway. Instead, they made it to the town of Arlington for the Battle of Menotomy, essentially an extension of Lexington/Concord as the British continued their march back to the safety of Boston.
According to the book, Private Zerubbabel Hart, another French and Indian War veteran, advised the younger commanding officer Bancroft to not be afraid, but to be highly wary of British flanking movements. Bancroft's soldiers indeed soon found themselves under attack from the flanks and sought refuge in a nearby farmhouse that was quickly the scene of vicious hand to hand combat. Lynnfielder Daniel Townsend was among the soldiers killed at that point, while another prominent town resident, Timothy Munroe, escaped the scene with multiple wounds. Lynnfield Private Andrew Mansfield recalled stumbling over the body of Townsend in the fight and seeing him go down right next to him. For his part, Munroe came home and later served as a Lynnfield selectman in the 1780s. Incredibly, a detail from the book says that "during (Munroe's) absence on the 19th of April, it is said that his house was entered by marauders and a sum of money stolen."
In another section, Lynn In The Revolution reports that the Lynnfield (Old Burying Ground) grave of Daniel Townsend, who died at age 36, is inscribed with the following: "Lie valient, Townsend, in the peaceful shades; we trust, immortal honors mingle with thy dust. What though thy body struggled in thy gore? So did thy Saviour's body, long before. And as he raised his own, by power divine, so the same power shall also quicken thine, and in eternal glory mayst thou shine." The entire town of Lynnfield reportedly attended his funeral.
Townsend's widow, Zeruiah, reportedly never recovered from the shock of his death and herself passed away a year or so later. A May 2, 1775 report in the Essex Gazette was quoted as saying that Townsend "was a constant and ready friend to the poor and afflicted; a good advisor in cases of difficulty; a mild and sincere reprover. In short, he was a friend to his country, a blessing to society, and an ornament to the church of which he was a member." Townsend was born in Lynnfield Centre in 1738 and a separate biography about him was apparently published sometime before the start of the 20th Century.
The musket used by Daniel Townsend when he fell was apparently still in the family at the start of the 20th Century, at that point owned by his grandson William H. Townsend of Lynn.
A total of 12 soldiers reportedly died in the farmhouse, and after that incident, the Lynn Minutemen are thought to have mostly scattered in pursuit of the British. The report also noted that Bancroft's division may have taken some prisoners and sent them to the Ipswich Jail the next day.
From this point in history, the local Minutemen, including many from Lynnfield, were soon absorbed into the newly-formed Continental Army. One of the early tasks for many would have likely involved duty during the Siege of Boston.
Editor's Note: A companion piece to this article focusing exclusively on the early history of Lynnfield's Danforth House will run on this website later in the week.