Monday, May 11, 2015

Samuel Whittemore: Get Off My Lawn, Redcoats

On the 18th of April in 1775, Paul Revere made his famous midnight right. One of the men he woke up was an old farmer named Samuel Whittemore. That did not necessarily please Whittemore.

He was 80, having been born in the previous century, in England on July 27, 1695. As a  young man, Whittemore had served his time as a soldier, rising to captain in His Majesty's Dragoons stationed in America. As a dragoon, he had fought the French, the Indians, and many a renegade. He even served as a marine aboard a ship hunting pirates. He decided to settle in Menotomy, Massachusetts, just outside of Boston, and farm.

Whittemore was nearly 50 when King George's War broke out in 1744. It was the North American theater of the larger War of the Austrian Succession, which began when Austrian law prevented Marie Theresa to succeed her father, King Charles VI. France, Prussia and Bavaria teamed up against Austria, with England and the Dutch (bitter enemies at the time) supporting Austria, This quickly escalated into a world war, as the European powers all seemed to have global empires. Each theater in the war had a name of its own. There was the War of Jenkins' Ear between the Spanish and the British in the Caribbean (Jenkins being a British naval officer whose ear the Spanish severed). There was the First Carnatic War in India, as well as the First and Second Silesian Wars. Pretty much, it was a good time to own an armory.

In North America, the British took on the French. Whittemore signed up and headed for Nova Scotia, where he was an integral part of the Siege of Louisbourg, an assault on a French fort on  Cape Breton Island in 1745. The French had captured a British fishing crew a year earlier, and held them at the fort, where crew members roamed around and learned the defenses and weaknesses of the fort. After the French repatriated the crew to Boston, crew members passed along teh intelligence to British authorities.

Captain Whittemore led the charge and the British troops were victorious. He emerged from the battle with an ornate longsword he hadn't had prior to battle. When his fellow soldiers asked him about it, he said he took the saber from the hands of a Frenchman who “died suddenly.”

Fort Louisbourg was quite a prize for the British. When inexplicably the Crown gave the fort back to the French in the 1748 Treaty of Aix-la-Chapelle ending the war, Whittemore was not pleased. He knew personally knew the lads who died gaining that ground. But, 13 years later, there was another world war -- the Seven Years War in Europe -- which was called the French and Indian War in North America. Now in his 60s, Captain Whittemore was ready for one last battle. He headed for Nova Scotia with 14,000 of his closest friends and they laid siege to the fort again. It took two months but thee prize belonged to the British, and served as the staging ground for the Siege of Quebec the next year. This time the British decided to keep the fort. This time, Whittemore claimed a pair of dueling pistols from a Frenchman who died suddenly in the second siege.

Satisfied, the old soldier returned to Menotomy to the peaceful life of the farmer. When British troops marched from Boston to Lexington, they were greeted by colonial militia under the command of Captain John Parker, a French and Indian War veteran who suffered tuberculosis. He led friends and neighbors. One-quarter of the militia members were related to him somehow. He did not want them to be harmed. He had them stand before the advancing British Army, neither blocking them nor standing down. Parker told his men, "Stand your ground; don't fire unless fired upon, but if they mean to have a war, let it begin here."

The war began there when a British soldier from the 43rd Regiment fired -- and it became the shot heard round the world. There were volleys back and forth until the British fixed bayonets and charged the militia, killing eight colonists while suffering one death. The British marched on to Concord, which they took without resistance. They rummaged through places where arms had been stored and found nothing. The militia had gone to arms.

American Colonel James Barrett had withdrawn his troops to see what British would do. Like Parker, his orders were to not fire unless fired upon. His men finally confronted the British at the North Bridge in Concord. The Americans overwhelmed the British by sheer size of their force. The British regulars were inexperienced and their leaders were fools. To the surprise of everyone, the Americans chased the British back to Lexington, and then from Lexington to Boston.

And along the way, British troops marched by Samuel Whittemore's farm in Metonomy. He never knew how to back down from a fight before, and at 80, he was not about to learn. Whittemore went to arms, hid behind his stonewall and waited to ambush soldiers from the British 47th Regiment of Foot alone. He fired his musket, killing one man. Then he fired those dueling pistols he took at Louisbourg in 1758. Finally, he unsheathed that ornate French sword he took at Louisbourg in 1745.

It was a bloodbath. Sure, he killed three of them, but look what they did to him. They shot off half his face and bayoneted him 13 times, as each soldier got in his digs. Then they left his lifeless body in the ditch as they resumed their retreat to Boston.

When the villagers approached his body to take him for burial, they found him not only alive but trying to reload his musket. Using a door as a makeshift stretcher, they carried him to Cooper's Tavern, where Dr. Nathaniel Tufts from Medford examined the body and pronounced him useless. He sends Whittemore home to die, and he did -- 18 years later. Oh the scars were ugly and the body ached, but the old soldier lived to be 98.

He left behind 185 children, grandchildren, great grandchildren, and great great grandchildren who were alive at the time of his death. Well, a fellow has to do something in between wars.

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