It was 240 years today, and in the dim hours of the morning came 400 British regulars, soldiers of their own government, well known as the mightiest and most well-trained army in the world. 80 Minutemen stood in defense of their homeland.
They were there to confiscate any supplies of defense – shot, powder, firearms, and cannon. Paul Revere’s famous ride had warned scouts that informed the villages. The men assembled upon the Lexington common, including one slave who was a Minuteman Private (wounded but survived, fought throughout the war and was emancipated). An army officer demanded they lay down their arms and be searched. They refused.
A shot was fired – “the shot heard round the world” – and from this resistance sprang forth a revolution that birthed America.
But, as usual, there is more to the story.
Samuel Whittemore was born in England on July 27th, 1695, and came to North America as a Captain in His Majesty’s Dragoons, fighting the French in 1745. He was involved in the capture of the French stronghold, Fort Louisburg, and there captured a decorative french officer’s sword, which he cherished for the rest of his life. About its capture, all Sam would say is that its previous owner had “died suddenly”.
It is recorded that Sam believed in American independence stating that he wanted his descendants to be able to enact their own laws and not be subject to a distant king. So, it is not surprising when he again took up arms on April 19th, 1775.
That night he watched as Colonel Smith led his column of 700 soldiers through Menotomy. He was probably concerned, but the British had come out of Boston before and there had not been any serious trouble. Later that morning he heard rumors that there had been fighting at Lexington and Concord. But, when General Percy marched through the town with an additional 1,400 soldiers, Sam’s military experience told him there was serious trouble – – ‘why else would the British be sending reinforcements?’ , he probably asked himself.
Word had come to Menotomy that the combined, heavily engaged, columns of Smith and Percy were retreating toward the town, and were burning homes along the way, so the aged warrior decided to take action in spite of his being eighty years old! He strapped on his captured french sword, stuck his brace of dueling pistols in his belt, put on his powder horn and shot bag, took his musket from its place on his fireplace mantle and went to war!
Sam selected a position that gave him a excellent view of the road from Lexington, and sat down to wait. His fellow minuteman from Menotomy pleaded for him to find a safer position, but he choose to ignore them.
His fellow minuteman started firing at the oncoming British Grenadiers of the 47th Regiment of Foot, falling back to reload, then firing again. Sam waited. Finally, when the column was directly in front of him, he stood and fired his musket. A grenadier fell dead. He drew his two pistols, firing both at almost point blank range. Another grenadier fell dead, a third fell mortally wounded. The British soldiers were on top of him, he had not the time to reload his musket or pistols, so drawing his sword, he . started flailing away at the bayonet wielding soldiers. A soldier leveled his Brown Bess musket, at point blank range and fired. The .69 calibre ball struck Sam in the cheek, tearing away part of his face and throwing him to the ground. Sam valiantly tried to rise, fending off bayonet thrusts with his sword, but he was overpowered. Struck in the head with a musket butt, he went down again, then was bayoneted thirteen times and left for dead.
After the British column had fought its way clear, the town’s people and minuteman started to search for their wounded compatriots. Several had seen Sam Whittemore’s “last stand” and approached to remove his body. To everyone’s astonishment Sam was not only still alive, but conscious and still full of fight. Laying there, he was trying to load his musket!
Using a door as a makeshift stretcher, Sam was carried to Cooper Tavern, which was being used as a emergency hospital. Doctor Nathaniel Tufts of Medford attended to Sam. He cut off his bloody clothes, and exposed the gaping bayonet wounds. Sam’s face was horribly injured. Doctor Tufts knew the injuries were fatal, stating it wouldn’t do any good to even dress the wounds. Sam’s family and friends insisted and Dr. Tufts did the best he could. He tried to make the old man as comfortable as possible. After his wounds were attended to Sam was carried to his home, to die surrounded by his family. To everyone’s utter amazement Captain Sam Whittemore lived! He recovered and remained active for the next eighteen years. He was terribly scarred, but always was proud of what he had done for his adopted country. He is quoted as having stated that he would take the same chances again.
And now, as the late Paul Harvey would say, you know the rest of the story.
Say a prayer of thanks for the brave patriots who started the experiment that became our American Republic.