Greenfield — Revolutionary War

Extracted from "History of the Connecticut Valley in Massachusetts, Volume II," by Louis H. Everts, 1879.

      It is to be regretted that the records of the part Greenfield took in the war of the Revolution are so scanty. Enough are preserved to show that our town responded to the frequent calls of the provincial Congress for men and means to prosecute the war with the mother-country. We cannot say unanimously responded, for many prominent men here, as elsewhere, did not heartily approve of the war. A few were open in their opposition. They looked forward to the time when the colonies would be free from the control of the king, but felt that the time had not yet come to enter upon a struggle to force a separation. They distrusted the ability of the colonies—weak, poor, and scattered as they were—to cope with the mother-country,—a powerful and united military nation. As we look back upon the actual condition of things at that time, we cannot but have a degree of sympathy with the Tories. It was a rash undertaking in which our fathers engaged. They hardly counted the cost. Had they foreseen—as fortunately they did not—the eight years of struggle that were before them, with all the attendant losses and hardships of war, possibly more of them would have hesitated before they embarked upon the perilous enterprise. But the battle at Concord aroused a spirit of patriotism which left no alter-native but war.
      At a town-meeting in September, 1774, a committee were chosen; some one or more of them to meet with the provincial Congress. In October of that year it was voted that Daniel Nash be a delegate to represent us at the provincial Congress to be held at Concord upon the 11th. That Congress met at Salem on the 7th of October, and adjourned to meet at Concord on the 11th. Finding the court-house too small for their purpose, they adjourned to the meeting-house, chose John Hancock president, and Benjamin Lincoln clerk. It was a time of great excitement. The eyes of the whole country were turned upon Boston, which was the fountain-head of the Revolutionary struggle. The cause in which it suffered was regarded as the common cause of the country. A hostile fleet lay in its harbor, hostile troops paraded its streets. The tents of an army dotted its Common. Cannon were planted in commanding positions. Its fort was closed, its wharves deserted, its commerce paralyzed, and many were reduced from affluence to poverty.
      No one had more at stake than John Hancock, for he was the richest man in the colony. The Congress over which he presided was memorable in our annals. The constables and collectors throughout the province having public moneys in their hands were advised not to pay them to the authorities of the Crown, but to retain them, subject to the advice of the constitutional assembly.
      Arrangements were made for increasing the quantity of warlike stores. In compliance with this advice, the town of Greenfield voted that the selectmen purchase for the town one hundred-weight of powder and one hundred-weight of lead over and above what is in the town stock, and that the sum of £12 be assessed to purchase this ammunition.
      In the April following the war opened in the memorable battle at Concord, where "was fired the shot heard round the world." The news of that battle was borne by express to all parts of the province. The white horse bearing the messenger, bloody with spurring and dripping with sweat, reached Worcester and fell exhausted by the church. The bells were rung in all the towns, and the people were called together. Willard, in his history, has given us a graphic description of the reception of the news in Greenfield.
      According to his account, "Thomas Loveland, a drummer, took his station on the horse-block under an elm at the south end of the common, and beat the long roll for volunteers, and with the desired result,—very many enlisted on the spot. Of the military company then existing, of which Ebenezer Wells was captain, Allen lieutenant, and Severance ensign, most were ready to hurry into the service of the colony; but the officers stood aloof, dissuading from the movement as savoring of treason and rebellion. Lieutenant—or, as he then was, Sergeant—Benjamin Hastings, the son of the Benjamin Hastings who had been prominent in the history of the town, and who had died the year before, was the first to enlist, and, as the old officers refused to serve, Hastings was chosen captain by acclamation. Captain Wells said, 'Sergt. Hastings, you will have your neck stretched for this.' We should be glad to know his reply. He declined the office of captain in favor of Timothy Childs, who had been captain in a militia company, and who resided on the farm now occupied by T. M. Stoughton. Hastings became lieutenant, and Aaron Denio ensign, or, as we should say, second lieutenant. At daybreak on the following morning they were on their march to join the army at Cambridge."
      This is a very pretty story, and I am sorry to spoil it, but I am afraid there is very little truth in it. It is a homemade story which authentic documents do not support. Let us hold on to Loveland's long roll under the tree opposite the post-office. We won't stop to inquire if that tree is more than one hundred years old. The story of Lieut. Hastings and Capt. Childs must go overboard.
      In rummaging among the musty archives in the State-House I find these documents, which throw much light on the occurrences of that day. The first is as follows:

      Capt. Agrippa Wells' muster-roll in Col. Sam Williams' regiment of Minute-Men who marched from Greenfield on the alarm April 19, 1775. First on the roll is Capt. Agrippa Wells, enlisted April 20th,—the very day, you observe, after the Concord fight; term of service ten days; i.e., to May 1. Then follow the names of Ezekiel Foster, of Bernardston, lieutenant; Oliver Atherton, Elijah. Kingsley, Dan Corse, sergeants; Asaph Allen, John Wells, Eben Scott, corporals; Samuel Turner, Samuel Shattuck, John Connabel, Timothy Bascom, Ezekiel Foster, Jr., John Coats, Ezra Rennell, Simeon Nash, Oliver Hastings, Nehemiah Andrews, Frederic Denio, John Burt, Reuben Shattuck, Daniel Chapin, Thomas Hunt, David Davis, Eliphaz Child, Samuel Nichols, Samuel Deane, John Dewey, Joseph Slate, Joel Chapin, Ariel Hinsdell, Caleb Chapin, William Kingsland, Samuel Hastings, Elijah Mitchell, Hezekiah Chapin, Jonathan Atherton, Amos Smead, Tubal Nash, Daniel Picket, Hophni Rider, Daniel Wells, Firman Wood, Michael Frizzle, John Severence, Moses Arms. Jan. 2, 1776, made oath that the above list was true.

      This company of Minute-Men was called into the field under the impulse of a sudden alarm. At the end of ten days—i.e., May 1st—we find a portion of the same company enrolled in the Continental army.
      In the archives at the State-House is the muster-roll of the company under the command of Capt. Agrippa Wells, in Col. Asa Whitcomb's Regiment. The first name on the roll is Capt. A. Wells; time of enlistment, May 1, 1775. Traveled one hundred and five miles, mileage a penny a mile. Term of service three months and eight days.
      Jacob Pole, of Shelburne, first lieutenant; Ezekiel Foster, of Bernardston, second lieutenant; Oliver Atherton, of Greenfield, sergeant; Samuel Nichols, of Greenfield, drummer; and a long list of privates from Greenfield, Shelburne, and Bernardston, containing such familiar names as John Wells, Frederic Denio, Timothy Bascom, Oliver Hastings, Tubal Nash, James Corse.
      The term of service of this company expired Aug. 8, 1775. A large proportion of the officers and men re-enlisted for eight months' service,—the autumn and winter of the siege of Boston. The heroes of Mr. Willard's narrative do not appear on the rolls at the State-House as men in service at this period.
      In April of 1776 we find that Massachusetts is taking decided ground in favor of national independence. The General Court passed a resolve in April to alter the style of writs and other legal processes, substituting "the people and government of Massachusetts" for George III., and in May passed an order by which the people in the several towns were advised to give instructions to their representatives on the subject of independence. In Greenfield it was "voted to adopt the measures and instructions to our representative as is set forth in the newspapers to Boston representatives."
      On the 26th of September, 1776, it was voted "that the present House of Representatives, with the council, jointly acting by equal vote, be directed to proceed to form a constitution and form of government for this State, and that said court be directed topublish said form of government for the inspection and perusal of the public before its ratification." When the General Court convened a committee was appointed to draft a constitution, consisting of four members of the council and eight members of the House. But little is known of the proceedings of this committee. But as the result of their deliberations a constitution was drafted, debated at length, and approved by the Legislature, submitted to the people, and by them rejected. In Greenfield, in April, 1778, five voted for the constitution, and eighty against it.
      The year 1777 opened very darkly for the patriotic cause. The town was required to furnish shirts; stockings, and other clothing for the army, in the proportion of one set for every seven males in town over sixteen years of age. The town hired men to serve for six months.
      In the State-House is preserved the pay-roll of Capt. Agrippa Wells' company in Col. Samuel Bower's regiment, which served at Ticonderoga for three months in 1776. There are 72 names on the list.
      One of the great difficulties grew out of the depreciation of the Continental money. This trouble was increased by the ease with which this money was counterfeited. The committee of safety and correspondence had intimations that counterfeiting was carried on at a little hut in the woods at the right of the Gill road, on the hill just beyond the bridge at Factory village. The remains of that hut are now distinctly seen.
      The committee found there all the implements necessary for counterfeiting, and arrested the proprietor, one Harrington by name. They took him to Northampton, but the judge told them that he could not be imprisoned in the jail; that it was so full of Tories it would hold no more.
      He directed them to take their man to the woods, this side of the village of Northampton, and administer as many blows as they thought best. Report says that Childs, Hastings, and Denio, members of the committee, gave light blows, while Nash put on heavily and brought blood at every stroke. They then made him promise to leave this part of the country and let him go.
      In this year the town passed this significant vote: "Voted that the town will support the constable in collecting the rates."
      The summer and autumn of 1777 were as important and interesting as any in the history of the war. Burgoyne started from Canada with his splendid army with the avowed purpose of sweeping through New York and separating New England from the rest of the colonies. Washington addressed circulars to the brigadier-generals of militia in Western Massachusetts and Connecticut, informing them of the danger from Burgoyne, and adds: "To the militia we must look for support in this hour of trial. I trust you will immediately march with the militia under your command and rendezvous at Saratoga." This call was heartily responded to, and a large army was speedily gathered, made up largely of raw recruits, chiefly farmers, enlisted for two and three months, and commanded by Gen. Gates.1 Bancroft says they were well armed, except that but three soldiers in ten had bayonets, but conscious of superior strength. Eager for action, they kindled with anger and scorn at the barbarities Burgoyne threatened; above all, were enthusiasts for the freedom of their country, now to be secured by their deeds.
      The success of that campaign against Burgoyne was secured by the bravery and heroism of particular regiments, and almost in spite of the weakness and inefficiency of the generals in command.
      During all that year this region was kept in a constant state of alarm, and the militia were frequently called out. I have before me the pay-roll of Capt. Timothy Childs' company in Col. David Leonard's regiment, raised Feb. 4, 1777, to serve one month and seventeen days: Timothy Childs, Captain; Ezekiel Foster, Bernardston, Lieutenant; Isaac Newton, Simeon Nash, John Newton, Hull Nimms, Benjamin Hastings, Aaron Denio, Ariel Hinsdale, James Lowe, and others.
      Another roll of Capt. Timothy Childs' men in Col, David Wicks' regiment, raised May 10, 1777, for Ticonderoga, discharged July 8, 1777; time allowed to go home, making two months and eight days. The commander of this regiment, Col. David Wicks, of Shelburne, was the grandfather of the present bearer of the same name and title. The names of the 42 men on this roll are not names that are familiar as Greenfield names. The fortieth name is that of Preserved Smith, then a young man, who afterward became the minister at Rowe, and married the daughter of his commanding officer.
      Another pay-roll of the militia of Greenfield, when the alarm was at Bennington, August, 1777, under the command of Capt. Timothy Childs, in the regiment of which Col. David Field was commander: Timothy Childs, Captain; Samuel Allen, First Lieutenant; David Allen, Second Lieutenant, and 55 men. The time of the service was four days, the pay of the privates 5s. 4d. each. The fact is they started for Bennington, but were too late, and were recalled.
      In 1779 it was voted to go into some other method to raise our quota of men now to be raised. Up to this time volunteers had come forward; now they must be hired. It was voted to raise the money to hire the men by a tax on polls and estates. I have before me an order to Samuel Wells, treasurer, to pay certain persons the sums affixed to their names for hiring the six and nine months' men.
      In 1780 the town voted that the committee who hired the nine months' men act discretionally about paying them; and a committee was chosen to hire men for six months, and to pay for clothing and blankets when called for; and at another meeting, held in July, it was voted to give the men that serve in the Continental army 20s. a month in addition to their wages, and $1000 in paper money, they having paid these sums for hiring the men. The list is a long one, and begins with Samuel Wells, £272 15s. 4d. and amounting in all to £1288 18s. 4d. A large sum for those days, but paid in a depreciated paper currency. Signed by us, committee, Timothy Childs, Ebenezer Graves, Benj. Hastings, Samuel Stoughton, David Risley, Samuel Wells. On the back of this agreement are the receipts for the rye.2
      I have before me similar contracts made at the same time with David Gibbs, Isaac Gibbs, Daniel Holloway, John Moody, Matthew Clark.
      It appears that the General Court issued an order for six months' men June 5, 1780. Greenfield chose a committee to hire these men. The contracts made with them are still in the town clerk's office. I copy one of them:

"GREENFIELD, June 25, 1780.

      "We, the subscribers, agree to pay to William King, on his two sons enlisting in the Continental Service and passing muster, viz., Ezra King and Cushing King, for the term of six months from the 1st of July, without sooner discharged, they bringing a certificate from their commander that they have served that time. We, the Committee of Greenfield, levied ourselves in the behalf of the town to pay to said William King or his order one hundred and sixty bushels of rye, by the 10th of January next, delivered at the house of Capt. Agrippa Wells, in Greenfield."

      In December of that year; 1780, the selectmen gave an order to the treasurer, Samuel Wells, to pay certain men the quantity of wheat or rye set against their names, it being due them for money paid by them toward the hire of the six months' men. Then follows a long list, headed by Ebenezer Graves with thirty bushels of wheat.
      I have seen the pay-roll of Capt. Isaac Newton's company in Col. Murray's regiment of Massachusetts militia, recruited for three months, to reinforce the Continental army. Their term of service began July 4, 1780. The company was discharged Oct. 10, 1870. Isaac Newton, captain, was paid £12; Robert Biddle, first lieutenant, £8; Thomas Dickinson, second lieutenant, £8; Moses Newton, Joseph Hastings, Joseph Severance, sergeants, £3 each; Seth Nimms and 101 other privates were paid £2.
      In 1781 the sum of £300 was raised to buy beef for the army. In July of the same year it was voted to raise a sufficient sum of money to pay for a number of horses that were bought of individuals and sent into the Continental service last year; but voted not to buy another quota of beef demanded by the court. It is quite a disappointment that we cannot learn what was the population of the town at this time, and what was the quota of men required. It was evidently hard to procure the men. The means of the country were exhausted.
      The expedients of drafts and bounties, with which we are so painfully familiar, were resorted to. Three months' men were called for. I find the agreement entered into with Benjamin Kneeland, Samson Horsley, Thomas Horsley, and Eli Hamilton to serve three months. The matter of furnishing beef for the army proved to be a serious affair No less than ten town-meetings were held in this year, 1781. These meetings were held at various places,--sometimes at the school-house, probably even in this village, which stood on the spot where Mr. Oren Wiley's shop now stands, and which was burned early in the century.
      We have here a list of all the officers who commanded companies in the war of the Revolution from this town, viz.: Agrippa Wells, Timothy Childs, Isaac Newton.

1 Schuyler was in command until the 19th of August.
2 Probably referring to the grain in which the amounts were paid.

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