The Rev. Joseph Thaxter

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The following biography is taken from Hodgman's History of Westford:

Joseph Thaxter, the eldest son of Deacon Joseph and Mary (Leavitt) Thaxter, was born in Hingham, April 23,1742. He graduated at Harvard College in 1768; studied theology with Rev. Dr. Gay in his native place, and was licensed to preach in 1771. He was present at the fight at Concord Bridge and at the battle of Bunker Hill. On the 23rd of January, 1776, he was elected a chaplain in the army, and served in a regiment of which John Robinson, of Westford, was colonel. He was in the ranks at Cambridge, in different parts of New Jersey and at the battle of White Plains, and, as is supposed, went to Lake George and Ticonderoga. He was ordained and settled over the church in Edgartown, Martha's Vineyard, in 1780, where he remained until his death. While he was in Westford, he addressed a detachment of Westford soldiers, twelve in number, as they were about to start for Ticonderoga, and the tradition is, that one of them, Thomas Rogers, refused to stand up when Mr. Thaxter spoke to them, and that of the twelve all returned but Rogers. On the 17th of June, 1825, he was called upon to officiate at the laying of the corner stone of the Bunker Hill Monument. This was the last time that he ever left the island. His prayer at Bunker Hill was written out, and may be seen in Sprague's Annals of the Unitarian pulpit. He died July 18, 1827, aged 83 years.
A few extra notes not mentioned above.  At the time of the April 19th, 1775 battle Thaxter was a candidate preacher in Westford.  He was replacing the Rev. Willard Hall who had served in Westford since 1727.  The town voted to dismiss Rev. Hall  in November, 1774 due to his unsympathetic views toward the colonial cause for liberty.

Entry in Massachusetts Soldiers and Sailors

The Rev. Joseph Thaxter's entry in Massachusetts Soldiers and Sailors of the Revolutionary War, 1775-1783

THAXTER, JOSEPH (also given JOSEPH, Jr.). Official record of a ballot by the House of Representatives, dated Jan. 23, 1776, for officers to serve with the six regiments to be raised to serve before Boston until April 1, 1776; said Thaxter chosen Chaplain, Col. John Robertson's regt. to be raised in Middlesex and Lincoln counties; appointment concurred in by Council Jan. 23, 1776; also, Chaplain, Col. John Robinson's regmt.; list of officers to be commissioned, endorsed "to April 1st 1776;" commissions reported dated Feb. 5 [1776]; also. Chaplain; return of officers and men belonging to Col. Solomon Lovells regt. "who marched to reinforce the Continental Army for 3 months [year not given].

1824 Thaxter Letter

An article with a letter from Rev. Joseph Thaxter from the United States Literary Gazette, Vol 1, page 264.

Letter from an Old Soldier

An article in a late number of this Gazette, in which we remarked, in passing, upon the mistake in the popular estimate of Col. Prescott’s services on Breed’s Hill has obtained for us a new correspondent; whose communication we give below, with no other alteration than the suppression of a few sentences relative to matters wherein our readers not be interested. It is quite tiring that the people of this land should feel and should distinctly manifest an earnest and anxious curiosity respecting all the occurrences of that revolution to which they owe every thing. When a nation fights for existence it sends forth its best into battle; and the men who urged that contest were worthy of the cause which brought them to the field. A peaceful yeomanry stood with unaccustomed arms to defend their own fields, and men came forth from their regular occupations of society and all the walks of busy life; and from these materials was formed, almost at once, an armed array which fearlessly met and conquered and captured men, whose only trade was war, and their only home a camp. There must exist somewhere, at this day, exact knowledge of all the occurrences of that remarkable period, and now that this knowledge is passing away with the few who possess it, let it be gathered and invested with an imperishable form. This will not be, unless such information is not only welcomed but sought. For ourselves, we shall be most ready to aid in this important work, by all the scanty means within our power: we shall always gladly find room for communications, which help, in any way or measure, to illustrate the more important events of our put history, or the characters of those who were eminent among our fathers. The the present instance we have no doubt that our readers will join with us in the thanks which we proffer to the Rev. Mr. Thaxter.

• Edgartown, November 30, 1824

Your friend J. A.______ showed me your last paper, in which some observations were made respecting the neglect of suitable respect to Colonel Prescott. He is not the only one that is neglected. I make no objection to the monument on Breed’s Hill, but I think it a great neglect that so little notice is taken of Concord Bridge, and the men who first faced the British troops. Much. Is said of Lexington—the British met with no opposition there; I was an eyewitness to the following facts. The people of Westford and Acton, some few of Concord, were the first who faced the British at Concord bridge. The British had placed about ninety men as a guard at the North Bridge; we had then no certain information that any had been killed at Lexington, we saw the British making destruction in the town of Concord; it was proposed to advance to the bridge; on this Colonel Robinson, of Westford, together with Major Buttrick, took the lead; strict orders were given not to fire, unless the British fired first; when they advanced about halfway on the causeway the British fired one gun, a second, a third, and then the whole body; they killed Colonel Davis, of Acton, and a Mr. Hosmer. Our people then fired over one another’s heads, being in a long column, two and two; they killed two and wounded eleven. Lieutenant Hawkstone, said to be the greatest beauty of the British army, had his cheeks so badly wounded that it disfigured him much, of which he bitterly complained. On this, the British fled, and assembled on the hill, the north side of Concord, and dressed their wounded, and then began their retreat. As they descended the hill near the road that comes out from Bedford they were pursued; Colonel Bridge, with a few men from Bedford and Chelmsford, came up, and killed several men. We pursued them and killed some; when they got to Lexington, they were so close pursued and fatigued, that they must have soon surrendered, had not Lord Percy met them with a large reinforcement and two field-pieces. They fired them, but the balls went high over our heads. But no cannon ever did more execution, such stories of their effects had been spread by the tories through our troops, that from this time more wont back than pursed. We pursued to Charlestown Common, and then retired to Cambridge. When the army collected at Cambridge, Colonel Prescott with his regiment of minute men, and John Robinson, his Lieutenant Colonel, were prompt at being at their post. 0n this 16th of June, Colonel Prescott and Colonel Bridge were ordered upon Breed’s Hill to heave up a breast work; they laboured all night, and were left to fight the British. Reinforcements were ordered, but not one company went in order. Many went to Bunker’s Hill; some went from there as volunteers, part of which belonged to General Starks’ regiment. Among the volunteers was the ever-to-be lamented General Warren. When he was introduced to Colonel Prescott, the Colonel said, " General Warren, I have not the pleasure of a personal acquaintance with you, but from your known character, I shall fight with cheerfulness under you." General Warren replied, " Colonel Prescott, I have not come to take command, but to learn to fight under you." This I had from Colonel Robinson, and believe as much as if I had heard with my ears; a braver and more upright man I never knew. Such men as Prescott and Robinson, ought not to be forgotten by those who write the history of the commencement and prosecution of our glorious revolution. The vile slander, cast upon old General Putnam are totally without foundation. He did all that man could do to reinforce Prescott on Breed’s Hill. A braver men never lived. At that time our army was little better than a mob, without discipline and under little command, till General Washington came and Gates, and gave to it some regularity. Whole regiments were ordered on perilous duty at once, and the loss of men was from a small circle. The Breed's Hill loss fell upon the county of Middlesex, about one half of the loss was in Prescott’s regiment, viz, forty-nine killed and forty-five wounded. This evil was remedied by Washington and Gates, and in ‘76 victory delivered Boston, &c. A decent monument at Concord Bridge, where the first spark was struck, and quite as glorious as Breed’s Hill, considering the circumstances, would be doing no more honour to Robinson and Buttrick than they richly deserve. I have lived in obscurity on this island, and never thought myself of importance enough, and capable of doing justice to a historical account of the transactions of the memorable 19th of April 1775, or of the 17th of June. Many anecdotes, of those days, that would do honour to individuals, it is most probable will be forgotten. The following is one. The Rev. Edward Brooks, who lived at Medford, got intelligence of a small party going with relief to meet the British; they had a wagon-load; Mr Brooks mustered a few men, waylaid them near West Cambridge meetinghouse, and shot the horses, and wounded the lieutenant who commanded them, took several prisoners before the British came up, and retired.

I am, sir, with respect, yours.

Joseph Thaxter


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