Westford's Role during the Revolutionary War
The Revolutionary War period proved to be a challenging and often difficult time for the men and women of colonial America. Westford provides a good example of a rural New England town whose beliefs and sacrifices helped to establish our nation. Records show that as tensions rose between Great Britain and her American colonies over such issues as taxation and remote rule, Westford residents overwhelmingly supported the rising call for fairness, and ultimately, separation from Britain.
In 1774 Boston patriots considered a non-importation pledge known as the "Solemn League and Covenant" as a means of protesting British policy. The Covenant called for its signers to halt the purchase of British goods and, further, to stop dealing with those who refused to sign. The document was sent into the surrounding countryside. Westford’s copy still survives and is presently housed at the J.V. Fletcher Library. 207 men of all ages and social standing, a majority of taxpaying males, signed it. The town also voted to “return the names of those who do not sine [sic] this paper.” Although this local non-importation effort was soon eclipsed by similar actions by the Continental Congress, it demonstrated the early resolve of Westford’s patriots.
While town records consistently indicate a stand against Britain’s policies, not all was harmonious in Westford. At least three men defied the popular consensus by supporting British policy. One of these, the Rev. Willard Hall, was a prominent figure in the Westford community. By 1774 he had served as the town’s spiritual leader for 47 years, starting two years prior to the town’s incorporation. He had baptized and presided over the marriage of a large portion of the town’s population. Yet he stood firmly against the sentiments of his fellow townspeople. So strong was his opposition that a committee was formed “to keep Mr. Hall out of the pulpit”. Further, he was ordered “to deliver up his arms” and was “confined to his house and land.”
Two months later his fellow Tories were restored to the “town’s favour” after openly repealing their support for the king. Although the Rev. Hall was given liberty to wander freely within the bounds of Westford, he remained true to his beliefs until he died in 1779, never returning to the pulpit
Westford provided support for the militia system, a fixture of each New England community. In March of 1748 the town paid Joseph Underwood 5 pounds for a training field (now the center common) upon which the militia could train on a regular basis. The original deed for this sale are on display at the Westford Museum. When necessary, the town also provided supplies such as muskets, powder, flints, and ball, to keep the militia properly equipped.
Westford provided a significant number of militia and minute-men – 131 in all – to the “Lexington Alarm” of April 19, 1775. As British troops marched to Concord to confiscate military supplies thought to be hidden there by the colonists, Westford militia-men heard the rising alarm and began the 10 mile march to Concord. There is evidence that one young Westford man, Peter Brown, spent the morning on horseback alerting parts of the Middlesex countryside as a member of the network of alarm riders made famous by Paul Revere. That afternoon Brown “pursu'd with the rest and fought that day.”
While most Westford men arrived too late to participate in the skirmish at Concord’s North Bridge, many would engage the British later in the day and pursue them as far as Cambridge. John Robinson, Lt. Colonel of the local regiment of specialized militia known as “minute-men”, and three other Westford men were present at the bridge before the action. Among these was the Rev. Hall’s candidate replacement, the Rev. Joseph Thaxter. Robinson was offered command by Concord’s Major Buttrick but declined, citing the fact that few of his men had yet arrived. Instead, he offered to serve as Buttrick’s aide. This is borne out in a contemporary drawing documenting the events at the Bridge showing “The Provincials headed by Colonel Robinson & Major Buttrick at the Bridge.”
The official reports after the events of April 19th do not mention any Westford militia casualties. However, we know from subsequent accounts that 54-year-old Capt. Oliver Bates, a long-time town leader, died on July 4th as a result of wounds sustained during the running fight of the “Battle Road”.
For the following year the Revolutionary War focused on a siege of Boston, where British troops remained. At least 58 Westford men contributed to an interim army that built and defended the earthworks on Breed’s (Bunker) Hill. Three of them would die there, including African American “servant” Ceasar Bason, and Captain Jonathan Minot’s son, Joseph.
In the first year of the war we see a particularly tragic result within the very walls of Westford’s homes. As men returned from the camps of the new army they brought diseases with them. Westford deaths in 1775 outpaced those of adjacent years by three times. Nearly 70% of non-army related deaths in 1775 occurred in August and September, with over 90% of those (23) being children under the age of 8. Especially hard hit were the Robinson family who lost three daughters within two weeks, and the extended Wright family who lost six children within three weeks.
Throughout the war Gen. George Washington relied heavily on local militias to reinforce his Continental Army. Such was the case when Col. John Robinson was commissioned to lead a regiment of over 400 men in Cambridge near the end of the siege of Boston. Notable on his staff were Concord’s Lt. Col. John Buttrick, Chaplain Joseph Thaxter, Surgeon Dr. Asaph Fletcher and Surgeon’s Mate William Little from Westford. Two of his captains included John Ford of Chelmsford and Job Shattuck of Groton, who would be best known for his participation in Shay’s Rebellion of 1786-87. Robinson led another militia regiment in 1777, keeping watch of British occupied Newport, Rhode Island.
The entire war, between 1775 and 1783, would see over 280 Westford men serve in the militia and Continental Army. Outside of New England, they served at such places as White Plains, Valcour Island, Cherry Valley, Saratoga, Valley Forge, and the final siege at Yorktown. Several men served through the entire war. At present 22 are documented to have died during service, including 26-year-old Lt. Thomas Rogers.
Men were often recruited for continental service from the local militia. Of the 41 Westford men who served in the 6th Middlesex militia regiment, 30 joined Col. Alden’s 6th Massachusetts regiment. One third of them would die in the next 15 months from disease or battle injuries. Late in the war “classes” of townsmen were established to “procure…soldiers to serve in the Continental Army.”
The Westford town meeting consistently voted “to take care and provide for the familys [sic] of the Continental Soldiers.” When requested by the state, townspeople provided raw materials and finished goods for the soldiers, including stockings, shoes, blankets, and shirts. They were often reimbursed for spinning, weaving, and “nitting” for the soldiers.
Economic conditions in Massachusetts declined throughout this period and became particularly difficult after the war, due in part to the huge debt incurred over the long and “unhappy” war. As a result, many of the veterans and their families emigrated to the relatively unsettled states of Vermont, New Hampshire, and what would later become Maine, often helping to found new towns. Many of those who remained would serve in town government and help to found institutions such as Westford Academy.
Last Updated 2004
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