Faces of Our Revolutionary Heroes

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As we rouse ourselves from the warm comfort of our beds in the pre-dawn darkness of Patriots Day and make our groggy way to the Battle Green we may wonder why we decided to do this, again. But as we approach the Green, the sun rising, the anticipation building, and we merge with so many others who have decided to do this, again, or for the first time we remember why we came. Twenty first century Lexington fades away as we are taken back to a singular moment in time, April 19, 1775, that changed history.

For the members of the Lexington Minutemen Company bringing that moment in time to life is a year round commitment. As the Company marches onto the Green we are not looking at our neighbors and friends, but at the faces of 1775 Lexington. And that transformation comes with a strong commitment.

The re-enactment unfolds as a carefully choreographed scene, but behind it is a dedication to authenticity and to the men who risked everything that we, as observers, may not recognize in the early morning light. Members of the group take the Minute Man Oath to heart, “We trust in God, that should the state of our affairs require it, we shall be ready to sacrifice our estates and everything dear in life, yea, and life itself, in support of the common cause.” The re-enactors who appear on the Green to meet the British regulars each portray an actual member of the Lexington Militia that took that oath. Each member researches his adopted ancestor and it is his responsibility and his honor to make their story part of his own. Through uniform, rank, and manner the Minutemen bring these everyday farmers and citizens of Lexington to life.

The modern company of Minute Men goes back quite a way. According to Captain Commanding Bill Poole the group coalesced in a new way as the bicentennial approached, “Starting in the mid-1970s the commitment of the company to the re-enactment strengthened, resulting in increased research into clothing, equipment, and the events of the day.” And that commitment is obvious as we meet three members of the Lexington Minute Men who each bring a different perspective to the group.

Watch for these members when you rouse yourself this year. You will appreciate their commitment and those of their brothers in the Lexington Minute Men just a little bit more.

 

Jedediah Monroe

Portrayed by Bill Rose

Bill Rose

Bill Rose

A costume is skin deep. A uniform goes all the way through. You could say that is the motto of re-enactor Bill Rose of Bolton who portrays Jedediah Monroe, a farmer from East Lexington.

Rose’s interest goes beyond what happened on one day in April. He has researched how these men and women lived, what they wore and how it might have felt to be a farmer in 1775. He brings all of this to his portrayal and shares what he’s learned with the other members of the Lexington Minute Men. “I really liked the material culture, understanding why a person did what he did; in his life, in his clothing, in his horse or his house. All that sort of thing,” says Rose. He began researching the fashion of the time, yes, fashion. Rose points out that even though these men were mostly farmers they followed the fashions of the times just as we do today. “You look at the newspapers, look at the wills, see what kind of clothing they had and you go, ‘Whoa, this guy was a farmer but somehow he made sure he had leather britches.” And part of their fashion sense came down to practical matters. “The clothing had to be extremely robust. You’re a farmer so you’d be using extremely good cloth. The tightly woven broadcloth would be almost waterproof. Remember, they got rained on just like we do and they didn’t like to get wet either.”

According to Rose the fashion of the time called for tightly fitted jackets. This was a nod to the practical side. High quality broadcloth was extremely expensive. Labor was cheap. Fitted wear called for less fabric and was more affordable.

Rose wanted to take his research on the material world of these men a step further and began creating his own clothes that were more true to the times that those that could be purchased. “If we are going to honor the people that died on that green and then died elsewhere for the last 230 years then we need to look as much like those guys as possible. So, I’m one of the guys that makes everything,” says Rose. He picked up a lot of tailoring skills from other Minute Men and has developed many of his own. Now he shares those skills with his fellow re-enactors and encourages them to make the investment. Rose is convincing, “It isn’t hard to do and the results are worth it. You were a hard charging, robust individual. And you put these clothes on and you invested the time to make them. You really understand what these guys went through.”

Jedediah Monroe, who Rose portrays, proved himself to be a hard charging individual on April 19, 1775. According to Rose, he was a farmer in East Lexington, probably in the mid to lower class of Lexington society. His family had come to the new world from Scotland after defeat at the Battle of Worcester in the 1650s.

Fifty-four year old Jedediah answered the alarm that morning and joined his fellow Minute Men on the Green. He was shot in the arm during the early morning skirmish. Rose tells the rest of the story, “He mustered the courage to soldier on and was killed later in the day at Parker’s Revenge. He’s a pretty cool character to do because he gave everything. He actually had an excuse to walk away but he didn’t. That’s why I take it pretty seriously.”

 

John Smith

Portrayed by Randy Wilson

Randy Wilson

Randy Wilson

“I like to learn about history. It’s a good first hand experience and you get right down to it. I think it’s pretty cool.” Eighteen year old John Smith of Lexington may not have recognized the phrasing in 1775, but eighteen year old re-enactor Randy Wilson has the sentiment right. Randy has been involved in reenacting with his entire family since he was just six years old. It’s a way of life for him.

He’s already made his own history by becoming the youngest member of the Lexington Minute Men. Randy was active in his hometown with the Acton Minute Men, and the Lexington group as well. But at sixteen he wasn’t old enough to become a full member, until the Lexington Minute Men dropped the age limit. “I didn’t know the change was happening. I was just waiting for the chance to join. So, when it dropped down that was my opportunity,” says Wilson.

This Patriots Day Wilson will be the same age as his character, John Smith, was on April 19, 1775, something that adds to Wilson’s appreciation of portraying a real character from history. “The personal connection to a person in history has given me the feeling that I am actually re-enacting for something and someone, and it gives me the determination to really put some effort in the acting.”

According to the Lexington Minute Men’s history, John Smith was born to second generation colonists in Cambridge Farms on August 21, 1756. Following the skirmish on the Lexington Green Smith continued with Captain Parker to the afternoon ambush known as Parker’s Revenge. He continued his militia service through five additional postings from aiding the Colonial Army during the siege of Boston to Ticonderoga and back to Cambridge with members of the Lexington Militia. He left the military on April 18, 1780, almost five years to the day after that first skirmish on Lexington Green.

John Smith returned to Lexington and married. In the late 1780s he and his family left Lexington and the Battle Green behind and moved to Randolph, VT where they settled for good.

After this year’s Patriots Day re-enactment Randy will also leave the Green behind as he heads west to the University of Montana where he plans to study Wildlife Biology and Forestry. “When I go off to college in the fall I think that the primary thing that I will take away from re-enacting is the appreciation of where I grew up and the unique place that it holds in relation to the rest of the country,” says Randy. That’s a powerful lesson to take away, one that John Smith probably couldn’t appreciate in the early days of the new Republic.

 

Prince Abattoirs

Portrayed by Charles Price

Charlie Price

Charlie Price

Re-enactor Charles Price and Prince Estabrook both became accidental Minute Men. Neither asked to march onto the Lexington green, centuries apart. “He was a slave, for whatever reason he was out there on the green April 19, 1775 facing the British. It really wasn’t his fight,” explains Charles Price. Price has recreated Estabrook’s role in the morning’s face off for the last thirty-nine years.

Price himself was looking for a lawnmower, not a role in the Battle of Lexington back in 1975. “My lawnmower broke. I went next door to borrow one from my neighbor,” recalls Price. The neighbor may have seen an opportunity; he told Price it was too hot to mow anyway and drew him in with a cool drink and the Red Sox on TV while they waited for the sun to drop low in the sky. “He kept talking Minute Men, Minute Men, Minute Men. ‘Why don’t you just come down for a meeting?’ So I did. And here I am thirty nine years later.”

Prince Estabrook played a unique role among those men on the Green. As a slave he did not have to serve in the militia. I ask Price if Prince Estabrook found himself there because the family sent him in as a surrogate, to protect their own sons. “That’s one of the reasons we think he may have been there. It was the classic example of a no-win situation. If the Minute Men win, he’s still a slave. If they lose, he’s a slave that fired on the King’s troops,” explains Price.

But slavery in Massachusetts in the 1700s was not the same as we know it in the south during the 1800s. There was a way out for Prince Estabrook and as time went on he established himself as a soldier and a free man.

Wounded on April 19 Prince Estabrook recovered and rejoined the fight two months later at Bunker Hill. While still a slave he enlisted as a full time member of the Continental Army in 1780. Over the next three years he served from Dorchester Heights to Fort Ticonderoga. He was discharged from the Massachusetts 3rd Regiment in November 1783 as a free man. In July of the same year Massachusetts had abolished slavery.

Estabrook returned to Lexington and the Estabrook family. Working for the family now as a free man until 1803 when Benjamin Estabrook died and the family members went their separate ways. Prince Estabrook moved to Ashby with one of the sons, Nathan Estabrook, and remained there until his death. He is buried in Ashby.

Here in Lexington you can find a monument to Prince Estabrook just outside the Buckman Tavern. The likeness on the monument is of Charles Price. The two men joined by history and accident.

You can find more information on Prince Estabrook in the award-winning book by Lexington author Alice M. Hinckle, Prince Estabrook, Slave and Soldier.

 

The Lexington Minutemen in the UK. and They’re Brits!

The Lexington Minutemen in the UK courtesy of Pat Patrick

The Lexington Minutemen in the UK courtesy of Pat Patrick

 

Could there be a new revolution a foot? Minutemen taking up arms against Red Coats right on British soil? You might think so when you learn about The Lexington Minutemen in the UK.

The group was formed three years ago to appear at the English Heritage Kelmarsh Festival of History. Kelmarsh is a weekend long multi-period event that features encampments from Roman times all the way up through World War II. The Minutemen looked to educate visitors and themselves about the historical period surrounding the American War of Independence.

From there they have grown and matured. Clive Emerson, the group’s secretary, says they strive to portray not just the civilian militia of 1775, but civilian life as well, “We have a seditious priest who delivers genuine sermons of the period, a freed slave (who is also the company cook), a number of wives, girlfriends and children, a tailor, a doctor, a gunsmith and tavern keepers (of Buckman Tavern).”

Our own Lexington Minute Man Alex Cain has been corresponding with Mr. Emerson offering guidance on clothing and equipment that is helping the UK Minutemen raise their own standards of authenticity. The group’s company tailor has taken much of Alex’s advice to heart and has taught himself the skills necessary to create authentic clothing. As Clive Emerson points out, “He has learned his trade through handling original clothes of the time, then coming home and experimenting. His work is improving all the time.” Emerson laments that the Redcoat captains took notice and that improvement and the tailor has “spent the whole winter making redcoats for the Seventeenth.”

The Seventeenth, along with the Twenty Second and Forty Seventh of Foot are a few of the Redcoat groups against which the Minutemen skirmish at the five or six historical events they now attend throughout the UK each year.

Might we see an invasion of Minutemen from the UK here on Lexington Green in the future? Clive Emerson isn’t counting it out, “We have certainly thought about it, but financial and time constraints rapidly bring us back to earth. We know that it won’t be for a few years yet. It would be great to join forces with our brothers (and sisters) across the pond.”

For more information on The Lexington Minutemen in the UK visit www.lexingtonminutemen.co.uk/index.html.

 

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