These are the Freedom Trail Players. They are the historic characters and citizenry of Boston, Massachusetts, who were at the forefront in the revolt against Britain. They lead you on Freedom Trail Tours, regaling you with stories of the brave men and women who risked everything to create the new nation. Freedom Trail Players can also be hired for special events - corporate and civic - presenting other famous men and women of the American Revolution such as John & Abigail Adams, Benjamin Franklin, John Hancock, Paul Revere, and George Washington, as well as many renowned people of the 17th and 18th centuries, including Jane Austen and Charles Dickens.
Born on January 26, 1736, Elizabeth Wells Adams was 29 when she became the second wife of revolutionary leader and politician Samuel Adams and moved into his house on Purchase Street. Although the couple never had children of their own, she raised his two surviving children from his first marriage in a loving home. A skilled seamstress, Elizabeth did what she could to keep her family dressed in more than rags despite her husband’s poverty, and it is said that never once did a neighbor hear her complain.
While she had no career of her own beyond the occasional needlework, gardening and other miscellaneous “women’s” jobs she took to bring in a small allowance for her family, she was a sturdy arm for Samuel to lean upon while he buried himself in his work and the affairs of his country and this seemed a full time job in of itself.
A few letters that have been preserved show the deep affection that the couple had for each other, Samuel always addressing his wife lovingly as “Betsy.”
She died on April 29th, 1808, five years after the death of Samuel Adams.
Crispus Attucks was a dock worker born around 1723. He is listed in the Massacre court record as mulatto, which in 18th century Boston meant he was not "pure" white. With the last name of Attucks, he was probably Natick Indian, as that is a Natick name. In addition, he was possibly the same person listed as a runaway slave by a local slave owner. This fact suggests possible African heritage, though Indians were also slaves in 17th-18th century Boston. Attucks was involved in protests against the British Regulars, and that he was shot in the chest, at close range and killed in the Boston Massacre,\ by a soldier of the King's 29th foot regiment. Regardless of these particulars it is known, from his actions leading up to his death, that he did perceive himself to be a part of the locals, calling himself a “Nor'endeh.”
Meliscent Barrett of Concord was just 16 years old on the night of April 19, 1775, when midnight riders delivered the message that the regulars are coming out!. Everyone in town knew what that meant: redcoats were coming to seize or destroy the militia supplies—muskets, powder, rations, even four cannon stolen from the redcoats—that had been stockpiled in Concord under the direction of Meliscent’s grandfather, Colonel James Barrett, leader of the Middlesex Regiment of militia and minutemen.
Meliscent’s role on that fateful night? The previous year, a British officer visiting the Barrett family farm on business with her grandfather "had amused himself by talking politics with teenaged Meliscent, asking her what the colonists would do if it became necessary for them to resist, as not one person in town knew how to make cartridges to load muskets with." Meliscent's rebel replies were undeterred. She answered that they'd use powderhorns and bullets to load their guns "just as they shot bears." The young man replied that this method would be "too barbarous" and showed her how to make cartridges;an important skill, as muskets can be loaded and fired much more quickly with cartridges than with powderhorns. When Meliscent’s grandfather, Colonel Barrett, began orchestrating the stockpiling of militia supplies. Meliscent oversaw the young ladies of Concord in the making and stockpiling of cartridges. As a result, when the "shot heard round the world" was fired by a British soldier on Lexington Green, it was answered by militiamen firing cartridges crafted by Meliscent and the other teenaged girls of Concord.
James Blake, born and raised in Boston to the age of 13, was a local tinsmith’s son and a tinsmith himself. The Battle of Bunker Hill forced his family to abandon shop and home in 1775. That tin shop was on King’s Street, steps away from the Bloody Massacre, and was where James and his father made canteens, cartridge boxes, and other provisions exclusively for American patriots. This led to the Blakes’ exodus to Worcester in that year.
James continued supporting his own family beyond the War for Independence as a tinsmith elsewhere in Massachusetts, New Hampshire, and Vermont. He and his wife of 51 years, Rebecca Cunningham Blake, raised eight children to adulthood, and wrote of them, “Parents were never blessed with better children than we have.” James died at the age of 77, four years after Rebecca’s passing, and a day before his country’s 63rd birthday.
Rev Dr Mather Byles was born in Boston on March 26, 1706. By dint of his blood-line he seemed destined for a career in the pulpit. He was a descendant of famed Puritan theologian Richard Mather, grandson of Increase Mather and nephew of the controversial proponent of small pox inoculation Cotton Mather. Both Cotton and Increase had been ministers at Boston’s ‘Old North Church’. It came as little surprise then that Mather Byles was ordained minister of Hollis Street Church in 1733.
Byles rose to local prominence thanks to both his political views and his renowned wit. Byles was a staunch supporter of the Crown – a Tory - throughout his life. Despite the fact that he adamantly refused to preach politics to his congregants, he was sacked from the Hollis Street Church in 1776 on account of his loyalist sympathies.
The vast majority of Boston’s Tories were forced to relocate to Canada when the King’s Army evacuated the town on March 17, 1776. This fate was not shared by Mather, who escaped with the lesser punishment of house arrest. Some say the leniency of the sentence was thanks to his advancing years, others believe it was because even Boston’s patriots considered him to be ‘a very pleasant Tory’, having endeared himself to Bostonians thanks to his propensity for humorous word-play. Upon hearing of Dr. Byles’ death in 1788, leading patriot John Adams recalled ‘Mather Byles of punning memory’. Byles is best known for his pithy articulation of the loyalist position, he said: "Which is better - to be ruled by one tyrant three thousand miles away or by three thousand tyrants not one mile away?"
Mrs. Mary Clapham lived and rented rooms in a house next to the Exchange Tavern on King Street, close by the State House, Customs House and right in the thick of things on the night of March 5, 1770—the night of the "horrid massacre" when five Bostonians were killed and six wounded by British soldiers. On the anniversary of that terrible event each year, she placed illustrations of the events in the illuminated windows of her home, along with stirring and patriotic verses, for the enjoyment of her fellow Bostonians—anywhere from 10,000 to 12,000 people might pass by to admire them. Her fame came to an end in March of 1776, however, for there was no one but Tories left in Boston in March of that year—her only boarders English soldiers, and to add insult to injury, her daughter ended up running off to marry one of them!
John Singleton Copley was born in Boston on July 3, 1738 to Richard Copley and Mary Singleton, Irish immigrants of modest means. Despite his humble beginnings, Copley rose to prominence as the foremost painter in 18th century America. Little is known of his upbringing, but by the time he was in his teens he was already producing remarkable paintings of mythological figures and family members. He soon became the most sought-after portraitist in Boston. Some of his notable subjects include Samuel Adams, John Hancock, Paul Revere, Mercy Otis Warren, General Thomas Gage and Dorothy Quincy Hancock.
In 1769, Copley married Susanna Farnham Clarke, the daughter of prominent merchant Richard Clarke. Though the marriage brought Copley wealth and social distinction, it also embroiled him in political controversy. Up to this point, Copley had endeavored to stay out of the turbulent Boston political scene completely, stating "I am desirous of avoiding every imputation of party spir[it], Political contests being neither pleasing to an artist or advantageous to Art itself." But Richard Clarke, his father-in-law, became engaged as a tea consignee by the East India Company, and as such, was a thoroughly unpopular figure among Boston Whigs. Copley’s association with Clarke naturally cast suspicion upon his character. During the Tea Crisis in the winter of 1773, Copley acted as a go-between, ferrying word between the town meetings in Boston and the consignees who had fled to Castle Island.
In 1774, Copley traveled to England to pursue his artistic career, and ended up spending the rest of his life abroad. He died in 1815, and is buried in London.
Richard Dale was born in Virginia and went to sea at the age of 12 and had captained ships before he turned 20. During the revolution he joined the Virginia navy. He briefly joined the loyalist forces but was captured by the Continental Brig Lexington. That vessel’s captain convinced Dale to return to the American cause.
He was an officer on Lexington until she was taken by the British. Imprisoned in England, Dale twice escaped and made his way to France. His next position was as a Lieutenant on board the Continental warship Bonhomme commanded by John Paul Jones. He performed valiantly during her desperate fight with HMS Serapis on 23 September 1779. For the remainder of the war, Dale served in the frigates Alliance and Trumbull, and was commanding officer of the privateer Queen of France.
Mehitable was born in Boston in 1751 to the well-respected May family. On May 3, 1768, at the age of 17, she married a man who narrowly missed being a “notable historical figure” - William Dawes, one of the riders chosen to send a message of warning on the night of April 18, 1775. The famous ride to Lexington and Concord is usually attributed to Paul Revere, on account of the popular poem written by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow. William’s role, though often overlooked, was just as daring as Revere’s. Despite the risk, Mehitable proudly supported her husband. William’s love for Mehitable was so ardent that he is said to have pushed a British soldier to defend her honor against the “Lobsterback’s” rude remarks. The two were finally separated on October 28, 1793, when Mehitable died at the age of 42. Though he remarried, William named the firstborn daughter of his new wife Mehitable. Once he passed away in 1799, William was buried alongside his darling Mehitable, in the May family plot.
John Field, an Irish immigrant to the city of Boston, was a successful leatherworker and innkeeper during Boston’s revolutionary transformation. While producing leather breeches while running a busy inn with his wife Catherine, the Fields’ Court Street residence would serve both as a place of business, a home to their five children as well as an inn for a growing number of apprentices, employees and guests.
While his wife Catherine was a steadfast sympathizer for the Patriot cause, John would remain neutral throughout the tumultuous years of the British occupation of Boston from 1775-1776, in which he and his family would remain in the town while others fled to Patriot territory.
On the night of March 5, 1770, Mr. Field upon hearing word of British soldiers and young apprentices brawling in the streets of Boston urged his employees and guests to proceed with caution if they were to find themselves on the streets of Boston during the evening. One employee, a fellow Irishman and leatherworker Patrick Carr, upon heeding the advice of his landlord and employer would return later than evening with a wound to the hip received from a stray musket ball fired by a group of British soldiers standing guard in front of the Customs House. In an event later referred to as the “Boston Massacre,” Carr would later succumb to his wound following days of care he would receive from both his employer Mr. Field and local physician Dr. John Jefferies who would both later provide valuable testimony in the prosecution of the British soldiers involved in this fatal altercation.
Born on December 14, 1740 in Dorchester, Sarah Bradlee Fulton was an active member of the Daughters of Liberty. She married John Fulton in 1762 and moved to Medford, Massachusetts. The two of them had three daughters: Ann, Mary, and Elizabeth. Sarah is credited with having the idea to disguise the men as Mohawks on the night of the Boston Tea Party. Because of this, she has become known as the “Mother of the Boston Tea Party”.
However, this was not all for Sarah. She also played a valuable part in the Battle of Bunker Hill on June 17, 1775 by rallying a group of women to nurse the wounded soldiers. Then, during the siege of Boston, Sarah aided the colonists when she stopped a band of British soldiers with wood stolen from the colonists. She took the oxen by the horns and turned them around, shouting at them to “shoot away!” The British troops were so surprised they surrendered the wood to her.
Finally in March 1776, she helped deliver a message from Medford’s mayor, John Brooks, to George Washington through the enemy lines in Charleston. Washington later visited the Fulton household to thank her for delivering the information through enemy territory. Sarah died peacefully a month before her 95th birthday in 1835 and is buried in the Salem Street Cemetery in Medford.
Margaret Kemble Gage was born in East Brunswick, New Jersey in 1734, where Gage Road is now named for her. She came from a very well-known family – her father, Peter Kemble, was a wealthy businessman and politician, and her grandfather, Stephanus Van Cortlandt, was the mayor of New York. She married her father’s schoolmate, Thomas Gage, who became the Commander-in-Chief of the British Army during the Revolutionary War.
She married Thomas on March 8th, 1758, and together they had two children – a son named Henry, who would become the 3rd Viscount Gage and was born in 1761, and a daughter, Charlotte Margaret.
Many suspect that Margaret was a spy for the colonists and leaked military secrets to Dr. Joseph Warren, including news of the Redcoat invasion of Lexington and Concord. Allegedly, she not only informed Warren of British activity, but also had an affair with him. After rumors were flying around the colonies, Thomas sent her back to England to “tend to the family estate.” Upon the completion of her portrait, John Singleton Copley stated that it was the best painting of a woman he had ever created.
Jean Gordon was a widowed ex-slave who bought her freedom while working as a tavern wench at the Salutation Tavern. The Salutation Tavern was run by another widow (they found themselves to be sisters in spirit, quiet as it’s kept). Gordon learned how to read and write by asking children to share their lessons of the day with her. With that knowledge she wrote little notes to Paul Revere, a North End neighbor, to let him know of haphazard mutterings and movements of British habitués of the tavern.
Born in 1755 in Boston and orphaned at the age of 9, Elizabeth “Betsy” Hager became a “bound girl” working for a family on their farm outside of the city in return for room and board. She gained many useful skills in service, particularly in weaving and the construction of tools and machinery.
Before and during the Revolution, Betsy worked for Samuel Leverett, a blacksmith in Concord, earning her the nickname “Betsy the Blacksmith.” Both Betsy and Leverett were patriots and secretly refit old British weaponry from Queen Anne’s War for use by local militia. After the Battle of Concord, she went out into the field to treat the soldiers and found six cannon left behind by the British, which she retooled for use against the British six weeks later. Throughout the war Betsy made bullets and other ammunition for use by the colonists. She was also well known for her skills in medicine.
After the war, she married John Pratt, a former Concord minuteman, and in 1816, when she was 66 years old, they moved to Northern Pennsylvania where she later died at the age of 88.
Prince Hall, founder of the Prince Hall Masonry, was a prominent leader of the black community in the Northeast. A servant for most of his life, Hall was freed in April 1770, a month after the Boston Massacre. At this time he felt the need to use his own freedom to change the freedom of blacks. His speeches and attempts to gain membership in Masonic Lodges were ignored. After five years of being denied, Hall and 14 black men became the first Masons of color in America at Castle Island in South Boston. In 1776, the first African Lodge was founded with Hall serving as leader. During the Revolutionary War he encouraged African-Americans to join the military and requested equal rights for black soldiers. Hall served as a tireless abolitionist until his death in 1807.
Ebenezer Hancock was born in 1741, five years after his more famous brother John. After their father died in 1744, John was whisked off to Beacon Hill in Boston to be groomed as the new heir of the family business by Uncle Thomas Hancock, and Ebenezer remained with his sister and mother in Bridgewater. Ebenezer abandoned his plan to become a minister like his father so he could become a merchant like his brother and uncle. His business floundered until he went bankrupt. Despite this, he was made Deputy Paymaster-General of the Continental Army, in charge of distributing paychecks to the troops. He was born in 1741 and died of old age in 1819.
Thomas Hutchinson III was born in Boston in 1740. His father, Thomas the elder, was lieutenant governor, Chief Justice of the Superior Court, and in 1771, the Royal Governor of Massachusetts Bay. The Hutchinsons, like many loyalists in the colonies, believed that the revolutionary fervor was the work of a few rabble-rousers and not representative of the feelings of the public at large. After the family home was ransacked and torn apart during the Stamp Act Riots, the Hutchinsons became fervently anti-revolutionary. Thomas Hutchinson III became a merchant like all the Hutchinsons (except for his famous father). In fact, Thomas and his brother Elisha were consignees for 1/3 of the tea that was aboard the three tea ships that docked at Griffin’s Wharf in 1773; this was one of the reasons that Governor Hutchinson refused to allow the ships to leave. On the last day of the deadline for paying duty on the cargo, about 100 Sons of Liberty stormed the three tea ships and threw the tea overboard in what became known as The Boston Tea Party. This galvanized Parliament against the colonists and Governor Hutchinson was replaced by General Thomas Gage after the governor (and his family) were exiled to England.
Born in 1743 to Primus and Margaret Lew in Groton, Barzillai, an African American, was described as "big and strong with an extraordinary talent as a musician." He was a member of the English forces in the 1760 war against the French and Indians serving with Capt. Thomas Farrington’s Company. About 1767, he purchased Dinah Bowman’s freedom for $400 and married her. Early in the American Revolution, his skills and talents were called upon again and he served with Captain John Ford at the Battle of Bunker Hill on June 17, 1775 as a fifer.
With wages from his military service, Barzillai and Dinah purchased a large tract of farmland on the far side of the Merrimack River. They built a house near Varnum Avenue and Totman Road. As active members of the community, he and his wife served as musicians at the Pawtucket Society Church on Mammoth Road, which in 1832 organized the first anti-slavery meeting in Lowell.
North End resident and member of the Sons of Liberty, Capt. Daniel Malcolm’s claim to fame is smuggling 60 casks of wine without paying the duty on it. Job title: smuggler.
Little else is known of him, though his tombstone is well marked in Copps Hill Burying Ground. Daniel Malcolm was born in 1724 and died in 1769.
Jane Franklin Mecom is the youngest of Benjamin Franklin’s sixteen brothers and sisters and the daughter of Josiah and Abiah Franklin. Born on Milk Street in 1712, Jane is the only one of her sisters who learned to write. When Benjamin Franklin left home at the age of seventeen, Jane and Ben, who in their childhood were known as the pair “Jenny and Benny,” kept detailed and frequent correspondence until his death in 1790.
Jane married Edward Mecom, a saddlemaker in Boston, when she was just fifteen years old. They had twelve children, though only one outlived Jane. Two sons ended up in prison, one died of tuberculosis, and several suffered from mental illness. To make ends meet, Jane boiled soap as her father did, took in boarders, and ran a shop, all of which indicate that her husband could not provide for them. Before the Revolution, Jane’s letters often portray her questioning her bad fortune. What caused her to suffer while her next of kin enjoyed success? She lamented, “Though many perish in the womb, even more are nipped in their bloom.”
After Independence was declared, something in her spirit changed. Older, wiser, and free, she was suddenly a fountain of formerly suppressed opinions on the naturally equal rights of women and men. Benjamin Franklin satirized the inequality that his sister described to him under the pen name Polly Baker in a Philadelphia newspaper. Through Ben Franklin’s legacy, Jane Franklin Mecom is an insightful view into the life of the other half the Revolutionary world.
One overlooked patriot of the pre-Revolutionary War was the riotous and outspoken William Molineux. Born in England in 1717, he followed the teachings of the Anglican Church. Unlike his contemporary and close friend Samuel Adams, Molineux stood on the front lines of protest.
Molineux was a hardware merchant who had immigrated to Massachusetts from England. Using the colonies as his business headquarters, he was able to utilize the shipping industry to his advantage to become a successful merchant throughout the world. Sending ships to England and Holland, Molineux was able to establish a successful business within the European trade network. Becoming an opponent of the British Empire’s newly imposed taxes, Molineux became directly involved with many public, sometimes violent protests. One notable and defiant act was when Molineux personally led a crowd of “Mohawk Indians” down to dump tea into Boston Harbor.
The sudden death of Molineux on October 22, 1774 is a debated source of controversy among historians today. Molinuex’s death six months prior to the “shot heard round the world” at Lexington and Concord, raised outrage and suspicion of many colonials as violent confrontations with British occupation rose. Because of Molineux’s direct involvement with demonstrative and rebellious acts against British tyranny, conspiracy theories emerged subscribing to the idea that the unexpected death was a result of foul play. At 58 years old, Molineux had lived a healthy and comfortable lifestyle, and his sudden death was something many would see as another act of King George’s tyrannical body count.
Judith Sargent Murray was born in 1751 and grew up in Gloucester, Massachusetts. She was only 19 on the day of the Boston Massacre in 1770. When British warships approached the coast of Gloucester in 1775, Judith and her family escaped to Ipswich for the winter. The wild spirit of the revolutionaries is perhaps what shaped Judith into the freethinking feminist she was. "The idea of the incapability of women is totally inadmissible" is a direct quote from her self-published book "The Gleaner," which she dedicated to George Washington and John Adams. Judith was the first woman in America to self-publish a book and also the first playwright to have a play produced on the American stage in 1795 at the Boston Theatre on Federal Street. Thomas Paine, a fellow writer made famous by his book "Common Sense" was an aspiring playwright as well. It could have been jealousy that drove him to accuse her of lying. Paine claimed that her well-known second husband John Murray must have been the playwright, but John defended Judith to the end. She was the author of many books, poems, plays and essays and was also among the first Universalists. Judith also helped start a female academy in Dorchester. Judith Sargent Murray died on June 9, 1820, in Natchez, Mississippi.
Elizabeth Murray was born in 1726 in Scotland’s borderlands. She moved to America in her youth and settled in North Carolina before moving to Boston in 1749 at age 22. She became one of the few she-merchants or female shop owners in Boston. She sold imported British goods. Over the years, Elizabeth had three husbands — Thomas Campbell, James Smith, and Ralph Inman. She signed the first prenuptial agreement in America before her marriage to Smith. Inman left Elizabeth to fend for herself in Cambridge on their estate while he took refuge in Tory Boston.
She was accused of being a traitor and a spy. Officers on both sides of the conflict defended her honor. She died in 1785 at age 58. Elizabeth Murray is buried in King's Chapel Burial Ground, and her grave is no longer marked.
Robert Newman (born in 1752) had trained as an artisan, but work at the time was scarce. To support himself and his widowed mother, he took a job as sexton of a nearby church. His fallback career would make him a part of American folklore—his workplace is remembered as “The Old North Church,” and he is remembered as the man who hung the lantern signal for Paul Revere.
In 1775 the steeple of the church was quite visible from across the river in Charlestown. Paul Revere was charged with riding to alert the countryside of the British advance on Lexington. If Revere failed to escape Boston’s boundaries, the lantern lights in the steeple of the “The Old North Church” would ensure that a warning would at least reach Charlestown. One lantern light would indicate that the British were leaving Boston by land, two lights would indicate that they were crossing the river.
Fortunately, Revere succeeded in escaping the city and made his ride to Lexington. Years later, a poem would immortalize Revere, and make passing reference to an anonymous friend who hung the lanterns in the Old North’s steeple.
In 1804, a hurricane destroyed the steeple. That same year, Robert Newman died.
Born around 1738 in Boston, Elizabeth Oliver was the third of 14 children of Andrew Oliver and Mary Sanford. The Oliver family was part of the powerful Loyalist merchant/political faction at this time and the family was related through marriage to the Governor, Thomas Hutchinson.
In 1765, Elizabeth’s father was appointed the commissioner of the Stamp Act. The colonists turned their ire at the Stamp Act toward the Oliver family, specifically Elizabeth's father, Andrew. On August 14, 1765, the mob hanged him in effigy and then beheaded and burned the figure after tearing down his office. The family coach and stable was also set on fire in the attack. At the end of this violent night, the family's home was looted.
The next day, Andrew Oliver resigned from his post and was afterward publicly humiliated by being paraded through the streets and resigning a second time at the Liberty Tree on August 17. It is probable that Elizabeth, like most of her Loyalist family, moved to another part of the British Empire after the American Revolution.
Elizabeth Otis was the youngest daughter of James Otis. James Otis was famously known for being outspoken against the British — most specifically for speaking against the Writs of Assistance in 1761. Elizabeth, however, did not follow her father's political inclinations and infuriated him when she fell in love and married a British soldier. In his will, James Otis left his daughter one measely shilling. After Elizabeth's husband was injured in the Battle of Bunker Hill, he secured a new position in London.
James Otis is well known for his famous speech inside the Old State House, "Taxation without representation is Tyranny!" He was born in Barnstable, Massachusetts, on February 5, 1725 and was dubbed "The Great Patriot." He was known as the greatest speaker of the day for the rights of the colonists.
Jeremiah Poope was born on October 2, 1745, in Roxbury, Massachusetts, the 13th of 18 children born to Mehitable Clapp and Rev. Increase Poope. The first Poope landed on these shores in 1629 at Salem, and Jeremiah is descended from him. His occupation was a journeyman yeoman. Jeremiah died in 1775 when the small boat in which he was rowing out to the Battle of Bunker Hill was blown out of the water by a British man-o-war. His remains were believed to be in the Granary Burial Ground, until a recent revelation that he is actually interred in both Forest Hill Cemetery in Jamaica Plain, Massachusetts and Mount Auburn Cemetery in Cambridge, MA.
Dr. Samuel Prescott was born in Concord, MA on August 19th, 1751. He and his brother, along with their father and his father before him, were all doctors. His private practice in Concord was opened shortly before the Revolution. Sometime during his apprenticeship, he joined the Sons of Liberty, and delivered messages for the Committee of Correspondence for Concord, often riding to and from John Hancock's and Samuel Adams' houses.
On the night of April 18th, 1775, Dr. Prescott was visiting with his fiancé, Miss Lydia Mulliken at her house in Lexington, MA. Departing late in the evening, he began his ride home to Concord, at which time he bumped into Paul Revere and William Dawes on their way out to Concord from the Hancock-Clarke house. He accompanied them and escaped British troops who attempted to arrest the trio. Dr. Prescott was the only rider that night to successfully reach Concord.
After joining the Continental Army as a medic, Dr. Prescott accompanied Henry Knox to Ft. Ticonderoga and helped to liberate Boston from the British siege. He then volunteered aboard a privateering ship and was captured by British troops. He was sent to a POW prison in Halifax, Nova Scotia, where he died in his cell of cold and starvation in 1777.
Josiah Quincy II (1744-1775) lived a short, but impactful life in colonial Boston. He was a Harvard graduate who shared a law practice with John Adams. As a writer, he was a regular contributor to the highly political Boston Gazette newspaper.
After the Boston Massacre, Quincy and Adams defended the soldiers against the charges of murder and manslaughter brought by the angry and bloodthirsty town, in what was the colonial trial of the century. Though it was a highly unpopular defense that was contrary to their own political leanings, Josiah felt the soldiers were entitled "by the laws of God and man to all legal counsel and aid." The prosecuting attorneys included Robert Treat Paine and Josiah’s older brother Samuel Quincy, a loyalist. Quincy and Adams proved that the soldiers were essentially trying to protect themselves from an unruly, violent mob and got most of the soldiers acquitted of all charges.
In September 1774, Josiah sailed for England on a diplomatic mission to gain allies for the colonies amongst some sympathetic British politicians. Returning successfully from the mission, Josiah Quincy died of tuberculosis at the age of 31 on April 26th 1775, just a week after the American Revolution began in Lexington and Concord. His son Josiah Quincy III was the second mayor of the city of Boston and the man who oversaw the building of Quincy Market near Faneuil Hall.
Rachel Revere was the second wife of Paul Revere. They were married in 1773; she was 27 and he was 37. By the time of his famous ride, they had a newborn daughter together. She went on to bear eight children. Rachel Revere was known for her sunny disposition and devotion to her children, including the eight children Paul had by his first wife, Sara Orne. Rachel lived until 1810 and is buried with Paul at the Granary Burial Ground. It was widely known that Rachel and Paul were close and had a happy marriage.
Thankful Rice was born in Boston in June 1760. After the Boston Tea Party, when the Quartering Act was issued, she worked as a maid in Loyalist household that housed several soldiers. She would hide in the butler's pantry and told her father what she heard. Her father, a cobbler, would write the information down and hide the notes in the shoes he would repair and make for men in the Sons of Liberty. Thankful married a farmer and died in childbirth in 1786.
Born in Plympton, MA, Deborah Samson was already hard at work by the age of five. After her father, Jonathan Samson, Jr., abandoned her family, she worked as a seamstress’ apprentice to support her mother, Deborah Bradford, and six siblings. Ten years passed as Deborah worked on a Middleborough farm and by the time she was 18, Deborah was a school teacher. However, she spent most of her adolescence as a farm hand, growing as strong as the boys who labored with her. When she was approximately 21, Deborah marched into a Bellingham tavern and enlisted in the 4th Massachusetts Regiment of the Continental Army under the alias “Robert Shirtliffe.”
Serving for a little over one year, Deborah was stationed in upstate New York, where her regiment maintained control over uproarious Loyalists who refused to support the Revolution. She engaged in hand-to-hand combat and suffered a musket ball wound to her upper thigh. Rather than expose her true identity, Deborah dug the musket ball out her leg with her knife and wasn’t discovered until she later fainted from a fever. The punishment for a woman impersonating a man was severe, but Deborah had deceived her entire regiment and the Continental Army. On October 23, 1783, General George Washington hand delivered a notice of honorable discharge to Deborah, making her not only the first woman to serve in the American Military, but the first to be honorably discharged.
After her military service ended, Deborah continued to work diligently, touring the country speaking about her military experiences. “The American Heroine,” as Deborah was coined, was the first professional female lecturer. Deborah Samson married Benjamin Gannet in 1785 and together they had three children. Her life spanned nearly seven decades and she passed away in Sharon, MA on April 29, 1827 in a home built by her son, which still stands today.
On May 23, 1983, Governor Michael J. Dukakis named Deborah Samson “The Official Heroine of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts.”
Born in 1750, the Chevalier de Saint-Sauveur was a minor French nobleman who served as the chamberlain for the brother of King Louis XVI before enlisting as a lieutenant in the French Navy. He came to America with Admiral d’Estang’s fleet, which stopped in Boston for repairs in late August of 1778. Upon arrival, Admiral d’Estang set up a bakery for his men, which several days later was looted by Bostonians during a brawl. No one is sure who started the brawl or why, but during the commotion the Chevalier was gravely wounded in the eye. He died a week later on September 15, 1778.
The colonial army and the people of Boston were quick to distance themselves from the event. Having signed a treaty with the French just seven months before, they fear bed that such a tragedy would put the alliance in jeopardy. Plans were quickly drafted for a memorial for the Chevalier to be erected by King’s Chapel where he was interred. Yet for some reason the town never voted on approving the memorial and the Chevalier faded from public consciousness. French officials in the 1910s would rediscover the Chevalier’s story and would pressure the city to finally build the monument. It was completed in 1917 and remains visible outside of King’s Chapel to this day.
Isaiah Thomas was born in 1749 in Boston, Massachusetts, where he published The Massachusetts Spy from 1771 until April 16, 1775, three days before the Battle of Lexington and Concord. Foreseeing the impeding turbulence, he moved his entire operation to Worcester, Massachusetts, where he also gave the city’s first public reading of the Declaration of Independence. Thomas remained in Worcester after the war, opening printing offices, bookstores, paper mills and a bindery where he published books, newspapers, sheet music and pamphlets. Thomas published over 400 books including the first dictionary printed in America. Keenly aware of the power and importance of history, Thomas published, History of Printing in America and would go on to start the American Antiquarian Society, to whom he left his entire library after his death in Worcester in 1831. Explaining the need for an institution such as the American Antiquarian Society Thomas wrote, "We cannot obtain a knowledge of those who are to come after us, nor are we certain what will be the events of future times; as it is in our power, so it should be our duty, to bestow on posterity that which they cannot give to us, but which they may enlarge and improve and transmit to those who shall succeed them."
Mercy Otis Warren was born September 14, 1728, in West Barnstable, the third child and first daughter of Mary and James Otis Sr. Mercy set herself apart by being a voracious reader, always hungry for new knowledge and books.
Young Mercy insisted on being educated alongside her brothers and read Shakespeare, Pope, and Milton. When her older brother James attended Harvard College, he would bring home new ideas and books to share with Mercy. Still, Mercy was a proper young woman, marrying James Warren and bearing five sons.
She occasionally wrote poetry about personal losses and the beauty of nature but inspired by her outspoken brother James, and her close friendship with John and Abigail Adams, Mercy began to turn her pen to more political topics. In 1772 she wrote her first play The Adulateur a satire featuring a Governor Hutchinson-like villain and became the first female American playwright. The play was so popular that names from the play were used as pseudonyms for their real life counterparts. Other plays soon followed. Because of strict Puritan laws against theatrical performance, Mercy’s plays were not performed but were published anonymously in local newspapers and pamphlets. She also published patriotic themed poems, including one commissioned by John Adams to celebrate the triumph of the Boston tea party. The masterwork of her writing was a three-volume history of the Revolution titled History of the Rise, Progress, and Termination of the American Revolution. Mercy died in 1814 at the age of 86.
Richard Waite was born in England in the 1590s and was a Boston tailor and a member of the Ancient and Honorable Artillery Company. He received 300 acres of land for his service as a sergeant in the Pequot War, 1636-1637. He was a follower of Anne Hutchinson and after stealing some buckskin leather to make some gloves he was cast out of the First Church in 1639. The next child born into his family was named "Return" indicating Richard repented and compensated for his action and was restored into fellowship. In total he was excommunicated three times, once for the theft and twice for drunkenness; all three times he was eventually readmitted into the church. Waite became sheriff of the colony and served as liaison between the Algonquin tribes and the Puritan government, acquiring some proficiency in the native dialect. He passed away in 1680.
Phillis Wheatley was the first African-American, and the third woman in the United States to publish a book of poems. Born in 1753 she was kidnapped in West Africa and transported aboard the slave ship Phillis to Boston in 1761, where she was purchased by John Wheatley as a servant for his wife. Young Phillis quickly learned to speak English and to read the Bible with amazing fluency. Because of her poor health, obvious intelligence, and Susannah Wheatley’s fondness for her, Phillis was never trained as a domestic; instead she was encouraged by the Wheatleys to study theology and the English, Latin and Greek classics. She published her first poem in 1767, and six years later, she published a book Poems on Various Subjects. That same year, John Wheatley emancipated her.
Wheatley achieved international renown, traveling to London to promote her book and being called upon as well as received by noted social and political figures of the day — including George Washington, to whom she wrote a poem of praise at the beginning of the war, and Voltaire, who referred to her "very good English verse."
Wheatley was a supporter of the American Revolution, but the war hurt the publication of her poetry. Wheatley lived in poverty after her 1778 marriage to John Peters, a free black Bostonian. Although Wheatley advertised for subscriptions to a second volume of poems and letters, she died before she was able to secure a publisher. Her final manuscript was never found. Wheatley died alone on December 5, 1784, at age 31.
George Wright was born November 18th, 1745, in Boston. He followed in his father’s footsteps of becoming a cabinetmaker yet was rumored to have secretly been involved in theatre. Wright lived his adult life on 5th Street in Boston. George was present at the Boston Massacre on March 5, 1770. He also attended the trials as a spectator. A frustrated artist, Wright lived alone and never married. He died October 10, 1790.
Prudence Cummings Wright was born on November 26th, 1740, in Groton, Massachusetts. When she turned 21, she married David Wright and moved to the parish of Pepperell. By the time the Revolution began she was 35, and she had given birth to seven children. Prudence was a fierce supporter of the revolutionary cause despite being the sister of two loyalists (Samuel and Thomas Cummings). On April 19, 1775, word came to Pepperell that the regulars were on the march. All of the minutemen from Pepperell and surrounding areas rushed off to fight.
After finding out that the redcoats were coming through Pepperell to spread information to commanding officers, Prudence decided to take matters into her own hands. She gathered all of the women of her town and had them don their husbands' clothes. They collected whatever weapons they could find (the men had taken most of the guns so they were brandishing pitchforks for the most part) and assembled at Jewett’s Bridge. Prudence was elected captain and they awaited the arrival of the redcoats. Sure enough, her brother Samuel Cummings and Captain Whiting came across the bridge. She shouted "Halt!" and her brother said, "I recognize Pru's voice. She would wade through blood for the rebel cause." The men dismounted and Prudence confiscated the loyalist documents they were carrying. She delivered the documents to the Committee of Safety, and the men were set free on the terms that they leave the colony. Prudence never saw her brother again and died in 1824.