The Whittemores or…getting down and ugly for the sake of authenticity.

Last year I wrote at length about Patriots Day and the Battle Road event in which we participated as part of McAlpin’s Corps of Loyal American Volunteers. While last year’s event was definitely successful, Mr. H. and I decided that we needed to step up our game a bit this time. We are certainly not actors (see my post on that account here), but we felt like we hurried through the scenario last year and we both admitted to it feeling a bit awkward. Mr. H. also pointed out that even though I tried to dress “down” somewhat, I actually “looked pretty” last year, and would a middle-aged woman taking care of her sick daughter, as well as her daughter’s 2 little boys under age 5 and their newborn baby sister really be worrying about wearing that nice blue gown and pretty green bonnet whilst trying to hide the valuables and fleeing from the approaching King’s army? Um…probably not. I also knew that a green silk bonnet could be documented to New York and PA (5 references) but not to New England (yet). It’s not impossible that Mrs. Whittemore could have had a green bonnet, but the vast majority were black.

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The 3rd Mrs. Whittemore at home (last year). Methinks she looks a bit too happy, and fancy, for a woman running for her life and hiding in the woods. Photo by J. Henry

We knew that the Whittemore family were “farmers” but we weren’t quite sure what that meant in the 18th-century sense. My husband grew up on a dairy farm in the 20th-century, so he knew how that worked and what type of questions to ask. How many acres did they have? Were there other buildings on the property? Did Mr. W. have a trade other than farming? Did they have animals, and if so how many? What sort of crops did they grow? Did they have any sort of help with the work? Were they wealthy, middling, or rather poor? What might they have been wearing that day? We set out to find the answers to those questions.

The first order of business was to re-read the information found last spring: documents from Ancestry.com, and an article in the Boston Globe about the family. Info in Ancestry is sometimes incomplete or incorrect, but much of it was useful. In some cases, I was able to link to the vital records of the town and find the marriage records. I also contacted the historian mentioned in the Boston Globe article, Polly Kienle, and she very kindly shared her information with me. Jacob Whittemore was born on March 3, 1721, and died in 1780, which made him 54 on April 19, 1775. His first wife was named Esther Whittemore and was his cousin. Imagine that, cousin Esther didn’t even have to change her name when she married. How convenient! They married on October 28, 1746, when Jacob was 25 and Esther was 16 (born in 1730). The data gets mixed up here because Ancestry says that Esther died in 1753, but according to the Concord vital records, Jacob married his 2nd wife, Deborah Flagg in 1749 because Esther had died giving birth. Their daughter Esther was born in 1748. Ancestry says that cousin Esther had 2 other children in 1747 (Milton) and 1749 (Artemus) but there is no other mention of those children. So, did she die giving birth to Esther, or did she die giving birth to another child a year later? There weren’t any other leads online for me to follow, so for now at least, on to other things. As far as I could tell, poor cousin Esther died when she was 18 or 19, leaving at least 1 child, but possibly 3 behind. With an infant(s) to care for, Jacob would have wasted no time in finding a mother for the poor child(ren), and so he married Deborah Flagg on October 19, 1749. Deborah was born on February 13, 1719, so she was 30 when she married 28-year-old Jacob, and she wasted no time having children. A child named Jonathan was born in 1750 and again, there are no records as to what happened to him. It is presumed that he died young because there is no mention of him elsewhere. Another daughter named Sarah was born on November 1, 1751, and Deborah died shortly after giving birth to her. This leaves our Jake a single dad with 2 little girls for certain, and possibly 2 or 3 little boys but…we don’t know what happened to them so they could already have died. Anyway, at this point, what does Jakie need? You got it, he needs another wife! He marries Concord spinster Elizabeth (or Elisabeth) Hoar (yep, cue all THOSE jokes) on December 5, 1754, so we know that he was a single dad for about 3 years. What did he do? Who took care of those kids? Inquiring minds want to know! According to Ms. Kienle’s information, Lizzie was probably born in 1722, though her date of birth is not listed. She was the 6th of 7 children so she probably didn’t have a big dowry, and let’s face it, she was an old-maid at 32 so she was lucky Jake would have her, right? Seriously, her family was prominent in Concord so it was likely an advantageous match. In any case, she took on 6-year-old Esther and 3-year-old Sarah and raised them like her own. The family lived with various relatives in a crowded house Jacob inherited from his father Nathaniel, and the girls married local boys who may or may not have helped out on the farm. Esther married Benjamin Brown and had 10 children, and Sarah married Moses Reed and had 9 children.

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Between the 1771 land records, and information compiled and provided by Ms. Kienle, we were able to determine that Mr. Whittemore owned 114 acres which consisted of meadow, orchard, and woods both north and south of the Concord road, and that in addition to a “mansion” house (the house is large today but is not a mansion in the modern sense; this term refers to the basic 2 over 2 style of the house) there was a barn, a corn house, a cider mill, and a blacksmith shop not owned by the family but run by the Browns (possibly relatives of daughter Esther’s husband). Exact numbers varied between the 1771 records and Jacob’s probate inventory at the time of his death in 1780, but the family had 1-2 horses, a pair of oxen, up to 5 cows, some sheep, a pig, and at one time a sow and piglets. They also probably had chicken and/or geese, but those are not mentioned, nor are dogs (for sheep-herding) or cats. They had 20 barrels of cider from the orchard in their cider mill, and they had 3 tons of English hay and 5 tons of meadow hay. It appears that the family was neither particularly well off, nor particularly poor; rather they would have been the “middling sort” managing a working farm. Significantly, they did not have “servants for life”, which meant that there were no enslaved people living with the family. We assume that Mr. and Mrs. Whittemore and their children worked the farm. Since there were 3 women and 1 man, it is likely that there were local young men from neighboring families helping with the heavy work. We don’t know this for certain, but it is a reasonable conclusion to draw. Moses and Sarah Reed remained on the farm after they married, so there were at least 2 adult men to take care of the heavier work. There is probably enough information about pre-20th-century farm work and the division of labor into “men’s and women’s work” for another blog post, so I’ll leave that off for now. Details about the property itself can be found in the National Park Service (NPS) publication “Scene of the Battle”.

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On April 19, 1775, the family in what is now called “The Jacob Whittemore House” near the Minuteman National Historical Park visitor center consisted of Jacob and Elizabeth, daughter Sarah and her husband Moses Reed, their 2 little boys; 4-year-old Whittemore and 2-year-old Moses, and baby Sarah, born on April 1, 1775. Sarah was considerably unwell following the birth (don’t worry, she had 6 more kids and lived until 1830). The family buried their valuables and fled the house just before the King’s troops leaving Concord came back through on their return to Boston amidst heavy fighting. They carried Sarah out on a mattress and hid in the woods some distance behind the house. There was a skirmish on the property, and a wounded soldier may have been brought to the blacksmith shop for medical treatment. I found no accounts of damage to the Whittemore’s house or personal property, (though that doesn’t necessarily mean they escaped entirely unscathed) but other neighbors were not so fortunate. Many had furniture, crockery, and looking glasses smashed, and furniture and houses or barns burned by the retreating soldiers who became angrier the closer they got to Boston.

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After we obtained all of the information we could, we needed to get ourselves into character. Since I had access to information from Jacob Whittemore’s probate inventory, we wanted to know what he might have been wearing. He had a “blew” coat and waistcoat (called a jacket in the inventory), as well as a “brown jacket”, a “blew” greatcoat, black wool breeches, leather breeches, and trousers. There was no description of his shirts (whether they were made of white linen or something else). He also had a “beaver hat” (no mention of the style), boots, 2 pair of shoes, and silver buckles. Mr. H. has a blue wool 1770s style coat and blue wool 1760s style waistcoat but when he tried it on he felt that it was too heavy for the weather. He also has matching blue wool breeches. He decided this time to wear the coat and waistcoat from his 1760s “ditto suit” (ditto suit: 3 matching pieces) and the hand dyed, now faded, gray linen canvas breeches (but not the matching waistcoat), as well as a blue checked linen “work” shirt with a white neckcloth, so that his pieces were mixed, as if he’d grabbed the breeches for working and his decent coat, hat, and neckcloth. This is fairly similar to what he wore last year. The plan for next year is to have his clothes more closely match the inventory to the best of our ability.

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Mr. Jacob Whittemore in his kitchen

In planning Mrs. Whittemore’s outfit, I had to think about what she might have been thinking. The night before, Paul Revere and the riders (no, no, not the 60s rock group…that was Paul Revere and the RAIDERS, silly) were out calling the alarm. At some time between 1 and 2 in the morning, the Whittemore and Reed families would have been awakened by the pounding of hooves and the alarm cry of “the Regulars are coming out!” Paul Revere was captured just west of the site of the Whittemore house at around 2 a.m. (see his account of that night in this deposition) so it is highly likely that he and William Dawes, and possibly Samuel Prescott rode from Lexington Common along the road past the Whittemore house.

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In case you wanted to know what he looked like, here’s John Singleton Copley’s portrait of Paul Revere, painted a few years prior to the action.

The adults in the family likely passed a mostly sleepless night, though they no doubt tried to get the little children back to sleep and perhaps encouraged their ill daughter to take some rest. In the early morning hours, the church bells began to toll the warning, and signal gunshots (typically 3 shots in a row) were being fired to call out the militia to Lexington Common. Moses Reed was 26 and Jacob Whittemore 54, so although Jacob was on the older side, both men must have been expected to turn out with the militia. So why didn’t they? Were they Tory sympathizers? Conscientious objectors? Probably not, as Moses Reed later joined the Continental Army. Of course, we have no way of knowing for certain, but it is likely that Jacob, having lost 2 wives to complications of childbirth, and possibly having lost 3 children to early death, was not inclined to leave his daughter alone in a state of ill health with 2 children under the age of 5 and a newborn to care for. He had to have known that if she couldn’t walk, her step-mother could not possibly have assisted her and the children out of the house alone, thus putting them in danger of molestation by the troops. He may also have encouraged his son-in-law Moses to remain behind in order to keep the family together and keep him from danger while his wife was ill. At approximately 5 a.m. the conflict on Lexington Common occurred, and it is possible that the noise from the guns and the shouting could be heard at the house from 2 miles east. Almost certainly the Regulars passed the house in the early hours of the morning as they marched toward Concord, 7 miles away, and the family may have seen them out the windows. It is likely that Elizabeth Whittemore would have had to leave the house and visit the barn to help her husband feed the animals, as well as feed the children and the rest of the family their breakfast amid the anxiety and turmoil, then pack and hide the household valuables in case the worst should happen. My assumption was that she would have reached for her dark-colored work clothes, and would not have worried about how she looked that morning. For this reason, I chose a dark green petticoat, and a dark green gown of a slightly different shade, a dirty blue checked apron, and a white cap and neck handkerchief (common accessories for the middling sort). To venture outside, an old, slightly tattered black silk bonnet, dark green wool mitts, and a short black wool hooded cloak were selected. Incidentally, we have no record of what sort of relationship Elizabeth had with her step-daughter, but she raised her from the age of 3, and Sarah later named one of her daughters Elizabeth, so I choose to think that she probably loved her as if she were her real mama.

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Elizabeth, Sarah, and Jacob. Nope, not a real baby! Photo courtesy Elizabeth Sulock

As the Regulars left Concord to march back toward Boston the fighting became heavy, and the neighbors began to become alarmed as the fighting moved closer. The further east the troops came, the more officers they lost, and the more casualties they suffered, the angrier they became. They began to destroy property, to shoot into the houses, and to set buildings afire. Some people hid in cellars and attics, but for the most part, the women and children fled to safety. The Whittemores hid the valuables, and just before the Regulars arrived they fled the house, carrying Sarah out on a mattress, taking cover in the woods behind the house. We can imagine them hearing the shouting and the gunfire coming closer and closer, seeing the smoke from neighboring homes being set on fire, seeing livestock running free through the fields, having been set free in anticipation of barns being set ablaze by the soldiers, and seeing panicked friends and neighbors running down the road and through back fields seeking safety. We can only imagine the sheer terror they felt leaving the house, not knowing if they would even have a home to which to return, and fearing for the lives of Sarah and the baby. It was this, that we would have to recreate during the civilian evacuation scenario we had planned at our event.

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Map of where the fighting occurred on the afternoon of April 19, 1775. The Whittemore House is near Fiske Hill, where the fighting was heavy and near where “Parker’s Revenge” took place.

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The horsemen cometh

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Evacuating the house. Photo provided by Hannah Peterson, taken by Josh Hasbrouck

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Amos Doolittle, Print #4 “View of the South Side of Lexington” as the column marched back to Boston under heavy fire. Note the houses/barns all ablaze.

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Non-professional photo by me

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Professional photo by John Collins

All in all, most of us did what we could to put ourselves in the appropriate mood. In fact, as Mr. H. and I were bringing our wheelbarrow up to take our places prior to the start of the evacuation (which had civilians heading from the William Smith house down to the Whittemore House) we’d been talking about all those things in the previous paragraph, and we encountered an unfamiliar British officer (i.e. not one of our actual friends). For just a split second, until he spoke to me pleasantly, I had this odd, unsettling moment of gut-wrenching anxiety. To our credit, during the scenario, no one smiled or laughed and we all look quite grim in all the photos from the day. I look appropriately ugly and unpleasant in most of the photos I’ve seen, as if I hadn’t slept and perhaps had been crying (it was cold and my nose was red; I’ll spare you all that photo)…not how one wishes to look on any given day, but hopefully indicative of our success in capturing the mood of the situation. We were unfortunately not able to carry our “daughter” out on a mattress, so we supported her between us, but we now have another year in which to figure out how best to do that next year! At the end of the day, we feel a strange kinship with Mr. and Mrs. Whittemore, and we hope we have done justice to their memories.

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Professional photo by John Collins. This was taken as we made our way up to the house prior to the evacuation scenario, and just after we ran into the officer on the road.

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Her parents help Sarah and the baby to leave the house, while Moses brings a wheelbarrow of the family’s possessions that were not hidden, as they head for the woods. Incidentally, baby Sarah was born just prior to the start of the American Revolution in April 1775, and died at the age of 90 in April 1865 just after the end of the Civil War. Photo provided by Hannah Peterson and taken by Josh Hasbrouck.

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Mr. Whittemore converses with Deacon Mason.

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Mr. W. with the Mason family upon returning home to find his house unscathed. Mrs. Mason’s brother was not so lucky. His barn was burned to the ground.

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The women and children (and some men to help us) of Lincoln and Lexington. Photo courtesy Ruth Hodges. We thank Ruth, the officers of McAlpin’s Corps, and the NPS for working so hard to coordinate the scenario this year.

Note: Photos by K. Henry unless otherwise indicated in the caption. All rights reserved.

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