240 years ago, the “shot heard ’round the world” launched the famous battles of Lexington and Concord. Less well-known is a battle that almost came to pass at Marshfield, Massachusetts, where Plymouth County soldiers gathered to fight in the aftermath of Lexington and Concord.
Word of the fighting at Lexington and Concord had reached Plymouth County via messengers on horseback by the afternoon of April 19th, 1775. The majority of towns in Plymouth County, including Pembroke (whose west parish later became Hanson) had Patriot sympathies, and many of them immediately gathered their local militias in response. But Lexington and Concord, thirty some-odd miles away, was not the main concern of Plymouth County residents. They had a threat much closer to home: Three months earlier, in January 1775, Marshfield, the only Loyalist center in the area, had invited a British regiment of over one hundred soldiers to lodge in the town. This was in part due to events which culminated in the fall of 1774, when a mob said to include more than 2,000 Plymouth County Patriots gathered in Marshfield to protest Loyalist Nathaniel Ray Thomas. Thomas escaped to Boston in advance of the mob, narrowly missing a possible attack on his life and estate. Marshfield therefore held the unique position of being the only town in Massachusetts, besides Boston, to be occupied by British troops for a substantial period of time before the Revolutionary War began. The presence of the British soldiers in Marshfield, led by Captain Nesbit Balfour, only served to increase tension in Plymouth County between January and April 1775.
Plymouth’s Theophilus Cotton led the Plymouth County patriot regiment. He gathered the various town militias at Duxbury, allowing both the 19th and 20th to pass without direct action against Marshfield, hoping to either allow more time for additional town militias to gather, or to allow time to see if the British soldiers would simply return to their larger force at Boston. On April 21st, Cotton led the Plymouth County soldiers near the British garrison at Marshfield, and it was estimated by noon on that day that Cotton had 500 soldiers compared to Balfour’s 100. But still Cotton waited. Kingston’s Captain Peleg Wadsworth “greatly dissatisfied by the delay”, drew his men within firing range of the garrison, but felt his numbers were too small to fire on the British.
With additional Plymouth County soldiers gathering around the British garrison, the dramatic siege quickly ended when it was revealed that Capt. Balfour and his soldiers were picked up by boats and brought to Boston. It was later rumored that Balfour claimed “that if he had been attacked, he should have surrendered without a gun”. Although Capt. Wadsworth and many of the Plymouth County soldiers were ready for a fight, no blood was shed at Marshfield that day, compared to the battles at Concord and Lexington in which the colonists suffered the deaths of 49, wounding of 39, and five who were missing, as well as the British who lost 73 soldiers, and had 174 soldiers injured and 26 missing.
49 men from the West Parish of Pembroke gathered under the leadership of Captain James Hatch of Pembroke and joined the march on Marshfield. They served from April 19th until the 29th of April, a total of 11 days. After the hasty departure of the British soldiers from Marshfield to Boston, they left behind supplies which the Plymouth County soldiers confiscated. Patrols were then established to determine that the British would not be returning to their garrison, located on the Nathaniel Ray Thomas estate in Marshfield (later purchased by Daniel Webster). Below is a transcription of Captain James Hatch’s muster roll for his men’s service. The Hanson men were not provided a salary for their service until almost a year later, on 14 March 1776, just as the siege of Boston was coming to an end.
Muster Roll of a Company in Minute Men that Marched from the West Parish of Pembroke to Scituate and Marshfield, on the Alarm of 19th of April, 1775.
Length of service 19 April to 29 April, 11 days.
Captain [£6 per month]. James Hatch.
Lieutenants [£2.8 per month]. Consider Cole, 1st Lieutenant[£4 per month]. Eleazer Hamblin, 2nd Lieutenant [£3 10 s per month].
Sergeant [£2.4 per month]. Caleb Howland, Thomas Fuller, Nathaniel Thomas, Seth Phillips.
Corporals. Daniel Crooker, Samuel Howland, Ephraim Briggs, Lyons Tsar.
Musicians. Ezekiel Bonney, fifer. Isaac Wade, drummer.
Privates [£2 per month]. Increase Robinson, Isaac Beals, Seth Perry, William Cox Jr., Isaac Moore, Isaac Phillips, Christopher Phillips, John Stutson, Isaac Bonney, Reuben Clark, Elijah Cushing 3d, Daniel Child, Eleazer Bisby, David Beals, Leonard Hill, Benjamin Munroe, Thomas Lincoln, Lot Phillips, Ephraim Lindsy, Abraham Josselyn Jr., William Bonney, William Gould, Benjamin Guilliam, Seth Cox, Africa Hamblin, Alexander Soper, Daniel Garnet Jr., William Hayford, Richard Baker Jr., Hezekiah Pearce, Samuel Harden, Jonathan Bonney, Abijah Levett, Gershom Ramsdall, Samuel Gorham, Charles Jewett, Tilden Crooker.
Citation: R. G. Carter, “Muster Roll of a Company in Minute Men that Marched from the West Parish of Pembroke to Scituate and Marshfield, on the Alarm of 19th of April, 1775”, Putnam’s Monthly Historical Magazine and Magazine of New England, Vol. 4 No. 1 (January 1896): 23-24.