New book delves into Lincoln’s Minutemen
Joshua Child, Scipio Brister, and Levi Brooks.
These soldiers, honored every Patriots Day with a fife solo and musket salute, defended Lincoln at the dawn of the Revolutionary War.
Or did they?
Richard Wiggin had his doubts.
As captain of the Lincoln Minute Men, historical reenactors, Wiggin inherited a roster of Revolutionary War soldiers buried in town, and wondered, beyond their antiquated names, who they were.
“We were celebrating the men on this list, but what was their provenance? No one had verified it,’’ the 64-year-old Lincoln resident said.
Intrigued, he spent months poring over treasury statements in the town library, checking names against service records. It didn’t take long to determine that not only was the list flawed, little was known about these patriots. He dug deeper.
“I wanted to bring these men to life and show them as people,” said Wiggin.
Seven years later, he has done just that.
His book, “Embattled Farmers: Campaigns and Profiles of Revolutionary Soldiers from Lincoln, Massachusetts, 1775-1783,” comes out on Monday, this year’s Patriots Day holiday. A launch party will take place from 5 to 7:30 p.m. at the Lincoln Public Library, 3 Bedford Road.
Published by the Lincoln Historical Society, it is filled with profiles of Lincoln’s 252 militia members and four loyalist soldiers, battles they fought, and snapshots of the 1700s agricultural community.
In his research, Wiggin uncovered 55 new war heroes. He also outed some long-heralded “soldiers,” such as Levi Brooks, who was 12 when the war broke out, and never set foot on Battle Road the fighting on April 19, 1775.
“There is a myth of the Minutemen and then there is the reality of the Minutemen,” said Wiggin. “The reality is sometimes more interesting .”
Tracing stories like that of Jonathan Gage, a Lincoln soldier held prisoner on a British ship, drew him in, Wiggin said.
In his pension records, Gage describes his role in a skirmish, known as Young’s House, in 1780 outside New York City, and states he was never paid for service. Wounded by a sword to the head and a “bayonet to my body,” he nearly died. Such nuggets kept the project rolling.
“It brings it out. Now Jonathan Gage is a real person,” said Wiggin, a retired life sciences executive with a fascination for the Revolutionary War.
Local historian Jack MacLean, who edited the book, considers “Embattled Farmers” a new take on a well-told story.
“Typically material on the Revolution deals with different battles. This looks at where people that took part in it came from,” said MacLean, whose 1987 book, “A Rich Harvest,” is considered the definitive word on Lincoln’s history. “It makes for a more personal orientation than what you usually get.”
Beyond shedding light on the farmers who took on the redcoats 238 years ago, the book refocuses attention on Lincoln’s role in the Revolution.
Paul Revere was captured here, and Lincoln was also the site of the Bloody Angle battle, where the Minutemen ambushed the British on their return march to Boston.
Long overshadowed by Lexington and Concord, Lincoln seems to have “just missed the headlines,” said MacLean.
To bring the era’s townspeople to life, Wiggin created kinship charts showing the soldiers’ lineage. The family tree of Mary Stearns and John Cutler, for example, finds both patriots and loyalists among their children and grandchildren, showing anew that the war divided more than the Colonies and the British crown.
Wiggin discovered most in town were related to one another. About half the soldiers who fought in the war were brothers, cousins, or uncles. Many shared the same last name.
“No one’s looked at this thoroughly before. In Colonial times these were small towns, and everyone was related,” he said.
While truly a Lincoln-centric book, “Embattled Farmers” resonates beyond the community .
“It’s dealing with one town, but the interest is broader in nature. People interested in the American Revolution” will like the book, said MacLean.
It is surprising more than historians. Lincoln resident Ephraim Flint, reached by telephone last week, learned he was named after a Revolutionary War militiaman said to have captured a British solider and served at Dorchester Heights. Wiggin covers this in his book.
“I had always heard that most of the Flints were sleeping that day,” said Flint. “We were not really an activist family.”
While not enthralled by his family’s history, Flint said, he finds the broader trends of American independence interesting, and plans to read the book. “If you think what those farmers started, if you think of what George Washington did with some unruly farmers that he couldn’t stand, it’s pretty amazing. It’s always fun to see where our forefathers started, and the sacrifices that they were willing to make.”
The sacrifices he made in writing the book — including seven years of research, trips to the National Archives and a Revolutionary War library in Pennsylvania, and out-of-pocket expenses without an advance — didn’t faze him, Wiggin said. Like the Minutemen on Battle Road, he plunged ahead.
“I never set out to write this. It was an accident,” he said.
But the more he learned, the more he wanted to share.
“It’s important history for people to know. I thought the wrong thing would be to let it disappear.”