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Bunker Hill Honor Roll

 

BUNKER HILL ROLL OF HONOR

On the second floor of Lowell’s Pollard Memorial Library there hangs a framed proclamation titled “Bunker Hill Roll of Honor.” It identifies those who lived on the land that became the city of Lowell who participated in the Battle of Bunker Hill on June 17, 1775. Here is the text of the document.

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BUNKER HILL ROLL OF HONOR

The lists of the names of the men from Chelmsford, Dracut and Tewksbury, who fought on that memorable 17th of June, have been compiled from the original records, and it seems but a slight recognition of their services to preserve these lists which form a Roll of Honor of the men who fought on Bunker Hill.

The men who lived and loved and labored within our original boundaries and whose patriotism on that day made it possible for our fair city of Lowell to have existence.

Chelmsford

Officers: Colonel Ebenezer Bridge; Lieutenant Colonel Moses Parker; Major John Brooks; Adjutant Joseph Fox; Quarter-Master John Bridge; Surgeon Walker Hastings; Assistant Surgeon John Sprague.

Captain Benjamin Walker’s Company

Charles Fletcher; Zaccheus Fletcher; Joseph Blood; Joseph Osgood; Joshua Durant; Thomas Marshall; John Adams; Robert Tier; Ebenezer Gould.

27th Regiment under Captain John Ford

Lieutenant Isaac Parker; Ensign Jonas Parker; Sergeants Moses Parker, Daniel Keyes, Parker Emerson, Jonas Pierce; Corporals John Bates, Benjamin Barret, William Cambell; Drummer William Ranstead; Fifer Barzilla Lew of Dracut.

Privates: John Keyes, Alexander Davidson, John Chambers, Samuel Britton, Moses Parker, Benjamin Pierce, David Chambers, Ebenezer Shed, Samuel Wilson, Nathaniel Foster, Benjamin Parker, James Drum, Isaih Foster, Joseph Chambers, Isaac Barrett, Benjamin Farley, Enouch Cleveland, Benjamin Butterfield, Samuel Howard, Moses Esterbrook, Robert Auger, Elijah Haselton, John Glode, Jesse Dow, Joseph Spalding, Francis Davidson, Oliver Cory, Samuel Marshall, Ruben Foster, Timothy Adams, John Parker, William Rowell, Benjamin Hayward,  James Alexander, Nathaniel Kemp, Soloman Keyes, Noah Foster, Jonas Spalding, Josiah Fletcher, James Chambers, Silas Parker, Robert Richardson, William Brown, Soloman Farmer, Thomas Bewkel.

Mortally wounded at Bunker Hill – Lt. Col. Moses Parker and Capt. Benjamin Walker.

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Dracut

Captain Peter Coburn’s Company

Captain Peter Coburn; Lieutenants Josiah Faster, Ebenezer Varnum; Sergeants James Varnum, Micah Hildreth, Phineas Coburn, William Harvey; Corporals John Hamock, John Taylor, Jesse Fox, John Barron.

Privates: Nehemiah Jagnest, Benjamin Barron, John Bradley, Daniel Clough, Timothy Davis, William Emerson, Timothy Foster, Jesse Fox, Gardner Gould, Abijah Hills, Soloman Jones, David Lindsey, Jonathan Richardson, John Roper, Barnabas Stevens, Elijah Tuttel, John Varnum, Joshua Varnum, Henry Barron, Soloman Wood, Samuel Whiting, Moses Clement, Benjamin Crosby, Seth Didson, Zebediah Fitch, Abijah Fox, Thomas Gardner, Jonathan Hamblett, John Hall, Samuel Jenners, Nathaniel Kittredge, William Parker, Moses Richardson, Amos Sawyer, John Thissel, Joseph Tuttel, Jonas Whiting, Jonas Varnum, William Varnum, Thomas Wright.

In other Companies were

Moses Barker, Moses Barker Jr., William Brown, Smith Coburn, Joseph Hibbard, Chester Parker, Barzilla Lew.

Mortally wounded or killed at Bunker Hill

Benjamin Crosby, John Thissel, Joseph Hibbard

Tewksbury

Captain Harden’s Company

John Burt, Joshua Thompson, William Harris, Moses Gray, Samuel Manning

Captain Walker’s Company

Lieutenant John Flint; Sergeants Luke Swett, Eliakim Walker, David Bayley, Peter Hunt; Corporal Philip Fowler; Drummer Phineas Annis; Fifer Isaac Manning.

Privates: John Bayley, Jonathan Beard, John Dutton, Amos Foster, Jonathan Frost, Jonathan Gould, John Hall, Nehemiah Hunt, Josiah Kidder, Eliphalet Manning, Joseph Phelps, Samuel Bayley, John Danderly, Timothy Dutton, Jacob Frost, Joseph Frost, Jonathan Gray, John Howard, Paul Hunt, Asa Laveston, Daniel Merritt, Hezehiah Thorndike.

Taken prisoner or killed at Bunker Hill: Philip Fowler, Jacob Frost

American Revolution: Local Connections

The Minuteman statue on Lexington Green

The Revolutionary War began on April 19, 1775, when a British Army expedition marched from Boston to Concord in search of contraband munitions. Confronted by a local militia company on Lexington Green on the way to Concord, firing erupted. Although no one knows who fired the first shot, eight of the militiamen were killed. The British continued to Concord but were unable to find the munitions. However, they were confronted by a large group of militiamen at the North Bridge over the Concord River. There, the colonists fought face-to-face with the British regulars until the British withdrew. In the meantime, several thousand militia from around the region, including many from the towns that became Greater Lowell, hustled towards the road from Concord back to Boston where they engaged in a running fight with the British column which suffered heavy casualties and was saved from surrender or devastation only by the timely arrival of reinforcements from Boston.

Since Lowell did not receive its town charter until 1826, it’s a bit misleading to title this post “Lowell in the American Revolution.” Still, people who lived on the land that became Lowell were involved in that war so this post introduces some of them. My favorite story from this time is found in Paul Revere’s Ride by David Hackett Fischer, a wonderful book about the opening hours of the American Revolution.

As evidence of the effectiveness of the colonial early warning system (symbolized by Paul Revere’s ride but more extensive than just him), Fischer tells the story of a rider arriving outside the home of Captain John Trull, commander of the Tewksbury militia company, before dawn on April 19 to notify Trull of the British advance. As soon as Trull got that news, he fired his musket out his bedroom window three times in a pre-arranged signal to alert Captain Joseph Varnum, commander of the militia company in Dracut across the Merrimack River that it was time to mobilize. Fischer’s point is that before the British had fully crossed the Charles River at the start of their mission, word of their expedition had already reached the New Hampshire border.

Here are some of the other area residents who played notable roles in the American Revolution:

Barzillai Lew – An African American who was born in Groton in 1743 and moved to Pawtucketville with his family while still a child. Eventually he owned a farm along what is now Totman Road and lived there until his death in 1822 at age 78. He is buried in Clay Pit Cemetery which is behind the Bolero bowling alley and arcade (formerly known as Brunswick Lanes) on Pawtucket Boulevard. In 1760, Barzillai joined the militia and fought in the French and Indian War. When the Revolution broke out in 1775, he again enlisted and served in units that were present at the Battle of Bunker Hill, the defense of Fort Ticonderoga, and the Battle of Saratoga.

Benjamin Pierce – Born in 1757, Benjamin Pierce had lived with his uncle, Stephen Pierce, since the death of his own parents. Stephen Pierce owned a farm located in today’s lower Highlands near the intersection of Parker, Powell, Chelmsford, and Plain Streets. On April 19, 1775, Benjamin was plowing a field when he heard gunfire from the southwest. He grabbed his musket and headed in that direction as part of a local militia company.  That afternoon they engaged the British on their march back to Boston from the North Bridge at Concord. Benjamin Pierce served in the militia during the war, seeing action at Bunker Hill and at Saratoga. After the war, Benjamin moved to Hillsborough, New Hampshire, where he entered politics. In 1827, he was elected Governor of New Hampshire and held that office for the next four years. His son, Franklin Pierce, was elected the 14th president of the United States in 1852.

John Ford – Born in Haverhill, New Hampshire, in 1740, John Ford moved to Chelmsford and served in the militia in the French and Indian War. In 1775, he commanded a local militia company which he led during the early battles of the American Revolution including Bunker Hill and Saratoga. After the war, he was a farmer and a businessman, constructing and operating a sawmill and a grist mill at Pawtucket Falls. He died in 1822.

Joseph Bradley Varnum – Born in 1751 in Dracut. At age 18 he joined the militia and rose through it ranks, serving as a captain in command of a company at the start of the war (as mentioned above in the Paul Revere’s Ride story). He served throughout the Revolution. After the war, he was continuously promoted until he reached the rank of Major General in command of all Massachusetts militia. He served in the U.S. House of Representatives from 1795 until 1811 with his last four years as Speaker of the House. He also served in the U.S. Senate from 1811 until 1817. He died in 1821 and is buried in the Varnum Cemetery.

Battle of Bunker Hill: June 17, 1775

Today is the anniversary of the Battle of Bunker Hill which took place 30 miles south of here on June 17, 1775. We are fast approaching the semiquincentennial (or 250th anniversary) of this event so there will be more attention paid to it in the coming years.

Before considering the details of this battle, I find it helpful to review the chronology of (some of) the early engagements of the Revolutionary War:

  • April 19, 1775 – Fight at Lexington and Concord
  • May 10, 1775 – Benedict Arnold & Ethan Allen capture Fort Ticonderoga
  • June 17, 1775 – Battle of Bunker Hill
  • December 31, 1775 – Benedict Arnold & Richard Montgomery attack Quebec City
  • January 1776 – Henry Knox arrives outside of Boston with cannon from Ticonderoga
  • March 17, 1776 – After Washington’s troops fortify Dorchester Heights, the British evacuate Boston.

Although Lowell was not founded as a town until 1826, the area that became Lowell was inhabited in 1775 by many farmers and merchants who were members of the local militia companies. Some were veterans of the French and Indian War (1754-1763).

On the morning of April 19, 1775, the firing at Concord’s North Bridge could be heard here in what was then part of Chelmsford which was just 14 miles away. The local militia companies formed up and moved out. Many participated in the fighting as the British retreated back to Boston that day.  The same militia companies remained on duty on the outskirts of Boston and fought at Bunker Hill on June 17, 1775.

The Americans precipitated the battle by occupying and fortifying the high ground of Charlestown’s Bunker and Breeds Hills on the evening of June 16/17. These strategic heights had been left unoccupied and the colonists learned or suspected that the British had imminent plans to cross the Charles River from Boston and emplace troops on the two hills.

When the British awoke on the morning of June 17 and acknowledged the threat these new fortifications posed to their base in Boston, they immediately organized an attack on the American position. Although the actions at Lexington, Concord, and the retreat back to Boston had been deadly, there had been large scale confrontation between the British Army and the American militia. Consequently, as they prepared to attack on June 17, the British commanders believed that the untrained militia would immediately flee in the face of the advancing British troops. The British commanders were wrong.

The British, led by General William Howe (no relation), landed on the Charlestown peninsula on the morning of the 17th, took half the day to get organized, and then attacked the dug-in Americans three times. Each time they were repulsed with heavy casualties until the colonists ran out of ammunition and were overrun. The victory was costly for the British who suffered more than 1000 casualties (228 killed and 800 wounded). The Americans suffered significant casualties but far fewer than the British, and most of the American troops were able to retreat to safety.

The real impact of Bunker Hill occurred months later when the news of the heavy casualties finally reached England. Many who saw Lexington and Concord as an unfortunate misunderstanding and who were working for reconciliation, abandoned all hope of a peaceful and fast resolution of the conflict and resolved themselves to a long and costly fight.

Lowell Politics Newsletter: June 16, 2024

Each year when June arrives in Lowell, three things will predictably happen: Anything left outside will be covered with a coat of yellowish-green pollen; school will end for the academic year; and city councilors will demand something be done about “the homeless.”

That last item came up Tuesday night at the council meeting in companion motions by Councilor Corey Robinson, one requesting the city manager “provide a detailed report on what plans are in place to ensure safe usage of our South Common swimming pool for all of our residents” and the other requesting the city manager “reach out to service providers for the unhoused to explore ways to create warming/cooling center space due to recent changes with some organizations operating in this area of service.”

In explanation of the first motion, Robinson provided a slide show of photos showing gatherings of people on the South Common including some that depicted camping-like scenes. He also recited a litany of problems resulting from the adoption of the South Common by a number of people as a gathering place, and for some, an overnight sleeping place. He added that city employees responsible for safely disposing of used needles will collect up to 60 a day on the South Common.

Councilor Rita Mercier, who works across the street from the Common, echoed the problems created by these gatherings. Both observed that a consequence of this situation is that the South Common is as a practical matter, rendered off limits to the majority of Lowell residents who understandably fear the health risks of unseen needles and randomly deposited human waste among other things.

When questioned, the chief of police said that even when officers observe criminal behavior and arrest individuals, the same individuals are frequently processed through the court system and released to the street so quickly, that they are often back to the Common while the arresting officers are still at the scene. The chief added that a majority of those occupying the South Common are not actually homeless but go there daily “to hang out and party” and that alcoholism, drug abuse and mental illness rather than a lack of housing are the drivers of this problem.

Several advocates for the homeless spoke in favor of the “cooling center” motion but mostly conveyed the message that those being complained of are human beings who are in need of care, services and understanding.

A frustrated Mayor Dan Rourke spoke from the chair, saying that the city does much for those who are truly homeless but that the bulk of the individuals being complained about either refuse beds in homeless shelters when offered or refuse to comply with the rules of such shelters. He commented that the two motions were contradictory: one sought the removal of the problematic people from the South Common but the other sought to give further reasons for such individuals to congregate. (Notably, Rourke’s fulltime job is as a Trial Court probation officer so he can draw on his daily experience in making these observations.)

In the end, the Council passed both motions unanimously so responses from the city manager should be forthcoming at some future council meeting.

Coincidentally, any day now the United States Supreme Court is expected to announce its decision in a case that might clarify how the law can be used to address homelessness. Because appellate court decisions in this area are so rare, this decision could have a direct impact on what the city of Lowell can or cannot do in response to the issues affecting the South Common and other places.

The case in question is City of Grants Pass v. Johnson which the Supreme Court agreed to hear back in January. The main issue in the case is the legality of a ban on public camping by homeless people. The case arose when three homeless individuals in the Oregon city of Grants Pass, a community of 40,000, challenged an ordinance that prohibited camping in public spaces. The US District Court ruled against the city, holding that such a ban violated the Eighth Amendment’s ban on cruel and unusual punishment.

This decision was based on an earlier case, Martin v. City of Boise, in which the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals held that cities cannot enforce criminal restrictions on public camping if they do not provide enough homeless shelter beds. The ruling states that criminalizing camping on public property when people have no other legal place to sleep is cruel and unusual punishment.

Oral arguments in Grants Pass were held in April. The city argued that the ban on public camping affected everyone equally so it was not unconstitutional, while the challengers argued that such laws essentially make homelessness a crime and therefore violate the Eighth Amendment’s ban on cruel and unusual punishment. According to the Scotus Blog website’s account of the arguments, the justices seemed divided based on their comments and the questions they asked of the lawyers.

One thing the justices did seem to agree on was that reaching a fair outcome of this dispute would be very difficult. There did seem to be agreement that, if no shelter beds are available, then someone cannot be arrested for sleeping outside. But then someone asked, what if the person in question owned a dog and all shelters had “no pets” policies? Or what if the person suffered from mental illness that prevented them from complying with the rules of the shelter. In both of those cases, a shelter bed was technically available, but not really.

The US Supreme Court term concludes at the end of June so a decision in the Gants Pass case should be announced within the next two weeks after which I’ll summarize the holding in a future newsletter. Hopefully it will establish some guidelines for how individuals who for whatever reason refuse available beds in shelters may be dealt with legally.

Until then, what options does the city of Lowell have to address this problem? One thing is to continue to ensure that adequate space in shelters is available and that the multidiscipline approach involving medical and mental health professionals and social workers along with the police that has been used by the city in the past continue. Advocating for more funding from the state is always important too.

Another thing that might not be as apparent is to put more effort into record keeping and collecting data. Back in 2015, the city of Lowell was a defendant in a case in which three individuals challenged the city’s recently enacted prohibition on any panhandling in the downtown historic district and on “aggressive” panhandling anywhere else. Those who challenged the law claimed it violated their First Amendment right to free speech.

In declaring the city ordinance unconstitutional, the US District Court agreed with the plaintiffs, saying that the ban was based on the content of the speech (asking for money because they were poor and had none) whereas the city allowed others to accost pedestrians in the same place as long as the message was different (“Vote for me!”). When the city countered that panhandlers made people “uncomfortable” the court answered that the essence of the First Amendment was protecting just that, speech that made people uncomfortable.

The city then argued that this ordinance was really intended to counteract the “secondary effects” of panhandling, namely increased crime, littering, public nuisances, however, the Court brushed aside that contention saying that the city had offered no data to support that claim.

Which brings me back to my suggestion that the city get more aggressive about collecting data and more imaginative about what data gets collected. Court cases are decided on evidence. Under cross examination, a general claim that crime increases in areas where individuals camp overnight in public spaces gets shredded pretty easily. But if instead of a general statement there was a data rich report that established the same point, it would carry greater weight in court and be more likely to support the city’s position.

In addition to being smarter about data collection, it’s important to be precise in the use of language. As Mayor Rourke observed at Tuesday’s meeting, the problems at the South Common are not caused by homelessness but by vagrancy and other crimes against public order. While the cost and unavailability of housing make homelessness a genuine crisis in our community, how that crisis gets solved does not necessarily address the problems at the South Common.

Imagine a Venn diagram: the problematic behaviors at the South Common is one circle; people who are homeless is another. The circles do overlap but not by a lot. When the public discussion merges the two issues together under the single umbrella of “homelessness” it prevents the kind of precision in language and policy that is essential to addressing both issues.

Yet simply changing the approach to targeting vagrancy is no guarantee of improvement and does come with some risks. Historically in the United States, vagrancy laws have been used to criminalize behaviors often associated with poverty and unemployment. And in the American South in the aftermath of the Civil War, these ordinances were strategically used to target formerly enslaved individuals which perpetuated a system of racial control and economic exploitation.

Still, carefully distinguishing between those who are truly homeless but striving to find a permanent residence and those whose behavior has engulfed the South Common – whether that’s called vagrancy or some other term – should become the norm when talking about these issues.

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Lowell’s 2024 Franco-American Week begins next Sunday, June 23, 2024. The full schedule of events is on the organizing committee’s website, however, one first-time event deserves extra metion. It’s a “Poutine Picnic” at St. Rita’s Church parking lot on Sunday, June 30 from 2 to 4pm.

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On Saturday, June 29, 2024, at 10am, Charlie Gargiulo and I will lead a free 90-minute walking tour of Lowell’s Little Canada neighborhood. The tour will begin at the Coalition for a Better Acre at 517 Moody Street. Charlie’s memoir, Legends of Little Canada, tells the story of growing up in that close-knit neighborhood and of being forcibly displaced when the Urban Renewal wrecking ball demolished most of the residences. Charlie’s book is available at lala books at 189 Market Street in Lowell or from Loom Press.

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