By Michael Rosenberg, Chair of the Bedford Selectmen, and
delivered by Selectman William Moonan during Bedford’s 2019 Pole Capping ceremony
The National Park Service is already making plans to commemorate the 250th anniversary of the beginning of the American Revolution – the actual word is sestercentennial.
That’s only six years from this month. And, as was the case in 1975, the two-year celebration — for the entire country — will start with liberty pole-capping at Willson Park. Sestercentennial begins here.
But before we start making party plans, let’s take a few minutes to consider the human cost to this town in 1775 and for years beyond.
Bedford, like the entire region, was caught up in the anti-crown fervor of the early 1770s. Companies of minute men and militia drilled on the common, authorized and funded by votes of town meeting.
The number of Bedford residents at the dawn of the Revolution was fewer than 500, according to the 19th century historian Abram English Brown. And on the historic morning of April 19, 1775, he wrote, “it appears that one seventh of the entire population participated in the opening scene of the Revolution.”
When the colonial defenders assembled on this spot and began striding down Concord Road, it marked an irrevocable change to the atmosphere, the personality, the very fabric of the town.
We all know what happened at North Bridge that day. But what was it like here, after the men had departed? According to AE Brown’s account, “the women were engaged in preparing food and sending it on to Concord. One good lady said, ‘All day long the bell was ringing and guns were firing. People were dashing back and forth on horseback and saying there had been an awful fight.’”
Can you imagine the anxiety that gripped the little town? We probably can’t imagine, since no one is alive today who has not benefited from instant communication, if not by text or twitter then over the radio.
After the resistance at the bridge in Concord, the Bedford volunteers joined in pursuit of the retreating British, through the skirmish at Meriam’s Corner and further east, to Brooks Tavern, near the flashing light on the battle road today. There, Bedford Minuteman Captain Jonathan Willson was killed.
The historian relates, “With saddened hearts, they returned to their homes, bearing their dead and wounded.” Try to visualize the reality of that scene. Jonathan Willson was a 40-year-old married farmer.
But that was just part of the beginning. This wasn’t like coming back from Concord after losing the Thanksgiving football game.
Dozens of Bedford men remained in the military, beginning with the Battle of Bunker Hill and continuing for months and years later.
AE Brown writes that “it is impossible to make up a complete register or state the exact number of men furnished by this town during the revolution, and equally difficult to cast up her entire public expenditures.”
He observed that “With a population ranging from 470 to 482 engaging in agricultural pursuits, it is wonderful that the town could meet the frequent demands for men and money. The women were busy spinning and weaving. Shirts, stockings, shoes and other articles of dress for the soldiers, in addition to quantities of beef, were supplied by the people of Bedford.”
As we mark their sacrifice this morning, let us take pride in, and learn from, this legacy of resilience and devotion.