Who were the original Acton Minutemen?
The Acton Minutemen were a group of men, mostly farmers, from the town of Acton, in the colony of Massachusetts, who formed a company for the purpose of defending the town and the colony against attack. They were trained and drilled in the use of their weapons, namely the musket and bayonet. They were able to muster (or gather) in just a few minutes’ time after the signal was given throughout the town. Their ability to ready themselves so quickly gave rise to the term “Minutemen”. All of the surrounding towns to Acton also had militia or Minute companies, and each was ready to defend their own town or join together to defend the greater colony.
In the weeks and months leading up to April of 1775, tensions were growing between the colonists and the British forces that were stationed in the colonies to enforce the King’s rule. In the middle of the night, on April 19th, 1775, a column of over 800 British regulars (redcoats) left Boston, headed for Concord. They were to destroy a secret store of weapons and munitions that they had heard were hidden at a farm there. Thanks to Paul Revere, Samuel Prescott, and others, the word spread quickly through the countryside that the redcoats were on the move. Each town mustered their Militia and Minuteman companies and headed off toward Concord at a march.
Acton’s Minute company, under the leadership of Captain Isaac Davis, mustered at Davis’s house, (which still stands at 39 Hayward Rd. today) and departed from there with their fifer, young Luther Blanchard, playing “The White Cockade”, to march the seven miles to the fields overlooking the North Bridge in Concord. At the town line crossing into Concord, Isaac Davis stopped and gave any man who did not wish to proceed, the chance to turn around and return to his home – no one did. At the Barrett farm in Concord, which lay directly in the path that Acton was marching on, an advance scouting party of British soldiers were searching for stored weapons and munitions – the reason for the entire British advance from Boston. Alerted by perhaps Colonel Barrett himself, who had ridden back to his farm from the North Bridge, Acton’s Minutemen skirted around them by going off the road, once again playing “The White Cockade”, through a section of woods and fields, and rejoining the road again about a half-mile ahead at the Widow Brown’s tavern, thus avoiding an early confrontation. The Minutemen continued the rest of the march to the bridge. (Today’s Acton Minutemen still march the same 7-mile route to the Old North Bridge on Patriot’s Day, commemorating the courageous acts of those original Acton patriots. And the public is always encouraged to join us – a great family activity!)
In Lexington, the main column of British forces met their first resistance; a small group of armed men. To this day, no one is sure who fired first, but in the ensuing brief but deadly battle, 8 townspeople were killed on Lexington green. The British
reformed and marched on. By the time the redcoats got to Concord, however, the Minute companies from many of the surrounding communities had begun to arrive and were waiting for them in numbers. The point of confrontation was at the North Bridge, and when the order was given for the colonists to attack, The Acton Minutemen, led by Captain Isaac Davis, were first in line to advance. History tells us that Acton’s company was the only one present that was entirely outfitted with bayonets, perhaps because Isaac Davis himself was a blacksmith and a gunsmith. When asked if he was afraid to advance, Davis replied, “I am not, and I haven’t a man who is”! They advanced on the British, engaging them at the bridge itself. In the ensuing 3 minute battle, Davis was shot in the heart and died instantly. Thus Isaac Davis became the first commissioned officer to die in the Revolutionary War, and thus was the first to die for this country. By his side, young Abner Hosmer was also mortally wounded. Later in the day, James Hayward would also fall dead in a sudden duel with a Regular, whereby each one shot and killed the other. Although technically not a member of Davis’s Minute Company, Hayward will forever be remembered as a courageous son of Acton.
The British were turned back at the bridge, in large part due to Acton’s stand. As the British forces retreated back into Concord Center, and then all the way back into Charlestown and Boston, they were pursued by colonial forces and armed civilians. The Redcoats took heavy losses, and eventually had to hole up within the confines of Boston, around which the colonial forces set up a siege line, setting the stage for a protracted war. April 19th, 1775 was the day it truly all began, and the turning point at the old North Bridge was the first time the British had been forced to retreat in the field in the face of Colonial opposition.
Actonians like to say that “the battle of Lexington was fought in Concord by the men of Acton”. The date April 19th will forever be remembered as the day America began her struggle for freedom, and the Acton Minutemen will always be remembered for their bravery and courage in the face of death. Use the link below to see the names of all these brave men.
Acton had other companies of militia, commanded by other officers, but only the company under Isaac Davis was referred to as a “Minute Company.” Many descendants of these men still live in Acton and the surrounding area, and the names of these brave souls live on in the names of streets and neighborhoods in Acton and surrounding towns. As you drive around the area, look to see if any of the road signs display the name of one of these great men, and ask yourself, “What brave act would allow my name to be remembered for hundreds of years?” These men knew the danger of making that fateful march, and they did it anyway. The original roster is linked above.
For a complete history of the Acton companies, read History of the Acton Minutemen and Militia Companies (1754-1925) by Charles R. Husbands (a member of the Acton Minutemen and the Acton Historical Society) available from the Higginson Book Company in Salem, MA (higginsonbooks.com)
A second edition, History of the Acton Minutemen and Militia Companies – Vol. II (1926 -1975) is also available from the Higginson Book Company in Salem, MA (higginsonbooks.com)
And for a vivid and detailed account of the background of the Minute man concept, and the battle of April 19th, 1775, read The Minutemen by General John R. Galvin, US Army
The Acton Minutemen PO Box 2175 Acton, MA 01720