The Jason Russell House and The Battle of Menotomy

The Jason Russell House


         In 1740 Jason Russell (1716–1775), a farmer, constructed the core of the house beside the Concord Road. He built two rooms, one over the other, with house front facing southward, and chimney and stairs at the north. Perhaps five or ten years later, he added two more rooms to form a typical New England farmhouse. The central part of the house is essentially unchanged today, although further extensions were subsequently added to the left side. Across the front are five windows, with door at center, and large chimney in the middle of a pitched roof. About 1814 an enclosed porch was added to the front door.

If you would like to take a tour of the house, please see the hours listed on the Arlington Historical Society web site.

The Battle of Menotomy


On the evening of April 18, 1775, Gen. Thomas Gage, Commander of the British Forces in Boston, ordered Lt. Col. Francis Smith, to take a force of 700 British soldiers from various regiments, to march to Concord to confiscate arms and supplies for provincial forces as well as capture John Hancock and Samuel Adams. The troops were ferried over from Boston to Cambridge (near present day Lechmere) landing in a flooded marsh. After an hours long delay waiting for food to be rowed from Boston, the British troops began their march, cold, wet and tired.

            As the British Regulars entered the village of Menotomy around 2 AM, British officers who had been sent out to patrol the roads told Lt. Col. Smith there were many townspeople waiting for them in Lexington. Hearing signal guns, Lt. Col. Smith was concerned with not knowing exactly what he might be facing, he sent a rider to Boston asking for re-enforcements.

General Gage sent Lord Hugh Percy, with 1,000 men, 2 cannons, and 2 supply wagons, to aid Lt. Col. Smith. When Percy got to Cambridge, some planks had been pulled up on the Great Bridge. The planks were left on the Cambridge side. Lord Percy ordered the planks to be replaced but decided to march on with just his men and cannons. The two wagons would follow later after the bridge was passable.

Men from Menotomy considered too old for Militia duty, got word of the approaching British supply wagons. Determined to help the cause, these “Old Men”, led by a French and Indian War veteran, David Lamson, hid behind rocks and earth mounds opposite the First Parish Meeting House. The old men ambushed the British, capturing the two wagons, killed and wounded several British soldiers.

The next action in Menotomy occurred when the retreating column came back through the village. Many of the Menotomy residents fled their homes looking for safe places to hide from the British. Around noon, Jason Russell sent his wife Elizabeth, their two children, Betsy and Noah, and a servant girl over to the Prentiss house for safety. As Russell started to build a barricade of wood shingles, his neighbor Ammi Cutter, came over to warn Jason to find to a safer position. The 58-year-old Russell was determined to defend his home replied: “An Englishman's House Is His Castle.”

After fighting at Lexington Green and marching on to Concord looking for weapons and stores, the British column received heavy losses as militias from all over the countryside answered the alarm spread by Revere, Dawes and Prescott. Smith was trying to preserve what force he had so that he could get back to Boston. Fortunately, Lord Percy met the retreating Lt. Col. Smith from Concord, at the Munroe Tavern in Lexington, and took Command of the British Forces there.

As the British departed Lexington around 3:30 PM, the column was repeatedly harassed by enemy fire. Percy noted, “As soon as they saw us begin to retire, they pressed very much upon our rear-guard, which for that reason I relieved every now & then. In this manner we retired for 15 miles under an incessant fire all round us.” To quell the provincial attacks, the British fired cannon shots and sent out flanking light infantry to root out snipers and clear houses. The British troops also looted and tried to burn homes down as they marched Concord Road toward Boston.

As the troops approached the "Foot of The Rocks" (Appleton St. and Massachusetts Ave.), the British were being pursued by over 1,000 Minutemen. Commanders of the Minute and militia companies recognized the terrain of Menotomy was perfect for sniper attacks and ambushes as the road sloped downwards and flanked by homes, barns, and enclosed pastures.

During the afternoon, Minuteman companies from Lynn, Needham and Dedham, had positioned themselves throughout the farm. Another one of those units made the march to Menotomy from Danvers in just under four hours, led by Captain Gideon Foster. Foster positioned his men along a stone wall flanking a hillside orchard while others took cover behind a wall across the road. As Percy’s column approached, the Danvers men apparently did not see a flanking party from the 4th Kings Own come up behind them. They suddenly found themselves in a crossfire with the flankers. So the men scattered in all directions, seeking whatever cover they could find.  Some of the trapped Minutemen made a fatal mistake running for cover in the house. The Danvers men, however, never reached the house. Seven of them were killed in the front yard, two were wounded, and one was taken prisoner.

Jason Russell also tried to get in his house but with a lame leg, moved to slow and was shot twice as he reached his doorstep. His body was found later with 11 bayonet wounds. When Mrs. Russell returned home, she found the her husband, and the other Minutemen dead on the kitchen floor. She described the horror of the scene, "I was up to my ankles in blood."

The British soldiers pursued the other Minutemen into the house with many of the Danvers militia hiding in the cellar. In the kitchen, a soldier tried to open the cellar door, and was shot to death by a minuteman. The British Regulars also stormed the second floor and attic, although they put up a furious fight, in which they killed another redcoat, the 10 militia were disarmed and dispatched by bayonet . The other troops left the Beverly men unharmed, fearing they may also be wounded or killed. Captain Foster would later assert that three or four of his men surrendered only to be “butchered with savage barbarity.” Nineteen-year-old minuteman Dennis Wallis attempted to surrender but fled when he realized he was about to be killed. He was shot several times yet somehow managed to survive.

Two Lynn men, Daniel Townsend and Timothy Monroe, had been fighting in the dooryard, ran into the kitchen, but found no safe place to go. Townsend then jumped through the end window, taking the sash and all with him.” and was killed in the yard. Timothy Monroe jumped out after him, headed for the orchard, was wounded in the upper leg, but lived. When Timothy got home, he found several musket ball holes that went through his clothes that day. Later accounts purport his hat, coat and waistcoat had no less than thirty-two bullet holes.

The British troops continued onto the village where the fighting was equally brutal. Captain Samuel Whittemore, an 80-year-old former veteran of the Militia had taken up a position near the road. He began to fire upon the column, when he was flanked by five soldiers. He fatally shot one with a musket, killed another with a pistol and mortally wounding a third with before being shot in the head. The elderly Whittemore was brutally beaten and bayoneted multiple times by the enraged soldiers. He eventually was brought to a doctor, who treated his wounds despite his belief they were mortal. Somehow Whittemore recovered from the ordeal to live to another eighteen years.

            Elsewhere in town Elizabeth Russell’s cousin, Jason Winship, and his brother-in-law, Jabez Wyman, died somewhat foolishly by insisting that they finish their drinks at Cooper’s Tavern, when the British Regulars entered the tavern and killed the two unarmed men, later found "stabbed through in many places, their heads mauled, skulls broke and their brains out on the floor and walls of the house." More than 100 bullet holes were counted in the house of Benjamin and Rachel Cooper.

In total, 21 provincial men and of the 65 Regulars that died, upwards of 40 died on the plains of Menotomy. The next morning a man with a cart came and took the seven dead Danvers men, Henry Jacobs, Samuel Cook, Ebenezer Goldthwait, George Southwick, Benjamin Dalland Jr., Jotham Webb, and Perley Putnam, from the front yard back to their own town to be buried. Someone took the  bodies of Daniel Townsend of Lynn-end (Lynnfield) and one other (possibly Reuben Kennison of Beverly) back to their own towns. Jason Russell, Jason Winship, Jabez Wyman, and the remaining unclaimed nine were all drawn to the burying ground on an ox cart, and were buried in a common grave most “with their clothes on, just as they fell”. Captain William Adams, who lived in the center, brought a sheet from his house to wrap Russell’s body in. He said he could not bear to have his neighbor buried without a winding sheet. It is believed that the two British Regulars, who died in Jason Russell’s house, are also buried in the same cemetery in unmarked graves in an area reserved for the burial of slaves. It may have been known at the time who the unclaimed nine men were, but succeeding generations forgot their names. However,  most of them have now been identified as Lt. John Bacon, Amos Mills, Jonathan Parker, and Nathan Chamberlin, of Needham; William Flint, Thomas Hadley, and Abednego Ramsdell, of Lynn; Elias Haven of Dedham; and Benjamin Pierce of Salem.

In 1842 an 19-foot white marble obelisk, surrounded by a short metal fence, was erected in the cemetery, now called the Old Burial Ground. The remains of Jason Russell and the others were removed from the original grave and re-interred here under the obelisk.


References:

”Jason Russell and His House in Menotomy”, Old-Time New England, Volume LV, No. 2, Oct/Dec 1964 Serial No 198, by Robert Harrington Nylander
"The Battle of April 19, 1775", by Frank Warren Coburn
"Paul Revere's Ride", by David Hackett Fischer

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