From September 1973 to August 1975 a group of Duxbury students participated in a special research project, painstakingly leafing through Revolutionary War muster rolls and service records. Their charge was to make note of anyone from Duxbury, creating a detailed card catalog that documents the town’s participation in the War for Independence. The bound records belonged to Col. James Truden, a Duxbury High School teacher who guided the students of his advanced placement history course in their research. The project’s final product would be a pamphlet listing all the Revolutionary War soldiers, to be published in time for the bicentennial. Although the research was completed, the pamphlet was not published.
The catalog was kept by Col. Truden, later turned over to the Society’s publications committee and surfaced last year as an item on the Publication Committee’s agenda. It was then agreed that the catalog should be input as a database and made available to researchers on the Society’s website. Society member Sandy White was student chairman of the project. Upon hearing of the project’s revival, she recently viewed the card catalog for the first time in 26 years at the Society’s office.
Data entry was undertaken by one brave Society volunteer, Linda Pisani, who keyed details on 670 service records pertaining to 270 people over the course of the Spring of 2001. Information can now be gleaned from the database in ways that students in 1973 probably could not imagine. The pattern of Duxbury’s involvement in the war becomes clear.
In the years leading to the Revolution, opposition to the Crown was fierce in Duxbury. Crowds met atop Captain’s Hill during the Stamp Act crisis, and effigies of British officials were hanged and burned. Matters became more tense in 1775 when British General Gage, responding to pleas from loyalists in Marshfield, stationed a company of regulars in that town. “I feel great satisfaction,” Gage wrote to the citizens of Marshfield, “in having contributed to the safety and protection of a people so eminent for their Loyalty to their King.”
The soldiers frequented taverns in Duxbury and were, historian Justin Winsor observed, generally well behaved. Although on one occasion they alarmed Duxbury citizens by gathering outside the First Parish Church, peering in the windows at the service taking place there. Despite their good behavior, the redcoats enraged people through the county simply by their proximity.
On April 19, 1775, news of the battles at Concord and Lexington quickly spread throughout New England. Colonial militia companies which had been drilling for months in anticipation of a crisis rapidly gathered in Plymouth. Under the command of Colonel Theophilus Cotton, the colonial regiment, consisting of volunteers from Plymouth, Kingston and Duxbury, headed for Marshfield to engage the British. The colonial officers held a council of war at the home of Lt. Col. Briggs Alden in Duxbury.
Nearly two days slipped by before they could agree on any action. The Americans outnumbered the British company six to one. Still, Colonel Cotton hesitated to attack—perhaps a prudent decision when faced with the gravity of outright rebellion. By 3 p.m. on April 21, British sloops had arrived off Brant Rock to take their soldiers to safety in Boston.
From 1775 to 1778 ten companies would be organized in Duxbury. Some of these existed only briefly in response to alarms, while some served for years with the Continental Army.
The largest company organized in Duxbury was commanded by Captain Samuel Bradford, consisting of nearly 100 men. Following the aborted battle in Marshfield, Bradford’s company was stationed in Plymouth and in 1775 was sent to Roxbury as a part of newly formed Continental army. They took part in the fortification of Dorchester Heights, a maneuver that forced the British evacuation of Boston.
Four Duxbury companies led by Captains Bildad Arnold, Nehemiah Allen, Calvin Partridge, and Nathan Sampson organized nearly overnight in response to alarms in Rhode Island. During 1776 and 1777, as the war moved steadily south, New Englanders lived in fear that the British would attempt an invasion by way of Newport, where they maintained a persistent foothold. These companies served short terms, having been sent home after each alarm turned out to be false.
In 1776 a substantial fort was constructed at the Gurnet and was manned mostly by Duxbury men. Two Duxbury companies served 6 month terms there in 1776 and 1777. Fortunately, the soldiers did not see any action.
Without a doubt, the Duxbury soldiers that saw the hardest duty were those that were sent to the Continental Army. Two companies, under Captains Joseph Wadsworth and Thomas Turner, were formed in 1777 soon found themselves in some of the fiercest fighting in the Revolution. They served with the 14th Massachusetts Regiment commanded by Duxbury Colonel Gamaliel Bradford. Turner’s Company served the longest of any Duxbury company, from 1777 to 1780. They were with Washington during the hard winter at Valley Forge and fought at the battles of Germantown and Monmouth.
The sheer number of Duxbury men who signed up for service is remarkable. Some 270 are on record, representing the vast majority of the town’s adult male population. As in most New England towns, enthusiasm for the war waned dramatically in Duxbury by 1778. There were few enlistments after this time. However, citizens would long remember how, in the fervent summers of 1775 and 1776, Duxbury sent more than its share of soldiers to the war.