Artemas Ward

Major General Artemas Ward, Continental Army

Artemas Ward was born November 26, 1727 in Shrewsbury, Massachusetts. He was the son of Nahum Ward (1684–1754) and Martha (Howe) Ward. His father led a successful career as a sea captain, merchant, land developer, farmer, lawyer and jurist. As a child, Artemas, attended the common schools and shared a tutor with his brothers and sisters. He graduated from Harvard College (B.A. 1748, M.A. 1751) and taught there briefly.

On July 31, 1750, he married Sarah Trowbridge (December 3, 1724 – December 13, 1788), the daughter of Reverend Caleb Trowbridge and Hannah Trowbridge of Groton, Massachusetts. The young couple returned to Shrewsbury where Artemas opened a general store. In the next fifteen years they would have eight children: Ithamar in 1752, Nahum (1754), Sara (1756), Thomas (1758), Artemas Jr. (1762), Henry Dana (1768), Martha (1760), and Maria (1764).

The next year, 1751, he was named a township assessor for Worcester County. This was to be the first of many public offices he was to fill in his lifetime. Aretmas Ward was elected a justice of the peace in 1752 and also served the first of his many terms in the Massachusetts Bay Colony’s assembly, or “general court.”

In 1754, the Seven Years’ War broke out. In North America, the conflict would become known as the French and Indian War. In 1755, the Massachusetts Militia was restructured, and Artemas Ward was appointed as a Major in the 3rd Regiment which mainly recruited from Worcester County. The 3rd Regiment served mainly as garrison forces along the frontier in western Massachusetts. This duty called Major Ward at intervals between 1755 and 1757, and alternated with his attendance at the General Court. In 1757, Major Ward was promoted to Colonel of the 3rd Regiment of Massachusetts Militia. In 1758, the regiment marched with Major General James Abercrombie’s force to Fort Ticonderoga.

By 1762, Artemas Ward returned to Shrewsbury, Massachusetts permanently and was named to the Court of Common Pleas. In the General Court, he was placed on the taxation committee along with Samuel Adams and John Hancock. It has been noted that during his tenure, he was second only to James Otis in speaking out against the acts of parliament. His prominence in these debates prompted the Royal Governor, Francis Bernard, to revoke his military commission in 1767. At the next election in 1768, Bernard voided the election results for Worcester and banned Artemas Ward from the assembly, but this didn’t silence him.

In the growing sentiment favoring rebellion, the 3rd Regiment of Massaschusetts Militia resigned en masse from British service on October 3, 1774. The men of the Regiment then marched on Shrewsbury to inform ex-Colonel Ward that they had unanimously elected him their leader. Later that month, Thomas Gage abolished the assembly. The towns of Massachusetts responded by setting up a colony-wide Committee of Safety. One of the first actions of the Committee was to name Artemas Ward as General and Commander-in-Chief of the Massachusetts Bay colony’s Militia.

Following the Battles of Lexington and Concord on April 19, 1775, the Patriot forces followed and harassed the British forces all along the route back to Boston. Once at Boston, these forces started the siege of the city. At first, General Ward directed his forces from his sickbed, but later moved his headquarters to Cambridge, Massachusetts. Soon, the New Hampshire and Connecticut provisional governments both named him head of their forces participating in the siege as well. Most of his efforts during this time were devoted to solving the problems regarding organization and supply that appear with any freshly created body.

British reinforcements arrived in May and June 1775. General Ward learned of their plan to attack Bunker Hill, and gave orders to fortify the point, setting the stage for the Battle of Bunker Hill on June 17, 1775. Tactical Command during the battle devolved upon General Israel Putnam and Colonel William Prescott.

While the siege of Boston was raging, Congress was hard at work creating the Continental Army on paper. On June 20, 1775, Congress commissioned Artemas Ward as the senior Major General, and second in command only to George Washington. Major General Ward was one of the original four major generals in the Continental Army along with Charles Lee, Philip Schuyler and Israel Putnam. Over the next nine months he helped organize the forces assembled around Boston from militia units into the regulars of the Continental Army.

After the British evacuation of Boston on March 17, 1776, General Washington led the main army to New York City. Major General Ward took command of the Eastern Department on April 4, 1776. He held that post until March 20, 1777, when his health forced his resignation from the army.

Even during his military service, Major General Ward served as a state court justice in 1776 and 1777. He was President of the state’s Executive Council from 1777–1779, which effectively made him the governor before the 1780 ratification of the Massachusetts Constitution. He was continuously elected to the Massachusetts House of Representatives for each year from 1779 through 1785. Major General Ward also served as a delegate to the Continental Congress in 1780 and 1781. Ward was the Speaker of the Massachusetts House in 1785. After the ratification of the United States Constitution, Major General Ward was elected twice to the United States House of Representatives, serving from 1791 to 1795.

Major General Ward died at his home in Shrewsbury on October 28, 1800, and is buried with his wife, Sarah, in Mountain View Cemetery.

Sources: Richard Frothingham, Jr. History of the Siege of Boston and of the Battles of Lexington, Concord, and Bunker Hill, (Boston, 1851), 131; Francis B. Heitman, Historical Register of Officers of the Continental Army, (Baltimore, 1914), 567-568; Charles Martyn, The Life of Artemas Ward, the First Commander-in-Chief of the American Revolution (New York, 1921); Andrew H. Ward, “Memoir of Major General Artemas Ward”. New England Historical and Genealogical Register (July 1851); Rebecca Anne Goetz, “General Artemas Ward: A Forgotten Revolutionary Remembered and Reinvented, 1800-1938,” Proceedings of the American Antiquarian Society 113(2003): 103-34; “Orders and Instructions for Major General Artemas Ward, 4 April 1776,” Founders Online, National Archives, accessed April 11, 2019, [Original source: The Papers of George Washington, Revolutionary War Series, vol. 4, 1 April 1776 – 15 June 1776, ed. Philander D. Chase. Charlottesville: University Press of Virginia, 1991, pp. 36–39.]; Selected Wartime Service Records of Major General Artemas Ward.