James Reed

Brigadier General James Reed, 3rd New Hampshire Continental Infantry – Original Member

Abstracted from James F. D. Garfield, “General James Reed, Read at a Meeting of the Society, December 18, 1899,” Proceedings of the Fitchburg Historical Society, 4 (1908):113-24.

General James Reed was from a distinguished family; he was born in Woburn, Mass., January 8, 1722-3, and was the eighth of the ten children of Thomas and Sarah (Sawyer) Reed. His father, known as Lieut. Thomas Reed, died August 18, 1736; his mother died January 21, 1737-8. Lieut. Thomas Reed was a son of George and Hannah (Rockwell) Reed, and a grandson of William Reed, the immigrant, who with wife Mabel (Kendall), sailed from London July, 1635, arrived in Boston in October the same year, and in 1648 settled in Woburn. From the time of William Reed’s settlement there the ancestors of James Reed were residents of Woburn, and his birth and parentage, as here given, are fully sustained by the records of that town.

Very little is known of the youth and early manhood of James Reed. He married Abigail Hinds of New Salem, Mass., and first settled in Brookfield in this county. He afterwards removed to the centre of Lunenburg where he was an innholder for several years, although by trade he was a tailor. The records at Brookfield and at Lunenburg show his connection with the church in both of those places. He was admitted to full communion in the Lunenburg church April 7, 1751, and it is probable that his removal from Brookfield was in the early part of the same year.

He is described as a man of ordinary height, well built and very active, care-taking and energetic. That he was a tailor by trade is shown by his company roll in which the occupation of each man is given; and that he was an innholder at Lunenburg appears from a petition by the selectmen of that town for a license as innholder to Joshua Hutchins, “in place of Captain James Reed who is now going into His Majesty’s service.” The location of his inn was on the westerly side of the common, the site so many years later occupied for the same purpose.

He remained a resident of Lunenburg till late in 1764 or the early part of 1765, when he moved his family to Monadnoc No. 4, now Fitzwilliam, New Hampshire. He was a selectman of Lunenburg in 1763 and 1764. In a deed dated March 4, 1765, he is styled “of Lunenburg,” although he had spent some time at Fitzwilliam during the previous year. He was paid for labor and supervision in building roads in that town in 1764, — eighty and one- half days, and for still longer periods during the two following years.

In 1768 he had become the owner of over three thousand acres of land in Fitzwilliam, and had erected a large and commodious two-story house — the first frame house erected in the town — with a large barn and stable. The buildings were located about a mile northwesterly of the present centre village, and the house was kept by him for some years as an inn. Many of the Proprietors’ meetings were held in it, as well as most of the religious services of the settlers previous to the erection of the first meeting-house. The ordination of the first minister of Fitzwilliam, Rev. Benjamin Brigham, also took place under its roof. Captain Reed was moderator of the Proprietors’ meeting, Novemljer 14, 1769, which was the first meeting held in the new township; and he was Proprietors’ clerk from that time till 1776. His name appears as a member of all the most important committees that shaped the action of the people of the new settlement in establishing their civil and religious institutions.

His military career commenced in 1755, when he served in a campaign against the French and Indians in the vicinity of Lake George, in which he commanded a company of Provincial troops in the regiment under Col. Josiah Brown; and from that time on until the peace of 1762 he was engaged much of the time in the same service.

In the Massachusetts archives at the state house there are many documents which relate to his service. The earliest which I have found bears date September 28, 1755, and contains a “List of names of the Men that are to join the Expedition to Crown Point, in the Regiment whereof Josiah Brown, Esq., is Colonel, which Company is under the command of Capt [Timothy Gibson] James Reed.” The name Timothy Gibson in the heading to this roll is crossed out and that of James Reed written in, — and this probably marks the date of James Reed’s commission as captain. The Timothy Gibson whom he succeeded in that office was a resident of Stow, Mass., and was the father of the Fitchburg Gibsons, Isaac and Reuben, who settled on Pearl Hill. The company was composed of forty-two men, all from Stow and Lunenburg, Among the twelve or tifteen Lunenburg names I recognize those of several from that part of the town afterwards set off as the town of Fitchburg, viz.: Edward Scott, Nehemiah Fuller, Phinehas and William Stewart, Ephraim Osborn and Samuel Peirce. Among the other Lunenburg names is that of Benoni Wallis, ancestor of Hon. Rodney Wallace, and also of Robert N. Wallis of this city.

The next paper is an acknowledgment from forty-six men under Capt. Reed in the expedition to Crown Point in 1756, as having received their billeting (or subsistence) to Albany. Among the names are those of William and Benjamin Scott, Jonathan White, Jonathan White, Jr., John Cummings, Samuel Hodgkins, Bradstreet Spafford, John Scott and Manasseh Litch, which appear to be Fitchburg names.

Then conies a roll dated Fort Edward, July 26, 1756, containing the names of thirty-three men, of whom sixteen are from Lunenburg — the others from adjoining or neighboring towns. In this document the occupations of the men are given; twenty-one were farmers, two were tailors (one of whom was Capt. Reed), two were clothiers, three blacksmiths, two carpenters, one shoemaker, one bricklayer, and one acknowledged himself to be a laborer. Twenty-eight of the number volunteered, five were hired, but none were drafted. The recording officer appears to have had a way of spelling all his own, and reports one man, a blacksmith from Townsend, as “Disarted.”

Next is a roll dated Fort William Henry, October 11, 1756, numbering forty-five names, in which Captain Reed certifies that certain men were absent for no other reasons than those assigned, viz., sickness, death, etc. Certain entries in this document indicate that the company had been seeing hard service. Four men — William White, John Brown, Manasseh Litch and Jonas Tarbell are reported as dead; and thirteen are reported as sick, or absent for other cause.

Next comes a muster roll containing fifty names, — service performed from February 18, 1756, to December 22 of the same year. Of the fifty men, twenty-three were from Lunenburg, including the part now Fitchburg. Thomas Brown, John Harriman and John Scott, three Lunenburg men, are reported as dead. James Reed, as captain, made oath to the correctness of the roll.

A muster roll of Capt. Reed’s company, containing sixty-six names of men who marched on an alarm for the relief of Fort William Henry — return dated January 8, 1758,— contains the names of Ephraim Osborn, Jonathan Wood, Jonathan Holt, William Steward, Samuel Hodgkins and other Fitchburg names.

Next is a roll of Capt. Reed’s company, numbering seventy-eight names, with dates of enlistment from March 13 to May 22, 1758. The company marched on May 22, and formed a part of Col. Timothy Ruggles’ regiment of the army under Gen. Abercrombie, in the unfortunate attack on Ticonderoga, then held by the French under Gen. Montcalm.

Next, a muster roll of ninety names, bearing date February 13, 1760 — of which tweny-nine of the men were from Lunenburg, seven from Leominster, thirty from Lancaster, seven from Narragansett No. 2, now Westminster, while Winchendon, Rindge and other places were represented by smaller numbers. The service was from March 31 to December 19, 1759, — thirty-seven weeks and five days.

Finally a pay-roll of the company in His Majesty’s service, under command of Capt. James Reed, from April 18, 1761, to January 1, 1762 — thirty-seven weeks. Among the names in this roll were those of Samuel and Joseph Downe, sons of William Downe, Esq., living in the part of Lunenburg now Fitchburg. Capt. Reed also commanded a company in the campaign of the summer of 1762.

These successive rolls show the almost continuous service of Capt. Reed through the war from 1755 to 1762, when peace was declared between the two countries, France and England, and the hardy settlers could lay down their implements of warfare and return to their homes to engage in the arts of peace.

The mention of Col. Timothy Ruggles, of whose regiment Capt. Reed’s company formed a part, reminds me that one of my own ancestors, Samuel Garfield of Spencer, was in the same regiment, though in a different company. Some old letters written by him while in the service have been preserved, and one or two brief extracts will give just a glimpse of the soldier’s life of that day.

On the 10th of June he wrote to his family, dated “Flat Bush, 6 miles above Albany. We are now arrived at Hudson’s river, and have had a tedious march through the woods.” Under date “Fort Miller 22d of June,” he writes: “We expect to march immediately forward to the lake. There are about six thousand men here now, and provisions enough for fourteen thousand men six weeks, and a vast quantity more at Fort Edward.” Again, under date of “Lake George, July ye 4th, when on the eve of embarking for the attack on Ticonderoga, he writes to his wife: “I received your letter dated ye 17th of June yesterday, and am glad to hear that you are all well. I have been at work with the carpenters in the King’s works ever since the 12th of June, and now our battoes are all loaded, and our orders are to embark for Ticonderoga tomorrow morning by break of day. I beg your prayers for me that I may be kept from all Evil, and especially from Sin, and in God’s time be returned in Safety.” His expectation to set sail on the morrow at break of day was fulfilled. History informs us that on the morning of July 5, 1758, which was Sunday, Abercrombie’s whole army, consisting of nearly sixteen thousand men — nine thousand of whom were Provincials and the balance British regulars — embarked in bateaux and proceeded down the lake. Ticonderoga at this time was garrisoned by about four thousand men under Montcalm, who had strengthened his position in anticipation of an attack. On the morning of the 6th, Abercrombie landed his army at Sabbath Day Point, near the outlet of Lake George, and advanced through the dense woods and tangled morasses towards Ticonderoga. Suddenly his advance guard was attacked by a scouting party of French, and Lord Howe, second in command, and the most accomplished officer of the expedition, fell at the commencement of the action. The French were, however, repulsed, and Abercrombie, confident in the strength of superior numbers, pushed on to the attack. After an unsuccessful siege of two days a final effort was made, on the Sth, to scale the breastworks in the face of the enemy’s fire; but, after a bloody conflict of four hours in a vain attempt to carry the works, Abercrombie fell back on Lake George, leaving almost two thousand men dead and wounded in the woods under the guns of the fort, or prisoners in the hands of the enemy.

Though Abercrombie’s expedition was a failure, the campaign of 1758 as a whole was favorable to the English. During the next year Ticonderoga, Crown Point and Quebec fell in rapid succession, and the year 1760 saw all Canada subject to British rule. But little in detail can be given of Capt. Reed’s services in these campaigns; but that his military career was creditable to himself and valuable to his country is indicated by his continuous service and by the increased number of men who volunteered from year to year to serve in his command. The old French wars have been well characterized as a contest between Protestant England and Catholic France for supremacy in North America. They were, at the same time, the school in which our fathers acquired that knowledge of military science, and that experience in the art of war, which enabled them to enter upon the Revolutionary struggle and to prosecute it to a successful termination.

In 1769 Capt. Reed, in a petition for consideration by the Masonian proprietors and praying that none of his rights in Fitzwilliam be forfeited, alleges that he has done much service in the Colonial wars, and appends to his petition the following table:

1755. Captain in Col. Josiah Brown’s regiment.
1756. Captain in Col. Timothy Ruggles’ regiment.
1758. Captain in Col. Timothy Ruggles’ regiment.
1759. Captain in Col. Timorhy Ruggles’ regiment.
17G1. Captain in Col. Timothy Ruggles’ regiment.
1755. Commission signed by Lieut. Gov. Spencer Phipps.
1756. Commission signed by Gov. William Shirley.
1758 and 1759. Commission signed by Gov. Thomas Pwwnall.
1761 and 1762. Commission signed by Gov. Francis Bernard.

In the interval of peace between the close of the war in 1762 and the opening of the Revolution, the military spirit was not allowed to slumber. It was important that an efficient organization of militia should be kept up in the colonies for their mutual protection. In 1770 Capt. Reed received a commission as lieutenant-colonel from the governor of the New Hampshire colony, and in 1775, upon receiving tidings of the battle of Lexington, he at once raised a company of volunteers and marched with them to Cambridge. He continued the work of enlisting, and on the first of June, 1775, was commissioned colonel of a regiment by the New Hampshire Provincial Assembly. He arrived at Cambridge at the head of his regiment on the 12th of June, and was at first ordered by Gen. Ward to find quarters at Medford, where Col. Stark was already stationed with the First New Hampshire regiment. Unable to find quarters there he again applied to Gen. Ward, who assigned him quarters in the houses near Charlestown Neck, with strict orders to keep all necessary guards between the barracks, the ferry, and Bunker Hill. Here he found good quarters, and on the 14th issued regimental orders of a stringent character, indicating that the position was an important one and that vigilance was necessary for the safety of the command. These orders, and others issued on the 15th, are still preserved among the Revolutionary papers at the state house, and show him to have been a rigid disciplinarian.

On the 17th of June at the Battle of Bunker Hill, Col. Reed stationed his regiment at the rail fence, at the left of the redoubt, where he was joined by Col. Stark, with his New Hampshire regiment still further to the left. The ready genius of Col Reed designed the breastwork which, constructed by his men under fire of the enemy’s batteries, so wonderfully preserved them from the disasters of the day. The parapet consisted in part of a stone wall, and in part of a double line of rail fence extending up the hillside from the Mystic river nearly to the redoubt, the space between the lines of fence being filled with hay found on the field.

The position at the rail fence is acknowledged to have been the hottest as well as the best fought portion of the field. Bancroft says: “The little handful of brave men” in the redoubt “would have been effectually cut off but for the unfaltering courage of the Provincials at the rail fence and the bank of the Mystic.” They had repulsed the enemy twice, and now held them in check until the main body had left the hill; not till then did the brave New Hampshire soldiers quit the station which they had so nobly defended. After the redoubt had given way this heroic band slowly retreated, and Col. Reed was the last officer who left the field. He returned the number of his losses in the Battle of the 17th as five killed and twenty-seven wounded.

When Washington assumed command of the army in July, following the battle of Bunker Hill, Col. Reed with his regiment was stationed at Winter Hill in Somerville. From this point a line of earth-works was thrown up extending through Cambridge to Dorchester. The works on Cobble Hill (now the site of the McLean Asylum) were erected by Gen. Putnam of Connecticut, and those on Miller’s Hill in Cambridge were built by Col. Reed. Both forts were completed in a short time, and each had its own flag raised above its ramparts. Gen. Putnam’s had on one side the motto, “An Appeal to Heaven”; and on the other, three vines, representing the armonial bearings of the Connecticut Colony. Col. Reed’s had on one side, in dark blue, a picture of Mount Monadnock with a bright scarlet star just above the mountain; beneath which were the words, “New Hampshire Strikes for Liberty.” On the other side, near the top, was painted a large trumpet and sword, and in the centre in large letters:

“Obedience to God,
Justice to All,
Fealty to None.”

At this time there was no national American flag. Betsy Ross, whose name and fame have come down to us, had not yet sewn together the stars and stripes. The nation, in fact, had not been born; the Declaration of Independence had not been proclaimed. Col. Reed and his brave men had heretofore served under the King’s colors — the flag bearing the cross of St. George. That flag had now become an emblem of tryanny, and they resolved to “strike for Liberty,” adopting for their motto, “Obedience to God, Justice to All, Fealty to None.”

On the evacuation of Boston by the British in March, 1776, Reed accompanied the patriot arm3′ in its movement to New York, and on the 24th of April was assigned to the Brigade under Gen. Sullivan to proceed up the Hudson to relieve the force under Arnold, in its retreat from Canada. The following receipt on file serves to show the confidence reposed in Col. Reed by Gen. Washington:

“New York, April 20, 1776. Then received from Gen. Washington three boxes said to contain three hundred thousand dollars, to be delivered to Gen. Schuyler at Albany.
(Signed) James Reed.”

The money was probably for the payment of Schuyler’s army.

Arnold’s force was met by Gen. Sullivan at the river Sorell, and Col. Reed was active and efficient in conducting the retreat from that point to Ticonderoga, where they arrived on the first of July. Worn with hardship and exposure, the army was now attacked by disease, which rapidly thinned its ranks. While stationed at Crown Point, Col. Reed was prostrated by fever, which resulted in the total loss of his sight, whereby his military career and usefulness were terminated.

On the 9th of August, while still suffering from his severe illness, he was appointed by Congress on the recommendation of Washington, a brigadier-general. His commission was forwarded by the president of Congress under cover of the following letter:

“Philadelphia, Aug. 10, 1770.
Sir : The Congress having yesterday been pleased to promote you to the rank of brigadier-general in the army of the American States, I do myself the pleasure to enclose your commission, and wish you happy. I am, sir, your most obedient and very humble servant,
John Hancock, President.

To Brigadier-General James Reed.”
Unable by reason of his infirmity to remain in the service, he retired from the army on half pay until the close of the war. For some years after leaving the army he resided in Keene, N. H., occupying the confiscated estate of Dr. Josiah Pomeroy, a royalist, which was leased to him by the state of New Hampshire. While living in Keene the blind general was almost daily seen upon the main street led by a Mr. Washburn, who was paralyzed on one side. The lame had eyes for the blind; the blind had strength to support the cripple;— each exchanged that which he had to spare for that of which he stood most in need.

During his residence in Keene, Gen. Reed’s wife Abigail died. The following inscription is copied from a slate stone monument once erected in an ancient burial ground in Keene, but later, with others, removed to a new cemetery:

“In memory of Mrs. Abigail, wife of Gen’ James Reed, who departed
this life Aug. 27, 1791, in the 68th year of her age.”

“There’s nothing here but who as nothing vi’eighs,
The more our joys the more we know it’s vain ;
Lose then from Earth the grasp of fond desire-
Weigh anchor, and some happier clime explore.”

The old graveyard where her remains were deposited was allowed to go. unprotected and uncared for till many of the stones were broken and destroyed. At length the few that remained were taken up and set one side and the ground plowed and planted. To save the stones from further desecration they were taken to a new cemetery and set in a row by themselves. An elderly inhabitant of Keene, indignant at such abuse of the resting places of the dead, suggested that upon each of these stones should be placed the additional inscription: “I once lived; I died and was buried: hut where my bones are now crumbling into dust, no mortal man can tell.

Gen. Reed married for his second wife Mary Farrar, a school teacher of Fitzwilliam. In 1798 he removed to Fitchburg, where he purchased of Dr. Peter Snow, senior, a house located on the site of the present Central block, next west of city hall. The lot, one and a fourth acres, comprised the land included in Cottage square and part of that on which the city hall stands. The deed was dated February 3, 1798. After his removal to Fitchburg, Dr. Peter S. Snow, then a lad of eight or ten years, used to lead the blind old general about the streets of Fitchburg. It is related of the general and his wife that both were fond of horseback riding, and they were accustomed to take frequent rides together. On these occasions the two horses were guided by the wife, by means of a rein extending from one animal’s bit to that of the other.

Gen. Reed died in Fitchburg, February 13, 1807, aged 84 years, and was buried with military honors. In the funeral procession the widow followed her husband’s remains to the grave on horseback, while the general’s horse, with empty saddle, walked by her side.

Gen. Reed’s family consisted of six sons and five daughters, and his descendants are quite numerous. Two of his sons, Sylvanus and James, served in the war of the Revolution. Sylvanus was an ensign in his father’s regiment. His commission, bearing date January 1, 1776, is signed by John Hancock, president of Congress. He was adjutant under Gen. Sullivan, and was afterwards promoted to colonel of a regiment. He served through the war and died in Cambridge in 1798. James Reed, Jr., also served through the war. He was disabled in the service and died a pensioner at Fitzwilliam, February 19, 1836, aged 89 years.

A contributor to the Granite Monthly, published at Concord, N. H., in writing of Gen. Reed, says that:

“In all the relations of life he sustained the highest character for honesty and integrity. In the numerous records relating to him there is naught found but words of praise. Wherever his name is mentioned by his comrades, from Washington down, it is in terms of commendation and eulogy. He was emphatically a Christian warrior. In the church records of the various towns where he resided his name is enrolled amoug the records of each, and his military orders bespeak the Christian as well as the soldier.”

His grave in Laurel Hill cemetery is marked by an elaborate slate-stone tablet, bearing the following quaint inscription:

“James Reed, born at Woburn, 1723. In the various military scenes in which his country was concerned, from 1755 to the Superior Conflict distinguished in our history as the Revolution, he sustained Commissions. In that Revolution, at the important post of Lake George, he totally lost his sight. From that period to his death he received from his country the retribution allowed to pensioners of the rank of Brigadier General. Died at Fitchburg, February 13, 1807.”

In this calm, peaceful retreat, overlooking the scenes of his declining years, repose the ashes of our heroic dead!

“Beside the Nashua’s silvery stream
The hero’s relics deep are laid;
No more of battle days he’ll dream,
Fame claims no more ; — her debt is paid;
Yet o’er his grave her laurels bloom,
And crown with brightest wreaths his tomb.”