Sam Whittemore: American Patriot
By the mid 1770s, ties between the Colonies and England had been strained almost to the breaking point. There was heated talk floating around the Massachusetts Bay Colony and Boston of revolution. It was unavoidable, so it came as no surprise when it officially began. Samuel Whittemore was but one of many Colonials who participated in the American Revolution (1775-1783).
He was born in England around 1695 about 75 years after the Pilgrims landed at Plymouth Rock. He had served the British Crown for nearly five decades of military service and had risen to the rank of Captain. In 1745 he came to North America where he fought in King George's War (1744-48).
At around 5 AM April 19th 1775, British troops were crossing Lexington Green when a group of about 50 Militiamen stood blocking their way. They had no uniforms and their weapons were anything but new. The British Redcoats ordered them to disperse, but they stood their ground. No one knows which side fired first but after the first volley eight militiamen lay dead and ten more were wounded.
As the British column approached Menotomy, now modern day Arlington, MA, they stormed Jason Russel’s house killing eleven including Russel who was found bayoneted at the foot of his stairs. They killed other prisoners in his orchard.
History records the lone Whittemore was in his fields when he spotted an approaching British brigade returning from the Battles of Lexington and Concord and he took concealment behind a stone wall and waited in ambush. That was an extraordinary act of courage by itself. But what made it even more so was the fact Whittemore was 80 year old at the time.
When the Redcoats drew near Whittemore sprang from hiding and opened fire with a musket and two flintlock pistols. Two were instantly killed and another fell mortally wounded. His firearms now empty and having no time left to reload, he drew a sword and advanced toward the enemy. He was shot through the cheek, bayoneted 13 times and beaten unmercifully. The British soldiers left him for dead and marched on.
Amazingly, however, Whittemore didn't die. After the Redcoats were out of sight his friends rushed out to check on him. They found the half-dead octogenarian still trying to reload his weapons. He was taken to a doctor using a door as a stretcher. The doctor bound his wounds but his prognosis held little hope and he sent the old soldier home to die. However, the doctor was wrong. Whittemore survived the entire war finally dying in 1793 at the age of 98 from old age.
A 2005 act of the Massachusetts legislature declared him an official state hero and today a historical markers stands near the spot he fell from his wounds. It reads “Near this spot, Samuel Whittemore, then 80 years old, killed three British soldiers, April 19, 1775. He was shot, bayoneted, beaten and left for dead, but recovered and lived to be 98 years of age. In 2005, Samuel Whittemore was proclaimed the official state hero of Massachusetts and his memory is commemorated annually on February 3rd.
His children, grandchildren, great grandchildren and great-great grandchildren numbered about 185. He became the oldest known colonial combatant in the American Revolution.