Back

Memoir of Rev. Samuel West
Excerpt from Memoirs of the Rev. Samuel West, Pastor (1764 – 1788), First Parish, Needham Massachusetts

“…pursued by ye Government in great Britain were precisely such as to keep up ye ferment without having any tendency to accomplish their purpose.

            On ye 19 April 1775 One thousand seven hundred and seventy five the storm burst upon us in such a manner as to produce the utmost consternation and distress both to the British and Americans who witnessed the scene. I shall not detail the circumstances which attended the tragical affair any further than as they are immediately connected with the object of these Memoirs, which is not to give a history of the time an further than as events relate to or immediately affect myself and family.

In the night after the eighteenth of April a detachment of the British troops marches out of Boston for the purpose of securing to themselves or destroying the provisions etc. which had been deposited at Concord, by order of the Provincial Government. They in part effected their purpose, but were soon attacked by our people and a continual skirmish was kept up during their march from Concord to Boston. About one hundred on both sides were killed and many were wounded. The news reached us about nine o’clock A.M. The east company in Needham met at my house {*} as part of the Military stores were deposited with me, they there supplied themselves, and by ten o’clock all marched for the place of action with as much spirit and resolution as the most zealous friends of the cause could have wished for.  We could easily trace the march of troops from the smoke which arose over them, and could hear from my house the report of the cannon and the Platoons fired by the British. The Needham company was soon on the ground, but unhappily being ignorant of what are called flank-guards they inserted themselves between them and the main body of the British troops. In consequence of which they suffered more severely than their Neighbors who kept to a greater distance. Never did I know a more anxious day than this. Not so much on account of what was then taking place (although that was solemn and deeply affecting.) But I considered it as no more than the beginning of sorrows and prelude to infinitely more distressing scenes which we expected would follow. We even anticipated the enemy enraged as they were at our doors and in our houses acting over all the horrors which usually attend the progress of a victorious exasperated army especially in civil wars like this. Whatever I had read on ye subject now came fresh to my mind & produced ye most painful apprehensions. All this actually took place tho’ not as I expected with respect to my family & neighbours yet in other & many parts of America. But it was a happy circumstance that ye People in general & even our principal leaders had none of these gloomy apprehensions and flattered themselves that the contest would soon be over, that if we could but dispose of the British force already here, that Government would never thing of pursing the affair any further, but come to some compromise with the Colonies to mutual advantage. In the evening we had intelligence that several of the Needham inhabitants were among the slain, and the next morning it was confirmed that five had fallen in the action and several others had been wounded. It is remarkable that the five who fell all of them had families, and several of them very numerous families so that there were about forty widows {**} and fatherless children made in consequence of their death. I visited these families immediately, and with a sympathetic sense of their affliction I gave to some the first intelligence they had of the dreadful event, the death of a Husband and a Parent. The very different manner in which the tidings were received, discovered the very different disposition of the suffers. While some were almost frantic in their grief others received the news with profound silence as if in a consternation of grief they were incapable of shedding tears or uttering sighs or groans. I shall only add further with respect to this memorable day that it appeared to have a surprising effect on the spirit of the people in general, and from being as I had supposed them and as they actually were mild an gentle, they became at once ferocious and cruel. At least towards all of those they suspected as unfriendly to their cause. Their treatment of such as the British left dead on the road was such as I could {***} have supposed. They were stripped for the sake of their cloths and left naked on the highway until buried by order of our Government…

*     Parsonage at junction of Central Ave. & Nehoiden St, opposite first site of church

**  5 widows and 35 children

***  Was “not” omitted in transcription?

(Rev West’s memoir was borrowed and transcribed, but the original memoir was returned to the family (current whereabouts unknown). The transcription, however is said to be accurate to be original and not interpolated or summarized. Dr. Gloria Greis, Executive Director, Needham Historical Society){from copy, unknown transcriber, spelling and spacing preserved}