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History Packet No. 9
Multi Era 2 - 3: 1724 to 1807
Brigadier General James ReedCompiled by Vicki E. D. Flanders
James Reed, a Revolutionary War officer, "was a citizen of Fitzwilliam and reflected honor upon it by his courage as a soldier and his excellencies as a man."
James Reed was born in Massachusetts around 1724 and probably a native of Woburn. He was the oldest son of Joseph and Sarah (Rice) Reed. The Reed's were descended from William and Mabel (Kendall) Reed, who sailed from London, England in July 1635 and arrived in Boston three months later. In 1648, the Reed family settled in Woburn. On his mother's side, James's grandparents were Ebenezer and Bethiah (Williams) Rice. We know that he had at least one sister, Bethiah Reed, who was a year younger.
In 1742, when he was about 22, James married Abigail Hinds, whose father was Hopestill Hinds. Abigail was born 4 March 1723 in Brookfield, Massachusetts, but is said to have been living in New Salem, Massachusetts. Brookfield is about halfway between Worcester and Springfield. The couple lived first in Brookfield, where he was a member of the Congregational Church. They next moved to Lunenburg, Massachusetts, which would subsequently became Fitchburg. James' and Abigail's home was built on the property that now accommodates Fitchburg's City Hall. There, too, church records show him to be a member of the Congregational Church.
Abigail and James became parents to six sons and five daughters, producing numerous descendants. The names of eight of their children are known, so perhaps three succumbed to childhood maladies of the times. Their first daughter, Abigail, was born 2 January 1744 in Brookfield. Their first son, James, was born in 1746. Another son, Frederick, was born 16 August 1752. Sylvanus, their third son, was born 7 January 1755 in Lunenburg. Barzilla (probably a daughter, as this name originally given to boys started being given to girls in the mid 1700s) was born 23 January 1756. Their son, Hinds, was born 29 November 1757 in Lunenburg. Joseph, named after his grand-father, was born 17 February 1763. Shelomith (also probably a daughter, as the name was later given to girls) was born 23 May 1766.
James Reed gained his military experience during the French and Indian Wars, which were a series of conflicts from 1689 to 1763 between Great Britain and France and their Indian allies. According to colonial practice, he would have been required to join the militia at age 16. By 1755, when he was about 31, he was commander of a company of troops in Colonel John Brown's Massachusetts Regiment. This was the same John Brown who helped capture Fort Ticonderoga in New York for the Americans 20 years later in 1775.
From 1756 to 1758, James commanded a number of Colonial companies under different commanders. In July of 1758 he was serving under General James Abercrombie when the British attacked Fort Carillon at Lake George, New York. This assault against the French held fort was unsuccessful. A year later, the British launched a second assault on the fort under the command of General Jeffrey Amherst. James and the British attackers were successful in capturing the fort in 1759 and renamed Ticonderoga. James continued to serve actively in the militia until the peace treaty of Paris in 1763. In 1770, he was promoted to Lieutenant Colonel.
By 1765, James and Benjamin Bigelow had received a grant of land from the New Hampshire Provincial Governor Benning Wentworth. They led settlers from Lunenburg to Monadnock Number Four, which is now Fitzwilliam. At age 41, he was older than most of the new settlers and the only original proprietor that actually resided in the township.
Reed built the second house in town, about a mile northwest of the village center. It was located on the Old Military Road (now State Route 119, which intersects with Upper Troy Road at the Common) that was used by the militia and other travelers. James turned his large home into a "public house." His inn and tavern had a kitchen, a bedroom, and two large square rooms on the first floor. The second story consisted of several lodging rooms.
Reed was regarded as a town father, and described as "very active, care taking, and energetic." Owning a considerable amount of the town's property, he promoted its settlement. He and the other town proprietors held their meetings at his house. In 1768, Reed served on a five person committee to lay out, clear, and build bridges on town roads. He served as moderator of the first town meeting held in town on 14 November 1769, and all the successive meetings until the American Revolution. Reed served on the committee to build a meetinghouse for worship and supported the construction by purchasing a pew. Before the meetinghouse was built, his public house served as the first place for religious services. Fitzwilliam's first minister the Reverend Brigham, was ordained at Reed's inn. He was admitted to the Congregational Church in Fitzwilliam on 27 March 1771 and his wife Abigail was admitted six months later. Reed's public house also served as the first school house in Fitzwilliam. The town history of Fitzwilliam lists him as a "member of all most important committees that shaped action of people establishing civil and religious institutions."
When Reed learned that Colonial militiamen had opposed British troops at Lexington on 19 April 1775, he raised a company of about 50 volunteers and led them to Medford, Massachusetts. Reed organized four companies of volunteers, and traveled to Exeter to receive the rank of Colonel of the Third New Hampshire Regiment on 1 June 1775 by the New Hampshire General Assembly. He returned to Fitzwilliam to organize the enlisted men who volunteered for service, and returned to Cambridge, Massachusetts in a march that took about four days.
He was ordered by General Artemas Ward to "quarter his regiment in the houses near Charlestown Neck; and keep all necessary guards between the barracks and ferry and on Bunker Hill." John Stark, Colonel of the First New Hampshire Regiment, remained at Medford. Their combined regiments consisted of about 1,150 soldiers. The military orders issued by Colonel Reed required that his men be disciplined and vigilant so they might be prepared for any movement. On the morning of the battle of Bunker Hill, 17 June 1775, he is said to be "the first officer of his rank on the field and his regiment the only one from New Hampshire ready for action."
The battle actually ensued on nearby Breed's Hill. Reed stationed on the left wing by the rail fence near the Mystic River, facing east toward Boston Harbor. Colonel Stark joined him there in the afternoon. This was reported to be the most fiercely fought, as well as the best-fought, part of the field. He is credited with having designed the parapet constructed by the New Hampshire soldiers while under enemy fire. The parapet consisted of a breastwork of stones, hastily thrown behind the fence from the river, extending southward up the hillside to the redoubt. The redoubt was a barrier reinforced by soil used to defend the prominent point. It served as excellent protection, and Reed and Stark's men used it to repel British advances twice. After the third assault, when the redoubt gave way, the New Hampshire troops slowly retreated, and Colonel Reed is said to have been the last officer who left the field.
Although the British Army prevailed in the third attack, almost half the British forces were killed or wounded by the militia regiments. Despite the colonial Army's shortcomings, it was led by capable men who had gained fighting experience alongside the British during the French and Indian Wars.
In July 1775, newly appointed General George Washington arrived outside Boston to take charge of the colonial forces. Colonel Reed remained with the Army and was posted on Winter Hill. When Washington reorganized the Continental Army on 1 January 1776, Colonel Reed's regiment was ranked second in the Continental Army. He participated in the siege of British-held Boston until its conclusion 17 March 1776, when Britain evacuated its troops.
Colonel Reed's next assignment was to accompany the Continental Army to its New York headquarters. On 24 April 1776, his regiment joined the Third Brigade, led by New Hampshire's General John Sullivan. Their orders were to travel up the Hudson River to relieve General Benedict Arnold's Northern Army in Canada, entrusted to make a delivery along the way. Before leaving, he signed the following payroll receipt that is now housed in the National Archives:
"New York April 29, 1776
The travel route northward was familiar to Colonel Reed from his campaigns during the French and Indian Wars. They met General Arnold's troops retreating from the British forces, and Colonel Reed's "skill and fortitude in the conduct of the retreat" were praised. On one occasion, in General Arnold's absence, he received and spoke with the chiefs of some Indian tribes. The meeting was both respectful and successful, as the chiefs pledged their friendship to the Colonial cause. The retreating soldiers reached Fort Ticonderoga on 1 July 1776.
Colonel Reed was stationed with his troops at Crown Point when the army was attacked by smallpox, dysentery, and fever to an alarming extent. Colonel Reed came down with malignant fever, a form of malaria carried by mosquitoes that breed in stagnant water. Through what may have been incompetent medical care, he lost all or almost all his vision. He received orders from General Washington to join him at headquarters, but, on account of his illness, was unable to comply. On 2 September, General Horatio Gates reported that he was so sick at Fort George that he probably would not be fit for service in the next campaign.
As a result of his blindness, he was appointed Brigadier General of the Continental Army by Congress on 9 August 1776 upon recommendation of General Washington. Brigadier General Reed retired from active military duty on half pay until the close of the war. He began receiving a pension on 1 January 1791.
Two of Reed's sons, James Jr. and Sylvanus, also served in the Revolution War. James Jr. was disabled in service and died a pensioner in Fitzwilliam on 19 February 1836 at the age of 89. Sylvanus was an ensign in his father's regiment. His commission is dated 1 January 1776, and signed by John Hancock, President of Congress. He was adjutant in the campaign of 1778 under General Sullivan and promoted Colonel of a regiment. He served through the war and died at Cambridge, Massachusetts, in 1798.
Having retired from the military, General Reed returned to Fitzwilliam where he "lived quietly" until 1783. He and Abigail were dismissed from the church in Fitzwilliam to the Congregational Church in Keene on 29 June 1783. At that time, the couple moved to Keene where Reed could be closer to medical treatment. He was remembered there as "an aged, blind man…almost daily seen…walking up and down Main Street aiding and guided by Mr. Washburn, who was paralyzed on one side." Medical treatment did not eliminate his blindness, however, and he returned to Fitzwilliam.
His wife Abigail, passed away on 27 August 1791 at age 68. Reed subsequently married Molly Farrar of Fitzwilliam. About the year 1800, he moved back to Fitchburg, Massachusetts, where he spent the remainder of his life.
Reed passed away in Fitchburg on 13 February 1807, aged 83. He was buried with military honors in the old burying ground at Fitchburg. His grave marker is more ornate than others of his era, a monument inscribed as follows:
"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."
James Reed has been honored by the State of New Hampshire with his portrait being hung in the State House in Concord and by an historical marker on the Old Military Road in Fitzwilliam. He also is memorialized with a bronze tablet placed in a granite boulder on the Common in Fitzwilliam, dedicated on 25 September 1924.
At the address given at that dedication, he was extolled with these comments, "In all the relations of a long and useful life, General Reed 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 in arms, from [President] Washington down, it is in terms of commendation and eulogy."
Addresses at the dedication of the memorial bronze tablet and granite boulder to Brig. Gen. James Reed at Fitzwilliam N. H.; 25 September 1924.
Blake, Amos J. "Sketch of the Life and Character of Gen. James Reed of Fitzwilliam N. H." Fitzwilliam, New Hampshire, c. 1881. Paper courtesy of Fitzwilliam Historical Society.
Blake, Amos J. "Gen. James Reed." Proceedings of the New Hampshire Historical Society, Vol. 1: 109-115. New Hampshire Historical Society, Concord, New Hampshire.
Boston National Historical Park. Boston, Massachusetts: U.S. Department of the Interior, National Park Service.
Cheshire County Registry of Deeds. Keene, New Hampshire.
New Hampshire State Papers, Vol. 16: 322.
Derby, Samuel Carroll. A List of The Revolutionary Soldiers of Dublin, N. H. Press of Spahr & Glenn, Columbus, Ohio, 1901.
Garfield, James F. D. "General James Reed." Proceedings and Papers of the Fitchburg Historical Society, Vol. 4: 112-124. Fitchburg Historical Society, Fitchburg, Massachusetts, 1908.
Johnson, Allen, and Duman Malone, Editors. Dictionary of American Biography, Vol. 13. Charles Scribner's Sons, New York, 1935.
Sillanpaa, Theresa, Curator. Fitzwilliam Historical Society, Fitzwilliam, New Hampshire.
Hale, Salma. Annals of Keene. J. W. Prentiss and Co., Keene, New Hampshire, 1851.
Journals of the Continental Congress, 1774-1789. No. 149, I, Folio 27, Friday, December 14, 1781: 1167-1168. Library of Congress, Washington, DC.
Manuscript State Papers, Revolution. Vol. I: 254. Public Records Office. Kew, Richmond, Surrey, United Kingdom.
Norton, Rev. John F. The History of Fitzwilliam, New Hampshire, from 1752 to 1887. Burr Printing House, New York, 1888. Page 122.
Officer, Lawrence H. "Purchasing Power of British Pounds from 1264 to 2005." And Officer, Lawrence H. and Samuel H. Williamson. "Computing 'Real Value' Over Time With a Conversion Between U.K. Pounds and U.S. Dollars, 1830-2005." MeasuringWorth.Com, August 2006.
Pell, S. H. P. Fort Ticonderoga: A Short History. Fort Ticonderoga Museum, Ticonderoga, New York, 1978. Pages 27-50.
Sergel, Charles H.; Editor. Yearbook of the Illinois Society of the Sons of American Revolution. Charles H. Sergel, Book Publisher, Chicago, Illinois. Page 225.
Squires, J. Duane. "Washington and His Generals." The New Hampshire Society, Sons of the American Revolution. An address given 22 February 1967.
State of New Hampshire. New Hampshire Department of Cultural Resources, Division of Historical Resources. Concord, New Hampshire.
Worcester, Samuel T. "Annual Meeting of the New Hampshire Historical Society, June 14, 1882: New Hampshire Soldiers at the Battle of Bunker Hill." Proceedings of the New Hampshire Historical Society, Vol. 1. New Hampshire Historical Society, Concord, New Hampshire.
Compiled by HSCC volunteer Vicki E. D. Flanders of Keene in 2007.