By Richard B. Trask
In the winter months of 1973-74, Danvers Town Archivist Richard B. Trask, and Danvers fireman, Robert G. Osgood, both members of the Danvers Bicentennial Committee, talked over the possibility of establishing a recreated eighteenth-century militia organization in Danvers. They had often seen other recreated militia and minuteman companies in various parades, and decided to try to create a Danvers company.
An article was placed in the local papers, inviting interested persons sixteen years of age or older to attend an organizational meeting on February 20, 1974, at the Historical society, Memorial Hall, at 13 Page Street. The article stated that it was the organization’s objective to recreate the militia as historically accurately as possible, containing a diversity of uniforms and accountrements typical of the period. “The militia will train in the eighteenth-century manner, participate in the area Bicentennial activities and be an educational activity for both the enjoyment of the participants and for the enlightenment of the community as to the militia’s original purpose, its historical impact, and the clothing of the period.”
The first meeting brought forth about thirty people from all walks of life. Osgood and Trask outlined their proposal, explained the importance of accuracy in recreating a company, and outlined the history of the Danvers militia and alarm companies. Of those present that night, fourteen went on to be regular members and became the nucleus of the Danvers company. A committee composed of Trask, George Meehan, and August Schildbach was appointed to come back with a tentative by-law.
The next meeting of the group was not to take place until April 23, 1974, but during the interim much was happening. Catalogs of reproductions equipment and clothing were acquired from many sources and serious research into the eighteenth-century records of the town was begun by Trask.
Danvers was originally settled in 1630 by John Endecott, first governor of Massachusetts Bay Colony, who built a house and set up his extensive “Orchard Farms” in the area now know as Danversport. The first settlement in present-day Danvers was that of Salem Village. In 1638, the Selectmen of Salem granted a small group of settlers the right to establish a village in the area now called “Danvers Highlands.” The inhabitants remained legally dependent on Salem in civil and ecclesiastic matters, although as time passed, the farmers began to petition for more independence from Salem. This village was part of the frontier in its early years, and wild animals, harsh weather, and hostile Indians were a real and constant threat to these Puritan pioneers. In 1672, Salem Village had become a parish, at which time, her dependence on Salem was somewhat lifted and she established her own congregation.
In 1671, the Salem Villagers began using a field at the center of the village for military training, and in 1709, Nathaniel Ingersoll, owner of the property, willed the field to the inhabitants as “a training place forever.” From that time on the village training field, located at present day 85 Centre Street, has been used for military training.
For many years, the inhabitants of Salem Village repeatedly petitioned the General Court to be made completely separate from Salem; but it was not until 1752 that the Village was made into the “District of Danvers.” In 1757, the district was incorporated into a township, and Danvers could send a representative to the General Court.
During the 1760’s and 1770’s Danvers took a politically active role in the growing revolutionary turmoil, and her record during the revolutionary War is indeed a proud one. Over three hundred Danversites served actively in the war, and Danversport built and outfitted four Privateers. So, too, Danvers gave the nation such famous sons as Brigadier General Israel Putnam and Dr. Samuel Holten, a president of the Continental Congress and signer of the Articles of Confederation. Holten, who was also a member of the General Court, Provincial Congress, and Massachusetts Committee of Safety, had in the early 1770’s been instructed by the Danvers Town Meeting “to look well to the rights of the people.” Town Meeting had, as early as 1765, voiced its opposition to British Parliamentary abuse. In 1770 it voted, “not to import, buy, or use tea until the tax shall be removed,’ and in February 1773, it was voted that we will use all lawful endeavors for recovering, maintaining, and preserving the invaluable rights and privileges of this people, and stand ready if need be to risk our lives and fortunes in defense of those liberties which our forefather purchased at so dear a rate.
In June, 1774, Thomas Gage royal Governor and Commander-in-Chief of British forces in North America, came to live in Danvers, and was joined in July by two companies of the Sixty-fourth Regiment of Foot
On June 20, 1774, John Adams, while staying at Danvers’s Piemont tavern wrote of his dream of a Congress,
There is a new and grand scene before me; a congress. There will be an assemble of the wisest men upon the Continent, who are Americans in principle, that is against the taxation of Americans by authority of Parliament.…
In early 1775, Danvers had a populations of approximately 2,200. The town militia was made up of three companies of foot, which were attached to the First Essex County Regiment. In January 1775, Town Meeting voted to “encourage one-quarter part of the Train Band Soldiers of this town to enlist as minutemen.” Soon the three militia companies were augmented by three alarm list and three minute companies, with a combined number of about 300 men.
On February 26, 1775, General Gage sent Col. Alexander Leslie with two companies of the 64th regiment to capture some cannon which were being outfitted in Salem. As the British marched towards Salem from Marblehead, the alarm was spread and Danvers, upon hearing of the British march, raced in arms to Salem, arriving just as the British were turning around to leave Salem without the cannon.
On April 19, 1775, Danvers was alarmed of the British march at about 9:00 in the morning. Soon drums, alarm shots, and church bells were sending the nine Danvers companies to their mustering points. The Danversites were soon on the road, at times almost at a run, going through present-day Lynn, Saugus, revere, Malden, Medford, and finally reaching Arlington, then known as Menotomy, at about 2:00 in the afternoon. Many of the me had traversed the twenty-mile distance in a little over four hours.
Companies commanded by Captains Israel Hutchinson and Gideon Foster, gathered in and around the yard of Jason Russell and opened fire upon the retreating British column returning from Lexington. British flankers caught many of the men in a pincer movement; and in t he ensuing fierce fight, Danvers lost seven killed, several wounded, and one captured. Further along the road, other Danversites reaped a vengeful harvest upon the retreating British. Danvers, which had traveled the furthest of any other town that saw action that day, suffered the most casualties, save for Lexington itself. Soon Danversites joined the Provincial Army encircling Boston; and many residents of the town saw conspicuous service in the six years following.
Through research into the town and military records of Danvers at the Danvers Archival center, Trask was able to find out the type of equipment the men in the militia companies were provided with. Account books of a Danvers tailor, and other primary sources, were studied, including local newspapers of the period, in order to obtain a clear picture of the local wearing apparel of the people.
A two-page guide for clothing was drawn up, outlining what each man must provide for himself, and where to obtain patterns, ready-made items, or a seamstress who would do the job. Items of rare use in Danvers in the 1770’s, such as fringed hunting shirts and knitted Liberty caps, were limited as to the number permitted in the Company. All clothing was to be approved before accepted for inclusion in the Company.
At this point, most of the men in the Company did not know each other very well, and everyone had much to learn about even the most simple aspects of eighteenthh-century military training and life. Those who did not want to take the time and trouble to learn so much or work so hard at getting varied clothing soon dropped out, but those who remained were serious and determined in their interest.
The second meeting on April 23 was a long workshop session. A by-law was discussed and adopted. The organization would be know as The Danvers Alarm List Company, and its purpose would be to:
recreate as historically accurately as possible, the Danvers militia, alarm companies, and colonial life of the town of Danvers for the education of its members, to participate in ongoing historical programs, and to give the general public a correct concept of life in the colonial period.
Meetings would be held at least bi-monthly, and in good weather, at the village training field. The Company chose the 1775 drill manual of Col. Timothy Pickering, Jr. of Salem, An Easy Plan of Discipline for a Militia, to guide them. They were the first recreated company to do so. Members had to have their clothing approved by the Historian, had to pay annual dues, and were fined for wearing apparel or behaving in manners inconsistent with the 1770’s. They were to begin studying colonial life and to take on the personality and learn the history of members of one of the original companies of Danvers. Officers were elected with George Meehan, an assistant principal of an elementary school, becoming captain. David Butler, a quality control technician, was chosen lieutenant and was to act as Company Publicity Chairman. David McKenna, a cemetery superintendent, became ensign and was the Company Safety Officer responsible for the instruction and safe operation of weapons and black powder. August Schildbach, a student, was chosen clerk and was responsible for minutes of meetings, the treasury, and roll calls. Richard Trask was chosen Sergeant, who would drill the men and, as Historian, be the person responsible for Company accuracy. Later, Howard D. Haynes, a carpenter, was appointed corporal. A local seamstress, Gail Majauckas, became expert in making items of eighteenth-century clothing for the men, and her help was greatly appreciated. The Company flag, a green field with white letters: “Danvers Alarm Co. – The King Unwilling” was made by her.
After the chance meeting of Richard Trask with Roger Maconi, Adjutant of the council of Minutemen, the Company quickly made application to join the Council. On June 4, 1974, the Danvers board of Selectmen reactivated the Danvers Alarm List Company, and shortly thereafter, the Company was voted into the Council. In May the Company had their first drill in uniform, which, although it looked good to the men at the time, now in looking back, seems almost laughable. There were few completed clothes, odds and ends for weapons, and little knowledge or confidence in drilling, marching, or terminology. But as the weeks passed, the Company took shape. Ensign McKenna took serious his charge of safety officer, and many training sessions were held at his house. Sergeant Trask continued to study the manual and levy fines which, besides helping the treasury, shaped the men into a better attitude and pride in themselves and the Company. At the urging of the officers, Danvers decided to always give that extra effort to keep its self-respect strong and its standing good.
The first program the company took part in was the Danvers July 4, 1974, parade, with eight men participating. After the exposure of the parade, others began joining, giving the Company a number of active men never under twenty-five.
Women and children, most related to the men, became active by researching, construction, and wearing eighteenth-century styles and taking up eighteenth-century crafts, such as spinning, candle-making, and embroidering. Popular marching and tavern songs were learned and sung by the men during programs. The Company soon was being asked to participate in numerous programs and events,a and the men freely gave their time and effort in school and frequent company-sponsored educational programs, while paid events added to the Company’s treasury for disbursement of needed equipment such as a drum, tents, and other Company and camp equipment.
The Company has participated in many recreated incidents, including the Salem Affair in February 0f 1975, the Battle at Menotomy, the June 14, 1975 Bunker Hill reenactment battle at West Newbury, the capture of Ticonderoga, New York, May 10, 1975, and the Arnold march to Quebec on September 20, 1975. In all, the Company participated in over fifty programs during its full year of activity.
Undoubtedly, the busiest time for the company was the week of April 19, 1975. During that busy week the Company participated in five parades, four programs, and put on four programs of its own. In five days the Company marched over thirty-eight miles, and the men represented the Company and the Town to the credit of both.
On Sunday, April 27, 1975, over twenty members of the Company marched, beginning at 5:00 a.m., over twenty miles to Arlington, following and commemorating the original route that the Danvers companies had marched on April 19, 1775. In the afternoon, four members of the company participated in the reenacted battle around the Jason Russell House in Arlington. Though the Company’s feet were sore, their spirits were high.
At the Company’s first family outing on July 4, 1975, at N. Peter Lundgren’s house, those who had made the march to Arlington were presented with large engraved metal plaques, with the three men over forty years of age being given bronze plaques. The plaques were thought up, worked out, and kept secret by David Butler. Also that day, Richard Trask was presented by the company with a fine reproduction flintlock pistol in a handsome presentation box, made by Peter Haynes. Also presented was a large oil-painted caricature of the Sergeant, executed by Don Perry.
A group of men in the Company, including Thomas Lotito, Brony Majauckas, Edward Pappamechail, George Briggs, and William Clemens, became the nucleus for smooth-bore musket competition shooting, and began taking prizes to the credit of the Company, including Pappamechail winning the individual musket competition at the 1975 Thunder Bridge muster.
On July 6, 1975, the Company participated in its first living history program at the Minuteman National Park in Concord, by recreating a small colonial encampment. According to the duty ranger, the Danvers Alarm List Company had the best program he had seen in the three years of demonstrations.
To commemorate the Benedict Arnold army’s encampment at Danvers on September 14, 1775, on their way to Quebec, the Danvers Company recreated a Revolutionary period encampment, complete with six tents, numerous crafts and chores being performed, including cooking, mending, musket-ball making, guard duty, manual practice, leather working, flint chipping, and game-playing. Besides camping out on the night of the thirteenth with all men and officers drawing guard duty, the Company put on a number of demonstrations on the fourteenth.
Officers for 1975-76 were elected in September 1975 as follows: George Meehan, Captain; Richard Trask, Lieutenant; David Butler, Second Lieutenant; David McKenna, Ensign; William Clemens, Clerk, Peter Haynes and David Roberts, Sergeants; and N. Peter Lundgren, Corporal. The Company was incorporated as a non-profit educational organization in August 1975.
Much of the Company time in the first half of 1976 was spent in preparation for the huge Danvers Bicentennial Weekend of June 17-20. The Company had decided to actively participate in the community celebration, and the wives and families of the members organized to take on an accurate portrait of the distaff side of eighteenth-century Danvers life.
During the four-day celebration, the Company either was responsible for, or took an active role in eighteen of the major programs including a full-scale eighteenth-century encampment and woman’s crafts program, a June 18, 1776 Town Meeting recreation, torchlight parade, Revolutionary War monument dedication, and organizing the colonial units of the Bicentennial parade.
The nationally know Rebecca Nurse Homestead, located on twenty-seven acres of land off Pine Street in Danvers, was formally turned over by the Society for the Preservation of New England Antiquities to the management of the Danvers Alarm List Company on Sunday, June 20, at a morning program following many months of study and effort on the part of both organizations.
Included among the residents of this well-known house were Sgt. Francis Nurse and Mathew Putnam, both of whom marched with the Danvers Militia and Alarm companies in the Lexington Alarm of April 19, 1775, and who now rest in the Nurse cemetery on the property.
The Sunday dedication included remarks by representatives of SPNEA, a talk by Town Historian Charles S. Tapley about the property, the official lease signing, and a “fire of joy” by the Danvers Alarm List Company.
On July 11, 1976, the Company had the honor of participating in a royal Military Review in Boston of eighteenth-century troops by Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II and His Royal Highness Prince Philip. During their walk past the assembled troops, the Queen stopped and spoke to Joan and Louis George, Ethel Trask, Dawn and Melissa Meehan, and Laurie Moland of the Company, while Prince Philip chatted with the David Butler family. The foot review of the Queen was later followed by a pass in review by the Company in front of Faneuil Hall.
With its newly acquired headquarters, its demonstrations and encampments, the Company has quickly emerged from the simple “chowder and marching society’ objectives into an important preservation and education organization for both its members and the public in general.