Wilmington is one of a small number of towns authorized to have a Minuteman company, having sent men to the Battle of Concord and Lexington on April 19, 1775. Known as “The shot heard ‘round the world,” the battle was the opening of the American Revolution. And men from Wilmington were there.
Minuteman companies were originally formed beginning in late 1774 as tensions rose between Massachusetts residents and the King’s soldiers in Boston. The Minutemen were selected from among members of local militia companies, to be ready at a minute’s notice. The Wilmington Minutemen first organized on March 1774. Cadwallader Ford Jr. was elected captain, and John Harnden lieutenant.
The call to battle came six weeks later when the British troops marched first to Lexington, then to Concord, searching for munitions the colonials had stored. The Wilmington men marched to Merriam’s Corner in Concord where they took part in a running battle with the British troops fleeing back to Boston.
There were many others who marched to Concord that April morning in 1775, as members of the Wilmington Militia, under Capt. Benjamin Walker.
Minutemen from Wilmington were also at the Battle of Bunker Hill on June 17, 1775. Records are not clear, but the men were either in the battle or on guard duty nearby in Cambridge. The captain at that time was John Harnden.
After Bunker Hill, the company broke up, with men moving to other duty, such as guarding the star fort in Cambridge. Joseph Harnden died there on Christmas Eve, 1775.
195 years later, with the nation’s bicentennial approaching, people in the Boston area began reconstituting the Minuteman companies. In the fall of 1968, Warren and Evelyn Sheerin attended a Minuteman ball in Bedford, along with their neighbor, Bill Meyer.
Returning home, they set to work to start a Minuteman company in Wilmington. Evelyn went to work researching the history, which led her to the Town Crier. The publisher, Capt. Larz Neilson, became an enthusiastic supporter, assisting in historical research.
The original Minutemen company had 27 members, and the recreated company would use that number, which meant they needed 27 uniforms. Dot Lafionatis was teaching sewing in the evening school, and soon there were several women busily turning out yellow vests, green trousers and colonial shirts.
Tri-corn hats were available through a shop in Concord. The company chose the Baldwin apple as its symbol, so the tri-corns were pinned with a small apple on a yellow cockade.
The company held an organizational meeting in November 1968, at which they presented Capt. Larz Neilson with a tri-corn. In March, they elected Bill Meyer as captain; Frank Curley, lieutenant; Warren Sheerin and Jeff Coville, sergeants. Bob Butters was descended from a member of the original company.
The company marched in its first parade in Concord on Patriots’ Day 1969. A month later, they made an impressive showing at the annual Wilmington town meeting.
The company became part of the Massachusetts Council of Minutemen, participating in events throughout the Boston area during the nation’s bi-centennial. The Wilmington Minutemen had front-row seats for the memorable events, parades, skirmishes and celebrations. Every July 4, they have gone to Castle Island, South Boston, to fire cannon salutes as Old Ironsides is taken for its annual turn-around cruise.
Members of the company have traveled to other states to participate in various events commemorating Revolutionary War battles.
Patriots’ Day is a special time for the Minutemen, with their annual march to Concord. They would have a midnight breakfast with sausages, eggs, baked beans, corn bread and hot grog. At 2 a.m., they would receive word from a rider that the British were advancing on Concord, whereupon, they would set off from the common.
Some muskets would be fired, especially when the company passed the home of a member who failed to take part. Sometimes there would be a few people in the square, holding balloons and cheering as the marchers passed. After crossing the Burlington Avenue bridge, most of the company would retire. A few would continue, marching the entire 17 miles to Concord.
Another local event is the Liberty Pole ceremony. The Minutemen would haul the Liberty Pole to Rotary Park, where it would be raised in defiance of the king’s rule, much as was done in revolutionary times. A small company of British troops would then arrive and demand that it be taken down. Soon the odor of black powder would be in the air as muskets and cannon were fired in a mock battle.
Some of the members of the company would volunteer as Redcoats. After all, how can they have a skirmish with no opposition?
Maybe the Redcoats couldn’t take it down, but Father Time finally did. The Minutemen are now working to craft a new one.
The Liberty Pole event received coverage in Yankee Magazine, about 40 years ago, with several color pictures.
After the town took the Harnden Tavern by eminent domain in 1974, the Minutemen were able to secure use of the carriage house as company headquarters.
Men in the company became good students of the original Minutemen. Bill Meyer undertook an extensive, impressive study of the roster of Wilmington’s Revolutionary troops. He put it together in a looseleaf format, and it was later made into a book.