Fourth of July – We Deserve to Celebrate!
July 2, 2021 — by Sandy Dahlfred
A Farmer’s Cabinet article of April 2, 1875, reported that the New England Historic Genealogical Society had acknowledged receipt of a donation from the town of Londonderry that included “eighteen bullets cast during the Revolution, 1774-1783, being a part of the town stock of Londonderry, and kept in the town chest to the present time; also a cup made from wood taken from the house of Gen. George Reid of Londonderry, a famous officer in the Revolutionary War.” Being a long-time member of the NEHGS as well as a Londonderry resident, this article prompted me to look further into the town’s role in achieving our country’s independence.
What I learned is that Londonderry played a significant part in the Revolutionary War. The town was overwhelmingly pro-independence, with a full 96% of men signing the “Association Test,” a document declaring an individual’s support for the patriotic cause. In addition to dozens of fighting men, Londonderry contributed two generals, John Stark and the above-mentioned George Reid, and it’s even rumored that the first act of defiance that precipitated the war actually took place here rather than in in Lexington, Massachusetts! In January of 1769, a group of British Army deserters – of which there were many – was living in Londonderry. Their presence was reported to the royal authorities, possibly by a local spy, and they were rounded up and marched out of town. At that point, eleven Londonderry men intercepted the Redcoats in the nearby town of Atkinson and forced them to free the prisoners, resulting in quite a shock to the British soldiers who’d been thwarted by, in their view, a bunch of undisciplined rubes! If you’d like to learn more about this event, read the story The Londonderry Riot in Richard Holmes’ excellent book, Nutfield Rambles.
But, back to the donations…
From its very inception, Londonderry kept on hand “one barrel of good powder, 200 weight of bullets, and 300 flints for every 60 listed soldiers” as charged by the Province of New Hampshire in 1718. Although this ammunition was initially kept in the event of an attack by Natives, at the time of the Revolution, some of the stock was being distributed to men who were “willing to go against the enemy” and who promised “not to waste any.” Recipients needed to have their own guns in good working order, as well as twenty of their own bullets. No doubt the stash needed to be replenished due to the existing hostilities, and the town hung onto the remaining bullets until they were donated to the Society.
(Old) Londonderry-born George Reid, born in 1733, was the son of James and Mary Reid, some of the first settlers of the town. When the Revolution began, Reid was in command of a company of minutemen under General Stark. He quickly moved up the Army ranks to become general and served for the entire war, beginning with the battle of Bunker Hill in June of 1775. In 1786, General Reid was tasked with helping to quell a rebellion that had arisen regarding the use of paper currency. Because of his part in what became known as the “Exeter Rebellion,” he received death threats through anonymous letters, and was even accosted by an angry crowd that surrounded his Londonderry home. Though well-armed, Reid was able to talk the mob into disbursing. No guns were fired and no one was injured. General Reid, along with his wife, Mary Woodburn, raised five children on their farm here in town. The wooden cup mentioned in the article no doubt came from that place.
I contacted the folks at NEHGS and learned that, sadly, the donated items are no longer housed there. They were deaccessioned in January of 1962 when the organization moved from Ashburton Place in Boston to its current location on Newbury Street. No record of their whereabouts exists.