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This Day in History: Seth Pomeroy, nearly forgotten Patriot

On this day in 1777, a nearly forgotten American Revolutionary war hero passes away. Seth Pomeroy was almost 69 years old when the first shots of the Revolution were fired at Lexington and Concord.

You don’t think his age prevented him from fighting, do you? Because it didn’t.

"Battle of Bunker Hill," by E. Percy Moran

Pomeroy’s choice to fight against Great Britain was a big deal. He’d spent decades serving the British King in the wars that preceded the Revolution. His first combat came during King George’s War, a conflict that began in 1744.

For perspective, Thomas Jefferson would have been just one year old at the time. George Washington was then twelve.

Roughly a decade later, Pomeroy would serve the King again in the French and Indian War, but things were different by the time the American Revolution began. Pomeroy had become increasingly distrustful of the British crown that he’d once served so dutifully.

As tensions rose between the colonies and Great Britain, Pomeroy served in the Massachusetts Provincial Congress. He was trusted and respected there. After all, he’d seen and experienced a lot in previous wars. Pomeroy was soon named a commander of the Massachusetts militia. When shots were fired at Lexington in April 1775, Pomeroy was among the militia who besieged the British in Boston.

He went home for a bit in early June, but quickly returned when he learned that the militia intended to fortify Bunker Hill.

The trip from Northampton to Boston would have been about 100 miles. It was a long, hard ride for someone his age, but he did it. He left his home on the night of June 16 and arrived outside Boston at about 2:00 the next afternoon. He fought at Bunker Hill alongside John Stark, who was protecting the American left flank.

Pomeroy has been credited with helping to ensure that the American retreat from Bunker Hill was orderly. His experience in prior wars would have come in handy, and he would have helped to maintain calm and prevent a panic.

At about that time, the Continental Congress officially created a new Continental Army, and it named Pomeroy as its first Brigadier General. There’s uncertainty about what happened with that commission. Possibly Pomeroy declined the opportunity because of his age? Had the prior months of fighting taken a toll on his body?

Nevertheless, someone—possibly George Washington himself—talked Pomeroy into serving one more time by January 1777. Pomeroy was to lead some Massachusetts militia to join Washington’s army, then in New York.

Pomeroy must have been feeling his age because he was advised not to go by his wife and doctor. Yet he was never one to shirk the call of duty. “I go cheerfully,” Pomeroy wrote his son, “for I am sure the cause we are engaged in is just, and the call I have to it is clear, and the call of God.”

Pomeroy’s spirit might have been fierce, but his body couldn’t take anymore. He passed away during the trip to New York.

His name has been largely forgotten today, but Americans at the time felt the loss of their respected general.

Later, a poet put some of this sentiment into words:

“A hero there was who, at three score and ten,

Had news of the fighting of Concord’s bold men—

‘To horse and away!’ was the word for him then,

For hot was the heart of Seth Pomeroy.

. . .

‘Twas Putnam that met him, the downright and brave,

And rough as his grasp was the greeting he gave:

‘What, you here? but God! –if you slept in your grave

A cannon would wake you, Seth Pomeroy!

Fierce, fierce was the shock on that world-famous day;

‘The muskets are empty, the troops must give way!’

‘Nay—on boys! no enemy ever shall say

That he saw the back of Seth Pomeroy!”

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