July 27, 2010

William Dawes Jr.... mostly unknown and mostly misplaced.


The photo on the right, [click on picture for enlargement] taken from the internment book at Forest Hills Cemetery, should settle the case of where William Dawes, Jr. [1745-1799] is buried.

This was hand written in 1882 when tomb #131 at the Central Burying Ground was emptied and the persons buried within where removed to Forest Hills Cemetery. Proof that Dawes, his wife Mehitable May, and 15 others of the May family made their journey from the Boston Common graveyard seems not enough.

But let me backup a little at this point.

Some may ask who the heck is William Dawes, Jr.? The answer would be that Dawes made a ride the same night as Paul Revere's well known ride on the 18th of April, 1775, on the same mission, and sent by the same person [Forest Hills' own Joseph Warren]. He, also, began his ride before Revere and went by way of Roxbury Neck [the only land route in or out of Boston, at that time].

Joseph Warren headed the Boston Committee of Safety which was instituted to keep watch on the activities of the occupying British forces. Overheard conversations of British officers and soldiers indicated that they, very soon, where planning to move their forces into the countryside. The colonists had begun stockpiling ammunition and weapons for a coming confrontation with a steadily growing belligerent British army. Besides capturing the arms, British forces wanted to arrest Samuel Adams and John Hancock, then in Concord. These two important leaders of the colonists would then be transported to England to be tried for treason. We can be sure that they would have been found guilty and, also, be sure that they would not have received probation and a warning.

William Dawes was an important member of the Sons of Liberty. Earlier he had smuggled two brass cannons out of Boston without the British commander's knowledge. He would, also, pretend to have drank too much and be passed out at a tavern where British soldiers where drinking. He would then listen to their conversations for any military information that would be useful to the Committee of Safety. His ability to leave Boston, to begin his ride to Concord, when Boston was being sealed off to prevent word of the actions of the British spreading is informative of Dawes ingenuity. So many times had he rode out over Roxbury Neck posing as a farmer and a tipsy one, I might add, that the Redcoats guarding the Neck knew him. They felt him harmless and let him pass.
Much has been made of Revere's ride and too little of Dawes. But, they where not the only ones out that night. The countryside was ready for any action by the Redcoats, they had planned for this for some time. As soon as word arrived that, "The Regulars are out!" church bells began ringing, bonfires were lit, and other riders sped to nearby communities to call out the Minute Men. That's why they were called Minute Men, they could be ready in minute's notice. Today, we have missiles that are called Minute Men that do not work a lot of the time. Luckily the real Minute Men did do what they were intended for.

Dawes reached Lexington shortly after Revere. The route being longer for Dawes as he rode through Roxbury, Brookline, Cambridge [Harvard Square], what is now Arlington, and into Lexington. Neither men ever reached Concord that night. Upon leaving Lexington after warning Adams and Hancock they met on the road with Dr. Samuel Prescott. Being "... a warm patriot..." Prescott decided to join in turning out the countryside all the way up to Concord. The three men were soon stopped by a British patrol. Dawes rode off in one direction, Prescott in another. Dawes was thrown from his horse and walked back to Lexington. Prescott was the one who reached Concord that night.

So, why did Revere get so much credit for that night? Well, he was a highly regarded Patriot and did much more than that single ride. I refer you to "Paul Revere and the World He Lived In" by Esther Forbes. There are more recent books than her's but her's is so much more interesting.
Two things helped Revere receive so much credit: 1.. he wrote 3 depositions of his ride [Dawes, none], and 2.. Henry Wadsworth Longfellow.
Longfellow was a great poet [we could use a few, today] but not much of an historian. At the start of the Civil War he wanted to write a patriotic poem to help with recruiting soldiers for the Union. He came upon Revere's depositions and the rest is, as is said, history [or not]. Let me mention a couple inaccuracies. "...I on the opposite shore shall be...". No. Revere was in Boston and it was his idea for the lanterns. He didn't need them to tell him about British movements. Midnight Ride? No. Dawes was sent out before 10 o'clock and Revere a short time later.
Dr. Samuel Prescott was out late that night visiting his fiancee when he met Dawes and Revere. Later in the war he will die as a prisoner of war of the British.

Dawes was not completely forgotten by poets. In 1896 Century Magazine published this written by Helen Moor [or Moore] ......... Ahem!

I am a wandering, bitter shade,
Never of me was a hero made;
Poets have never sung my praise,
Nobody crowned my brow with bays;
And if you ask me the fatal cause.
I answer only, "My name is Dawes."

'Tis all very well for the children to hear
Of the midnight ride of Paul Revere;
But why should my name be quite forgot,
Who rode as boldly and Well, God Wot?
Why should I ask? The reason is clear-
My name was Dawes and his Revere.

When the lights from the Old North Church flashed out,
Paul Revere was waiting about,
But I was already on my way.
The shadows of night fell cold and gray
As I rode without a break or a pause;
But what was the use when my name was Dawes!

History rings with his silvery name;
Closed to me are the portals of fame.
Had he been Dawes and I Revere,
No one had heard of him, I fear.
No one has heard of me because
He was Revere and I was Dawes.

A good friend of mine, who I consider one of Boston's Best Tour Guides, has said that Revere gets a city named for him and Dawes gets a traffic island in Harvard Square.



Dawes returned to being an affable fellow and moved to Marlborough to set up a grocery. His wife Mehitable [May] Dawes bore them six children. Of these six, one died at less than two years off age another at about three years. Mehitable died in 1793 and was buried in her family's lot at the Central Burying Ground. William, Jr. [Jr.] [how does one describe a Jr.'s, Jr.?] lived to be eighty five and had moved to Ohio as a young man. This is where you will find descendants of our William, today. They have a website http://www.wmdawes.org
While we in Boston, generally, do not know this homegrown patriot, we have him "buried" at the King's Chapel Burying Ground on Tremont Street, downtown, the good folks out in Ohio honor this man and his connections to history. You'll see at King's Chapel the brass plaque placed there in 1899 by the Sons of the Revolution [by way of Wikipedia]/wiki/W: http://en.wikipedia.orgilliam_Dawes

Nice try you Sons of the Revolution but you got the father: William Dawes. Dawes Jr. had been buried with his first wife, Mehitable, over in the May family lot about one hundred years before your plaque placing. Sorry. But you do have everyone believing that Dawes Jr. is there. "Well, there's a plaque there and By Golly those plaques don't lie." say tour books, lots of tour guides, King's Chapel, National Park Service, and, also, the Boston Globe which, by the way, printed an article about my discovery three years ago. www.boston.com/news/local/massachusetts/articles/2007/02/25/whos_buried_in_dawe
I'm not sure if this link works, as a matter of fact, I'm not sure if any of my links work. I'm not a real blogger, I'm just one who has been asked to blog.

So, where was I??

Dawes' younger sister, Lydia, married a Col. John Coolidge in 1772. That would make the Dawes family in a genealogical line with President Calvin Coolidge. Better yet, Coolidge's vice-president was Charles Gates Dawes, whose great-grand father was our William Dawes Jr. Personally, I wish it was a better presidential duo than those.

More oddities: during WWII a Liberty Ship was named for our Dawes Jr. and it was sunk by the Japanese off of New Zealand. Another William Dawes a Captain in the Royal Marines did surveying in that area of the Pacific in 1788. He, also, was wounded in 1781 in fighting against America while on a British ship.

I could go on and on and I wonder if anyone is left at this point?

If you are still there let me know what you think of this rambling.

Thanks, Your Boston Correspondent.... Al Maze.

3 comments:

theotherhilary said...

Wow Mr. Maze! It's clear you are an expert on William Dawes Jr. Thanks for all this great history and setting the record straight. I hope you continue educating the people of Boston on the true history of our country for many years to come. (BTW - your links all work and I think a Jr.'s Jr. is a III)

sc1075 said...

"How do you describe a Jr's Jr?" That would be William Dawes III.

Phoebe said...

It is certainly rambling and I LOVE IT!!! About time we got to hear from you from a larger stage than behind the wheel of a van or roaming around cememtaries. Keep educating us since our schools won't do it - we have a lot of catch up to do!