Revolutionary War Historical Article
Captain Thomas Wellington of Massachusetts
by Donald N. Moran
Editor's Note: This article was reprinted from the November/December 1997 Edition of the Liberty Tree and Valley Compatriot Newsletter
Thomas Wellington, Jr. (1) is the patriot ancestor of Compatriots Robert, Trenton and Trevor McLinn and Compatriot Lieutenant General Charles H. Terhune's wife, Gloryanna.
He was born on December 12th, 1734, at Watertown, Massachusetts, the son of Thomas, Sr. and Margaret (Stone) Wellington. Thomas, Sr., was a member of the First Committee of Correspondence, Safety and Inspection for Massachusetts, having been appointed by Samuel Adams on December 14th, 1772. This appointment underscores the prominence of the Wellington Family in colonial Massachusetts.
Thomas married Elizabeth ( Betsy) Dix on April 19th, 1759, in Lexington. She was baptized on March 20th, 1730.
As the relationship between the colonies and Great Britain worsened, Thomas joined the Minuteman Company of the Watertown Militia, serving as a private soldier in Captain Samuel Barnard's Company under the command of Col. Thomas Gardiner. The Company was formed by vote of the town council on January 2nd, 1775. Once a week Thomas attended drill and received four coppers, "for refreshments".
On April 19th, 1775 a courier arrived in Watertown advising that a British expeditionary force of 800 men had fired on the Company of Lexington Militia, killing several. They then marched on to Concord, where they met with stiff resistance, and a running battle was being fought as they spoke. Thomas Wellington had kinsman serving under Captain John Parker of the Lexington Militia Company, Benjamin and Enoch Wellington. For Thomas, this was not just a matter of patriotism, this involved his family.
The Watertown Militia, including Thomas in the Minuteman Company were assembled at the meeting house. Since they had no specific orders they were discussing various alternatives when Captain Michael Jackson commanding the Newton Militia Company arrived. He advised that he heard the British were retreating from Concord and that Lord Percy was leading a relief force to rescue them. He was leading his men to Lexington to intercept them. Colonel Gardiner agreed and the Watertown men joined the Newton Militia on their march to Lexington (2).
Menotomy (now Arlington) was just a wide place in the road in 1775, but it was the crossroads where the routes coming into Boston from the north and west intersected. As it turned out, all roads led to Menotomy for the purpose of intercepting the British.
It is no wonder that Lord Percy and Lt. Colonel Francis Smith were astounded by the number of "rebels" that Massachusetts was able to muster at Menotomy just three hours after Lord Percy had passed through the then empty town. Approximately 2,000 militia and minuteman were pursuing him from Lexington and now they faced a like number between them and the safety of Boston! Massachusetts Generals William Heath and Dr. Joseph Warren tried to coordinate the tactics of the numerous militia companies, but found the lack of formal organization made it almost impossible. They did decide that Menotomy would be the place to consolidate their forces and meet the retreating British head on. Captain Samuel Barnard followed these instructions and marched his command to Menotomy, found a good defensive spot and deployed his Watertown Minutemen, including Thomas Wellington.
By the time the combined British force of Colonel Smith and Lord Percy arrived at Menotomy the mood of their soldiers was murderous. Rumored among the ranks was that the Colonials were not taking prisoners, and were scalping the wounded. This made them desperate, and desperate soldiers do desperate things. As they fought their way into Menotomy the musket fire reached a bloody crescendo. With the help of their artillery, the British managed to fight their way through the town, losing more men in this one action then any other during their retreat.
Menotomy turned out to be the last major obstacle to their reaching Boston. They had suffered 269 casualties out of the combined total of 1,800 men, almost a fifteen percent loss! (3)
During this heated action, Thomas must have acquitted himself well, as within a month we was promoted to Lieutenant and transferred to Colonel Jonathan Brewer's Regiment, the newly created 7th Continental Regiment. (4)
Colonel Brewer received permission from Joseph Warren to raise a Regiment of "Rangers". These would be irregular troops who would be sure to lead a more existing life and have few worries about army discipline. The Provincial Congress suggested he stop, as the army didn't need rangers. Brewer's regiment was supposed to number 598, but on the May 25th ,1775 roster he had but 397, of whom only 302 had muskets!
Immediately after the defeat of the British Expeditionary force, the siege of Boston began. Major General Artemus Ward, directed the siege. His tactics were simple, keep the British bottled up in Boston until the American forces were strong enough to attack the city.
Exactly what Lieutenant Wellington did at this time is unknown. We do know that his home town of Watertown was one of the major supply depots for the Continental Army, hence he may have been assisting in its establishment.
On June 13th, 1775 the Americans learned that the British were going to attempt to break the existing stalemate and occupy Dorchester Heights.
To prevent this development, General Ward ordered the besieging troops to fortify Bunker Hill on the Charlestown peninsula. On the night of 16th, Colonel William Prescott led a force of some 1,200 men onto the peninsula. For reasons to lengthy to explain herein, they decided to fortify Breeds Hill instead of Bunker Hill.
The next morning, the British discovered the fortification. British Major General Thomas Gage immediately called a council of war. It was decided by the British High Command to immediately attack.
Historians have been critical of General Gage's plan to launch a frontal attack on a fortified position. However, Gage must be judged in the light of what can reasonably be expected to know at the time. In spite of the casualties suffered during the Lexington-Concord retreat, the average British officer did not believe the Colonials would stand their ground. The attack was scheduled to begin after 2:00 P.M., when the tide was at its highest, permitting easy passage to the peninsula.
The Americans had adequate time to reinforce the troops that had constructed the fortification. Among these reinforcements was half of Colonel Brewer's Regiment, and probably with him, Lieutenant Thomas Wellington. Unfortunately, the official records do not provide a breakdown of which men in the Regiment were in the front lines,or which were held in reserve, but in either case, they all saw heavy fighting that fateful day.
Brigadier General Israel Putnam deployed his 1,500 Americans in a line from Charlestown to the Mystic River, with the redoubt in the middle. Colonel Brewer's Regiment was placed north of the redoubt.
At 3:30 P.M. the British, having crossed the bay, by boats manned by seaman from the Royal Navy, formed up in smart lines. Each soldier carried his full pack and three day's rations. They marched up the hill, in 90 degree temperatures to sounds of drums and fifes.
At 50 yards they were met with a murderous volley of musket fire devastating the front ranks. An attempt to reform their lines failed when the second volley tore into them. Still more regulars fell as they retreated down the hill. Out of range they were reformed and again advanced up the hill. Again they were met with one lethal volley after another and again were driven back.
No army in the history of the world has seen its forward units suffer eighty per cent casualties and remain a coherent fighting organization. These British troops were no exception, they were demoralized, but more then that, they wanted revenge. When they were reinforced by 1,400 additional troops from Boston, and given permission to shed their heavy packs and unnecessary equipment, they were ready to try again. This time the Americans were low on ammunition. The Royal Navy was bombarding the narrow neck of land leading to the peninsula, denying the Americans the reinforcement and additional ammunition they desperately needed. This attack, although again suffering heavy loses, carried the redoubt, forcing the Americans to withdraw.
It was not a rout, the Americans retreated in reasonably good order, fighting a rear guard action. An attempt was made to make a stand on Bunker Hill, but with the artillery fire from the Royal Navy and the exposed nature of the position, the Americans decided to completely withdraw from the Charlestown peninsula.
Thomas Wellington and his fellow Americans inflicted terrible loses on the British. Out of force of about 2,500 involved in the attack, they had 1,150 casualties. American losses are estimated to be 441.
From the official records it would appear that this was the last combat Thomas Wellington was to see. He did additional service. On October 15, 1776 he was commissioned a Captain in Colonel Asa Whitcomb's Regiment. He was reengaged on November 4th, 1776 as a Captain in Colonel Wigglesworth's Regiment and saw service at Fort Ticonderoga, New York, but no details of his service there have survived. Finally he served as a Captain in Colonel Smith's Regiment from January 1777 until April 1779 (5).
Thomas Wellington, Jr. is shown as being retired on April 10th, 1779. After the war he settled in his native Watertown, and died there on January 19th, 1818. His wife proceeded him, having died on April 3rd, 1806.
1 - Thomas Wellington's name is sometimes spelled Willington in the Massachusetts records.
2 - Taken from a sketch written by Solon F. Whitney, Watertown Librarian.
3 - Colonel Mark M. Boatner's "Encyclopedia of the American Revolution", page 631.
4- - F. B. Heitman's "Officers of the Continental Army", page 439.
5 - Bryce Metcalf's "Original Members and Other Officers Eligible to the Society of the Cincinnati"