The Beehive: the official blog of the Massachusetts Historical Society

A Biscuit's Tale

Our Preservation Librarian, Kathy Griffin, is sorting through the pre-1900 MHS Archives, and has been coming across some really interesting pieces of correspondence, among which is this 1856 letter from Joseph Mills of Needham, MA:

I, Joseph Mills, was the Son of David Mills; Born in the Town of Needham Co of Norfolk, State of Mass, Sept. 7th, 1773.

At the Lexington Battle, my Father belonged to a company of Minute Men, when the alarm was given He repaired to the scene of action; the history of the day will tell what befell the Needham Minute-Men; He followed the British to their encampment that night in Charlestown, enlisting orders being out next day, He enlisted for three months came home to His Family got some clothes, & returned to the camp in Cambrige [sic]. (He was also at Bunker Hill Battle,) Ever ready to serve His Country, He went as a volunteer to Newport RI, to drive the British from there. When His Country again called for His services, He enlisted again & went to York State, was at the taking of Burgoyne the 17th of Oct, 1777, after Burgoyne's army surrendered, He said the American soldiers were fed from the British stores, & when the American Army disbanded, & the American Soldiers were returning Home, they took British bread in their Napsacks to eat on their way, My Father thought He would fetch some of the Bread home to let People see what Soldiers had to eat.

When I was a Boy & Frequently used to see My Father show that Bread to strangers & old Soldiers who frequently visited Him, one in particular would say, why, Mills, have you got that Biscuit yet? In company with Him, while looking over His papers, in the year 1803, He took out that Biscuit, & said to me Joseph, here is a relic of the Revolution, bought with the price of Blood, You take & keep it, it may be of some consequence as a curiosity in future years.

From that time until the present, I have kept it, thinking to present it so some Soc who would present me a suitable reward.

The above facts as near as my memory serves me, I am ready to confirm by oath; & as I am now confined to a sick-bed, hope no one would dispute my statements.

Dictated by Myself, & written by my Daughter.

Needham Aug 30th 1856.

[signed] Joseph Mills

Samuel Abbott Green, the MHS Librarian from 1868 through 1918, has written on the back of the letter "This biscuit that came with this note was destroyed by worms, and the note itself barely escaped the same fate."

So does Mills' story check out? Could his father have indeed been at Lexington, Bunker Hill, Saratoga, and Newport? Turning to Massachusetts Soldiers and Sailors of the Revolutionary War, Volume X (Boston: 1902) we find five entries for David Mills (pp. 791-792), and it looks like they may all be referring to Joseph's father. David Mills is listed as a private in Captain Robert Smith's company at the time of the 19 April 1775 alarm (service 16 days); a private in Captain Moses Whiting's company at Cambridge on 5 May 1775 (serving through the end of 1775 and again for four days at the time of the fortification of Dorchester Heights in March 1776); a private in Captain Aaron Smith's company from 15 August - 29 November 1777 when the company "marched to reinforce Northern army" around Saratoga; a private in Captain Ebenezer Battles' company from 23 March - 5 April 1778; and a private in Captain Ebenezer Everet's company from 1 August - 14 September 1778 on the expedition to Rhode Island. Quite a record, that!

The vital records of Needham indicate that David was born 26 December 1743 to David and Jemima (Tolman) Mills. He married Elizabeth Hunting 30 August 1770, and lived until 12 January 1824. From the records it looks like at least a couple of David's brothers (Ezra, Joseph) may also have enlisted during the Revolution.

Joseph Mills' letter to the MHS was read at the 11 September 1856 meeting of the Society, according to the Proceedings (III:112), but alas, the biscuit did not withstand the ravages of time.

permalink | Published: Friday, 1 October, 2010, 8:25 AM


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