Major Andrew McClary

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I occasionally encounter people who claim that freedom is an abstraction, and that they would never die for an abstraction.  That has never been the case in my family.  McClareys have fought in all the nation’s wars down to the present, and we have attempted to remember them beginning with the first, Andrew McClary, a man who has fascinated me since my father told me about him so long ago.

He is memorialized in the  above section of a painting  by John Trumbull and depicting, with artistic license, “The Death of General John Warren.”  The Major is shown raising his musket to brain a British soldier attempting to bayonet the dying Warren, a warlike action quite in character for him, and one which warms the cockles of my heart.  My wife has noted over the years how much I resemble Major Andrew, and it is intriguing how his facial features have been passed down through the generations of my family.

Born  in 1730 in Ireland, at an early age he emigrated to New Hampshire with his family.  He grew to six feet, a giant of a man for his time, jovial in disposition but always ready to fight if need be to defend his rights or the rights of those he loved.    The colonies were fortunate that quite a few men, like George Washington, who had served in the French and Indian War, were still in the prime of life and constituted a potential officer corps with, in many cases, combat experience, at the time when the Revolution began.  Major Andrew McClary was typical of these men.  After serving as an officer in Rogers’ Rangers during the French and Indian War, and singlehandedly throwing six British officers out of a tavern window during a loud “discussion” on a memorable evening, he had settled down as a farmer outside of Epsom, serving as a selectman of that town,  a member of the New Hampshire legislature, and, always, as an officer of the New Hampshire militia.  When news of Lexington and Concord reached him, he abandoned his plow, told his young family he was off to fight the British, and immediately marched off with a company of 80 militiamen to the siege lines around Boston. There he met up with his old friend from Rogers’ Rangers Colonel John Stark, who made McClary a major in his regiment of New Hampshire militia.

At the battle of Bunker Hill, Major McClary led the regiment onto Breed’s Hill, where the battle was fought on June 17, 1775.  The advance of the regiment was momentarily blocked by a gaggle of Massachusetts militia standing about on the road doing nothing.  That obstruction was removed when McClary yelled out that New Hampshire would like to borrow the road, if Massachusetts was not using it. (more…)

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Published in: on June 27, 2016 at 5:30 am  Comments Off on Major Andrew McClary  
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John Trumbull and Bunker Hill

“These fellows say we won’t fight! By Heaven, I hope I shall die up to my knees in blood!”

Major General Joseph Warren to his men prior to the battle of Bunker’s Hill

A lecture by John Walsh, emeritus director of the J. Paul Getty Museum, on John Trumbull’s painting on the battle of Bunker Hill and its historical accuracy, or lack thereof.  The painting has always been a favorite in my household as it depicts my ancestor Major Andrew McClary of the New Hampshire militia.

Bunker Hill

Trumbull had witnessed the battle through field glasses, he was serving with the American army, although not with the portion fighting on Breed’s hill.  The painting shows the death of General Warren, and is entitled The Death of General Warren at the Battle of Bunker’s Hill, June 17, 1775,  the painting having been commissioned by Warren’s family.  Trumbull squeezes into the painting almost everyone famous who fought in the battle, both Americans and British.  Major Andrew McClary is shown raising his musket to brain a British soldier attempting to bayonet the dying Warren, a warlike action quite in character for him, and one which warms the cockles of my heart.  My wife has noted over the years how much I resemble Major Andrew and it is intriguing how his facial features have been passed down through the generations of my family.

The scene depicted is not historical, but rather a tribute to General Warren by having his death the center of the action.  To us it seems a very romantic version of the grim reality, but Abigail Adams, who heard the battle from her farm and saw the aftermath of the wounded and dead American soldiers, found it so realistic when she saw it that she shivered with the memories of the fight it aroused in her.  To most of us moderns war is simple butchery and unless it is shown as such, we are almost offended.  To the men and women of Abigail Adams’ generation, at least the Patriots, they would have been offended by a painting that only remembered the death and carnage, they needed few reminders of that, but that ignored the heroism and sacrifice that ultimately prevailed against the odds and established a new nation. (more…)

Published in: on February 26, 2014 at 5:30 am  Comments (2)  
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Privateer McClary

A feature of the American Revolution that has never received nearly as much coverage in histories of that conflict as it warrants is the successful privateer war waged by the Americans against British merchant shipping.  This conflict helped the Americans in many ways:  got badly needed supplies to the colonies, drove up British maritime insurance rates, caused the Royal Navy to divert ships to chase privateers and increased anti-war sentiment among merchants in Britain.  A typical privateer ship of the period is the McClary.

Commissioned by the state of New Hampshire on September 2, 1776 and named after New Hampshire hero Major Andrew McClary who fell at Bunker Hill, the McClary was an armed schooner equipped during her career with 6-8 cannon and up to six swivel guns.

Between September 1776 and February 1778 she would make five voyages.

In her first voyage she captured five prizes off the Newfoundland Banks:  the schooner Neptune , the schooner Glasgow, the British Army transport Hero, the ship Live Oak and the brigantine Three Friends.

In her second voyage she took the snow (merchant brig) Resolution and a transport, name unknown.

In her third voyage she took the brigantines Jane, Two Sisters and Thetis.

In her fourth voyage she captured the schooner Lusanna.

In her fifth voyage she made no captures and was captured herself by the frigate HMS Unicorn on February 6, 1778, bringing her privateering career to an end. (more…)

Published in: on February 10, 2014 at 5:30 am  Comments (2)  
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Militia Immediately Prior to the American Revolution

In the first post in this series on militia in the American Revolution, which may be read here, we looked at American militia in the Colonial period.  In the years following the French and Indian War, as Great Britain and her colonies increasingly clashed, several of the colonies began to beef up their militias as an armed clash with Great Britain moved from unthinkable to likely.  Massachusetts took the lead in this process with the formation of minutemen companies.  This was not an innovation.  The Massachusetts militia had fielded minutemen companies since 1645.  These were young men, no more than 30, chosen for their physical strength and endurance, and formed into picked companies.

The necessity for putting the Massachusetts militia on a war footing was underlined in 1774.  General Thomas Gage was appointed military governor of Massachusetts in early 1774.  He embarked on a campaign to disarm the Massachusetts militia.  In an event that is largely forgotten today but was a huge event throughout the colonies in 1774, on September 1, 1774 Gage sent an expedition of British troops to seized the powder at the arsenal located in Sommerville, Massachusetts.  The British succeeded in their mission and almost started the Revolutionary War.  Militia units formed up in alarm throughout Massachusetts and surrounding colonies in New England, thinking that a war had begun while wild rumors flew, and it was several days before calm was restored.  This Powder Alarm caused the militia in Massachusetts and the colonies to take steps to protect their arsenals for fear of a deliberate British policy to disarm them and leave them helpless before the redcoats.  The stage was set for Lexington and Concord.

The Massachusetts Provincial Congress sent out a circular to the other New England colonies stressing the need for the formation of minutemen companies:

They recommended to the militia to form themselves into companies of minute-men, who should be equipped and prepared to march at the shortest notice. These minute-men were to comprise one-quarter of the whole militia, to be enlisted under the direction of the field-officers, and divide into companies, consisting of at least 50 men each. The privates were to choose their captains and subalterns, and these officers were to form the companies into battalions, and chose the field-officers to command the same. Hence the minute-men became a body distinct from the rest of the militia, and, by being more devoted to military exercises, they acquired skill in the use of arms. More attention than formerly was likewise bestowed on the training and drilling of militia. (more…)

Published in: on November 12, 2012 at 5:30 am  Comments (4)  
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