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Jan/Feb '00
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Historic Sources on the Concord Fight on Display at the Library

By Leslie Perrin Wilson, Curator of the Special Collections of the Concord Free Public Library. The March/April issue of this magazine (due out around March 15th) will have even more information about this year's events. Why not subscribe to this publication and receive a notice via email when it's been published?

Patriot's Day Special 225th Anniversary This April, in commemoration of the 225th anniversary of the Concord Fight, the Concord Free Public Library will mount a major display ("To Support the Truth of It") on the sources relating to the Concord Fight in Concord's town records and in the Library's Special Collections. The exhibition will explore the problems of documentation and verification that these sources present, and on how the tremendous significance that the Fight has assumed affects what people look for and find in the sources.

The display, which will be open to the public in the Library Art Gallery from April 3 through May 31, will be presented in six sections:

  • I. Icons and Images
  • II. Documents Relating to April 19th and Its Consequences
  • III. Later Sources and Scholarship
  • IV. Anniversary Celebrations of the Concord Fight
  • V. Historic Sites
  • VI. Historical Fiction.
It will include a wide range of materials -- original documents, printed volumes and pamphlets, works of art, artifacts, photographs, maps, and broadsides among them. Some of the items shown will be familiar to viewers (for example, the Library's oil portrait of Joseph Hosmer). Others are not often displayed. Some will be exhibited for the first time.

The exhibition has been under preparation since early in 1999. The Special Collections staff, Library Director Barbara Powell, Library Corporation, and Library Committee hope that all Concord residents will have a chance to see "To Support the Truth of It" and to understand the richness and complexity of the town's documentary heritage through it.

The preview below consists of an image of and accompanying display text for one of the items to be shown. Millie Barrett's scissors (shown here above with this article's title) will form part of the first section of the exhibition, "Icons and Images."


James P. Swain.
Manuscript copy of letter of presentation, March 24, 1875, with mounted scissors, [18th century].
Presented by James P. Swain, 1875.

The tale of Millie Barrett's scissors is one of the most charming stories connected with the Concord Fight. Passed down through family oral tradition, it typifies a number of anecdotes relating to April 19, 1775. Such stories must be accepted on faith. Their historical truth cannot be proven through primary documentation. Their significance lies in what they have come to mean to us, not in their literal accuracy.

Millie Barrett's is one of several stories about saucy women who, despite their gender, made a contribution to the American cause on April 19th. Melicent (variously spelled Meliscent, Millicent, Milliscent, and Millisent) Barrett, born in 1759, was a granddaughter of Colonel James Barrett, who commanded the regiment of militia on April 19, 1775. James P. Swain, Millie Barrett's son, recounted the story of his mother's pluck as follows:

... About one hundred and one years ago, Dr. Warren sent a young man, ... Joseph Swain ... to Concord, to take charge of the rebel armory. After repairing the guns generally in use, he attempted to make some new ones. For this purpose he returned to Salem ...

Colonel James Barrett and his son James had subsequently, during the French war, furnished through the commissary department in Boston, oatmeal and other provisions. This continued on until near 1774. It was a common occurrence for a young staff officer to come to Concord on this business, and, while waiting a reply, would amuse himself by talking loyalty with James Barrett's oldest daughter, Melicent, to hear her rebel replies. He asked her what they would do if it should become necessary for the Colonies to resist, as there was not a person who even knew how to make cartridges. She replied that they would use their powderhorns and bullets, just as they shot bears. "That," says the young man, "Would be too barbarous; give me a piece of pine, and I will show you how." After whittling the stick to the proper form, he took these scissors, which I now present to the town of Concord, and cut the paper for the pattern cartridge. The sequel shows how apt a scholar she was, for all the cartridges were made under her superintendence by the young ladies of Concord ... After the war, Joseph Swain returned to Concord, and married Melicent Barrett, and took these relics to Halifax, Vt., where I came in possession of them.
James Swain's 1875 letter of presentation to Concord provides the only documentation of the story of Millie Barrett's scissors, which has subsequently been repeated in print. Swain was a maker of cutlery in Vermont.

Text: ©2000 Leslie Perrin Wilson
Backgrounds: Misty Garden
Scissors: Courtesy of the Special Collections of the Concord Free Public Library

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