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The Tale of Two Families Joined
by Love, Shattered by War

By D. Michael Ryan, Historian for the Concord Minute Men, an 18th Century history interpreter with the National Park Service and Associate Dean of Students at Boston College.

As Tuesday, 18 April 1775 drew to a close, Dr. Samuel Prescott (24) of Concord, lingered at the Lexington home of his sweetheart Lydia Mulliken (22). In the custom of the day, he was courting. She had many suitors, reportedly being a woman of grace and beauty, but had chosen the doctor as her betrothed.

Seymore DiMare has re-enacted the role of Samuel Prescott for 35 yearsThe evening air was cool and crisp from a light rain and the blossom smells of early Spring were evident. A low, bright moon illuminated the countryside. It was a time for awakening and romance but also of sinister deeds and events. An unusual amount of activity was occurring this night and what began as a nocturnal period for affection would be jolted into a day of anger impacting the lives of two lovers.

Lydia lived with her widowed mother, four brothers and two sisters in a home across Cambridge Road from Munroe's Tavern. Her older sibling, Nathanial, worked his late father's clock shop and was a member of Capt. Parker's militia. Samuel, a third generation doctor with seven siblings, was handsome and intelligent. Although exempt from military duty due to his profession, he and brother Abel volunteered as messengers.

Close to 1 AM on the 19th of April, Prescott took leave of Lydia, mounted his bay mare and struck out for home, riding past the Lexington Green. Fatefully, he encountered two riders - Paul Revere and William Dawes - hastily on their way to warn Concord of approaching British Regulars. The doctor, being recognized as a "high son of Liberty" and knowledgeable of the area, was thus asked to join in the errand.

Within a few miles, the men were apprehended by a British patrol. Prescott exclaimed to Revere "put on" and an escape was attempted. But only the doctor, jumping his horse over a low wall, was able to flee through the Lincoln woods in the direction of Concord. He reached the home of Sgt. Hartwell announcing "The Regulars are coming!" Thus he met his duty to warn the Lincoln minute men.

Arriving in Concord near 1:30 AM, Prescott informed guard Amos Melvin of the approaching danger and the alarm bell was rung. Stories state that Samuel continued his ride to Acton and Stow announcing "Rouse your men... the British are marching on Lexington and Concord."

Meanwhile, Abel Prescott was dispatched to warn Sudbury and Framingham. Upon his return to Concord as the Regulars were departing, he was spotted and shot by a soldier. Within four months at age 26 he would die of the wound and dysentery. Thus began a series of tragedies for the Prescott and Mulliken families.

While the British column fought its way toward Boston, a relief Brigade from that town arrived in Lexington and formed a defensive square near Munroe's Tavern. Within the perimeter were the home and shop of the Mullikens who had fled to a neighbor's house. As the soldiers evacuated town, they began a series of autrocities by burning the Mulliken buildings to the ground. Later, the family would submit a damage bill to the Provincial Congress for some 431 pounds. Lydia's brother would survive the skirmish on the Green only to die of camp fever at age 24 while with the army at Boston.

Lydia and her family would obtain another home in Lexington and her love for Samuel Prescott, though strained, would continue. Meanwhile, according to one source, Samuel (listed as Dr. "Sall" Prescot) appeared serving at Ft. Ticonderoga in 1776. He reportedly also went to sea aboard a privateer, was captured by the British Navy and imprisoned at Halifax, Nova Scotia. A Jacob Winter of Ashburnham, MA claimed to have been a prisonmate of Samuel's, who apparently died in miserable conditions during 1777.

  • "Samuel Prescott: Physician - Patriot" by John Mulliken, M.D.
  • Archives of Surgery, April 1975, Vol.110, AMA
  • "Samuel Prescott and His Midnight Ride" by H.R. Viets, New England Journal of Medicine, 254:716-61, 1956, Special Collections, CFPL
  • "William Diamond's Drum" by Arthur N. Tourtellot, 1959
  • "The Minute Men 1775-1975" by Norman Castle, 1977
  • Lydia would wait eight years for her love. But as time passed, her memories of the doctor dimmed. Finally as the Revolution ended in 1783, she ababdoned hope of ever seeing Samuel again. She met and married Joseph Burrell, moved to Haverhill and raised a family. Prescott's brother Benjamin would serve as a Continental Army surgeon and two of Lydia's brothers would also see army duty.

    Thus concluded the saga of two families brought together by the love of two of their children, involved in historic, heroic events and eventually shattered by those events and war. Such were the personal, human aspects of April 19, 1775, often lost in the traditional telling of history.

    (NOTE: Artist Thomas Sully (1783-1872) produced 3 paintings portraying the April 19th story of Samuel and Lydia. Though not historically accurate, they depict the courting, receiving the news of British marching and bidding good-bye as he begins his ride. These paintings were once at the Bennington, VT Historical Museum and Art Gallery but now are lost. Photocopies may be seen at the Special Collections, CFPL.)

    Photo: Dr. Seymour DiMare has re-enacted the ride of Dr. Prescott for over 30 years. ©Tom Ballantyne
    Artwork: By Chesil, now gone from the Web; left no forwarding address.

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