General Ward was ill in bed when the express rider reached Shrewsbury with news of the clash with the British troops, but the next morning at daybreak he was on his way to join the militiamen who had driven the redcoats back to Boston and encamped around the town.
So developed the most important and most critical period of General Ward's life. As Jedediah Preble, First General Officer, did not act upon his election, Ward assumed the chief command of the forces surrounding Boston, both those of Massachusetts and those that came in from other New England states. With no rank except that accorded by an informal provincial congress, with no authority to enlist men, without adequate supplies, he took the dangerous post of head of an armed rebellion against one of the world's greatest powers.
There was, quite naturally under the circumstances, a good deal of laxity and disorder in the camps, and much restlessness among the men who had left their farms and families at a moment's notice--ready to fight but totally unprepared for a protracted siege; and bedeviled by half-patriots subtly poisoning minds and creating dissensions. The conditions stimulated a flood a criticism. Ward was considered overlenient to offenders, and it was charged that he held the reins too loosely. His peculiarly constituted army nevertheless achieved its purpose--it protected the province from the English troops by keeping the province from the English troops by keeping them besieged within the town. Other men were urged for the command, but "both friend and enemy among the leaders of Massachusetts realized that to put another in his place might overnight destroy the province." (This quotation and those following in this brief sketch of General Ward are from "The Life of Artemas Ward, the first Commander-in-Chief of the American Revolution). Ward indeed "filled his most difficult post with so substantial a degree of dexterity that even his most bitter detractor--James Warren of Plymouth--feared the result of making a change and ... testified 'we dare not supersede him here.'"
Ward was at that time a man of forty-seven years; of medium height; clean shaven, of prominent features; and somewhat corpulent. One may picture him "dressed in the manner of the times--hair in a powdered wig; a long coat with silver buttons; a figured neckcloth surmounting a ruffled shirt; a long waistcoat with big pockets; knee-breeches, and riding-boots. A 'God-fearing' man, strongly believing in and living up to the religion he professed; quiet, thoughtful, and rather overstern in demeanor; somewhat slow in speech and with a biblical turn to his conversation; inflexible in his ideas, and fully convinced that the Massachusetts Bay Colony was the land most approved by Providence, and that those of Massachusetts were the Chosen People."
The first weeks of the War of the Revolution were punctuated by many alarms, culminating with the third week of June in well authenticated reports that the reenforced English army had determined to raise the siege. To prevent this movement the Committee of Safety made its session of June 15 historic by passing a resolution recommending the Council of War to seize "Bunker's Hill" and suggesting that "some one hill or hills on Dorchester Neck be likewise secured"--those two positions commanding the peninsulas to the north and south of the peninsula of Boston.
All histories prior to "The Life of Artemas Ward" have it "that the result of the action of the council of war on this resolution of the Committee of Safety was Ward's order to fortify Bunker Hill--and the resolution and order have been variously interpreted: as a step of almost blind recklessness, a desperate hazard, occasioned by the urgent necessity to do something to check the British plans to raise the siege; as a move to offset the British intention to take Dorchester Neck; as an act of defiance calculated to bring on a general engagement; as the first step in the contemplated expulsion of the English from Boston.
"But the determination at which the council of war of June 15 actually arrived was of a character much bolder--no less than a sudden tightening of the lines around the British forces by the simultaneous fortification of both Bunker Hill and Dorchester Neck."
The Dorchester Neck project was set aside because General Thomas, in command of the right wing, did not feel that his division was strong enough to defend such a possession, but on the following day Ward issued his orders for the seizure and fortification of Bunker Hill.
Then followed the famous "Battle of Bunker Hill"--the English troops winning the position but at such heavy cost that their generals forthwith renounced all plans for breaking through the American lines.
Thus was the Siege of Boston maintained under Ward until the arrival on July 2 of George Washington of Virginia, elected Commander-in-Chief by the Continental Congress in the well-founded hope of uniting the colonies in a common cause against the English government.
On Washington's assumption of the chief post, Ward accepted the command of the right wing, with headquarters at Roxbury. Eight months later his division carried through his long cherished object--the seizure and fortification of Dorchester Peninsula. This compelled the evacuation of Boston by the British--who never again, except as prisoners of war, set foot within the present boundaries of Massachusetts.
In the following month Washington marched for New York, and Ward took command of the Eastern Department with headquarters in Boston, remaining in that post until March 20, 1777, on the repeated requests of the Continental Congress and Washington, despite serious ill health.
Following his resignation, he was active as a state executive: much of the time as president of the Executive Council; on a secret committee on Tory movements; as president of the Court of Inquiry on the first Rhode Island expedition; as president of the Committee of Investigation of the failure of the Penobscot expedition, etc.
In 1779 he was elected to the Continental Congress for the year 1780 and became a member of the Continental Board of War. He was reelected for 1781 and 1782, but was compelled to decline the third term because of ill health. His most important service was with Samuel Adams and Nathaniel Gorham on the committee to check the unrest in Hampshire County fomented by Tory agitators.
He was again in the General Court as Speaker of the House during the says of Shays' Rebellion. In his other role as a chief justice of the Court of Common Pleas, his determined stand against the insurgents in front of the Worcester courthouse is one of the most dramatic incidents in the history of the county.
He was a representative in the second and third United States Congresses, aligning with the federalists and supporting many Washington policies despite the fact that he and Washington never liked each other.
"By the summer of 1797 General Ward had begun to feel that his strength was unequal to his judicial duties. On June 12, writing to his daughter Maria and her husband, Dr. Ebenezer Tracy, he says: 'the lawyers in the general court are endeavoring to demolish the Courts of Common Pleas in this Commonwealth & to establish a circuit court in lieu thereof, and it is probable they will effect it. It don't affect me much for I shall soon leave that Court and confine myself at home. I am old & infirm, it is time for me to quit the theatre of action, and while I remain here live a domestic life.' "He sat in court for the last time during the session of December, 1797, and soon after terminated his long career as a judge."
He spent the remaining two years of his life in quiet retirement.
"His letters show him, in his old age, as in his younger years, full of kindly love for his children and the members of their families--condoling with them in their afflictions, and rejoicing in their happiness, always keeping in the foreground the God he had served so conscientiously all his life, and inculcating the same reliance in, and acceptance of, divine decrees. For himself, he was expecting the end and praying that he might be 'prepared.'"
He died on October 28, 1800. "A long procession of carriages formed his funeral cortege and an impressive address marked the last rites.
"Thus closed the career of Artemas Ward, one of the worthiest of Massachusetts' many noble sons. He had played a prominent part in the generation which founded the great republic of the United States. He had stood in the forefront of revolution when the challenge was thrown down to the might of the British Empire, and had held equally resolute against the wrath of compatriots when it ran counter to the best interests of the state or nation. His had been a character of strength and stability which could be swayed neither by favor nor by fear; and a life of continuous industry from youth to old age. A character and a life well deserving a high place in the annals of Massachusetts."
The most important recent memorials to General Ward are cited in the Introduction to this volume.
The "Artemas Ward House," Shrewsbury, Mass., his home for thirty-seven years, is open to the public every week-day during the summer months. It is a prominent feature of the state road between Boston and Worcester. Its historical associations and it's store of early colonial and revolutionary relics attract many visitors--students, historical writers, and others, in addition to members of the family.
His manuscript letters and orders, etc., are widely held. The largest collection is in the Massachusetts Historical Society, Boston, donated by Artemas Ward, 2722, and containing additions from the collections of Catherine Maria (Ward) Barrell, 1340; Roxa Sprague (Dix) Southard, daughter of 2731; Sarah Elizabeth (Dix) Fisher, 2732; Florence Grosvenor Ward, 4403; Josephine Lewis Danforth and Antoinette (Danforth) Smith, 4368 and 4369; and Gertrude Carruth (Washburn) Weeks, daughter of 4348.
Also in the Massachusetts Historical Society are his commission as Massachusetts Commander-in-Chief, presented by Catherine Maria (Ward) Barrell, 1340, and reproduced in "The Life of Artemas Ward"; his Order Book, donated by Rebuke Langdon (Prince) Lamson, 2738; his sword, the gift of Charles (Carlos) Thomas Atherton Ward, 4418; his own copy of the diary he kept during the Ticonderoga Expedition of 1758, donated by Florence Grosvenor Ward, 4403; and some additional letters bound on the Heath, Pickering, and Thomas MSS.
A second important group of manuscripts is in the Massachusetts Archives, Boston.
There are two contemporary portraits of General Ward. The better known, that by Charles Willson Peale, in 1794 or 1795, hangs in Independence Hall, Philadelphia, Copies of it are in the Old and New State Houses, Boston; the Artemas Ward Annex to the Howe Memorial Library, Shrewsbury; the Courthouse, Worcester, Mass.; and the homes of Artemas Ward, 2722, Judge Henry Galbraith Ward, 2723, and Agnes (Ward) White, 4385. Mrs. White's copy is a free rendering by Thomas Sully. The photogravure opposite page 106 is, as noted, from the Independence Hall original.
The second portrait, by Raphaelle Peale in 1795, is in the Artemas Ward House. A copy is owned by Mrs. C. A. Page (page 156, footnote).
There are also numerous heirlooms of General Ward, other than letters, owned by descendants.
The gavel that he used as Speaker of the Massachusetts House is in the Old State House, Boston, and the Shrewsbury Congregational Church cherishes the silver communion cups that he gave it in 1769.
THE PRECEDING NUMBERS AND REFERENCES TO PAGES RELATE TO THE ORIGINAL WILLIAM WARD GENEALOGY PUBLISHED IN 1925.