Independence Day: Remembering Samuel Ashbow
I grew up outside of Boston, and as a kid was told the story of one of my ancestors who fought in the battle of Bunker Hill. It was the first major battle of the American Revolution and while the colonists lost the battle, they proved they could fight and hold their own against the most powerful army in the world. Mom was keenly interested in history, and we visited all the major Boston area sites involved in the war including Lexington Green, Concord Bridge and of course the Bunker Hill Monument.
Truthfully, Bunker Hill in Charlestown was peripherally involved in the battle. While it was the original objective of colonial and British troops, most of the combat took place on an adjacent hill, later to be known as Breed’s Hill.
In 1980 I moved to northeast Connecticut and soon learned about many well-known men from our region who had a role in the war. Probably the most familiar is Israel Putnam, a Lieutenant Colonel in the Connecticut militia and one of the primary figures at the Battle of Bunker Hill. His tomb, with a large granite stone pedestal and an impressive statue of him astride a horse, stands near the intersection of routes 169 and 6 in Brooklyn and is a familiar site to all who pass by.
While history tells the story of the well-known combatants at battles such as Bunker Hill, time eventually reveals the stories of the not-so-well-known who also gave all for the cause of freedom and independence. One such person from The Last Green Valley was Samuel Ashbow, a Mohegan from Montville who, along with his brother John, joined Israel Putnam at the Battle of Bunker Hill. Unlike Putnam, Samuel did not survive the day. I share his story today so we can remember his name on July 4, Independence Day.
I discovered information on Samuel from the website Native Northeast Portal, a repository of primary source materials about Northeast Native Americans at nativenortheastportal.com. Here is the listing for Samuel Ashbow:
“Samuel Ashbow, Jr. was one of the sons of the Rev. Samuel Ashbow and Hannah Mamanash. At the time of his death, he was married to a woman named Jerusha and had at least one son, Joshua Ashbow, who was born in 1773. Samuel’s name appears on a list of men, women and children belonging to the Mohegan tribe in 1771 and 1774. He and his brother John enlisted into Capt. John Durkee’s 3rd Company of Israel Putnam’s 3rd Connecticut Regiment.”
I found additional information from the Boston National Historical Park website and article written by U.S. Park Ranger Julia Minze and quote her article here:
“When the British colonized New England in the 17th century, indigenous people already inhabited the land that would become the colonies. The relationship between these two groups could well be described as “complicated.”
Despite wars, broken treaties, diseases and complicated alliances, the Native People remained very much a part of colonial society.
The other non-English group in the colonies were the Africans, brought as slaves, with some remaining so and others winning or buying their freedom. When the Revolutionary War began, many of these bondsmen had the opportunity to win their freedom by bearing arms.
Following the fighting at Lexington and Concord on April 19, 1775, the Massachusetts Provincial Congress orchestrated an effort to raise an army through its Committee of Safety and directed all volunteers to Cambridge. Upwards of 16,000 men answered the call, including many members of the Mohegan tribe from Connecticut. Samuel Ashbow Jr. and his brother John were just two of the Patriots of Color who fought at the Battle of Bunker Hill in the first and last fully integrated American army until the Korean conflict.
So, who were these “embattled farmers” who stood against the professional British army? Traditional depictions show them as young, white, clothed in homespun, and carrying a musket and haversack. While many American soldiers did fit that description, many others did not. One case in point is the Battle of Bunker Hill on June 17, 1775, in which approximately 150 of the roughly 2,500 to 4,000 Americans engaged were “Patriots of Color,” or Native Americans and African Americans who fought for their country alongside their white brothers.
Samuel was one of these men. Samuel was a Mohegan Indian from Montville, Connecticut, and one of four brothers who fought and died in the American Revolution. Samuel and his brothers were the sons of Reverend Samuel Ashbow who, along with Samson Occum, were famous ministers in the Mohegan community. Samson’s brother, John Occum, also fought at Bunker Hill.
The Ashbow brothers enlisted in the American cause on May 10, 1775 and marched to Cambridge in Captain John Durkee’s Company with Colonel Israel Putman’s Regiment. They were a part of the some 16,000 militiamen responding to the call for the creation of an army to oppose the British Regulars after the confrontation at Lexington and Concord.
After crossing onto the Charlestown Peninsula on June 17, 1775, twenty-nine year-old Samuel and twenty-two year old John were assigned to guard the Rail Fence located perpendicular to the Mystic River, and the site of the first two assaults by British troops attempting to flank the Americans and take the earthen fort on Breed’s Hill.
The line at the fence held firm and drove back the Regulars, inflicting horrific casualties upon them. In the end, British Marines and infantrymen stormed the earthen fort, or redoubt, and drove the Americans out and swept over their lines, including the Rail Fence. It is believed Samuel died in this last assault. He was most likely buried in a mass grave by the British victors. The exact location is unknown.
A visitor to the Freedom Trail in Charlestown’s Training Field will find Samuel’s name on a series of bronze tablets of the dead from the battle. His name is listed among the other Connecticut Troops, the first Native American to die in the American Revolution. Let us speak his name today, Independence Day, 2021 so we can remember all who gave their life for American freedom and independence.
We live in a beautiful place called The Last Green Valley National Heritage Corridor. Many from our region served our country in the Revolutionary War, including those who’s ancestry and heritage goes back many years before the colonial era of our country. I hope you’ll join me as we care for, enjoy and pass on their stories to the next generation.
Bill Reid is the Chief Ranger of The Last Green Valley National Heritage Corridor. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
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