This Memorial Day, I’m remembering two ancestors of mine, who seem heroic and larger-than-life, but who are memorialized only in a little family history book, which I found with my grandmother’s possessions, after her death.
My ancestor Samuel Ward, who is not thought of very often these days. Samuel, with his brothers, was a rigger in the town of Boston in the 18th century, and he chose to enter Washington’s army, while his two brothers remained loyal to the king. One day, his wife was eating breakfast, when Samuel rushed in. “Oh Molly, Molly,” he cried. “The commander has given us 15 minutes to see our families. It has taken five to come, and will take five to return, and five minutes I can spend with you.”
He had run all the way from Boston Common to the upper part of Middle Street (now Hanover Street).
Think of what those five minutes must have been like for Samuel and Molly, as well as his daughters, and what the memory must have been like for the rest of their lives.
He was killed in the very first battle after this meeting.
And I would also like to remember his childless son, the long-forgotten, brave and hot-headed Samuel Ward Jr., who fought on the side of General Washington in the Revolutionary War, as did his father.
He went missing in the war, and not until it ended did his mother, a cousin of Governor John Hancock’s wife, learn his fate. He and a friend had “been taken prisoners and had been put on board a[n English] prison ship. There they had been treated so cruelly that Samuel had felt he could not endure it. He gave his friend his mother’s address and begged him, if he should escape, to search Boston until he found her … One morning an officer who invariably insulted the prisoners when he was in charge, knocked over a bucket of tar on the part of the deck already cleaned by young Ward. As he passed, he touched the lad with his foot, and, calling him some vile name, ordered him to clean the tar up. The boy sprang passionately to his feet, caught the officer around the waist and, before anyone had realized what had happened, jumped overboard, still clasping his tormentor. They were seen to rise to the surface once, closely locked together, and that was all.”
Steven S. Drachman is the author of The Strange and Astounding Memoirs of Watt O’Hugh the Third, which is published by Chickadee Prince Books.