Every April in Lincoln, Mass., residents remember a courageous and compassionate colonist - but it isn't Paul Revere. History books have given him his due, and almost every American child learns about his midnight ride to thwart advancing British troops. These redcoats had planned to seize military supplies in Concord and arrest revolutionaries who had stirred up such conflicts as the Boston Massacre and the Boston Tea Party.
It's an important account of American history. But other people played key roles on the night of April 18 and early morning of April 19, 1775. Among them was a brave and selfless woman named Mary Flint Hartwell.
Even though her name won't be found in any textbook, residents in the small farming town of Lincoln still remember this woman. She is "a lasting example of virtue and duty to generations to come," said Lincoln Selectman Rosamond Delori at last year's ceremony near the grave and headstone of five British soldiers that she helped bury.
But that's just part of the story. Just after Revere crossed the Lexington line, he was captured by a British patrol in Lincoln. Dr. Samuel Prescott, who had joined Revere and William Dawes to warn the colonists, escaped the patrol and rode on through the woods. He pounded on the farmhouse door of the Hartwell family, just down the road. Prescott then continued on to Concord. After helping her husband, Lincoln Minuteman Samuel Hartwell, prepare to defend his town, young Mary left her three children at home with a helper and dashed out to alert neighbor William Smith, captain of the Lincoln Minutemen.
Mr. Smith then rang the town bell, rousing the rest of the town's troops. Lincoln's Minutemen were the first to arrive at the North Bridge in Concord and assist that town's militia.
Back at the Hartwell home, Mary and her children took cover. Lincoln historian John Maclean writes that she and her children hid under the kitchen table while British troops marched by. "Some of the British stopped to drink at the well by the corner of the house and fired a bullet which passed through two rooms and spent its force on the wall above those in hiding, dropping harmlessly behind the table," he writes.
Many years later, Mary's grandchildren would burst with questions as they sat at her feet while she sewed and told them about her role in history. "Where you afraid, Grand- ma?" "Where were the soldiers?" "Could you see them?" She'd respond: "I couldn't see them, but I knew they were not far away. Yes, I was afraid, but there was no time to think of that. The moon was low in the sky, so it was very dark, and the night was unusually warm."
Mary's heroism made history again the next day. She was riding behind a cart led by colonists and filled with the bodies of five British soldiers who'd been killed only hours earlier. She followed the cart to the Lincoln cemetery where these soldiers would be buried.
"I remember how cruel it seemed to put them into one large trench without any coffins," she told her grandchildren. "My thoughts went out for the wives, parents, and children away across the Atlantic, who would never again see their loved ones." So she saw to it that these young soldiers were buried respectfully.
And now, thanks to Palmer Faran's published drama, "Heroine of the Battle Road" (The Cottage Press, 1995), the same events Mary recalled for her wide-eyed grandchildren can again be told around the hearth of the home. A recent staging of Mrs. Faran's play in Lincoln enlightened families about Mary's contribution.
"History can be so dry. It's important for children to feel that history is alive and was made by real people," says Faran, who has always been interested in "those people who haven't made it into the history books, the stories of ordinary men and women caught up in events over which they have no control." Without regard for their own interests, she said, they just did "what they felt was right."