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A war hero with a drum

  • Jonathan Wheelock, a Revolutionary War drum major, is buried in Concord's Old North Cemetery. Courtesy



For the Monitor
Wednesday, October 10, 2018

There was a time when freedom wasn’t free and life was challenging to a greater degree.

Some people were free, but they still lived in fear of oppression in society. I bring you back to the 1700s in the city of Boston where merchants prospered and the king of England desired his share of that prosperity. The British government decided to make the American colonies pay a large share of the war debt from the French and Indian War. Through the Sugar Act, Stamp Act, and other taxes, the British tried to collect taxes that the American people considered harsh. Our ancestors revolted and the revolution was born.

Many a young boy in America at that time saw their fathers and brothers go off to war and fight the redcoats starting in the spring of 1775. These children were fearful but a deep sense of patriotism was instilled in them. As these youngsters witnessed the war continuing for years, they too picked up arms and fought for America. Patriots one and all.

There was a young man named Jonathan Wheelock, he was born in Lancaster but lived in Lexington, Mass. Like other lads in the Boston area he too witnessed the war that started when he was just six years old. With much brutality, he soon developed a deep hatred for the war and wished to help his family in any way that he could. With a love of music, he enlisted in the Continental Army in 1775 at the young age of 15. He was simply known as the drummer boy.

Young Jonathan was soon promoted to the rank of Drum Major, for he was a remarkably good drummer, known for beating the reveille. Just a boy, he served the Continental Army well in battle. In fact, he was at Bunker Hill, Yorktown and Valley Forge. Never one to complain, he did serve his country.

They say that as Jonathan aged he was known as an honest man, liberal and modest in his charges. After the war, he kept the Colonel Munroe Tavern in Lexington; he did not prosper but raised his family with a good wife, for this man was hardworking and honest.

While living in Lexington, his wife passed away and he married again. He decided that he would move to Concord to live with his only child, a daughter. His daughter and her husband took good care of Jonathan. Even though his daughter and son-in-law were people of means, he did not wish to be a burden, he worked as the keeper of the Public House on Main Street in Concord. It was a coffee house owned by Colonel Holbrook and a very popular location for the good people of Concord. He became a successful caterer and was known for preparing first rate dinners as well as first rate “flip” in common use in those years. Jonathan did prosper finally, a widow and war hero, as he was sure to share his stories of the war, seen through the eyes of just a young boy, drumming on the battlefield.

His business grew and he acquired a rooming house in Concord, starting to import some good wine from Boston for his local customers. His second wife proved to be a good woman, ran the business and prospered alongside her husband.

Jonathan Wheelock chose to make his way after the war on his own. His only daughter was married to a prominent man, Lewis Downing, a wealthy son-in-law. He put the horrors of war behind him, moved forward, and ultimately succeeded. It is said that Jonathan drummed for the people of Concord each Fourth of July, with talent, patriotism and deep emotion he drummed down on Main Street in Concord, perhaps with a tear in his eye.

An old man, still hearing the drums of war, visions of the battlefield in his memory, witnessed the birth of our nation. It is here in Concord that he does rest, with a simple granite stone and the American flag, rippling in the morning breeze. He went quietly to his grave in his 86th year, known affectionately as Major Wheelock for his role in the American Revolution. He lived simply and with purpose and desired to succeed on his own, much like he did as a young boy on the bloody battlefields serving the Continental Army under General George Washington. Another soul gracing the Old North Cemetery, remembered today for his bravery and simple life, for it is now his time to rest.