Billerica Colonial Minute Men – Our History

By Bill Brimer

side5Imagine, if you will, the year is 1775. The American Revolution has not yet begun.

The residents of Billerica, like other towns surrounding Boston, were stirring in a cauldron of patriot fervor. Loyalties were questioned. To be tarred and feathered meant something. Minutemen companies were active and the militias were prepared.

Yet tradesmen and their sons still tanned leather, cast spoons and buttons out of pewter,
made brooms and soap. The fields were still plowed. Men provided for their families. The wives and daughters still baked, sewed, and made candles.

This is the history, we bring to life. We recreate the real lives of the Billerica farmer, soldier, and his family. We recreate 18th century history. When we don our funny
and unusual clothes we are paying tribute and honoring the patriots, such as our own Thomas Ditson Jr. and Asa Pollard, who fought for our freedom.

The present day Billerica Company, known as the Billerica Colonial Minute Men,
was formed by proclamation of the Board of Selectmen on August 5, 1968. The purpose of the unit as stated in our by-laws is to “Perpetuate the memory of the original Minute men of 1775, and though example of steady, solemn, refusal to be, subjected to tyranny, the suppressive ways of ruler of the colony, and the whims and caprices of any body of men.”

Our objectives are to promote, encourage and maintain patriotic, historic, and educational interest in town, state, and county, and to further encourage our youth to become responsible and useful citizens by teaching and by example. Today the group actively participates in reenactments, living history events, parades, community events, and remembrance celebrations.

With the 1976 Bi-centennial fast approaching, many REVWAR reenacting organizations were being formed. BCMM was formed in 1968 by Harry Norman of Billerica. The organizations formed during these years were mainly ceremonial.

side4As the years progressed, members lost interest and BCMM was reformed in 1991. To avoid conflict with the Billerica Minuteman Newspaper, the name was changed to the Billerica Colonial Minute Men, four words, at this time and BCMM wrote their own set of Bylaws.

Past Captains of BCMM

• Harry Norman 1968 – 1977
• Harry Norman 1991 – 1992
• Richard Hawes 1993 – 1994
• Richard Kunicki 1995 – 2002
• Russell Willis 2003 – 2004
• Thomas Tringale 2005
• Bill Brimer 2006 – present

When the organization was formed, only men were allowed to be members as was the case with the vast majority of reenacting organizations at that time. At the first meeting in 1991, it was voted to allow women to become full time members and to get more into Living History.

In 1976, the Billerica Colonial Minute Men erected a Liberty Pole on Billerica Common. A Liberty Pole is a tall wooden pole erected on a town common or square during the Revolutionary War. A red cap seen on top of the pole was a call for townspeople to meet and vent or express their views regarding British Rule. On October 11, 2006 at 4:30 PM, the men of BCMM provided much needed maintenance to the Liberty Pole and replaced the cap. This is now done annually.

• In the early 1990s, the Billerica Colonial Minute Men had a float in the Arlington Memorial Day Parade and won first prize.
• In 1996, BCMM began going to events at the Minuteman National Park.
• In 1996, Richard Hawes built the yellow cannon that has always been associated with BCMM.
• In 1997, BCMM fired a salute, from Castle Island, to the USS Constitution when it sailed under its own power.
• In 1999, BCMM ventured to Louisburg, Canada to take part in the reenactment of the Battle of Louisburg.
• In 2000, BCMM filmed “Kids Say the Darndest Things” with Bill Cosby on Bunker Hill, after receiving a call from CBS Television.
• In 2005, BCMM hosted the Encampment at Winning’s Pond as part of the 350th anniversary of the Town of Billerica, under the leadership of Capt.Thomas Tringale.
• For many years, BCMM has marched in the Boston 4th of July parade.
• Also for many years, BCMM has been a part of the Redcoats to Rebels event at Old Sturbridge Village held on the first weekend in August.
• We have been featured on Billerica’s public access television station and Stoneham TV.
• We have also been featured in local newspapers numerous times.
• BCMM has always been involved in the Billerica Community.
• At many events we are thanked by parents and youth alike for doing what we do best, we bring history alive.
• The Billerica Colonial Minute Men are known throughout the reenacting community as an authentic portrayal of men and women of the era.

side3Besides portraying an active company of militia, the group displays living history by demonstrating

• candle making
• woodworking
• broom making
• soap making
• pewtering including
• button making, musket ball and toy soldier casting,
• sewing and needlework
• open fire cooking employing the use of bake kettles and cast iron pots

Mr. Thomas Ditson Jr. is probably the most famous Billerica Minuteman of 1775.
Mr. Ditson was a young farmer who was eager to become a minute man for the town of Billerica. On March 7, 1775, he traveled to Boston hoping to find a musket to better arm himself.

It turns out he met Sgt. John Clancy of the 47th Regiment of Foot who sold him a very fine musket. The transaction was observed by an officer who ordered his men to tar and feather Mr. Ditson. After being paraded around Boston in a donkey cart, Ditson was told he could go home.

On the third weekend in September, BCMM host an encampment behind the High School as part of the Yankee Doodle Homecoming and reenact the tar and feathering of Mr. Thomas Ditson Jr.

On the morning of April 19, 1775, an unknown alarm rider rode from neighboring Bedford and reached Billerica around 2:00 AM. The alarm was sounded throughout the town and soon the minutemen and the militia were mustered on the common and at the Pollard tavern. Over 100 men marched to Concord that morning including Thomas Ditson who only a month earlier had been tarred and feathered by British soldiers in Boston.

The Billerica patriots saw action beside the Meriam farmhouse in Concord. Meriam’s Corner marked the beginning of the running battle between the growing ranks of militia and minutemen companies and Lt. Col. Francis Smith’s 700 British troops as they attempted to return to the safety of Boston. One of our men was killed and 2 were injured that day.

Billerica minutemen participated in the battle of Bunker Hill, where over one thousand Americans fought, the Battle at Bennington, VT and in the Rhode Island campaign. After the war, a militia company was mustered well into the 19th century. Annual musters were held at which attendance was mandatory.