Our house in Ballarat is two blocks from Dana street, named after Henry Edmund Pulteney Dana (1820-1852), commander of the native police corps in Victoria, who was responsible for collecting the first gold licence fees in Ballarat in 1851. Henry Dana was the brother of my third great grandmother Charlotte Champion Crespigny née Dana; he was my fourth great uncle.

The Dana family is a notable American family, and when in 1989 Greg and I spent a few days in Massachusetts, we visited some places there connected with my Dana forebears.

This was through the kindness of my great aunt Nancy Movius née Champion de Crespigny (1910 – 2003), sister of my paternal grandfather. Nancy, born in Australia, had married an American and settled in Cambridge, Massachusetts.

My great aunt Nancy, her dachshund Cobber and me being licked on the nose. Cobber means friend or mate in Australian English and Cobber the dachshund was indeed a very dear friend.

Some of our Dana forebears lived in this area, from as early as 1640. Nancy shared my interest in our family history, and during our visit she drove us to the nearby town of Concord, where, it is said, “the shot heard round the world”, the first shot of the American Revolutionary War, rang out on 19 April 1775. 

Actually, there is some dispute as to whether the first shot of the Revolution was fired in Lexington or in Concord.  In the centenary celebrations of the beginning of the Revolution at Lexington on 19 April 1875, Richard Henry Dana (1815 – 1882 my second cousin five times removed) claimed that “the first shots fired back by our troops at theirs” were fired on the Green at Lexington.

The battle of Lexington, April 19th. 1775. Plate I.” In: “The Doolittle engravings of the battles of Lexington and Concord in 1775.” The first of four engravings by Amos Doolittle from 1775. Doolittle visited the battle sites and interviewed soldiers and witnesses. Retrieved from Wikimedia Commons.

As they neared Lexington, the report came to them that some five hundred men were under arms; and I am not disinclined to reconcile their testimony with the facts, by the consideration that they heard the roll of our drums, and perhaps saw the flash or heard the report of our signal-guns, intended to call our men together, and thought them a defiance ; and perhaps officers in the centre or rear might have thought them hostile shots. But the front knew they had not been fired upon, and saw the short, thin line of sixty men with arms at rest. Pitcairn, when he rode up to them, and ordered them to surrender their arms and disperse, knew they had not fired. He was not the man to talk after hostile shots. Pitcairn has had the fate which befalls many men who carry out orders that afterwards prove fatally ill-judged. When he ordered our men to surrender their arms and disperse, he was executing the orders of his commander-in-chief and of his King. If Britain was in the right, Pitcairn was in the right. Twice they were ordered to surrender their arms and disperse; and twice they refused to obey, and stood their ground. Then came the fatal fire; and why not? General Gage had been authorized to use the troops for this very purpose. He was authorized to fire upon the people, if necessary to enforce the new laws, without waiting for the civil magistrate. He had resolved to do so. Had that volley subdued the resistance of Massachusetts, Pitcairn would have been the hero of the drama. Was he to leave a military array behind him, and not attempt to disarm and disband them? If they refused, was he to give it up? I have never thought it just or generous to throw upon the brave, rough soldier, who fell while mounting the breastworks at Bunker Hill, the fault which lay on the King, the Parliament, the Ministry, and the commander-in-chief. The truth is, the issue was inevitable. The first force of that kind which the King’s troops found in martial array was to be disarmed and disbanded; and, if they refused to obey, they were to be fired upon. Both sides knew this, and were prepared for it.

Hudson, Charles & Lexington Historical Society (Mass.) (1913). History of the town of Lexington, Middlesex County, Massachusetts, from its first settlement to 1868. Boston and New York Houghton Mifflin company. pp. 284-5 retrieved from archive.org
The Battle of Lexington, 19 April 1775, Oil on canvas by William Barns Wollen, 1910. National Army Museum, London. Retrieved through Wikimedia Commons.

I have a further Dana connection to the beginning Revolutionary War.

One of Richard Henry Dana’s cousins (and my first cousin seven times removed) was George Dana (1742 – 1787), a Sergeant in Captain Jonathon Gates’ Company of Minutemen, which marched from Ashburnham on the Lexington Alarm of 19 April 1775.

The Lexington Minuteman. Photograph by user Daderot CC BY-SA 3.0 retrieved from Wikimedia Commons

Sources

  • Edward Tabor Linenthal (1991). Sacred Ground: Americans and Their Battlefields. University of Illinois Press. p. 36.
  • Dana, Elizabeth Ellery (1956). The Dana Family in America. Wright & Potter Printing Company, 32 Derne Street, Boston. p. 482.
  • Massachusetts Soldiers and Sailors in the Revolutionary War volume 4 page 388 retrieved through ancestry.com
  • Stearns, Ezra S (1887). History of Ashburnham, Massachusetts, from the grant of Dorchester Canada to the present time, 1734-1886 : with a genealogical register of Ashburnham families. Pub. by the town, Ashburnham, Mass. pp 139 – 145 – retrieved through Hathitrust and p. 674 retrieved through Hathitrust

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