The Minute Women of Pepperell, MA

April 1775, Shortly after the Battle of Lexington & Concord...

In April 1775, shortly after the Battle of Lexington and Concord, as militiamen from surrounding towns gathered to surround Boston, beginning the Siege of Boston, the British troops had not yet been completely recalled to Boston. With many of the able-bodied men serving in the militia, some of the women were concerned with their vulnerability, and at least in Pepperell, MA figured out that they would need to take care of their own defense. 

This was before many of the Tory families retreated to Boston for protection. It is important to understand that it could be more complicated than Tory Household/Patriot Household. Families within themselves were divided on the issue of loyalty to the British monarchy. 

Such was the case of Prudence Cummings Wright. At the age of 35, a wife and mother, she was an ardent supporter of the Patriot cause. However her brother Samuel Cummings was unapologetically aligned with the Tories. That April, while visiting family in Hollis, NH, Prudence overheard some Tories, including her brother and local Tory Leonard Whiting, were aiding the British by helping British spies smuggle information from Canada to spies stationed in Massachusetts. She rushed home, and prepared the women of the town to intervene.

Alarmed by this news, she gathered the Minute Women. When the women of Pepperell decided to form a militia of their own, they elected Prudence, or Prue, as they called her, as the captain. In turn, Prudence selected Sarah Hartwell Shattuck of Groton as second in command. The militia consisted of 30 or 40 women, dressed in men’s clothing and armed however they could.  Some may have had muskets, as for the rest, farm equipment is well-suited for defense when necessary. They marched to the Nashua River and Jewett’s Bridge, which connected Pepperell with Groton, where the British spies awaited the information. 

In Memory of the Captain of the Bridge Guard

Prudence and her compatriots captured Leondard Whiting and her brother Samuel Cummings and guarded them through the night at Soloman Roger’s Tavern. The next morning, they turned them over to the authorities in Groton, and sent his papers to the committee of safety for Massachusetts.

Because the Minute Women were not an official militia, they received no pay from Massachusetts, or from the Continental Congress. The Town of Pepperell however, did compensate them with seven pounds, seventeen shillings, and six pence for their service. In fact, over the years this group of Minutewomen were called Mrs. David Wright’s Guard, the Bridge Guard, or the Leonard Whiting Guard, rather than Minutewomen or Prudence Wright’s Guard. Though this story is not in the school texts, to this day, the Town of Pepperell remembers the bravery and contributions of the women of Pepperell and Groton. Her epitaph reads: “In Memory of the Captain of the Bridge Guard.”

The Location

According to signage on site, the current bridge crossing the Nashua River is the fourth bridge at this location. The original bridge, connecting Pepperell and Groton dated to 1742 and was alternately called Jewett’s Bridge, the cart bridge at Joseph Blood’s Fordway, the bridge near the Hon, and the Groton Street Bridge. A covered bridge replaced this bridge in 1847, another in 1963, and finally the current bridge built in 2010. 

Notes: The stories of exactly what happened at the bridge are unclear – some say she directly overheard her brothers, some say it was rumors. Some versions have Leonard Whiting riding alone, while others say her brother Samuel was with him. Even the exact date, or a muster of which women participated has not survived to the current day. All we know is that it took place “a few days” after Lexington and Concord. So late April of 1775.

Questions for Consideration

Do you think it was hard for Prudence to arrest her own brother?
Write a description of what you think it was like to wait at night, listening for incoming riders on horseback. Do you think the women were afraid? Excited?
Why did the bridge make a good place to capture the spies?