This first patriot was born in Shrewsbury on 26 November 1727. His father, Nahum Ward, was an accomplished sea captain, merchant, land developer, farmer, lawyer and jurist. Young Artemas attended the common schools, was prepared for college by a private tutor and graduated from Harvard College (B.A. 1748, M.A. 1751). Like his father, he held a prolific number of public offices at the town, county, and state level. In 1750 he had married Sarah Trowbridge, daughter of Rev. Caleb Trowbridge and Hannah Walter of Groton, Mass. Together they had eight children. To care for his new wife and coming family he opened a general store and became a tax assessor.
Ward would go on to hold many offices at the town, county and state level. But his military service was the hallmark of his career. He was appointed Justice of the Peace in 1752, a representative in the Colonial General Assembly for many terms and in the executive council. With the outbreak of the war with France in 1755 Ward became a major in the 3rd Massachusetts Regiment,the militia of Middlesex and "Worchester" counties. The regiment served as garrison forces along the frontier in western Massachusetts. This duty called him at intervals between 1755 and 1757, and alternated with his attendance at the General Court.
|Massachusetts militia protected the western frontier|
In 1757, he was made the colonel of the 3rd Regiment, which marched with British General James Abercrombie's force to attack Fort Ticonderoga in 1758. The French army consisted of 3,600 men under General Louis-Joseph de Montcalm who decisively defeated the numerically superior force of Abercrombie. However Ward himself was sidelined during the decisive (losing) battle at Fort Carillon by an "attack of the (kidney) stone." This was clearly an on and off condition for Ward, as we shall see.
|Abercrombie's Campaign vs Ticonderoga would end in failure|
When he returned from the war, Ward was named to the Court of Common Pleas. He also got involved in the heated politics of the Bay Colony as a member of the governor's council while maintaining many of his militia connections. As friction with Britain increased in the next decade he associated with the likes of John and Samuel Adams, John Hancock and Joseph Warren. In the General Court he was placed on the taxation committee along with Samuel Adams and John Hancock. On the floor, he was second only to James Otis in speaking out against the acts of parliament.
Safe to say he was a Whig. In fact, his often blatant support for the increasing demands of the colonists put him at odds with the Massachusetts governor, Francis Bernard, who revoked his militia colonelcy. But Ward's growing popularity got him re-elected to the governor's council until 1774, when the new governor, the infamous Thomas Hutchinson removed him from the council for his political activism. Things were reaching a boiling point in New England and by October of that year Ward sat with the first Provincial Congress of Massachusetts. He was also appointed Brigadier General by the Congress on 24 October 1774.
Struggle for Freedom Begins
As political crises brought on an American Revolution, the populace in and around Boston, and New England in general, were at the point of insurgency by the spring of 1775. The conglomerate of local militias , minutemen and other factions assembling around the British occupied city in a popular swell of patriotism. If New England was the most aggressive rebel region, and Massachusetts the most aggressive rebel colony, Artemas Ward was one of its most aggressive if little known of its leaders.
The insurgency did not need much to shift to open rebellion. It did reach that when "the shot heard round the world" was fired on 19 April 1775. Ward missed Lexington and Concord however, due to illness. But upon learning of the action, rose from his sick bed, mounted his horse and rode in pain (he had kidney stones again) to Boston to help organize the siege of the city.
|Ward missed Lexington & Concord but rallied from|
his sick bed to take charge
Ward was popular with the troops and because of his military experience, soon proclaimed commander of all Massachusetts state militia. In June, the Continental Congress appointed him Major General and commander of all forces besieging Boston - some 15,000 strong. Boston-strong, I suppose. By now, other New England colonies as well as New York were sending men to Boston - America's first national army was forming. Ward was soon to be tested in both his military and political acumen
Ward had his hands full with the army,whether New England's or the United States' forces, the men were ill-trained, ill-led, ill-equipped and had little regard for military discipline. But Ward, like Washington later, also had a complex array of political issues to deal with: Committees of Safety from several states, locals, his commanders and the Continental Congress. Never flashy but always steady, Ward worked through these as best he could.
|General Artemas Ward as first American commander|
Ward faced formidable challenges. Not only was he confronting the world's most powerful army, but he was doing so with a force of volunteers who had agreed only to turn out for a single battle. Once the British had been driven back to Boston, many militiamen wanted to return to their farms. In their minds, they had volunteered to fight but had not enlisted in an army. The independent-minded Yankees had little enthusiasm for camp life, especially given the harsh and unsanitary conditions in the sprawling camp at Cambridge. Ward faced the daunting task of creating an army from chaos.
Job one was to keep the army together. He appealed for volunteers to become the first enlistees. Men from Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Connecticut, and Rhode Island began to fill the ranks. Some have claimed Ward was a poor disciplinarian and that his "Grand American Army" was anything but grand. But the solid Yankee puritan understood his volunteer Yankee soldiers. He knew from experience they would resist strict discipline, a discipline the jurist in him felt he had no legal authority to impose. Ward felt he had to lead by consensus and mutual respect. These were after all the men of whom Samuel Adams wrote, "our soldiers will not be brought to obey any person of whom they do not themselves entertain a high opinion." Ward's calculated soft management helped his raw recruits hold the siege.
|Ward began his RevWar service commanding the ragtag force|
Job two was to keep the British in Boston. The Battle of Bunker Hill occurred under Ward’s general command. On June 13, 1775, having learned from a "line crosser" that the British were planning to send troops from Boston to occupy the hills surrounding the city, Ward directed General Israel Putnam to set up defenses on the Charlestown Peninsula, specifically on Bunker Hill. On 16 June, some 1,000 colonial militiamen under Colonel William Prescott built earthen fortifications on top of Breed’s Hill, because although smaller, was closer to Boston. The resulting battle was iconic: a draw that resulted in the slaughter of British regulars by militia rebels.
|Lack of munitions caused rebels to abandon Breed & Bunker Hills|
From Number One to Number Two
On 17 June, Congress debated who should be appointed supreme commander of the American forces. Fellow (and completely biased) New Englander John Adams suggested that "the greatest number" wanted the job to go to Ward. But Congress needed to persuade delegates from the South that this was not just New England's war and chose George Washington of Virginia and made Ward his second in command.
|Adams suggested Ward was initial first choice|
for commander in chief
While General Ward received national recognition for the heroic stand at Bunker Hill, the failure to supply enough ammunition to hold the position denied the Americans a victory. When Washington took over command of the army in Cambridge on 2 July, 1775, Ward became his second in command. The New England militiamen who made up the balance of the first American army trusted and admired Ward, but Washington quickly became a critic. Accustomed to serving with professional officers, Washington dismissed Ward as "a fat old church warden." Washington was also appalled by the lax discipline among Ward's New England soldiers.
|Ward was instrumental in the successful siege of Boston in 1775|
The New England versus Virginia clash became an early on challenge to the unity of the army. Washington's open criticism deeply offended Ward, yet over the next nine months he helped Washington convert the assembled militia units into the Continental Army. He was stationed with the right wing on Roxbury heights. Because of impaired health and the British now gone from Boston, he resigned his commission in April, 1776. But at the request of General Washington, who now realized he needed to win over the New Englanders, he continued to act as his second until the end of May.
|Ward was part of the leadership team that forced the|
mighty British Army from Boston
Post Military Public Service
When Ward returned to civilian life he served in demanding and important positions in Massachusetts. He was Chief Justice of the Court of Common Pleas of Worcester County in 1776 and 1777. He served in the Massachusetts Senate as President of the Executive Council for about three years. In this capacity, Ward functioned as Massachusetts’ chief executive during the critical years of the war (1777-1779). Essentially the office that replaced the Royal Governor. Ward served as a member of the Continental Congress from January 1780 to May 1782.
Post War Public Service
|Shay's rebellion led to|
the Constitutional Convention
Ward was elected Speaker of the Massachusetts House in 1786, which made his actions as a Justice of the Peace of the Worcester Court during the 1786 Shays’ Rebellion all the more significant. He faced down the rebels on the courthouse steps, demonstrating his popular influence and his respect for the rule of law. Shays' rebellion led to demands for a new form of government and the Constitutional Convention resulted. With the instantiation of the new constitution, Artemas Ward was elected as a Federalist to the 2nd and 3rd Congresses (1791-1795).
|Ward House in Shrewsbury|
In December of 1797 Ward concluded his long career as judge and spent his final years in quiet retirement at home with his family. He died on October 28, 1800 and is buried at Mountain View Cemetery in Shrewsbury Center.
|Ward is buried in Mountain View Cemetery|
Ward's accomplishments as a jurist and politician mark him among the first rank of founders who helped guide the colonies to statehood and transition and an idea into a nation. As a military commander he was eclipsed by Washington and hindered by health and his disposition. Still, he provided a popular figure for the New England colonists to rally around at a time of near chaos and when, with one correct move by the British, the cause of American independence could have been snuffed out easily. He suffered criticism from his commander in chief yet had the fortitude and patriotism to remain long enough for the culture of a new American army, the Continental Army, to emerge from the chaos of the early camp around Boston. For that alone, we give a loud huzzah to the rebellion's first commander.
|Artemas Ward Memorial|
On November 3, 1938 a bronze statue of General Ward was unveiled at Ward Circle, Washington, D.C. and stands at the intersection of Nebraska Avenue and Massachusetts Avenue. The stone base is inscribed “Artemas Ward, 1727-1800, Son of Massachusetts, Graduate of Harvard College, Judge and Legislator, Delegate 1780-1781 Continental Congress, Soldier in Three Wars, First Commander of the Patriotic Forces.”