by Rudy VanVeghten
Worrisome news arrived in Meredith and across New Hampshire in the spring of 1777. British General John Burgoyne had arrived in Canada to launch an expedition intent on retaking Fort Ticonderoga and cutting off New England from the rest of the thirteen United States. As part of his strategy, he enlisted the aid of Canadian Indian tribes. In the early summer, Col. Seth Warner of Vermont’s Green Mountain Boys, expecting Burgoyne to lay siege to the Lake Champlain Fort, sent a desperate plea to New Hampshire for reinforcements.
In response, militia leaders across the state raised companies and led them westward. On July 5, 1777, Col. Joseph Badger of Gilmanton, commander of New Hampshire’s 10thmilitia regiment, wrote to his second in command, Lieut. Col. Ebenezer Smith of Meredith:
Gilmantown, July ye5th, 1777.
Sr—I have recdno orders to march any man which I think strange, if wanted; but as the matter of saving Ticonderoga is of so much importance if you can send a Company of men immediately under proper officers or as many as you can, I should advise so to do, and to march until you can find whether they are wanted or not. I should be glad you’d go yourself if you can.
I am, Sir, your HumblServt
P.S. If I should receive any orders, I shall Immediately let you know.
So it was that Col. Smith, Meredith’s leading citizen, personally led a contingent of 45 militiamen “raised in the Town of Meredith and Towns Adjacent,” setting out “for the relief of the Garrison at Ticonderoga On the Alarm July 7th, 1777.”
They never arrived. After about five days’ march (about 100 miles), the dozens of New Hampshire companies, including Col. Smith’s, were intercepted with the news that Ticonderoga had fallen to the British. So the men from Meredith and other N.H. towns turned around and returned home.
In a letter to New Hampshire’s Committee of Safety dated July 11, 1777, and postmarked from Unity (located between Claremont and Charlestown, N.H.) Col. Smith wrote the following explanation:
Hon’d Sirs—I Recdthe above advise in the evening and the next morning sent my answer to ColoBadger that I should endeavour to comply with his advise and Imediately advised the Captains in part of the Regtwhere I live to rais what men they could for one month if wanted, with a proportion thereof officers to the men so raised; and Sandbornton raised sixteen. Meredith fifteen, Moultonboro ten, who all joyn’d me at Unity, and there met ColoGerish, MajrBatchelder within seven miles of Knots Ferry, who inform’d that Tic[onderoga] was lost, and the Militia officers had held a Council of advise and had advised that it was best for the militia to return home and wait the orders of your Honrs. But I seeing confusion & distress of the Inhabitants and the defenceless state of the Inhabitants and the need there was to take some care of the same above the River, I advised ColoGerrish, and MajrBatchelder to stop what men they could and joyn me and tarry until we could we could have advise from you or the Genl, and I ordered my men to stand fast, and Returned eight miles in order to trye to persuade ColoGerrish’s men back again, but to no purpose. There’s nothing but confusion here—some saying one thing, some another—the men coming in with varios Reports from Tic—Some Continental & some Militia: this being the case supose the Rear of ColoBadger men have Return’d and I am on my Return with my men; But I hope the great Loss we have met with will not discurage in the least from using the best endeavours in our own defence that you in your great wisdom can advise, and that speedily
I am, Sir, your Honrsmost obedient HumblSarvt.
Stunned by the loss of Fort Ti, it was clear to the fledgling New Hampshire state government that additional efforts were necessary to check Burgoyne’s further advance. “Your immediate assistance is absolutely necessary,” wrote Green Mountain Boys’ leader Ira Allen to the New Hampshire House on July 15. “The Continental Store at Bennington seems to be their present aim… Pray send all the Troops you can possibly raise.”
New Hampshire’s answer was to pull Col. John Stark, the hero of Bunker Hill, out of retirement, promote him to brigadier general, and put him in charge. There was widespread rejoicing when New Hampshire communities learned that the popular Stark had agreed. “Men enlisted with alacrity, and were forwarded to Charlestown by detachments, that place having been designated for rendezvous.” In the Meredith area, Capt. Chase Taylor of Sanbornton was assigned command of a company to serve in Col. Thomas Stickney’s regiment.
Seventeen men from Meredith stepped forward to enlist. Among them was surveyor/farmer Nicholas Folsom, a close friend of two selectmen, Col. Ebenezer Smith and Capt. Joshua Crockett, and a third cousin of the third, Abraham Folsom. Since his friend had no suitable weapon of his own, Crockett provided Nicholas Folsom with his own musket and powder horn. Folsom and his company set out from Sanbornton on July 22, heading for Fort No. 4 on the Connecticut River.
All told, nearly 1500 New Hampshire residents marched with Gen. Stark from New Hampshire along the present-day Vermont Route 11, over the Green Mountains at Mount Bromley, and down into the valley of Manchester, Vt. Here on August 7, Stark met up with Seth Warner and his regiment. Stark departed the next day for Bennington later followed by Warner and his Green Mountain Boys.
Meanwhile, Burgoyne had arrived at Fort Edward on the upper Hudson River. Low on supplies, he dispatched Lieut. Col. Friedrich Baum on a foraging mission toward Bennington on August 12, mistakenly believing the southern Vermont town was defended only by the remnants of Seth Warner’s depleted regiment. By the time Baum realized he was now outnumbered by the addition of Stark’s brigade, it was too late.
The two armies met August 16 on a field about 10 miles west of Bennington village. Even though disorganized and undisciplined, Stark’s force, now swelled to over 2000, was roughly twice the size of Baum’s. Inspired by their general’s words “There are the Red Coats and Tories. They are ours, or this night Molly Stark sleeps a widow,” the Americans overran Baum’s position. A final desperate British bayonet charge against Stark’s army failed, resulting in numerous British casualties, including Baum’s death. In all, they lost 207 with another 700 captured. Stark’s forces lost 30 dead and another 40 wounded.
It was a major setback for Burgoyne. For the Americans, however, Bennington provided much-needed encouragement, leading to the pivotal defeat of Burgoyne at Saratoga two months later.
Following his victory at Bennington, Stark led his troops, including Private Nicholas Folsom, back home by the quickest route, which later became the present-day Vermont Route 9 between Bennington and Brattleboro, now known as the Molly Stark Trail.
Hastily assembled as they were, Nicholas Folsom and the other Americans appeared much different in battle than did the regimented British. “Not a pair of boots graced the company,” reads one description. “Their arms were as various as their costumes. Here an old soldier with a heavy Queen’s Arm, while by his side walked a stripling boy with a Spanish fusee not half its weight or calibre, while not a few had old French pieces. Instead of a cartridge box, a large powder horn was slung under the arm and occasionally a bayonet might be seen bristling in the ranks.” Amongst this makeshift milieu stood Meredith’s Nicholas Folsom carrying the bayonetted musket and powder horn pictured here.
Folsom continued to be a significant figure in Meredith’s early history. A devout Baptist, he became Meredith’s first minister before the town could afford an ordained Congregational (Puritan) preacher about 15 years later. He was affectionally known as “Priest” Folsom.