When I was a child, I walked by the Jason Russell House on my way to school in Arlington, Massachusetts. Looking at the empty two-story dwelling, I somehow could feel its history—and its fear.
“There’s still blood on the floor in there,” my brother had told me.
Blood? I quivered at the thought.
I felt as vulnerable as Scout in “To Kill a Mockingbird” when her brother and Dill, the curious friend visiting from out of town, discussed Boo Radley, a mentally-challenged neighbor that they feared.
I viewed that dwelling in a whole new light when I learned that people had died there in the American Revolution.
The story of my hometown of Arlington is often swallowed up in the historical accounts of the Revolution. The focus has always been on the “shot heard round the world” and the initial battles in Lexington and Concord on April 19, 1775.
And though my brother/sister conversation gave me the creeps, it also instilled in me a fascination for the war that birthed our nation. History had come alive for me while on my way to the classroom.
One of the reasons that Arlington has not received as much acknowledgement on that first day of the war was that it went by a different name in 1775. It was known as Menotomy, from an Indian word for “swift running water.”
Situated between Boston and Concord, Menotomy Village was actually called “the bloodiest half mile of all the battle road.” More redcoats and patriots were killed or wounded there on April 19 than in all the other towns combined. This occurred when the British troops were marching back to Boston after the skirmishes at Lexington and Concord.
The Jason Russell House stands as a living memorial to those who died there that day.
Russell was a 59-year-old farmer, loyal to the cause of freedom. He owned a large farm—120 acres—right on Concord Road, the path upon which the British troops journeyed. Prior to the battles, Paul Revere and William Dawes both rode by Russell’s house on their way to warn the Minutemen.
When the Redcoats retreated from Lexington, word reached the villagers in Menotomy that the enemy was coming. Russell sent his wife and children to a neighbors’ house for safety.
It became a brutal battle.
A group of rebel Americans running from the British regulars sought refuge in Russell’s house where they could make a stand against the Redcoats. Russell, who had a lame foot, was the last to reach his doorway and was wounded by British bullets. He was bayoneted numerous times. Several other Americans were wounded.
Eight survivors ran into the cellar and shot and killed the first two regulars to come after them. The battle went on, to the Russell orchard and beyond.
In Victor Brooks’ The Boston Campaign April 1775 to March 1776, he describes the horrible scene:
“The ‘battle of Menotomy’ became the most brutal engagement of the day as house-to-house and room-to-room fighting resulted in Regulars and militiamen clubbing and bayoneting one another, pistols flashing, men swinging tomahawks and hunting knives and dozens of casualties on each side.”
Wow. No wonder my brother claimed there was still blood on the floor of the Jason Russell house. Even if it was not still visible, surely the floorboards echoed the carnage.
There still are several holes from musket balls visible in the house today.
Jason Russell was buried nearby his home, in the Old Burying Ground. His inscription reads:
“Jason Russell was barbarously murdered in his own house by Gage’s bloody troops on the 19th of April, 1775. Age 59. His body is quietly resting in this grave with eleven of our friends who in like manner with many others were cruelly slain on that fateful day. Blessed are the dead who die in the Lord.”
In 1923, the Jason Russell house on the corner of Jason St. and Massachusetts Avenue was acquired by the Arlington Historical Society and restored. In 1974, it was added to the National Registry of Historic Places. Tours of the home are still given and a museum has been added.
My novel, Fields of the Fatherless, depicts the story of Jason Russell and the events of April 19, 1775. It is available at Amazon and other book outlets. You can purchase it here