Governor John Brooks at the Fight at Meriam's Corner

Painting of an older man in a late 18th century style military uniform of blue and buff.
Governor John Brooks, 1752 - 1825, Governor of Massachusetts 1816-1823, Veteran of April 19, 1775
John Brooks was governor of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts from 1816-1823. He was born in Medford MA in 1752. His parents were Caleb and Ruth (Albree) Brooks. In his youth he was educated and trained as a physician. He soon established his practice in the town of Reading MA. In 1775, at age 23, he was elected to command the town’s minute man company. On April 19, 1775 he led his company into action at Meriam’s Corner in Concord. An account of his action appeared in William H. Sumner’s “A History of East Boston” published in 1858, long after Governor Brooks’ death in 1825.

“The mere names of Lexington and Concord remind the writer of his duty to the memory of his much respected friend, the late Gov. Brooks, which has for so long a time been omitted. The account which follows was received from him when riding with him to attend a review near Concord. On the way, in passing over a bridge, he pointed out the very barn under cover of which he made the attack. The sight of these brought to his mind the circumstances which he then related; or otherwise, from his well-known modesty, it is probable the public would never have been informed of the particulars of this attack of the gallant captain, with a single company upon the whole British army, which would hardly have been justifiable had not the enemy been on a hasty retreat.

When speaking of the valor of our undisciplined militia in the first day’s conflict at Lexington and Concord, which spread so much alarm through the country, he observed that the Reading company of minute men, which he was chosen to command when he first commenced the practice of medicine in that town, were a little better drilled, although he did not claim for them greater courage, than those who were earlier engaged in the conflict. When he took the command of that company, he judged from the signs of the times that it was his first duty to those who had placed confidence in him to acquire what knowledge he could of military matters. Accordingly he made a visit to Salem to consult Col. Pickering, who was then considered the best tactician with whom he could readily confer. He found the instructions he thus received of great use when, soon afterward, he fired upon the British army on their retreat from Concord.

As soon as the news of the fight at Lexington reached Reading, he called out his company and marched directly towards Concord, where were the stores which they supposed Gen. Gage has in view to destroy. On his march, at the intersection of the road from Chelmsford with the one that led from Bedford to Concord, upon which he was travelling, he came in contact with Col. Bridge, to whose regiment his company belonged. He was on his way to Concord with the rest of the regiment, or as much of it as he had been able to collect. Capt. Brooks saluted, and reported himself for orders. Col. Bridge said ‘I am glad you have come up, Captain. We will stop here and give our men some refreshment, and then push on to Concord.’ The answer was, ‘My men have just refreshed themselves, and as I think there is no time to be lost with your leave I will go ahead; and as neither of us is aware of what is taking place, if I get into any difficulty I shall know that you will soon follow me, and I shall have the main body of your regiment to fall back upon.’ The colonel replied, ‘You may go; but as you are unacquainted with the posture of affairs, be careful and not go too far ahead.’ Having this authority from his colonel, Capt. Brooks hastened on towards Concord, and when he came near the main road from Concord to Lexington, he saw the flank guard of the British army on this side of a hill which kept the main body from his sight. He imagined that the soldiers he saw belonged to the Charlestown Artillery Company (having the same colored uniforms) on their retreat from the scene of conflict. He halted until he discovered his mistake by seeing the flank guard fall in with the main body to cross a bridge over a large brook on the road. Finding that his position could not be outflanked, he ordered his men to advance, and, taking a position at Meriam’s Corner, covered by a barn and the walls around it, told them to fire directly at the bridge, which was twenty or thirty rods off. As the British army was in great haste to make good its retreat, it fired but one volley in return. When the enemy had passed, examination was made to see what had been the effect of the fire, and several persons – the writer thinks he said nine – were found hors de combat (killed or wounded) on or near the bridge."

Sumner, William H. “A History of East Boston; with Biographical sketches of Its Early Proprietors, and An Appendix” p. 355-356, J.E. Tilton and Company, Boston MA, 1858

Last updated: April 4, 2020

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