Early Fiske House History
Although indigenous peoples inhabited the ancient forests covering Fiske hill for thousands of years, European settlers arrived in the region around 1635. Within ten years, one settler, David Fiske II, claimed this elevated landscape as his own and began constructing a farm. The early days of farming on Fiske Hill required intensive amounts of work but within a decade David Fiske II developed a flourishing farm and started a family of his own. Of the children, David Fiske III remained nearby his parents’ farmstead, constructing his own home a short distance away in 1674. The foundation of the younger David Fiske III house remains today, marking the end of the battle road trail.
Archaeological investigation has unveiled the David Fiske III house as that of a typical New England farmstead in the late 17th and 18th centuries. A large central fireplace heated what was likely a two story- symmetrically designed home with two large front rooms and a kitchen in the back. In this house, David Fiske III and his wife, Lydia (Cooper) Fiske, raised eight children, including their youngest son Ebenezer Fiske.
When David Fiske III died in 1729, the family farm passed to Ebenezer, and a new generation inhabited the site. Eventually, Ebenezer married Bethiah Muzzy and their family expanded to over ten children, including their youngest son, Benjamin Fiske. When Bethiah passed away in 1774, Benjamin Fiske moved into his father’s home with his wife Rebekah to care for the ill Ebenezer.
The Fighting On April 19, 1775
On the morning of April 19, 1775, Benjamin Fiske was exempt from militia service on account of a painful leg injury, but this would not keep the family out of harms’ way. Years after the fateful day, Rebekah Fiske recorded her eye witness account of what transpired.
“’I heard the guns,’ says she, ‘at about day-break, but being unapprehensive of the danger, did not, like most of our neighbors move off for fear of the enemy; especially as my father was confined to his bed of a severe sickness, so that in fleeing from the house we must leave him behind, which I could not consent to. Our domestics had already absconded, we knew not whither. I, therefore, and my husband, who, on account of a certain indisposition, was incapacitated for military service, remained in the house with our father, while the enemy passed; which they did without offering us any injury. I remember well, their exact order, red coats, glittering arms, and appalling numbers.”
Those Regular soldiers passing the Fiske house had just fired into a group of Lexington, Militia gathered on the village green nearly two miles away. Rebekah continued,
“Some time after, on their arrival at Concord, a report of musketry was once more heard, and in broken and incessant volleys. It was a sound of death to us. All now was trepidation, fever, and rushing to arms; women and children bewildered and souring across the fields. With much ado, we succeeded in yoking our oxen and getting father on his bed into an ox-cart, and thus moving him off as carefully as we could to a neighbor’s house, I secured some of the most valuable of my effects, putting my large looking-glass between two featherbeds, and fastening all the windows and doors. The house we carried father to, had been already vacated, and here I was left alone with him. The dreadful sound of approaching guns was still ringing in my ears. Bewildered and affraighted, I betook myself into the house-cellar there to await my fate. Occasionally, I ventured to peep out to discover the approach of the enemy. After remaining some time in this dreadful state of fear and suspense, I at last discovered the enemy coming down a long hill on the highway, partly upon a run and in some confusion, being closely beset by ‘our men’ in flank and rear. The terrific array of war soon came fully into view, and as soon passed off again from before my eyes, like a horrid vision, leaving only a cloud of smoke behind and the groans of the dying, who were strewed in its wake.”
“After the rattle of musketry had grown somewhat weaker from distance, and my heart became more relieved of its apprehensions, I resolved to return home. But what and altered scene began to present itself, as I approached the house—garden walls thrown down—my flowers trampled upon—earth and herbage covered with the marks of hurried footsteps. The house had been broken open, and on the doorstep—awful spectacle—there lay a British soldier dead, on his face, though yet war, in his blood, which was still trickling from a bullet-hole [through] his vitals. His bosom and his pockets were stuffed with my effects, which he had been pillaging, having broken into the house through a window. On entering my front room, I was horror-struck. Three mangled soldiers lay groaning on the flood weltering in their blood, which had gathered in large puddles about them. ‘Beat out my brains, I beg of you.’ Cried one of them, a young Briton, who was dreadfully pierced with bullets, though almost every part of his body, ‘and relieve me from this agony.” You will die soon enough, said I, with a revengeful pique. A grim Irishman, shot through the jaws, lay beside him, who mingled his groans of desperation with curses on the villain who had so horridly wounded him. The third was a young American, employing his dying breath in prayer. A bullet had passed through his body, taking off in its course the lower part of his powder-horn. The name of this youthful patriot was J. Haywood, of Acton. His father came and carried his body home; It now lies in Acton graveyard. These were the circumstances of his death: being ardent and close in the pursuit, he stopped a moment at our well to slake his thirst. Turning from the well, his eye unexpectedly caught that of the Briton, whom I saw lying dead on the door-step, just coming from the house with his plunder. They were about a rod from each other. The Briton knew it was death for him to turn, and the American scorned to shrink. A moment of awful suspense ensured—when both simultaneously levelled their muskets at each other’s heart, fired, and fell on their faces together.”
Care For The Wounded
Following the end of fighting on April 19, 1775, Dr. Joseph Fiske, cousin of Ebenezer, visited the wounded soldiers Rebekah discovered. Later, Dr. Fiske submitted a bill to colonial leaders for care provided to “two of the king’s troops.” Although Dr. Fiske attended the wounded, the injuries sustained by the soldier Rebekah recorded as “dreadfully pierced with bullets,” were too great. In her closing statements, Rebekah concluded,
”My husband drew the two Britons off on a sled, and buried them in one of our pastures where they now lie, beneath a pine tree which has grown up out of their grave. The Irishman was the only one of the three that survived.’”
Although, themes of revolutionary romanization permeate Rebekah’s account, her testimony recorded for the Harvard Register in June, 1827, reveals a fascinating insight into the events of the day.
The Fiske House Site Today
After April 19, 1775, the world around Fiske Hill changed dramatically. Ebenezer Fiske died in late 1775 and did not live to see the new American Nation. Unfortunately, Benjamin Fiske similarly did not live long into this new era. When Benjamin died in 1785, Rebekah managed his estate and remarried. In her later years Rebekah rented out the old Fiske house but moved to her second husband’s home. Eventually the Fiske farmstead sold, and each new owner added additional features such as a large barn behind the house. During the 1850’s one new owner demolished portions of the original 17th century home and replaced it with modern construction. This rendition of the house remained until the mid-20th Century. After the National Park Service acquired the site in 1959, archaeological investigation revealed a low stone foundation that identified the original house location.