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Artemas Ward (November 26, 1727 - October 28, 1800) was an American Major General in the American Revolutionary War and a Congressman from Massachusetts. President Adams described him as "...universally esteemed, beloved and confided in by his army and his country." Ward was much more effective as a political leader than as a soldier.
Artemas was born at Shrewsbury, Massachusetts in 1727 to Nahun (1684-1754) and Martha Ward. He was the sixth of seven children. His father had broad and successful career interests as a sea captain, merchant, land developer, farmer, lawyer and jurist. As a child he attended the common schools and shared a tutor with his brothers and sisters. He graduated from Harvard in 1748 and taught there briefly.
On July 31, 1750 he married Sarah Trowbridge (December 3, 1724-December 13, 1788), the daughter of the Reverend Caleb and Hannah Trowbridge of Groton, Massachusetts. The young couple returned to Shrewsbury where Artemas opened a general store. In the next fifteen years they would have seven children: Ithamar in 1752, Nahum (1754), Sara (1756), Thomas (1758), Artemas Jr. (1762), Henry Dana (1768), Martha (1760) and Maria (1764).
The next year, 1751, he was named a township assessor for Worcester County. This was the first of many public offices he was to fill. Artemas was elected a justice of the peace in 1752 and also served the first of his many terms in the colonies assembly, or general court.
French and Indian War
In 1755 the militia was restructured for the war, and Artemas Ward was made a Major in the 3rd Regiment which mainly came from Worcester County. They 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. In 1757 he was made the Colonel of the third regiment or the militia of Middlesex and Worchester Counties. In 1758 the regiment marched with Abercrombie's force to Fort Ticonderoga. Ward himself was sidelined during the battle by an attack of the stone.
Prelude to revolution
By 1762 Ward had completely returned to Shrewsbury and was named to the Court of Common Pleas. 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. Because of his prominence in these debates prompted Governor Bernard to revoke his military commission in 1767. At the next election in 1768, Bernard voided the election results for Worcester to ban Ward from the assembly, but this didn't silence him.
In the growing sentiment favoring revolution, the 3rd Regiment, en masse, resigned from British service on October 3, 1774. They then marched the Shrewsbury to inform Colonel Ward that they had unanimously elected him their leader. Later that month the governor abolished the assembly. The towns of the Massachusetts responded by setting up a colony-wide Committee of Safety. One of the first actions of the Committee was to name Ward as General and commander-in-chief of the colony's militia forces.
The Army of Observation
Following Lexington on April 19, 1775 the rebels followed the British back to Boston and started the siege of the city. At first Ward directed his forces from his sickbed, but later moved his headquarters to Cambridge. Soon, the New Hampshire and Connecticut provisional governments both named him head of their forces participating in the siege. Most of his efforts during this time were devoted to organization and supply problems.
Additional British forces arrived in May, and in June Ward learned of their plan to attack Bunker Hill. He gave orders to fortify the point, setting the stage for the Battle of Bunker Hill on June 17, 1775. Command during the battle devolved upon General Israel Putnam and Colonel William Prescott. While General Ward received national recognition for the heroic stand made that day, his principal contribution was a failure to supply enough ammunition to hold the position.
The Continental Army
Meanwhile, the Congress was creating a Continental Army. On June 16 they name Artemas Ward a Major General, and second in command to General Washington Over the next nine months he helped convert the assembled militia units into an actual Continental Army. After the British evacuation, Washington led the main army to New York City. Ward took command of the Eastern Department on April 4, 1776. He held that post until March 20, 1777 when his health forced his resignation from the Army.
Later political career
Even during his military service, Artemas served as a state court justice in 1776 and 1777. He was President of the state's Executive Council from 1777-1779, which effectively made him the governor. He was continuously elected to the Massachusetts House of Representatives for each year from 1779 through 1785. He also served as a delegate to the Continental Congress in 1780 and 1781. Ward was the Speaker of the Massachusetts' House in 1785. He was elected twice to the United States Congress, and served from 1791 to 1795. Artemas died at his home in Shrewsbury in 1800, and is buried with Sarah in Mountain View Cemetery.
Artemas' lifelong home had been built by his father, Nahun, about the time Artemas was born. The home is now known as the Artemas Ward House and is a museum preserved by Harvard University. Located at 786 Main Street in Shrewsbury, Massachusetts it is open to the public for limited hours during the summer months.
- Andrew H. Ward, Memoir of Major General Artemas Ward in New England Historical and Genealogical Register, Volume 5; July, 1851.
- Charles Martyn; The Life of Artemas Ward, The First Commander-in-Chief of the American Revolution.; (1921), reprinted 1970: Kennikat Press, Port Washington, N.Y.; ISBN 0804612765
- Ward's Biography at Congress web site
- Description of the Ward House
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