Heroism

Then

What does it mean to be a hero? To me heroism is taking courageous action on behalf of someone else…even though you might be afraid. Many of us have had heroic moments, big or small. Real people are real heroes – not Marvel Comics figures. Which brings me to a real person from the 1700s, Staples Chamberlain, former Town Moderator and someone that could be considered something of a local hero during Revolutionary War days. Frankly, I didn’t remember him until Bobby Blair was complaining about the sudden recent cold – temps had dropped into the teens rather abruptly and it wasn’t even Thanksgiving. “All I can think of is Staples Chamberlain,” he said. “I cannot understand how he did it. It was so cold. We need a statue to honor him. Do you realize we don’t have any statues in town?” I corrected him that we had Casey at the Bat (which he erected on his own property)… but he was preoccupied with Staples.

Joanne Hulbert

Sometimes when I talk to Bobby (or to historian Joanne Hulbert,) I have to scramble to keep up with their narratives about the past. I asked for a clue about who Staples was and Bob said, “The guy who delivered supplies to Holliston soldiers in the Revolutionary War in the dead of winter.” Ah, then I remembered the story as told by Dorothy Rees in her history of Holliston, “The Story of a New England Town” (written for the Town’s 250th Anniversary in 1974.)

Grave site of Staples Chamberlain in the West cemetery on Gorwin Drive, locally called Paddy Lincoln’s cemetery.

We all remember from history class that George Washington’s band of militiamen ran into really hard times at Valley Forge in winter 1777. This was the lowest point in the war for them. In January 1778, Holliston held a Special Town Meeting and “voted to provide one shirt, one pair of breeches, one pair of shoes and one pair of stockings for each and send the same to the soldiers who serve for this town in the Continental Army.

Two weeks later, Staples Chamberlain at 50 years old was ready to climb aboard a horse-drawn wagon and travel about 700 miles to deliver the goods. He reached Albany on February 6 and dropped supplies for eight men. From there he headed south and then west and arrived at Valley Forge on the 10th. The Delaware River was gripped with ice and temps dipped to 12 degrees in January and 16 in February with spells of more moderate temperatures in between. Chamberlain’s last receipt for delivery was on February 18th, and then he turned around and headed back to Holliston in time to conduct the Town Meeting in early March.

It’s important to understand that this was a Town funded undertaking to support soldiers who hailed from Holliston. The taxpayers shared the costs for the clothing and for expenses for Chamberlain’s trip. We assume that there must have been a network of sympathizers who would provide housing, food and stabling for the horse along the way. One wouldn’t want to arrive on the doorstep of a Tory asking for a place to sleep – it could turn out to be the big sleep.

It should be noted, too, that Holliston residents passionately supported Independence from England. In fact, the entire Declaration of Independence was officially entered into the Town Record on October 1, 1776. Holliston’s records actually date back to 1724 and have been restored. I confess that I was moved to read the words of the Declaration right within our records. There was no question on which side Holliston stood.

Today

So that conversation with Bob led to a meeting at “Pete’s” – what we know today as the Holliston Grill  – among Joanne, Bobby and me to talk about Staples and the 300th Anniversary of Holliston. That will be in 2024. Put it on your calendar!! Bobby’s goal is to have a statue of Staples ready for 2024, but in the meantime, we all decided to start telling some of the stories we know from history or from experience…and thus, I am resuscitating this Blog (I was about to anyway.) Bobby will be placing small white historical signs around in locations to commemorate some people or incidents. In the Spring 2020, he plans to host a bus tour around town and regale folks with stories.

This supplemental newspaper was printed by the predecessors of the Metrowest News – and featured the entire year’s activities.

Joanne – well she’s going to be writing up histories of some select people that we hope to feature – some historic and some contemporary figures, men and women, black and white –  that have lived here for a time and also done something significant that we think today’s residents should know about. We hope to get information into the schools, create a play and add to the Historical Society’s 18th Century Days activities. I will use this Blog to tell some stories myself and, at times, to expound upon what we did for the 250th Anniversary in 1974 and the 275th in 1999. We want to get you all talking about what can be done in 2024. Bobby and I (among many, many others) were both on the Committee that ran the events throughout 1974, 33 of them in all. The 250th Committee commissioned a video to commemorate every activity, and you can see that video in a five-part series on the HCAT TV website. Let me know if you have a story about anyone we should include in this project – even more recent figures. And tell me…was Staples Chamberlain a hero according to your definition?  

P.S. 11/25/2019 – I originally misstated that the Constitution was read into the town’s records. My bad! It was the DECLARATION of INDEPENDENCE. How embarrassing…but thanks to  private message from a reader, I have corrected this. Color me blushing.


6 responses to “Heroism”

  1. Steve Curley says:

    Mary: You do some great things. And Bobby Blair is terrific. Now I know why we long to come “home” one of these days. Best to you and I will mark my calendar.

  2. Patricia Boyd says:

    Based on Mr. Chamberlain’s actions as you describe them, YES! I am currently reading about the Revolutionary War in the South in 1780-1781. (I just visited Williamsburg, Jamestown, Yorktown, and Monticello.) So many soldiers on both sides went without food and clothes! They only had what they ransacked from locals’ homes and fields. I love that Mr. Chamberlain traveled so far during terrible weather, and that Holliston supported his efforts.

  3. Ben Clarkson says:

    Such an amazing story ! Of great interest is the fact that Chamberlain made this seemingly impossible journey at the age of 50 years old which was near life expectancy at that time. Was he a hero for his efforts ? Many have been called a hero for less…
    Hope the Littlefields gave him a hot toddy upon his return !

  4. Linda Hammond says:

    Great article. Historians are valuable people. Ty for all you do and share❤️

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