Never Too Old To Fight – 78-year old Samuel Whittemore Became A Hero In The Revolutionary War

The Revolutionary War, or the War of American Independence if you’re not American, was full of awe-inspiring stories of bravery and daring. Ardent patriots stood up proudly for the idea of a new free nation and did so in the face of an imposing imperial British army.

With the war being fought among the fields and streets of the colonies, plenty of colonists became active participants in battles and skirmishes just by being nearby.

Caring of the wounded was common, but some men choose to fight against the overwhelming odds for their country, or just out of hatred of the British. Samuel Whittemore was one of those brave patriots.

Some reports have Whittemore being born in Massachusetts in 1695-6 though it was more likely that he was born in England and came to the American colonies to fight in what would be known as King George’s War.

Whittemore served with the dragoons, an elite cavalry contingent, and may have been a captain. By the time he fought in the first engagement, that we know about, he was already fifty years old. Whittemore played an active role in the siege and capture of the French fort Louisburg.

During the battle, he would claim one of his most prized possessions, an ornate sword taken from a French officer who “died suddenly” according to Whittemore.

The French eventually regained possession of the fort after the war, and when the French and Indian war (seven years war) kicked off nine years later, Whittemore again joined the march against the fort.

Though these are French Dragoons, they are similar in appearance to the unit Whittemore would have served in.
Though these are French Dragoons, they are similar in appearance to the unit Whittemore would have served in.

This time, the battle for the fort was a much larger affair, with several thousands of men on each side, complete with large-scale naval bombardments and relentless artillery bombardments.

The British won a decisive victory again, with the help of Whittemore, now in his early sixties, by the time the fort fell in 1758.

Up next, for Old Whittemore was one of the most brutal and heartless conflicts the America’s had yet experienced. In what would be known as Pontiac’s Rebellion, large groups of natives rose up against the colonists in a series of border conflicts, in a guerrilla war.

Civilian traders were targeted by the natives and one recorded incident details the Indian raid on a rural schoolhouse resulting in the murder and scalping of a teacher and ten young students.

The siege of Louisbourg
The siege of Louisbourg


There was retaliation by the colonists, with bounties being offered to anyone who killed a native man or woman. Captured soldiers and civilians were quite often tortured and killed on both sides. It was a terrible war that only resulted in a stalemate.

We know little about Whittemore’s personal experiences during this war though it is certain that he saw or participated in his fair share of atrocities. He does seem to have gained another war trophy, actually two, as he acquired a pair of pistols off of a defeated warrior. These pistols would come into play over a decade later.

After the Pontiac Rebellion, Whittemore settled down on his farm in Menotomy, Massachusetts with his wife, children, and grandchildren. He seems to have fully supported the proclamation of an independent nation of America and kept himself quite well apprised of the early events of the revolution.

The early Native American wars were especially brutal and horrific. It would have been quite the hardening experience for Samuel Whittemore
The early Native American wars were especially brutal and horrific. It would have been quite the hardening experience for Samuel Whittemore

The first engagements of the Revolutionary War, the Battles of Lexington and Concord, occurred very near to Whittemore’s property. The Massachusetts militia was fighting a tough fight, but constantly retreating to keep away from the overwhelming momentum of the professional British redcoats. This meant that the battle was a running battle and there was even fighting down in Menotomy.

Homeowners fought in the doorways of their homes and militia sniped from the windows as the British began to spread out to attack.

Samuel Whittemore learned of the British attack and armed himself with his prized sword and pistols, grabbed his trusty musket, and went to defend his home. By this point, Whittemore was at least 78, possibly as old as 80. He found a position to hide and observe the British advance and when they got close enough he revealed himself and shot one of the soldiers at nearly point blank range. With no time to reload Whittemore drew his pistols and killed two more soldiers.

Now out of ammo, Whittemore drew his captured French saber and charged the British. He was soon shot in the face by a musket at close range. His cheek was badly wounded, with a large chunk of flesh torn away by the large musket ball. Whittemore fell to the ground and waved his sword wildly while trying to rise again. He was clubbed in the head by the butt of a musket and bayoneted no less than thirteen times before being left for dead.

The fighting in the town of Menotomy would prove to be the most costly of the battles of Concord and Lexington for the British, accounting for half of their casualties. Whittemore’s fight was seen by several onlookers and they approached the man, as soon as the British troops had moved on. They had expected to find the old man dead, but to their surprise he was attempting to reload his musket.

His rescuers quickly took him to the town doctor. The doctor proclaimed Whittemore a lost cause, saying that there was no point even attempting to dress the wounds. Whittemore’s extensive family pleaded and the doctor did the best he could, but ultimately sent Whittemore home to die with his family.

Miraculously, Whittemore made a full recovery, despite being shot, beaten and repeatedly stabbed. He would be horribly scarred, particularly from the gunshot, but Whittemore said he would have gladly done it again. Whittemore would live another two decades after this incident, seeing his land become an independent country, knowing he fought for something noble and great and helped his country win its freedom. A true example of a hardened veteran, boldly standing against any foe, Whittemore would become the official state hero of Massachusetts in 2005.

By William McLaughlin for War History Online

William Mclaughlin

William Mclaughlin is one of the authors writing for WAR HISTORY ONLINE