When the news reached Connecticut that blood had been shed, Putnam, who was at work in the field, left his plow in the furrow, and started for Cambridge without delaying to change his apparel. Stark was sawing pine logs without a coat; he shut down the gate of his mill, and commenced the journey to Boston in his shirt-sleeves. The same spirit prevailed far and near. The volunteers waited not to be supplied with arms, but seizing on whitever rude weapons were at hand, hastened away to fight for home and liberty. The women, lacking not their share of patriotic zeal, were active in preparations to encourage, assist, and sustain them. Among many whose persevering exertions were ready and efficient, Mrs. Draper is still remembered with admiration by those who knew her. The facts herein were communicated by a lady who was well acquainted with Mrs. Draper, and has often heard her relate particulars of the war. She was the wife of Captain Draper, of Dedham, Massachusetts, and lived on a farm. Her house, which was always a home for the destitute while occupied by her, is yet standing, and is owned by one of her descendants. It was her abode to the age of one hundred years.
Mrs. Draper felt the deepest sympathy for the hardships inevitably encountered by the newly raised troops, and considered the limited means she possessed not as her own property, but belonging to her distressed country. When the first call to arms sounded throughout the land, she exhorted her husband to lose no time in hastening to the scene of action; and with her own hands bound knapsack and blanket on the shoulders of her only son, a stripling of sixteen, bidding him depart and do his duty. To the entreaties of her daughter that her young brother might remain at home to be their protector, she answered that every arm able to aid the cause belonged to the country. "He is wanted and must go. You and I, Kate, have also service to do. Food must be prepared for the hungry; for before to-morrow night, hundreds, I hope thousands, will be on their way to join the continental forces. Some who have travelled far will need refreshment, and you and I, with Molly, must feed as many as we can."
This undertaking, though of no small labor, was presently commenced. Captain Draper was a thriving farmer; his granaries were well filled, and his wife's dairy was her special care and pride. All the resources at her command were in requisition to contribute to her benevolent purpose. Assisted by her daughter and the domestic, she spent the whole day and night, and the succeeding day, in baking brown bread. The ovens of that day were not the small ones now in use, but were suited for such an occasion, each holding bread sufficient to supply a neighborhood. By good fortune two of these monster ovens appertained to the establishment, as is frequently the case in New England. These were soon in full blast, and the kneading trough was plied by hands that shrank not from the task. At that time of hurry and confusion, none could stop long enough to dine. The people were under the influence of strong excitement, and all were in such haste to join the army, that they stayed only to relieve the cravings of hunger, though from want of food, and fatigue, many were almost exhausted. With the help of a disabled veteran of the French war, who had for years resided in her family, Mrs. Draper had soon her stores in readiness. A long form was erected by the road-side; large pans of bread and cheese were placed upon it, and replenished as often as was necessary; while old John brought cider in pails from the cellar, which, poured into tubs, was served out by two lads who volunteered their services. Thus were the weary patriots refreshed on their way. Mrs. Draper presided at the entertainment; and when her own stock of provisions began to fail, applied to her neighbors for aid. By their contributions her hospitable board was supplied, till in a few days the necessity for extraordinary exertion had in a measure passed, and order and discipline took the place of popular tumult. When each soldier carried his rations, the calls on private benevolence were less frequent and imperative.
But ere long came the startling intelligence, after the battle of Bunker Hill, that a scarcity of ammunition had been experienced. General Washington called upon the inhabitants to send to head-quarters every ounce of lead or pewter at their disposal, saying that any quantity, however small, would be gratefully received.
This appeal could not be disregarded. It is difficult at this day to estimate the value of pewter as an ornamental as well as indispensable convenience. The more precious metals had not then found their way to the tables of New Englanders, and throughout the country, services of pewter, scoured to the brightness of silver, covered the board, even in the mansions of the wealthy. Few withheld their portion in that hour of the country's need; and noble were the sacrifices made in presenting their willing offerings. Mrs. Draper was rich in a large stock of pewter, which she valued as the ornament of her house. Much of it was precious to her as the gift of a departed mother. But the call reached her heart, and she delayed not obedience, thankful that she was able to contribute so largely to the requirements of her suffering country. Her husband before joining the army had purchased a mould for casting bullets, to supply himself and son with this article of warfare. Mrs. Draper was not satisfied with merely giving the material required, when she could possibly do more; and her platters, pans, and dishes were soon in process of transformation into balls.
The approach of winter brought fears that the resources of the country would hardly yield supplies for the pressing wants of the army. Mrs. Draper was one of the most active in efforts to meet the exigencies of the times and hesitated at no sacrifice of personal convenience to increase her contributions. The supply of domestic cloth designed for her family was in a short time converted by her labor, assisted by that of her daughter and maid, into coats for the soldiers: the sheets and blankets with which her presses were stored, were fashioned into shirts; and even the flannel already made up for herself and daughter, was altered into men's habiliments. Such was the aid rendered by women whose deeds of disinterested generosity were never known beyond their own immediate neighborhood!
Another anecdote may here be mentioned, illustrative of the spirit that was abroad. On the morning after the battle of Lexington, a company of nearly a hundred halted before the house of Colonel Pond of West Dedham. They had marched all night, and were covered with dust, and faint from fatigue and want of food. Their haste was urgent, and the mistress of the house whose hospitality they claimed, was unprepared for the entertainment of so large a party. Her husband was absent with the army, and she had only one female assistant and a hired man. But the willing heart can do wonders. In a few minutes she had a large brass kettle holding ten pails full, over the fire, filled with water and Indian meal for hasty pudding. In the barnyard were ten cows ready to contribute their share to the morning meal. Near the farm-house was a store well supplied with brown earthen dishes, and pewter spoons tied in dozens for sale. The military guests volunteered their aid. Some milked the cows, others stirred the pudding; while the two domestics collected all the milk, in the neighborhood. Thus, in the short space of an hour, by the energetic efforts of one kind-hearted woman, a hundred weary, hungry soldiers were provided with refreshment. They ate, and marched on to the place of their destination; receiving encouragement, it cannot be doubted, from this simple manifestation of good-will, which was not soon forgotten.