Ralph Farnham

 
                                                                          Born in Lebanon (then part of Shapleigh) on July 7, 1756

                                                                 Died in Acton on December 26, 1860

 

Ralph Farnham was one of the most notable citizens of Acton.  In most ways he was like many of our native sons - he was a farm boy, was close to his parents, learned farming skills at the hands of his father, joined the Free-Will Baptist church, married a local girl and raised a large family.  And like some of our young men, he went to war at an early age and, happily, came home unscathed.  But there is something that makes him unique.  When he died in 1860, at the age of 104, he was the last known living American survivor of the Battle of Bunker Hill.

 

The news of British activity in Massachusetts began to seep into isolated towns and villages after the battles of Lexington and Concord.  Ralph enlisted, under Capt. Philip Hubbard, of North Berwick, on May 15, 1775.  With other neighbor boys he began the long march to Cambridge, MA.  The weather was wet and the roads were muddy.  They were given food by various families and allowed to sleep in barns.  They reached the encampment at Cambridge the night before the battle of Bunker Hill was fought.  These young recruits were very soon taught that their new duties, for which they had left behind the comforts of their quiet country homes, were those of danger and hardship.

 

After being assigned to their quarters, and only a few hours of rest, they were called, by drum and trumpet, to turn out.  Arranged in marching order, under General Prescott, probably 1,000 men marched until they came to the channel which separates Charlestown from Boston.  They crossed by boats, rafts and swimming.  The night was dark, cloudy and very warm.  After placing the flag on Bunker Hill they began digging entrenchments and by sunrise were quite strong.  Not until mid-afternoon did the battle really start.  This was unforgettable for young Ralph Farnham.

 

After the battle, this young solder entered the city of Boston with the forces under General Putnam.  He served as a private in Capt. Hubbard's company, in Col. James Scammon's regiment, 2 months and 16 days.  In 1777 he was doing duty as a sergeant under Capt. Samuel Grant, in Col. Jonathan's regiment.

 

He was in the siege of Boston and marched into that city when the British evacuated it.

 

From Boston he went to Long Island.  He was on guard duty and very near General Washington, when the disastrous defeat occurred there, and he witnessed the bitter grief manifested by the commander.  He was with Washington's army in the retreat through New Jersey.  He passed the winter at Valley Forge, where the soldiers suffered greater terrors than on the battlefields.

 

Mr. Farnham rejoined the New Hampshire troops and fought under Generals Stark and Gales.  His services closed with the surrender of Burgoyne and the campaign of 1777, having served nearly three years bravely but without receiving a wound.

 

In 1780, Mr. Farnham, now 24 years of age, retired to the wilds and took possession of 100 acres of land in Acton.  The country was a wilderness covered with dense forests which extended as far as the eye could reach.  He was the first settler in the region. 

 

Mr. Farnham's first task was to make a shelter and with the help of two brothers he built a log cabin, deep in the forest.  Having secured a place of shelter he began the arduous task of felling the trees and bringing a portion of this wild land under cultivation.  When his day's labor ended he returned to his cabin, cooked and ate the simple food he had earned, all in solitude and silence.  Two years passed while he lived the life of a hermit.  But following "The Dark Day", probably a total eclipse of the sun, he began to entertain serious ideas of religion and he joined the Free-Will Baptist Church.  He was a loyal and active member for 78 years.

 

He had now spent four years alone and he was growing weary of his solitude.  He won the heart and hand of a neighbor's daughter, Mehitable Bean, whom he brought to his forest home.  He then laid the foundation of the farmhouse, which was to be his home for the remainder of his life. There were seven children from this marriage:  Benjamin, Hannah, Mary, Johanna, John, Daniel and Ralph.  Mrs. Farnham, who was nine years younger than her husband, died in 1842 at the age of 77.

 

In 1832, Mr. Farnham applied for and received Revolutionary War Pension.

 

Mr. Farnham died December 26, 1860 at the age of 104. 

 

Earlier that same year, Mr. Farnham was invited to visit Boston, by the Govenor of Massachusetts.  The following is a portion of that invitation as well as Mr. Farnhams' response. 

 

Invitation

 

"We, being residents of the city of Boston, the scene of our earliest Revolutionary struggles, naturally feel a pride in everything that reminds us of the glorious days when our forefathers did battle for freedom.  That generation has well-nigh passed away - you, in your 105th year, are one of the few connecting links which unites the present generation with that upon which the Independence of our country dawned, and the sole survivor of that gallant band who took part in the battle of Bunker Hill.  We cordially invite you to visit Boston.  We desire to see you - to shake hands with you, and to pay you that respect due alike to your patriarchal age, and to the part you took in the struggle which secured our National Independence."

 

Mr. Farnham's reply

 

"I have received your invitation to visit Boston.  I thank you for the honor you do me.  When I 'listed in the American army, at 18 years of age, and engaged in the battle of Bunker Hill, I did not suppose I should live to be 104 years of age, and be asked by so many distinguished men to visit Boston.  I do not think I deserve any special credit for the part I took in the Revolution.  I only felt and acted as others.

 

I receive every year my pension of $61.66, though I have to pay $4 every year to a a lawyer in Portland to get it for me.

 

I have many things to comfort me as I journey along through life; innumerable ae the mercies I am surrounded with.  As to temporal matters - kind, loving children, faithful friends.  As to spiritual - the Holy Scriptures, and the various institutions of religion - all of which are designed for our improvement here, and to prepare us to dwell in that better world above. 

 

If a kind Providence spare my life and health, you may expect to see me in Boston between the first and eighth of October.  I cannot now name the day."
 
Mr. Farnham's homestead is located about 1,000 feet off Millers Corner and is buried about 1/4 mile behind the homestead.  His grave is marked by a bronze plaque.
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