By Bill Dunn
In a previous article, I told a story about the discovery of an unknown colonial homesite on our property and the 1770s relics I found with my metal detectors. Research revealed a gentleman named Ithamar Smith and possibly two other men living here from 1772-1773. It is speculated that Ithamar possibly moved to Worcester, Massachusetts, after departing Nelson in 1773.
Three years after my first article and many, many hours detecting this site, I thought I had found every relic. I went out with my detector this past summer, returning to the cabin site, assuming I would be finding 18 th century handmade nails. After ten nails, I found a pewter button – the signal had been blocked by the nails. After cleaning the button, I noticed a number 23 on the front. Guessing a numbered button is usually military, I was super excited! My head started swimming with questions: what military? what war? who owned it? what battle is it from? And most of all, how did the button get to the top of a mountain in Nelson! Read on to learn what I uncovered.
First question: What military is the pewter button from? The Continental Army did not have a 23rd Regiment, but the British did, the Light Company of the 23 rd Royal Welch Fusiliers, so it’s a British military button!
Question two: What war? The 23 rd Royal Fusiliers were in the Americas from 1775 to 1783. It is likely a British Revolutionary War uniform button.
Question three: Who owned it? We will probably never know whose uniform it originally came from, but we might be able to figure out how it ended up on a mountain top in Nelson. If the 23 rd Regiment did not show up until 1775 and Ithamar left in 1773, it could not be his button. This is curious, so whose could it be? I hit the proverbial research stone wall.
It was time to get help from our local Nelson historical researcher, Rick Church. I think he was just as excited as I was about the discovery. After research on both our parts, and many ideas bouncing back and forth we believe we can conjecture who brought the button here and even what battle it came from.
Across the old road on Osgood Hill, and about 100 yards up from Ithamar’s site, is a foundation that was believed to be owned by John Stroud. He arrived in Packersfield (Nelson) around 1771, and built a log cabin. Deed research revealed that John owned a piece of land on our property, then in 1773 bought the land where his foundation is located. The deeds this early in our town’s history are akin to a Yankee giving directions to a tourist: “Take a left at the second pile of rocks and then a right where the old barn used to be.” How the button ended up at Ithamar’s site is anyone’s guess, but perhaps John used Ithamar’s cabin as his mancave when Ithamar left, possibly the first one in Nelson!
Question four: What battle did it come from? John Stroud served as a Private for the Americans under Colonel John Stark, Manns Company, in Reeds Regiment of the New Hampshire Volunteer Militia. John Stroud fought at the Battle of Bennington and at the Battle of Bunker Hill. The 23rd British Company did not fight at the Battle of Bennington, but they did fight at Bunker Hill.
Was John Stroud involved in a direct assault with the 23 rd Company? John Stroud would have been fighting with the New Hampshire Militia, which was in direct combat with the 23 rd British Company. John Stroud was on the left flank of the American line in this battle. Colonel John Stark had put a stake in the ground 35 yards from the American defensive position and told the troops not to fire until the British passed the stake.
On the first charge, the British lowered their bayonets, and the New Hampshire Militia fired the first volley, devastating the 23 rd Company with the accuracy of their shots. This dropped the whole front line of the 23 rd , killing 84, and stunning the British, causing them to fall back and regroup. It took the British two more charges to dislodge the New Hampshire Militia from their position.
Due to lack of ammunition, each New Hampshire volunteer was given only 13 musket balls. In between charges, John Stroud could have had time to collect a “souvenir,” grabbing a button off a British soldier. The New Hampshire Militia were, at maximum, 100 feet or less from the dead and wounded 23 rd Company. With this button, John Stroud was bringing back proof of his contribution to our country, only for him to lose it, and be found almost 250 years later.
At this point, we believe this button was brought back to Nelson by John Stroud from the Battle of Bunker Hill. So, the case is no longer curious, and the button did not come from Ithamar. The original soldier wearing this button could be one of the 84 British soldiers killed in the first attack. How it ended up at Ithamar’s home site is a little fuzzy, but John Stroud living only 100 yards away is a pretty convincing argument.
Even though it must have been sad for John to lose his war memento, I’d like to hope it was healing for him to leave the war behind. He moved to Peterborough in 1777, but he left behind a mystery to be solved and a story to be told. He also left a reminder of all the local sacrifices that have been made and continue to be made for our town and country. I am honored to share this piece of history found in our backyard. Thank you to Rick Church: without his help, I would’ve had a hard time buttoning up this story.
Editors note: Just after writing this article, Bill discovered more evidence of John likely being at Ithamar’s after battle of Bennington: a musket ball from site, smaller than the other two I have found there. The first two were.67” in diameter which means they were for a British “Brown Bess” musket. This one measures .63 which would have been used in a French Carolettesville musket. The continental army received these muskets in June of 1777. So the Americans would have used this gun at Bennington in September.