PRUDENCE CUMMINGS WRIGHT
Prudence Cummings was born November 26, 1740, at Dunstable, Massachusetts, or Hollis, NH depending on the source, the daughter of Samuel and Prudence Lawrence Cummings. Her father was a town clerk in Hollis, NH for 22 years.
She was raised in a household that freely discussed politics, and not all shared the same opinions. She had two sisters and three brothers. Two of those brothers were Loyalists, or Tories.
There were two parties in the colonies: Whigs and Tories. The Whigs (Patriots) were sympathetic to the democratic ideals and insisted upon representation for the colonies. The Tories included those whose sympathies were with the king, the clergy of the established church and others associated with the English government.
Prudence was a strong patriot and married another patriot, David Wright of Pepperell, Massachusetts, on December 28, 1761 and settled in Pepperell.
They lived in Pepperell, Mass., the next town over from Hollis, about 20 miles northwest of Concord.
The town of Pepperell was loyal to the democratic ideals of the Patriots. There was not a Tory within its borders, more than could be said of most towns. When the women of Pepperell heard of the Boston Tea Party in December 1773, they burned their tea in front of the meetinghouse.
For the next fourteen years, Prudence helped her husband, cared for her children, and was a leader among the young women of the town.
They would eventually have 11 children, though two of their children died young: six-year-old Mary died of fever on July 1, 1774, and on March 11, 1775, another daughter named Liberty died. Prudence Cummings Wright was obviously devastated and returned home to her parents in New Hampshire for comfort.
In the spring of 1775, David Wright was in the prime of life, forty years old. Prudence was thirty-five, and they had seven children at this time. All of Pepperell’s able-bodied men were enrolled in the militia and ready to respond to the first call. The women were no less ready, they molded bullets and tied cartridges around them; they filled powder horns; they sent their men off to fight and took care of all the duties at home.
In the American Revolution, the Massachusetts Bay Colony was considered by the British government to be the most rebellious of the thirteen colonies. It was unique in having Minutemen that were part of a network of committees, signals, messengers and volunteer soldiers that the Massachusetts towns used to communicate with each other after the British occupied Boston and closed town meetings.
When word came that the Redcoats were coming, towns near Boston were arming to meet them. About 9 o’clock on the morning of April 19, 1775, a messenger arrived in Pepperell with news of the fighting at Lexington and the advance of the Redcoats toward Concord. The colonel of the local militia rode out, leaving orders for the Pepperell men to meet him at Groton.
The men quickly bid their wives and children goodbye, and were gone. So well prepared were the Pepperell Minutemen that they arrived at Groton, five miles away, before the company there was ready to march. The women knew that their townsmen had helped chase the British, and were now with other Minutemen near Boston, and that more serious action was imminent.
Prudence Cummings Wright was a Patriot inside and out. While visiting her mother in Hollis, Prudence had overheard Samuel and Leonard Whiting making plans to pass messages between the British to the north and those in Boston. The direct road from the north to Boston ran through the town of Pepperell.
Prudence quickly went back to Pepperell and sounded the alarm for the other women, since the men were gone. She had decided to stop the Tories if at all possible. Word was sent from house to house for the women to meet at Jewett’s Bridge over the Nashua River – between the towns of Pepperell and Groton – where a person coming from the north would have to cross. There were between 30 and 40 women who came together from this area.
With the conflicting rumors rife in April, 1775, it is difficult to appreciate the uncertainty that would result from the chance reports of horsemen who gathered their information as they rode. It was this uncertainty that led the women to disguise themselves as men, wearing their husband’s and son’s clothing. Since the men had taken the weapons with them the women used old muskets, pitchforks and tools – anything that could be used as a weapon.
The women elected Prudence Wright as commander of their company of Minutewomen. Prudence, then 35-years-old, chose Sarah Hartwell Shattuck of Groton as her lieutenant. The youngest member was Elizabeth Hobart who was only seventeen at that time. Prudence hoped that if a large body of Redcoats appeared, the women would be able to scare them off before it was discovered that they were women.
This company of women came to be known as the Prudence Wright Guard. They guarded the bridge and patrolled the road, determined that no enemy should pass that way. There were pine trees on one side of the river near the bridge, but no houses very near. The road curved around high land on the north side, so the bridge was not visible to a person coming from the north until it was nearly reached.
The Minutewomen waited at the bridge into the night, shielding their lantern, remaining totally silent so as not to give their presence away. At last, two horsemen approached the bridge from the north. Taking advantage of the element of surprise, Prudence burst upon them with her lantern shining brightly in their faces, demanding to know their identity and business.
The men tried to flee on horseback, but the women surrounded them and seized the reins of their horses. Captain Leonard Whiting, a known Tory, drew his revolver and was about to use it when the other rider, Prudence’s brother Samuel Cummings, made him lower it, saying: “I recognize Pru’s voice, and she would wade through blood for the rebel cause.”
The men were searched and dispatches from the British forces in the field to the British General in Boston were found on them. The women marched their prisoners to the house of Solomon Rogers in the neighborhood, and there they were detained, securely guarded by the women overnight.
In the morning, the prisoners were marched to Groton and delivered into custody of the Committee of Safety. The papers found on the men were sent to Charlestown. The next day, the two men were released on the condition that they would leave the colony. They departed in the direction of New York, and Samuel Cummings never returned. Samuel was Prudence’s favorite brother, and his loss was something that would bother her for the rest of her life.
Afterward, the Prudence Wright Guard disbanded. A Granite Tablet Near Jewett’s Bridge bears the following inscription:
Near this spot a party of patriotic women, under the leadership of Mrs. David Wright, of Pepperell, in April, 1775, captured Leonard Whiting, a Tory who was carrying treasonable dispatches to the enemy at Boston. He was taken prisoner to Groton, and the dispatches were sent to the Committee of Safety at Cambridge.
In March, 1776, four men – Leonard and Benjamin Whiting, Thomas and Samuel Cummings – were summoned to appear before the Committee of Safety of the towns of Hollis, Dunstable, Merrimack and Litchfield. On their petition, the case was transferred to the General Court then sitting in Exeter. The accused appeared by their counsel. The complaint was not sustained and they were discharged, meaning that they didn’t find any evidence and the case was dismissed.
Events, however, soon proved the charges to have been well grounded. In June, Thomas Cummings was indicted before the Supreme Court, and gave bail for his appearance in September. In the meantime, he left his family, a wife and three children under five years of age, and his country and never returned.
Leonard Whiting was put in jail at Amherst on a charge of “being inimical to the Rights and Liberties of the United Colonies.” He took no active part in the war after the Declaration of Independence. It was judged that his treason came from a soldier’s loyalty to the government whose commissioned officer he was. He went to Cavendish, Vermont, where he spent the remainder of his life as a respected and influential citizen.
David and Prudence Wright had eleven children in all. David, the oldest, was in the Revolutionary army near the close of the war.
Some of the last years of their lives were spent in Groton in the home of Samuel Hartwell, who had married their daughter.
According to church records they spent their last days in Pepperell. This entry of their deaths appears in the records:
1819 May 22 David Wright age 93 years 9 months.
1823 Dec 2 Widow Prudence Wright, age 84.
Prudence Cummings Wright Grave Marker bears the following inscription:
‘In Memory of The Captain of the Bridge Guard,
April 1775, Prudence Cummings,
Wife of David Wright
Born November 26, 1740
Died December 2, 1823
LT JULIA NASHANNAY REEVES
Julia Helen Nashannay Reeves was born July 1St 1919 in Crandon, Wisconsin. Julia was a member of the Potawatomie Indian Tribe in Crandon.
Julia went to the school for nursing in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, and in January 1942, Julia joined the Army Nurse Corps. She was awarded the rank of 2nd Lieutenant and assigned to the 52nd Evacuation Hospital. This evacuation hospital was one of the first hospitals to be activated as the US entered the war.
As you can imagine they were in a rush to get everyone and everything over there and set up. The hospital needed to be set up yesterday.
For Julia and many of the staff, they had to leave before being issued the correct uniforms. Fortunately, when they passed through the Panama Canal, the Red Cross hook them up with things to wear.
The 52nd Evacuation hospital set up in a small village on the island of New Caledonia. They built a rudimentary hospital in thatched roof and bamboo-framed huts. The staff was stuck having to get by with outdated equipment and lack necessary supplies. Even in spite of all of this, Julia and the 52nd still treated over 6,000 inpatients and even more outpatients over six-months.
Julia went on and served a temporary duty status on the hospital ship the USS Solace. The USS Solace has its own interesting history. A short note about this ship, it was in Pearl Harbor during the attack and assisted in caring for the wounded on the USS Arizona, USS West Virginia, and the USS Oklahoma.
In 1943, she was transferred to England where she served with the 23rd Station Hospital in Norwich. Julia served as a nurse through the WWII and was there during Victory over Japan Day, or V-J Day in 1945.
When Julia returned to the United States, she was honorably discharged from the Army Nurse Corps on the 6th of December 1945. She moved from FT Sheridan, Illinois to Boston, Massachusetts and attended Simmons College in Boston. At college she used her GI Bill to study Public Health Nursing.
In 1950 she applied for ww2 compensation and was granted a payment of $500. Looking over the form there was a section for the beneficiary information. It was the 1950’s, and being the 1950’s you can imagine it wasn’t set up for women. The section for your spouse was listed as ‘Name of present wife’. Funny thing is though, I’ve experienced this similar type of ignorance and we are talking a full 50+ years later.
During the Korean War, Julia returned to active duty and served again as a nurse, this time with the 804th Station Hospital. The 804th operated at a hospital in Battle Creek, Michigan. During her time at the hospital, she met and married LT Joseph Reeves, in 1952.
Julia left active duty service as a first lieutenant on and helped support her husband through his career. They had four children together, a daughter and three sons. Being a typical military family, they did what most military families did, they moved around. They lived in Europe, Texas, Pennsylvania, Missouri, Kansas and Maryland before finally settling in Virginia when Joseph retires as a COL in 1973.
Julia spent the rest of her life in Virginia with her husband up until May 9, 1998 , when she passed away at her home in Suffolk, Virginia. She was 78 years old. She is buried in Quantico National Cemetery, next to her husband Joseph, who passed away in 2017 at the age of 90.
I found one article that talked about her husband reminiscing about a time that Julia was recognized by her Potawatomie Tribe. Julia received an eagle feather from the tribe in recognition of her service as a warrior for her nation.
There is very little about Julia’s life. The details of her time in the war zones, the impact she had. If you want to know what her husband did, there is no shortage of information out there. Not that he doesn’t deserve it, but it shows me how undervalued many women were, and native American women’s contributions were absolutely hidden away.