Israel Litchfield of Scituate, MA kept a diary between Nov 1774 and mid 1775 that survives today in the collections of the New England Historic Genealogical Society. It is a trove of period details gives many insights into daily life in his coastal Massachusetts town during the months leading up to the onset of the armed struggle for American Independence.
Just 21 years old, Litchfield was skilled in both leatherwork and clock making. Sometimes he ground razors for family and friends, and sometimes he had someone else draw a tooth. As a skilled laborer he collaborated with other artisans, like Abednego Wade who worked in brass, but he also did his share of manual work in the fields. He sang with the choir and enjoyed visiting friends, and with all this activity he increasingly found time to train with the militia.His service record is summaried as follows in Massachusetts Soldiers and Sailors of the Revolutionary War:
Litchfield, Israel, Scituate. Sergeant, Capt. Samuel Stockbridge's co. of Minute- men, Col. Bailey's regt., which marched on the alarm of April 19, 1775; service, 21 days ; also, Clerk, Capt. Hayward Peirce's co., Col. John Cushing's (2d Plym- outh Co.) regt. ; service, 15 days ; company ordered to march to Bristol, R. I., on an alarm in Dec, 1776.
Litchfield's diary offers a wealth of information about the formation, drill and equipment of the local militia, particularly the minute company to which Litchfield belonged.
Drill: Before Scituate established its two companies of minutemen in January, 1775, Litchfield mentions two types of drill used to exercise the militia.
Nov 17' 
: In the forenoon I Work'd at the tanhouse put 19 sides into Lime In the
12 of us met at Daniels and Exercised We used what they Call the Norfolk Excercise
the Weather Cool…
18 …we went to
M"" Gerfhoni Ewells from there to IncineTurners there was Cap*
Lieu* Stetfon Sergant Stockbridge: Sergeant Jenkins We Exercised Some in the New
way Calid the 64"'.
2 Dec ...in the
afternoon We Exercised at Daniels after the New form viz the 64**
From this it appears that preference was subsequently given to the British 1764 manual of military
exercise over the older Norfolk militia drill (1759) which still included instructions for using halberds
Organization: It was customary for the New England trained bands to elect their officers, and Litchfield
describes this process several times in his diary. In January, 1775, Scituate formed its first units of
minutemen in an occasion solemnified by a church meeting but ultimately resolved by others of the
Town and the votes of the men themselves.
January the 11, We went to the Training field by the rev. Barns's meeting house the Lower,
Middle and upper Companeys of the millitia of this town met there under arms in order to Enlist
minute-men after we were Embodied and marchd Some the three Companyes were Marchd
into the meeting house for to hear a Lector. The Rev"" M"" Barnes went to pray[e]r then there w'as
Sang the two first Stanzas of the 144*'' psalm after which the ReV M"" Grosvenor Preachd a
Sermon his text Second of Chronicles 17^^: I''m Ready prepared for the war. It was generally
Concluded that he talk'd very well after the Sermon m"" Grofvenor made a Short prayer after which
they Sang two Stanzas in the 101*' psalm Then we were marched out of the meeting house
and Embodied again and then they beat up for Men to Enlift as minute men there was aboute 66
men Enlified and I was one amongst them that Enlisted we marchd into the meeting house and
adjurnd from there to Lan[d]lord Fosters there we Chose three off[i]cers To wit M"" John Clapp for a
Cap* M"" Nathanel Winflow first Lieutenant and M"^ Hayward Pierce Second Lieutenant and adjurnd
till next wednesday to the Same place &c the weather very pleafant for the time of the year 1 got
home from training aboute midnight
18'^ : In the after[noon] we went to Town meeting which was
to Come into Some meafures Relative to
the minute men they passed a Vote not to Raise any mony at present but that they might
in Some future
time If they Saw Cause. they had the Association of the Continential Congress
prefented to the people to Sign almost all them that were there Signed it young and old 1 for one.
from the meeting houfe the minute men and Cap' Clapp and others Went Down to Landlord Fosters
Agreable to an ajournment Voted Last Wednessday to Chuse the officers there wer[e] So Many
inlisted As to inhance the number to 88 we passed a Vote to Divide into two Companies 44 men
in Each the upper Company Chose all their olficiers but we Got a little Divide'^ after we had made
Some Choices and adjournd till next monda}' at one oclock to the Same place Viz Landlord Fosters
23*5 : In the forenoon, I wrought a little in Clock-work: In
the afternoon, Daniel and I, went up to
Lan[d]lord Fosters; to a meeting upon an adjournment from last Wednefsday ; in order to make
choice of officiers, for the Lower companey of minute men : We made choice of M'' Samuel
Stockbridge Jun"" for Captain, M"" Hayward Peirce for first Lieutenant : and M'' Pickle[s] Cushing
for Second Lieutenant, M^ Israel Nichols first Sergant : they Chose me for the Second Sergant
Rolon Turner for the third Sergeant and M*" William Loring fourth Sergant the following men for
Corperals Viz Mefs^ : Ira Briant, Benj^ Wade, Eleazer Peaks, & David Turner.
Israel Litchfield was now the 2nd Sergeant under Captain Stockbridge in the 'Lower' Minute Company
of Scituate, which was part of Col. Anthony Thomas's (later Bailey's) Massachusetts Militia Regiment. It was his duty to train the men under his charge, as well as to provide himself with the required equipment as well as assist in equipping the company. In this, his skills in leatherworking proved a key asset, but he also seems to have taken his role as drill instructor very seriously, exercising small groups of men at his kinsmen Daniel Litchfield's several times a week.
January the 24': In the Afternoon We Excersised at Daniels
Viz of the M[inu]te M[e]n Sergant
I[srae]l L[itchfiel]d Z[adoc]k D[amo]n, D[anie]l L[itchriel]d, E[lish]a L[itchfiel]d.
Januayr 26th … In the afternoon we Excersised at Daniels of the m[inu]te m[e]n there was my Self
D[anie]l L[itchfiel]d & Z[adoc]k D[amo]n and Benj-^ Wade Benj' & I wrestled together.
31' we viz: myfelf D[aniel], A[mos], Z[adock],
E[lisha], and 2 or three more met and
Excersised at D[aniels]
February the first in the forenoon Father Daniel & Lot
cut Bushes before the Door pasture Daniel and Lot
and I went to training with the rest of Cap' Stockbridges Company of minute men we met at m'
Joshua Clapps in the Evening Lieutenant Pierce and Benjamin Wade and I went to m"" Abial
Turners there was a fine parcel of ladies there to wit : Mrs Rachel Barnes Mrs fofler mr^ Randal &:c.
3^, I wrought in the Clock-makeing business Father
Daniel lx)t and Francis Cut-bushes
In the pasture before the Door In the afternoon I went to Daniels to Excersys the M[inut]e
m[e]n but none of them Came.
6'^: In the forenoon I Curried In the
afternoon we excersised at Daniels of the minute men
there was D[anie]l & Z[adock] & A[mos] & E[lisha] tSi my S[el]f
February : the . 9*'' In the forenoon I wrought in the Clock
making buismess In the afternoon the
minute men (viz thofe of them that are under my tuifhon) Excersised at Daniels to wit Z[adock].
Daniel. E[lisha], Amos Etce.
13...In the afternoon We went to training we met at M"" James Jenkins's the Weather
prety Cold there was but aboute one third of the Comp''» after training Cap', Stockbridge &
Lieu' Cushing and others Went to Lieu' Pierces.
15"': We went to training we met at M"" James Jenkinss again there was allmost the whole Company of
minute men that met this Day But the weather was So inclement that We Could not Excersise much
Except marching and whealing there is but Little Snow
21-' In the forenoon I went up to Cap' Stockbridges to get Some oyl: in the afternoon Cap' Stockbridges
Company traind by J[ames] J[enkins's]
Weapons and Accoutrements: It was customary for members of the trained bands and alarm companies of Massachusetts towns to be required to muster with their own firelocks, a supply of ammunition, as well as other equipment as specified by their communities. Litchfield notes in his diary on January 31st, 1775 that some men in his company "went to hingham and bought powder at 16 Shillings old ten[der] per pound."
He took particular care of his own musket, especially after seeing his Captain display some especially fine marksmenship at training.
March 10*^ I Scoured up my gun in the Evening I went up to Cap* Stockbridges &c
Amos and I went over to Ilezekiah Hutfon to git our guns takled up he put in a New main-spring into my Lock…
Sabbath 19'''…in the afternoon I went to training We met at Lieut Pickle Cushings we fired three
Volleys Cap^ Stockbridge Shot at a mark aboute 12 or 14 Rods and hit it Exactly within an Inch …
March the 21^' I Wrought upon my gun I Spent the whole day a Scowering her & Cleaning the Lock
and fixing her after 1 had Clean^ and oyl'd the Lock I Put in a good flint and try'd her to Burn three
Corns of powder I Cock'd her and Snapd and She burnd them I told out Juft three Corns and try'd
her again and She burnd it So I tiy'd her Eleven times Successively and She burnt three Corns of
powder Every time and Did not miss the 12*'' time She missed them But I overhauld and Cockd her
and She burnt them the next time then I try'd her to burn a Single Corn of powder and She Catchd a
Single Corn four times Successively after that : the fifth time She missid a Single Corn, but I
over hauld her again and She burnt it the next time...
I found this section of Litchfield's diary quite fascinating, especially given the challenges I have encountered
getting my own reproduction musket to reliably spark and fire. I have often wondered how it was possible
for Revolutionary era soldier to keep their weapons clean and reliable, especiallty in the field when they had
such poor supplies and were inadequately fed and clothed. In these months prior to the outbreak of armed
hostilities with the Crown, Litchfield's attention to his weapon shows how seriously he took these
He also became a valuable asset to his commander as a skilled artisan who could help provide other
necessary equipment for the company. Litchfield started making cartridge boxes for himself and for others
in the unit in mid February, 1775
11*[Feb]' In the forenoon I went over to ISI'' Willcuts Shop and he & I made a Centre bitt to bore a Cartridge box.
I Bored off one Box
14 I made me a Cartridge-box, I Covered it with a Coltskin it will Carry 19 Rounds.25th I wrought with Cap' Sam'' Stockhridge a makeing cartridge boxes
Marcli 1*' I wrought with Cap* Stockbridge a Stamping Covers for Catoos boxes
Iray Bryand [Biyant]was at work Leathering them
Litchfield went with Captain Stockbridge to Boston on February 27th, noting in his diary:
I bought me a Back Sword or Cutlefs [cutlass] it Coft me ten Shillings Lawfull money
Cap' Stockbridge bought a hide and an half of Moose skin for Catoos box Straps
it Cost him ^16.10.0'' old tennor
From this it appears that the straps were intended for the the cartridge boxes Litchfield
was making for Stockbridge's Company. Ltchfield made himself "a Sword Belt and
Bayonet belt" on March 13th. The cutlass he bought in Boston was both a badge of
rank as a non commissioned officer and a standard item that pre-war militiamen were
often required to provide for themselves when they mustered.
There was another effort to provide uniformity in Captain Stockbridge's company in
which Litchfield had a hand. He notes on March 30th that he went down to Nathaniel
Wades and saw Abednego Wade "make Brases for caps, this Day I got my Leather Cap
M* Benj Clapps Daughter made it it cost three Pistareens." Soon he was spending time at
Wades aiding in the effort to make brass facing plates for the leather caps of his company:April the 11* I Wrought with M"" : Abednego Wade a make-ing Brafses for Capps he and I
Engraved 17 or 18 and tlie rest of them Pollifhd them of[f] I Did Not Come home this night
I would dearly love to know what was engraved on the brass fronted caps. It cannot have been
too elaborate, for they were turning them out at a good rate: nearly enough at this point for half
the company. Abednego Wade was eventually dispatched to Cambridge to assist the gunsmiths.
There was no uniform for the militia aside from these caps, though later in June, 1775, Litchfield records
that he and another man each got a coat and breeches cut out of blue cloth and it cost them 20 Shillings
At the time of the Lexington Alarm, the armed forces of Scituate were as well prepared as they could be.
On April 23, Litchfield noted how different the times had become when he observed "I never Saw Such a Sight
in the meeting upon a Sabbath Day I suppose that there was near 150 men under arms."