Major Andrew McClary


Major Andrew McClary

Revolutionary War - killed at Bunker Hill

From the early settlement of Epsom, the McClary family was without a doubt the most influential family not only in Epsom, but in the entire Suncook Valley region. Of this family was Maj. Andrew, and his story is perhaps best told from the "McClary Family" by Horace P. McClary written in 1896. The excerpts of the text and story follows:
Major Andrew McClary of Revolutionary fame, was the second son of the emigrant Andrew McClary, who came from Ulster to this country in 1726. Like all others he was the twofold product of his inheritance and environment. We find him at an early age acting as a scout and later, an officer in Roger's famous company of New Hampshire Rangers, and finally, as he gained experience and caution, the chosen and trusted leader in all local expeditions against the Indians. In intervals of peace he cleared large tracts of land, engaged in mercantile pursuits, erected a factory, and seems to have been good all round businessman. While he possessed in full measure the true Scotch-Irish thrift, and needed plenty of elbow room, which he was able to obtain and hold, he could not be classed with the Presbyterian congregation who where described by their pastor as a people "who not only kept the ten commandments but everything else they could lay their hands on," for tradition says he was 'open handed and generous and much given to hospitality."
It is more than possible that the inn-keeper's comments on a Scotch-Irish settlement that "they were a people who would praise good whiskey and drink it, and damn bad whiskey and drink that with equal relish" may have included the major, for it cannot be denied that he was somewhat given to conviviality - thus we find record of his visiting Portsmouth, and while in an argumentative state of mind entering into discussion with six British officers, who, not being pleased with his sentiments, undertake to eject him from the room with the result of themselves being thrown through the window by this doughty patriot. As an officer he was the idol of his troops-hail fellow well met, and yet no soldier ever refused him implicit obedience, a man who could hold his troops to posts of danger and if necessary, sacrifice their lives, but whose kind heart would give him no rest until every wounded soldier of his command was cared for and personally looked after.
A true history of all his adventures would be as thrilling as a Cooper's tale, but if he kept any record of his work, which is improbable, it was burned with his house and other effects, while he was fighting at Bunker Hill. A few of his comrades in arms, upon whose hearts he had deeply engraved his own character, outlived the war and have placed on record these deep and lasting impressions - a few notices of the press and a short page of history make up all we can know of his life work.
At the close of the French and Indian war in 1760, he seems to have turned his attentions more fully to his business transactions, and to have taken an active interest in church and town affairs. We find him serving continuously as selectman from 1764 to 1769, a member of the legislature during several sessions, apparently influential in all the walks of life, but especially interested and prominent in all matters pertaining to militia.
At the beginning of the Revolutionary War he was at Epsom, cultivating his large and productive farm and pushing his various business enterprises with energy. On April 20, 1775, while he was plowing the parade ground which was located on his farm, a messenger came giving news of the battle of Lexington, and within twenty-four hours he was at Medford, 70 miles away, ready to take his part in the impending conflict.
Cogswell's History of Northwood gives an account of this forced march in language as follows: "McClary was plowing in the well known muster field when he heard the blowing of the horn and was roused by that tocsin to arms. Like Cincinnatus, he left the plow in the furrow, and hastily armed himself and dashed off to Deerfield accompanied by a few daring spirits.
At the Parade patriots were waiting for him and on they go to Nottingham. A company of some 80 heroes - such as none but Sparta ever gave the world - were here assembled by 1 o'clock from Nottingham, Deerfield, Chichester, Epsom and Northwood. They leave the square about 4 o'clock the same day and travelling all night reach Medford early next morning."
This company, of which McClary was the chosen leader, included many who became distinguished officers of the Revolutionary Army. Among them Capt. Cilley, afterwards General Cilley, Capt. Dearborn, afterwards Colonel, Member of Congress, and in 1812 Commander in Chief of the American Army. Bartlett, Butler, Morrill, Gray, Sanborn, McGaffey, Hilton and Michael McClary, all of whom were soon after commissioned as Captains, and others equally brave and efficient, who gallantly fought their country's battles or found a soldier's grave. They held the post of honor at the battle of Bunker Hill, and its members were always afterwards to be found where dangers were thickest and responsibility greatest.
Upon the arrival of the New Hampshire troops at Medford they were divided into two regiments, the larger of which chose Stark for Captain and McClary for Major.
On April 23rd, we find McClary addressing a long letter to the Provincial Congress in which he states the fact that the New Hampshire troops number about 2,000 "brave and hearty, resolute men, full of vigor and blood, from the interior parts of the province, which labor under a great disadvantage for not being under proper regulations for want of field officers, etc."
For the next seven weeks he was active in the organization and discipline of his men. On June 16th Col. Stark's regiment, then quartered at Medford, received the order to march to Bunker Hill. They formed in front of a house occupied as an arsenal and each man drew one gill of powder, 15 balls, and one flint.
About 1 o'clock the regiment started. When they reached Charlestown Neck they found two regiments had halted in consequence of heavy enfilading fire thrown across it by the frigates and floating batteries anchored in Charles and Mystic rivers. Major McClary then went forward and observed to the commanders "if they did not intend to move on he wished them to open and let the New Hampshire regiment pass through," which they immediately did.
In the battle this regiment was placed at the a Western extremity of the American line and had for their defensive fortification a winrow of hay and a rail fence, neither of which offered any obstruction to British bullets, but not a man flinched and when the ammunitiion was exhausted and it became necessary to withdraw, they covered the retreat with the steadiness of veterans.
The part that Major McClary took in the battle of Bunker Hill is a matter of history. Much has been written concerning his gallantry and efficiency from which the following may perhaps be regarded as appropriate to make up part of a family sketch.
General Dearborn, who was in this battle captain of a company in the Major's regiment writes the account of his death: "From the ships of war, and a large battery on Copp's Hill, a heavy cannonade was kept up upon our line and redoubt from the commencement to the close of the action and during the retreat, but with little effect except killing the brave Major Andrew McClary, of Col. Stark's regiment, soon after we retreated from Bunker Hill. He was among the first officers of the army, possessing a sound judgement, of undaunted bravery, enterprising, ardent and sealous both as a patriot and a soldier. His loss was severely felt by his compatriots in arms, while his country was deprived of the services of one of her most promising and distinguished champions of liberty. After leaving the field of battle, I met him and drank some spirit and water with him. He was animated and sanguine in the result of the conflict for independence, from the glorious display of valor which had distinguished his countrymen on that memorable day. He soon observed that the British troops on Bunker Hill were in motion, and said he would go and reconnoiter them to see whether they were coming out over the Neck; at the same time he directed me to march my company down the road towards Charlestown. We were then at Tuft's House near Ploughed Hill. I immediately made a forward movement to the position he directed me to take, and halted, while he proceeded to the old pound which stood on the site now occupied as a tavern house, not far from the entrance to the Neck. After having satisfied himself that the enemy did not intend to leave the strong position on the heights, he was returning towards me, and when within twelve of fifteen rods of where I stood with my company, a random shot from one of the frigates lying near where the center of Cragie's Bridge now is, passed through his body, and put to flight one of the most heroic souls that ever animated man. He leaped two or three feet from the ground, pitched forward, and fell dead upon his face. I had him carried to Medford, where he was interred with all the respect and honors we could exhibit to the manes of a great and good man."
At the dedication of the Bunker Hill monument, the orator of the day in mentioning the important part taken in the battle by Major McClary, closes in words as follows:
"Thus fell Major McClary, the highest American officer killed at the battler, the handsomest man in the army, and the favorite of the New Hampshire troops. His dust still slumbers where it was lain by his sorrowing companions in Medford, un-honored by any adequate memorial to tell where lies one of the heroes who ushered in the Revolution with such auspicious omens. His death spreads a gloom not only over the hearts of his men, but all through the Suncook Valley. His sun went down at noon on the day that ushered in our Nation's birth."
The New Hampshire Gazette in its issue of July 1775, contains the following:
"The Major evinced great intrepidity and presence of mind in the action. His noble soul glowed with ardor and love of his country, and like the Roman Cincinnatus who left his plow, commanded the army, and conquered his opponents, so the Major, upon the first intelligence of hostilities, left his farm and went, as a volunteer to assist his suffering brethren where he was soon called to a command which he executed to his eternal honor, and has thereby acquired the reputation of a brave and distinguished patriot. May his name be held in respect by all lovers of liberty to the end of time, while the names of the sons of tyranny are despised and disgraced, and nothing left of them but the badges of their perfidy and infamy. May the widow be respected for his sake, and may his children inherit his spirit, but not meet with his fall."
The History of the Battle of Bunker Hill, published in 1826, contains the following:
"The hardy yeomanry of New Hampshire beneath whose strokes the lofty forests and their savage inhabitants had been leveled with the dust, who had been used to little control but what God of nature imposed, were moved with much indignation at approaching tyranny. They flocked as volunteers to the neighborhood and chose Col. Stark, Maj. McClary and Lieut. Wyman their leaders. Their colonel was worthy to command this formidable band; he had been a distinguished Captiain of Provincial Rangers, received into the service of the Crown - was at Quebec under General Wolf, and enjoyed half pay as a British officer -an offering he made, with other sacrifices, for the good of his country. Their major was also a favorite officer, nearly 6 1/2 feet in height, with a Herculean form, in perfect proportions, a voice like Stentor and strength of Ajax; ever unequalled in athletic exercises and unsubdued in single combat, whole bodies of men had been overcome by him, and he seemed totally unconscious that he was not equally unconquerable at the cannon's mouth. His mind and character were of the same grand and energetic cast with his person; and though deficient in the advantages of finished education, he had been a member of the state legislature, and his mercantile concerns were extensive ….. During the tremendous fire of musketry and the roar of cannon, McClary's gigantic voice was distinctly heard animating and encouraging the men as though he would inspire every ball that sped with his own fire and energy…… McClary, as attentive to the wants of his men as desperate in fighting them, galloped to Medford and returned with dressings for the wounded. He ordered Captain Dearborn to advance towards the Neck with his company, while he crossed over to reconnoitre the enemy. He was returning with Lieut. Col. Robinson and others, and observed that the shot commissioned to kill him was not yet cast, when a cannon ball from the Glasglow tore him in pieces. No smaller weapon seemed worthy to destroy the gigantic hero."
Many years after the battle General Dearborn who had lived in his immediate vicinity and had known him intimately, whose large experience as a civilian and a soldier qualified him to judge correctly, made this comment on the Major's military agility, compared with his contemporary officers:

"With all the bravery of Stark he possessed greater mental endowments; with the natural ability of Sullivan, he combined the magic power to incite his men to noble deeds; with the popularity of General Poor, he was more cool and discreet. In fact he combined more completely than any of his associates the elements that tend to make a popular and successful commander, and had his life been spared he would doubtless have ranked among the most able and noted officers of the Revolution." Certainly as a neighbor and friend, as a soldier companion, he held a firm place in the hearts of all his associates, and had he lived to the close of the war, we may have believed his record would have brought him national fame and made his name a familiar household word in this land of liberty. The family, thus bereft consisted of the wife Elizabeth McCrillis McClary, four sons, James Harvey, Andrew, John and William, and three daughters, Elizabeth, Nancy and Margaret.

Photo taken in 1905 at the dedication of a monument marking the site of the Andrews McClary Homestead, erected by the Center Hill Historical Club.