Just as the sacred Battle of Bunker Hill exercises played out last Sunday, June 17, at the Monument, a dealer in Beacon Hill announced that he had located very rare military ribbons from the Battle of Bunker Hill that were owned by the family of Solomon Smith – a Colonial soldier from Acton who fought on the bridge at Concord and in the Battle of Bunker Hill.
“I think these are an amazing find,” said Ken Olson of Period Americana, an antiquities dealer based in Beacon Hill who located the ribbons only weeks ago. “We have John Hancock manuscripts and letters from George Washington, but these are much-more special because they belonged to a man that fought on the first day of the Revolutionary War, a man who fired one of the shots heard ‘round the world, and he then marched in a company to Bunker Hill on June 17, 1775 and fought there too. I think that’s pretty significant. I’m not sure how many men fought on that bridge the first day of the battle, then turned around and marched to fight in Charlestown too.”
The three ribbons date to the 1820s, most likely 1825 when the country was celebrating the 50th anniversary of the War, and were owned by Revolutionary War Minute Man Solomon Smith of Acton.
One ribbon commemorates those that served in the Army of the Revolutionary, the second commemorates the Battle at Concord Bridge on April 19, 1775, and the third depicts General Lafayette and the Bunker Hill Monument. This last ribbon was likely issued in June 1825 when Lafayette laid the cornerstone of the Monument.
“These are a rare find from the Revolutionary War as only one of the three ribbons has surfaced at auction, and that was nearly 10 years ago,” said Olson. “None appear to be in the collections of the major museums,” referring to the Smithsonian Institute and Library of Congress.
The ribbons were handed down through the generations until the last family members divested of them.
“Solomon Smith was Patriot and a Minute Man who, on the very first alarm on the first day of the War, grabbed his musket and took part in the fight for independence. It is an honor to hold the same ribbons that he once wore,” said Olson.
Smith is detailed as having marched all the way from Acton to Charlestown at the age of 72 – some 24 miles – when the celebration to lay the cornerstone at the Monument occurred. That is likely when he received the rare Lafayette ribbon. In the Revolution, he served in Captain Isaac Davis’ company. Following Davis’ death at Concord, Smith was attached to Captain William Smith’s company and marched to fight at the Battle of Bunker Hill. He was later present at General Burgoyne’s surrender at Saratoga, NY.
But the connection to the Town doesn’t stop there.
Smith’s son, Luke Smith, is said to have been one of the founding members of the Bunker Hill Monument Association – a group that still exists proudly in Charlestown and whose main mission is to make sure the Bunker Hill exercises are celebrated each year on June 17.
“In that, you have both father and son who are intimately connected to Bunker Hill,” said Olson.
Luke Smith also had the distinction of serving in the 6th Massachusetts Regiment and participating in the Baltimore Riots on the first day of fighting during the Civil War, April 19, 1861.
The ribbons will remain part of Period Americana’s collection, which it makes available for research and for school presentations. The collection is comprised of several artifacts of American turning points such as John Hancock’s copies of George Washington’s letters to General Howe, one of the few known Revolutionary War medical diaries, a Civil War prison diary, and hundreds of documents and artifacts.