Plymouth's General Scammell remembered with a parade of his own

Rich Harbert

Striking portraits of Alexander Scammell command two places of honor in Plymouth, yet few people likely recognize the former teacher’s name, let alone his contributions to American history.

One portrait, an oil reproduction, hangs beside a likeness of George Washington in the Old Colony Club on Court Street. Scammell was one of the original members of the club, the oldest in America, when it organized in 1769.

The other portrait, a bronze plaque, is set in stone at the base of Burial Hill. The memorial was erected at the site of the grammar school where Scammell once taught, but it commemorates the Harvard graduate’s other, more illustrious career – adjutant general of the Continental Army.

Members of the Old Colony Club along with military color guards and representatives of Sons of the American Revolution seek to set the record straight this weekend with a parade and memorial service honoring the 227th anniversary of Scammell’s passing at the Battle of Yorktown.

“He did great things, yet history seems to have forgotten him,” Paul Curtis, Old Colony Club member and historian, said. “It’s wonderful that the Pilgrims founded Plymouth. That’s what makes Plymouth famous. But once in a while it is good to remember other people. In General Scammell’s case, he died for America and for what he stood for. He was a great patriot, and he should have a little recognition.”

A Mendon native, Scammell moved to Plymouth in 1769 to teach at a school founded by Harvard classmate Peleg Wadsworth. He moved from the private school on Market Street to a grammar school set beside the stairway that leads to Burial Hill from Town Square. The school was located just below the stone vaults still embedded in the hillside and gave the one-way street that leads north its scholarly name.

Town records show Scammell worked locally for at least two years, drawing a salary of 60 Pounds a year. Though not a native, Scammell was considered one of the town’s intellectual elite. In 1770 he penned what was considered to be the first ever song in honor of the Pilgrims on the 150th anniversary of the Mayflower’s landing. He and Wadsworth were among the first members of the Old Colony Club. Scammell’s signature distinguishes a list of early members still on display at the club.

Little is known of Scammell’s political leanings while in Plymouth, though he and Wadsworth are said to have studied military tactics and put students through military training as early as 1771.

Scammell’s politics became more radical after he moved to New Hampshire to work as a surveyor and study law. In 1774 he was part of a group that seized the British armory at Fort William and Mary in Portsmouth Harbor.

Scammell fought with New Hampshire regiments at the onset of war and became a favorite of Washington. He crossed the Delaware River on Christmas Night 1776 and led troops at Trenton and Princeton.

He later served as adjutant general of the Continental Army but returned to active duty after being appointed to handle the execution of a traitor.

He was with an elite corps of troops on a reconnaissance mission just before the last decisive battle at Yorktown when he was captured and shot by British troops. He died of untreated wounds in captivity at Williamsburg, Va., and was buried in the palace grounds. His gravestone was lost during the Civil Way, leading to confusion about the location of his remains.

Barry Scammell, of Duxbury, a descendant of Alexander’s brother, said his great uncle’s remains are still at Williamsburg but remain unidentified.

Barry Scammell and his family have long known of their uncle’s patriotic contributions as well as some of the memorials marking his service. While driving a son to college in Durham, N.H., for instance, father and son stopped and posed for pictures after crossing the Alexander Scammell Bridge. Fort Scammell in Maine is named for the former teacher as well.

Barry Scammell’s brother, Gregory, discovered the local memorial near Burial Hill while visiting from upstate New York in the 1990s. Scammell said it was right that his brother, a proud Vietnam veteran, should make the find. Beside his military service, Greg’s angular features more closely resemble the portrait cast in stone.

Barry Scammell discovered the ancestor’s portrait and Old Colony roots after joining the Old Colony Club a few years ago. “It’s amazing the people you can have in your own community. Sometimes you don’t realize the contributions they make for their country,” he said.

Scammell said he is overwhelmed by the club’s decision to honor his great uncle, who died in service to his country before he could start a family of his own. “The plaque says: teacher, soldier, patriot. It’s sad; he died a very young man,” Scammell said.

Barry Scammell will be there wearing the club’s traditional top hat and tails when the parade steps off from the Old Colony Club on Court Street at 2:30 p.m. Saturday afternoon.

Color guards from the American Legion, Veterans of Foreign Wars and Sons of the American Revolution will march with local dignitaries to Town Square for a memorial service. Old Colony Club member Harold Boyer, who at 100 is the oldest Massachusetts member of Sons of the American Revolution, will lead the parade with his drum.

The public is invited to attend the parade and memorial. A private reception will follow.