Major John Simpson
originally published in the Communicator, May 2009
When my son’s fifth grade class began their Revolutionary War project, they were given their choice of subjects to specialize on. Alec chose Maj. John Simpson, the Deerfield soldier who is credited with firing the first shot at the Battle of Bunker Hill, albeit without authorization. As the story goes, the Americans were short of ammunition, and their leaders, Prescott, Stark and Putnam, gave that famous order not to fire until they could “see the whites of their eyes.” Suddenly, one of the soldiers under Captain Dearborn leveled his musket at a British officer and fired, taking the officer down. That got them all shooting.
After the battle, an inquiry found that John Simpson was the culprit. He was placed under arrest, but later was allowed to return to the war. He served well and was eventually promoted to Major. Folks at home chuckled over the incident, and allowed as how John Simpson hadn’t disobeyed orders at all. “Just he had better vision that the rest,” they said, “Saw the whites of those Redcoat eyes before anyone else did.”
Alec shared the story with the class, as well as pictures of the rifle Simpson was carrying, and the house here in Deerfield where he lived. He told how Simpson returned to farming after the war, married Mary Whidden of Brentwood and had six children. The couple were given as a wedding present two “colored people,” but he did not treat them as slaves. They were considered part of the family. These details of Major Simpson's life did not come from a book from the library or a site on the Internet. The information came from sources preserved by our town's Historical Society.
Simpson was buried in the small family plot behind the house. But his granddaughter, Jerusha Chalmers, had his remains moved to the Old Center Cemetery, where a fine stone of Deerfield granite carved by August Bjork marks his grave. The site where Simpson lies is where the first Meeting House (a combination of church and town hall) in Deerfield had been built. In fact, in a neighboring plot is Rev. Timothy Upham, the first preacher of Deerfield, who is buried precisely on the spot where the pulpit he preached from had been.