By Muriel Bristol (Transcriber) | January 8, 2019
In the year 1860, the newspapers discovered the venerable Mr. Ralph Farnham (1756-1860). These articles were copied very widely. Farnham was said to be a native of Milton Mills, NH, who was then living with his son, John Farnham (born 1797), in Acton, ME.
The Last Survivor of Bunker Hill. The statement has frequently been made by the newspapers and endorsed by Mr. Everett in his late Fourth of July oration, that there is no one left of that band of heroes who first withstood the shock of British arms in the open field. Eighty-five years having elapsed since that world renowned struggle, the burden of probabilities would favor that conclusion; yet the statement is not correct. There is one who took part in that memorable battle, and in subsequent events of the revolution, yet living, “full of years,” and venerated for his moral worth as well as for his age and public services. In the town of Acton, Maine, on a beautiful ridge of land, situated about a mile from Milton Mills, N.H., stands a cottage farm house, unpretending in its appearance, and bearing evidence of a very respectable antiquity. The passer-by will often notice a gray-haired man reading attentively by the window or walking about with a single cane perchance engaged in the ordinary labors of the husbandman. The stranger will perceive nothing very remarkable in the thick set, slightly bent figure, and well preserved, swarthy features of this old man of apparently eighty years, but the residents of the adjacent country involuntarily bend with reverence as they pass him. And well they may as he is the last of the Bunker Hill patriots. David Kinnison, who long survived his confederates of the famous Boston tea party, was living in 1831, in Chicago, at the extraordinary age of one hundred and fifteen years. He has since passed away. Ralph Farnham, the last of the Bunker Hill heroes, still lives, although he has nearly attained a span and a half of the space allotted to man. His one hundred and fourth birthday was celebrated at Milton Mills on the 7th. We have already given from the pen of a correspondent, some notice of this interesting affair. Although no pains were taken to extend a notice of the event beyond the immediate vicinity of the veteran’s residence, a very large concourse of people were in attendance. The features of the occasion were an address and one hundred and four greetings from a twelve pounder, and a dinner enlivened with toasts and speeches. Mr. Farnham, we learn, was not in the midst of the battle. Having been enrolled only on the day previous, it was his lot to be detailed among a guard to take charge of artillery and baggage, at some distance from the redoubt. In so close a proximity to the principal scene of strife, the observations he made and distinctly recollects to this day, are highly interesting, and we trust they will be given to the public by some competent pen. When we reflect how few persons living can even remember the event itself as a child of twelve at that time would now be ninety-five years old a living actor in that bloody drama becomes at once an object of interest, respect and veneration. – Boston Journal (St. Johnsbury Caledonian, July 20, 1860).
Massachusetts Governor Nathaniel P. Banks, Boston Mayor Frederic W. Lincoln, Jr., and other luminaries invited Farnham to visit Boston, MA, in October 1860.
HONOR TO A VETERAN. The Boston Journal says, that Gov. Banks, Mayor Lincoln, Edward Everett, Amos A. Lawrence, Judge Shaw, J.A. Andrew, William Appleton and many other citizens, have sent an invitation to Mr. RALPH FARNHAM, of Acton, Me., to visit Boston. Mr. Farnham is 104 years of age and the only survivor of Bunker Hill. It is understood that he has accepted the invitation, and will be here early in October.- The occasion will be one of high enjoyment, as “all the world, with his wife and children,” will desire to see him. This visit of Mr. Farnham will, doubtless, attract thousands from the country to Boston to welcome the old veteran (Vermont Journal (Windsor, VT), October 6, 1860).
While in Boston, Farnham had also an audience with Albert Edward, Prince of Wales (eventually King Edward VII), who was then on a North American tour.
Interview of the Prince with Ralph Farnham. By appointment, Ralph Farnham, the Revolutionary veteran, had an interview with the Prince this morning. The meeting was very cordial. The Duke of Newcastle, who, with most of the suite, was present, asked the veteran if he saw Burgoyne when he surrendered, adding, “You rather had him there.” The old soldier then remarked chuckingly, that hearing so much said in praise of the Prince, he began to fear that the people were turning royalists. This and Mr. Farnham’s manner elicited much laughter, in which the Price joined. The Prince then sent for pen and ink and exchanged autographs with his visitor – one of the men who had stood before British soldiers in 1776 [SIC], in a manner and with a bearing very different from that with which he received the Prince’s courtesies and exchanged glances with the majors, colonels and guardsmen of the suite this morning. Mr. Farnham speaks of the interview with the greatest pleasure, and says he wished to show the boy and his soldiers that he bore no anger for old times. The old man represents the general feeling. Till within the last three months the American public wore not aware that a survivor of one of the bloodiest and most heroic and first struggles of the Revolution is still “a monument of mercy” in our midst. Like most of signers of the Declaration of Independence, Ralph Farnham, who is the only survivor of battle of Bunker Hill now left of band who so nobly resisted the overpowering efforts of the British soldiery in that struggle, has been spared to a good old age, having recently attained his 104th year. Mr. Farnham, who has just been introduced to the Prince of Wales in Boston, was born in Milton Mills, New Hampshire, July 7, 1756. His last birthday was celebrated at that place by the firing of a gun for every year the veteran had attained, by a dinner, speeches, and all the usual honors of patriotic demonstrations of a like description. Since the public were apprised of the existence among them of this time honored veteran be has been flooded with visitors, and letters for the purpose of obtaining autographs, or who wish to enquire of him various matters connected with the Revolution, of which they suppose he has personal cognizance and recollection. He receives all his visitors courteously and kindly, replying to all their questions. He relates anecdotes of Washington and General Putnam, the hero of Bunker Hill, and other leaders of newborn republic. Of Washington he says, with truth, he was “a fine man,” and with sad truth that “there are no such men as Washington living in these days.” He says of Putnam that “he was a rough old fellow, but as brave as a lion, and feared nothing nor anybody.” After Bunker Hill the venerable Ralph served three campaigns, during the years 1775-76, -77, and in 1780 he was settled in the village where he has still resided. He was the first settler the place, which was then an immense “forest wild,” abounding in fierce animals and remote from civilized communities. He resided in this “desolate place” for four years, when he at length brought home a wife to cheer his loneliness. His wife presented him with seven children of whom four still survive, and it is one of them, his second son, John, that the veteran of Bunker Hill now dwells. The old warrior is still vigorous, and does not seem near so old as he really is. He observes regular habits, going to rest at 7 P.M. and rises at 5 A.M. He eats heartily, steps firmly and sleeps soundly, and may yet live many years and survive millions of his contemporaries of the present generation. He has been a member of the Baptist persuasion for eighty years. He spends much of his time reading the Scriptures with a pair of spectacles formerly the property of his maternal ancestor, and now 160 years old. He possesses all his faculties perfectly, except his hearing, which is slightly defective. What must have been the reflections of the Prince during his interview with this venerable man? Let the muses reply. – N.Y. Herald (Dawson’s Fort Wayne Daily Times (Fort Wayne, IN), October 26, 1860).
Farnham attended a concert held in his honor on Monday, October 15, and set out for home again on Friday, October 19, 1860.
The Bunker Hill Veteran. A complimentary concert was given to Ralph Farnham, the Bunker Hill Veteran, at the Music Hall, on Monday evening. A large company was present. He was to leave for home on Friday morning (New England Farmer (Boston, MA), [Saturday,] October 20, 1860).
The Veteran of Bunker Hill – His Journey Home – Acknowledgements – How to Prolong Life.
Acton, Me., Oct. 23, 1860.
Editors of the Boston Traveller: I will give you a brief account of my journey home. When we arrived at Lawrence there was a largo crowd at the depot. They requested me to hold my hat out of the window, which I did, when they showered the “needful” into it, as I never expected to see in my life. Then as the train moved on, we left them amid such cheers as I never shall forget.
At Dover, N.H., I received the like reception, and the Mayor very kindly attended me over to Great Falls, and presented me with a ten dollar bill.
At Great Falls I met with the same kind reception as at Lawrence and Dover, and the ticket master at the Great Falls Branch Railroad invited me to a dinner, which I enjoyed very much.
After leaving Great Falls, I was received with hearty cheers all the way along until I arrived at Acton. I told them when I got home, that “I had seen the elephant,” and I was very glad to get back. I am in good health, and my friends think I am better than when I left homo. I am sure that I am as well. I am very grateful for the honor done me by the invitation to visit Boston, and the many attentions which I received when there. I remember with special pleasure my visit to Bunker Hill, attended by the Charlestown City Authorities, the Military and the Music; also, the addresses delivered on that occasion by the Mayor and Mr. Frothingham. I am also greatly indebted for the liberal sums of money, and the many presents I received. My thanks, which is all have to offer, seem but a poor return for so many favors.
I ought especially to mention Mrs. W. Farnham Lee, and the company of Lancers, and Mayor Dana of Charlestown, and Mr. Gilmore’s Concert Band for their liberal presents.
Though I am in my 105th year, I am not past all usefulness; I split my own kindling wood and build my own fires; I am the first one up in the morning, and the first one in bed at night; I never sleep or lay down in the day time, but rise at 5 and retire at 7, and this I continue summer and winter. I have always been temperate, and for over thirty years past I have not tasted a drop of spirituous liquors or even cider. I was never sick in my life, so as to require the attendance of a physician.
About 25 years ago I broke my thigh, by falling on the ice, and had a surgeon to set it, but this is the only time a doctor ever attended me. I live on plain farmer’s diet, drink tea and coffee, and eat a very light supper, never eating meat at supper, I have no doubt it is owing to these abstemious and regular habits, and the avoidance of medicine at all little ailments, that my life has been so prolonged.
I voted for General Washington for President, and have voted at every Presidential election since, and hope to vote at the next election. This is the duty of every Christian freeman.
This letter, which my grand-son has written at my direction, I have carefully read and approved, and I sign it with my own hand. (Signed) RALPH FARNHAM (Burlington Weekly Free Press, November 1, 1861).
Two months later, Ralph Farnham died of “dropsy” [edema] in Acton, ME, December 26, 1860. (He is buried in the Farnham Cemetery there).
GREAT FALLS, N.H., Dec. 26. Ralph Farnham, the last survivor of the battle of Bunker Hill, died this morning at the residence of his son, in Acton, Me., aged one hundred and four years, five months and nineteen days (Vermont Chronicle (Windsor Falls, VT), January 1, 1861).
See also Milton in the News – 1877 (and Milton in the News – 1894), regarding a daughter, Joanna Farnham; Milton in the News – 1909, for a reprise of Ralph Farnham; and Milton in the News – 1925, regarding a grandson, William P. Farnham.
Find a Grave. (2018). Ralph Farnham. Retrieved from www.findagrave.com/memorial/13754805
Wikipedia. (2018, December 6). Edward VII. Retrieved from en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Edward_VII
Wikipedia. (2018, December 14). Edward Everett. Retrieved from en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Edward_Everett