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First Name: Artemas

Last Name: Ward

Birthplace: Shrewsbury, MA, USA

Gender: Male

Branch: Continental Army (1775 - 1784)

Date of Birth: 26 November 1727

Date of Death: 28 October 1800

Rank: Major General

Years Served:
Artemas Ward

•  Revolutionary War (1775 - 1783)


Artemas Ward
Major General, Continental Army

Artemas Ward was born on 26 November 1727 in Shrewsbury, MA, to Nahum (1684-1754) and Martha Howe Ward. He was the sixth of seven children. His father had broad and successful career interests as a sea captain, merchant, land developer, farmer, lawyer and jurist. As a child, Ward attended the common schools and shared a tutor with his brothers and sisters. He graduated from Harvard in 1748 and taught there briefly.

On 31 July 1750, he married Sarah Trowbridge, the daughter of Reverend Caleb Trowbridge and Hannah Trowbridge of Groton, MA. The young couple returned to Shrewsbury where Artemas opened a general store. In the next fifteen years they would have eight children: Ithamar in 1752, Nahum (1754), Sara (1756), Thomas (1758), Artemas Jr. (1762), Henry Dana (1768), Martha (1760) and Maria (1764).

The next year, 1751, he was named a Township Assessor for Worcester County. This was the first of many public offices he was to fill. Artemas was elected a Justice of the Peace in 1752 and also served the first of his many terms in the Massachusetts Bay Colony's assembly, or "general court."

French and Indian War

In 1755 the militia was restructured for the war, and Artemas Ward was made a Major in the 3rd Regiment, which mainly came from Worcester County. They served as garrison forces along the frontier in western Massachusetts. This duty called him at intervals between 1755 and 1757, and alternated with his attendance at the General Court. In 1757 he was made Colonel of the 3rd Regiment or the militia of Middlesex and Worchester Counties. In 1758 the Regiment marched with Abercrombie's force to Fort Ticonderoga. Ward himself was sidelined during the battle by an "attack of the stone."

Prelude to Revolution

By 1762, Ward had completely returned to Shrewsbury and was named to the Court of Common Pleas. In the General Court he was placed on the Taxation Committee along with Samuel Adams and John Hancock. On the floor, he was second only to James Otis in speaking out against the acts of Parliament. His prominence in these debates prompted the Royal Governor Francis Bernard to revoke his military commission in 1767. At the next election in 1768, Bernard voided the election results for Worcester and banned Ward from the assembly, but this didn't silence him.

In the growing sentiment favoring rebellion, the 3rd Regiment resigned en masse from British service on 3 October 1774. They then marched on Shrewsbury to inform Colonel Ward that they had unanimously elected him their leader. Later that month the governor abolished the assembly. The towns of Massachusetts responded by setting up a colony-wide Committee of Safety. One of the first actions of the Committee was to name Ward as General and Commander-in-Chief of the Colony's Militia.

The Army of Observation

Following the Battle of Lexington and Concord on 19 April 1775, the rebels followed the British back to Boston and started the siege of the city. At first Ward directed his forces from his sickbed, but later moved his headquarters to Cambridge. Soon, the New Hampshire and Connecticut provisional governments both named him head of their forces participating in the siege. Most of his efforts during this time were devoted to organization and supply problems.

Additional British forces arrived in May, and in June Ward learned of their plan to attack Bunker Hill. He gave orders to fortify the point, setting the stage for the Battle of Bunker Hill on 17 June 1775. Command during the battle devolved upon General Israel Putnam and Colonel William Prescott. While General Ward received national recognition for the heroic stand made that day, his principal contribution was a failure to supply enough ammunition to hold the position.

The Continental Army

Meanwhile, the Continental Congress was creating a Continental Army. On 16 June, they named Artemas Ward a Major General, and second in command to George Washington. Over the next nine months, he helped convert the assembled militia units into the Continental Army.

After the British evacuation on 17 March 1776, Washington led the main army to New York City. Ward took command of the Eastern Department on 4 April 1776. He held that post until 20 March 1777, when his health forced his resignation from the Army.

Politics: Life after War

Even during his military service, Artemas served as a State Court Justice in 1776 and 1777. He was President of the state's Executive Council from 1777-1779, which effectively made him the governor before the 1780 ratification of the Massachusetts Constitution. He was continuously elected to the Massachusetts House of Representatives for each year from 1779-85. He also served as a delegate to the Continental Congress in 1780 and 1781. Ward was the Speaker of the Massachusetts House in 1785. He was elected twice to the U.S. House of Representatives, serving from 1791-95.


Artemas Ward House

Artemas' lifelong home had been built by his father, Nahum, about the time Artemas was born. The home is now known as the Artemas Ward House and is a museum preserved by Harvard University. Located at 786 Main Street in Shrewsbury, MA, it is open to the public for limited hours during the summer months.

Ward Circle

Ward Circle is a traffic circle at the intersection of Nebraska Avenue and Massachusetts Avenue in Northwest Washington, DC. The land on three sides of Ward Circle is owned by American University. The circle contains a statue of Artemas Ward.

The great grandson of Artemas Ward gave over four million dollars to Harvard University on the condition that they erect a statue in honor of Ward and maintain his home in Shrewsbury. Harvard's initial offer in 1927 of $50,000 toward the statue was enough for a statue, but inadequate to provide the General with a horse. The statue was completed in 1938. Although there is no pedestrian access to the circle, the base of the statue bears this inscription:


American University

American University named the home of the American University School of Public Affairs, being the closest building at the time to Ward Circle, in honor of Artemas Ward.

Death and Burial

Artemas Ward died at his home in Shrewsbury, MA, on 28 October 1800, and is buried with Sarah at Mountain View Cemetery in Shrewsbury. His great grandson, Artemas Ward, wrote The Grocer's Encyclopedia (published in 1911).

Honoree ID: 3189   Created by: MHOH




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