Eleazer French’s Arm


At a 90th Birthday Party for my Aunt Lorraine last weekend, my cousin Bob loaned me a book that looks like something out of an old movie. Genealogical History of the French and Allied Families, written by Mary Queal Beyer in 1912, is the kind of book they just don’t make anymore. Even then, there were only 200 copies printed. It’s been read around the family fire for so long that it smells like smoke. It is a treasure trove for us French family descendants, going back to the Frenches who fought at the battle of Hastings in 1066. 

One of the stories included in the book takes place at the Battle of Bunker Hill, in 1775, where our ancestor Eleazer French lost his arm to a cannonball. Rather than leave a trophy on the field of battle, he carried his arm home with him. New Englanders are sturdy stock. Eleanor W.F. Bates wrote the following poem to commemorate that event:

When dewlling on the heroes of field, redoubt and trench,
Shall we not tell the story of young Eleazer French?
  With fowling piece and powder horn
  Under the clear June starlight borne,
  They labored till the early morn
     On Bunker’s honored height;

  Long hours the pick and shovel plied,

  And each who, weary, stepped aside,
  Found eagerly his place supplied
     Throughout the summer night.
  No stouter hearts of stronger frame
  Were there, with patriot fire aflame,
  Than those from Dunstable that came
     To battle for the right.

  And when th’ invading force was met,

  With powder grime and bloody sweat,
  The farmers’ flitlocks paid the debt
     They owed to Howe’s great guns.
  Muskets of old-time minute men!
  Ye told the story once again,
  How tyrants doubt and falter when
     Assemble Freedom’s sons.

  Full soon they heard the bugle call

  And saw the young Eleazer fall,
  Where sped the British cannon ball
     Upon its path of harm.
  “Fall back! keep safe from further ill!”
  They shouted; he, unconquered still,
  Quoth stoutly, and with steadfast will,
     “No! not without my arm!”

  The severed limb all bleeding lay,

  But he who fought that glorious day,
  Took it upon his anguished way
     And left no trophy there;
  Racked with fierce pains and bitter qualms,
  Fainting, and stunned with war’s alarms,
  Bravely he bore off both his arms
     To show what soldiers dare

Oh ye who sing our heroes of parapet and trench

Fail not to tell the story of brave Eleazer French!

2 responses to “Eleazer French’s Arm”

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