The Isaac Davis Stone and the Awe of a Young Historian

What is it about us New Englanders and our rocks? I suppose in Europe they have their megaliths, ancient objects of mysticism and reverence. Here, lacking the benefit of such ancient history, we simply have our rocks. Stones both large and small that have been imbued with special historical significance…whether apocryphal or not. I can think of about a dozen rocks within just miles of where I live that were named and given some special importance. Sacrifice Rock, Pulpit Rock, Nick’s Rock, Parting Rock, Sachem Rock…and, of course, Plymouth Rock. We like our rocks in New England.

Flash back to something like 1981. I well remember making a “discovery” in my hometown that has stuck with me all these years. Of course, it really wasn’t a discovery at all. Simply new to me. But this particular rock, bearing a plaque, mostly buried in the ground, seemed so obscure, so hidden, so completely ignored, that I felt like I was one of the few who knew about it (which, of course, wasn’t the case). I remember getting off my blue Schwinn ten-speed, wiping the mud from the plaque and feeling as though I had found a lost relic.

There is a towering obelisk on the Acton Town Green. Really quite handsome. It was dedicated in 1851 to the three men from Acton who died in the Battles of Concord and Lexington: Captain Isaac Davis, Private James Hayward, and Private Abner Hosmer. When it was constructed, their remains were disinterred from Woodlawn Cemetery and buried beneath the monument. As Isaac Davis was at the forefront of the advance on the Old North Bridge, was in command of the Acton Minuteman company, and was the first officer killed during the Revolution, the obelisk is known as the “Isaac Davis Monument.”

He was my hero when I was a kid. Still is. More times than I can count, I’ve gone to the Old North Bridge in Concord and tried to imagine that brief but astoundingly important battle. I could write a great deal about Isaac here, but that will come at a later time.

The point is, this stone. It was given to Acton by the Town of Concord in 1900 and placed at the foot of the Isaac Davis Monument on the Town Green. According to some tradition, Isaac, after he had been shot when the British opened fire at the bridge, fell upon this stone, drenching it with his blood. It once sat, according to tradition, about where the Minuteman statue now stands near the Old North Bridge. There are primary sources that describe Isaac Davis’s death. But none mention a stone.

No matter. Whether he actually fell upon the stone is moot. The stone was probably near where he fell, and that is good enough for me. Rationality aside, as a kid, this stone was magical to me. It sits just a couple feet from the curb of Route 27 in an awkward spot where you can’t really look at it without the danger of being run down by traffic. And so no one seems to look at it. Or at least it seemed that way to me. And here was the very stone, I was perfectly willing to believe, upon which Captain Davis’s blood poured out. This was a shrine!

I remember, not long after “discovering” it, I brought some friends to look at it. Here, I told them, is a stone that used to be near the Old North Bridge. Isaac Davis died upon this stone! And here it is, the very same object, something we can reach out and touch.

I don’t remember exactly the response I got. I don’t think they said much of anything. But I do remember them getting back on their bikes and suggesting we hit the ice cream shop across the street. I didn’t know it then, but should have been a good indicator that history meant a little something more to me than it did to most. I do remember being profoundly frustrated that they did not appreciate the significance.

Last Patriot’s Day, I took the photo above. Again, I had to wipe mud off of half of the plaque in order to read it. I now know that many are aware of and appreciate the Isaac Davis stone. That still does not diminish the secret sort of magic it once held for me and still holds.

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