I occasionally encounter people who claim that freedom is an abstraction, and that they would never die for an abstraction. That has never been the case in my family. McClareys have fought in all the nation’s wars down to the present, and we have attempted to remember them beginning with the first, Andrew McClary, a man who has fascinated me since my father told me about him so long ago.
He is memorialized in the above section of a painting by John Trumbull and depicting, with artistic license, “The Death of General John Warren.” The Major is shown raising his musket to brain a British soldier attempting to bayonet the dying Warren, a warlike action quite in character for him, and one which warms the cockles of my heart. My wife has noted over the years how much I resemble Major Andrew, and it is intriguing how his facial features have been passed down through the generations of my family.
Born in 1730 in Ireland, at an early age he emigrated to New Hampshire with his family. He grew to six feet, a giant of a man for his time, jovial in disposition but always ready to fight if need be to defend his rights or the rights of those he loved. The colonies were fortunate that quite a few men, like George Washington, who had served in the French and Indian War, were still in the prime of life and constituted a potential officer corps with, in many cases, combat experience, at the time when the Revolution began. Major Andrew McClary was typical of these men. After serving as an officer in Rogers’ Rangers during the French and Indian War, and singlehandedly throwing six British officers out of a tavern window during a loud “discussion” on a memorable evening, he had settled down as a farmer outside of Epsom, serving as a selectman of that town, a member of the New Hampshire legislature, and, always, as an officer of the New Hampshire militia. When news of Lexington and Concord reached him, he abandoned his plow, told his young family he was off to fight the British, and immediately marched off with a company of 80 militiamen to the siege lines around Boston. There he met up with his old friend from Rogers’ Rangers Colonel John Stark, who made McClary a major in his regiment of New Hampshire militia.
At the battle of Bunker Hill, Major McClary led the regiment onto Breed’s Hill, where the battle was fought on June 17, 1775. The advance of the regiment was momentarily blocked by a gaggle of Massachusetts militia standing about on the road doing nothing. That obstruction was removed when McClary yelled out that New Hampshire would like to borrow the road, if Massachusetts was not using it.
In the battle the New Hampshire men were in the thick of the fighting. Major McClary, while fighting himself, kept up the spirits of his men with a steady stream of jokes and profanity. He seemed that day to have only contempt for both the British and death. He helped lead the rear guard from Breed’s Hill. Hearing that there were American wounded still on Breed’s Hill, he went back onto it and was killed by a British cannon ball, his friend Henry Dearborn, the future fifth United States Secretary of War, noting that no lesser weapon seemed appropriate to bring down such a man. A monument to him was erected in Epsom in 1905. A fort at Kittery Point, Maine was named in his honor in 1808. His memory has been kept evergreen by members of the McClary and McClarey families, an imperishable reminder of the cost of freedom. Whenever I think of freedom, I think of him.