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236 years have passed since the war for American independence ended. Far from the foregone conclusion that history implies, the collective remembrance we accept plays more like a quaint little 18th Century affair than the win at all cost reality. On one end, the perception lines up gentlemanly British troops in coats of bright red who fail to understand the guerrilla tactics of modern warfare. And on the other stand rugged backwoods boy scout types who were taking their first turn at playing soldier.
But in 2000, The Patriot with Mel Gibson gave a better sense of the historical doubt and savage brutality. In accordance, the actual burning of Bedford in 1779 by the British also requires a revision.
Who burned Bedford?
Common to both the film and the historical events is Colonel Banastre Tarleton. Jason Isaacs playing the soulless villain to Mel Gibson’s Benjamin Martin, the fanatical officer was erroneously credited with leading the British regiment that razed Bedford to the ground. But a local Bedford resident, it turns out, has more concrete ties to the event than the faulty historical record.
Gary Parietti of Bedford can cite the facts from Dorothy Humphreys’ 1974 novel, The Burning of Bedford. In the account, Colonel Tarleton was determined to be elsewhere when the town met its near total demise on July 11, 1779. Under the command of Colonel Samuel Birch, the 17th Light Dragoons were retaliating against an incident that took place nine days earlier. This had the redcoats en route to an attack on the town of Pound Ridge.
Marching up from Miles Square in Yonkers, New York the British encountered Bedford's local militia via Guard Hill Road. In the process, the British lost one soldier before finding out that the American troops they were after had already left Pound Ridge. On the way back and unhappy about their military misfortune, the British vented their frustration with a vengeance. They burned the overwhelmingly patriot stronghold to ashes. In fact, says Mr. Parietti, "there was only one house that they left unscathed, and he was the only Tory in town.”
Brown Bess was there.
Interestingly, what does remain to this day is the colonel's only real tie to the burning. That would be Tarleton Road. But Mr. Parietti's claim to the day has nothing to do with the names and dates long lost to American history.
Always interested in the Brown Bess rifles that the British used throughout the 18th century, Parietti purchased one many years ago at a show in Pennsylvania. Upon the rifle was engraved the markings of the 17th regiment, and its owner’s name. "I didn't realize at the time that the 17th regiment was involved in the burning of Bedford," says the local dealer of rare coins and other historical artifacts of interest.
So after recently coming across the facts on the origins of his rifle, Parietti did a Google search on Edward Bailey. The owner of the gun in question, Bailey was stationed with the 17th regiment in 1779. "Four times this gun walked back and forth past my house," said Parietti. But the proximity did not close the book on Parietti’s “burning” collection.
About a year ago, he acquired another 2nd Model, Brown Bess, which is contemporary to the time. It’s also marked with the Light Dragoon’s call number of 17.
He considers this quite a coincidence, because very little information survives regarding the fire, and the manner in which Bedford residents endured the encompassing calamity. "I guess, the town’s people all did what they had to do in order to survive,” Parietti concluded.
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