Artemas Ward (November 26, 1727 – October 28, 1800) was an American major general in the American Revolutionary War and a Congressman from Massachusetts. President John Adams described him as “…universally esteemed, beloved and confided in by his army and his country.” He was considered an effective political leader.
Artemas Ward was born at Shrewsbury, Massachusetts, in 1727 to Nahum Ward (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 he attended the common schools and shared a tutor with his brothers and sisters. He graduated from Harvard in 1748 and taught there briefly.
On July 31, 1750, he married Sarah Trowbridge (December 3, 1724 – December 13, 1788), the daughter of Reverend Caleb Trowbridge and Hannah Trowbridge of Groton, Massachusetts. 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. Ward 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.”
In 1755 the militia was restructured for the war, and 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 the 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.”
By 1762, Ward returned to Shrewsbury permanently 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 October 3, 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.
Even during his military service, Ward 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 through 1785. 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 United States House of Representatives, serving from 1791 to 1795.
Ward died at his home in Shrewsbury on October 28, 1800, and is buried with Sarah in the city’s Mountain View Cemetery. His great-grandson, Artemas Ward wrote The Grocer’s Encyclopedia (published in 1911).
Wards’s 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, Massachusetts it is open to the public for limited hours during the summer months.