Dr. Samuel Holten – Danvers Patriot

Photo of the Samuel Holten House, June 2021

Last week the Salem News had two articles (see Erin Nolan’s reporting here and here) about a curious auction: the letters of Danvers patriot leader Dr. Samuel Holten. Taking place in Cincinnati, Ohio the auction of 200 letters between Holten and other famous patriot leaders was expected to go for about $10,000-$15,000 but instead sold for more than $46,000. Who is this Danvers revolutionary whose writings are so valuable?

Holten, a member of both the Continental Congress and the first US Congress, rose to prominence as a leader of the patriot cause well before the American Revolution. Educated by the Rev. Peter Clarke in the parsonage of the First Church of Danvers, he was destined for Harvard at age 12 before illness prevented him from attending. Instead, he studied medicine with Dr. Jonathan Prince, and opened his own practice at age 18. He became active in Danvers politics and the local militia, rising to the rank of Major.

His first steps towards becoming a revolutionary occurred in September 1768, when word spread throughout Massachusetts that British troops were being sent to the colony to restore order, and ostensibly to put down protests over British policies in Boston and other towns. An extralegal, unofficial meeting was called in Boston to decide how to respond to the approaching British fleet. One hundred and four Massachusetts towns and districts each elected a representative to attend, and Holten attended as Danvers’ representative.

Meeting even after the royal governor declared it an illegal assembly, these delegates voted to petition the government in London and to protest against the British troops. A month later, when British troops arrived, news of this convention had already reached them and this show of opposition so alarmed the British fleet that they feared Massachusetts may have already taken up arms. Upon their arrival, they therefore sailed their warships into Boston Harbor in battle formation, with their cannon aimed at Boston, and disembarked troops in full battle gear, as if invading an enemy land.

Holten continued to oppose British policies over the next few years, as events such as the Boston Massacre and Boston Tea Party occurred, and as the people of Danvers began boycotting tea and other British goods. Holten was Danvers’ delegate to the Massachusetts House of Representatives in 1774, when General Thomas Gage ordered the Massachusetts legislature to be dissolved because it was controlled by patriots opposed to Gage’s administration in Massachusetts. Instead, the House of Representatives declared themselves to be a “Massachusetts Provincial Congress,” the true representatives of the people, and therefore the legitimate authority in Massachusetts – not General Gage.

Portrait of Samuel Holten, painted circa 1790. Image from Wikimedia, portrait currently in the Danvers Archival Center.

After war broke out when the British advanced on Lexington and Concord on April 19, 1775, the British soldiers retreated into Boston, leaving the Provincial Congress and the Massachusetts militia in control of the rest of Massachusetts. Holten was appointed to the executive committee that served in place of a governor – since General Gage still claimed to be the rightful governor of Massachusetts.

Recognized for his ability and dedication to the patriot cause, in 1777 Holten was among the Massachusetts representatives to the convention that drafted the Articles of Confederation, America’s first constitutional document, and he signed the Articles on behalf of Massachusetts alongside John Adams, John Hancock, and other revolutionary leaders.

From 1778 to 1780, he represented Massachusetts in the Second Continental Congress, returned home to help draft the Massachusetts Constitution, and then once the Articles of Confederation were ratified served in the Congress of the Confederation, at one point serving temporarily as its president during a brief absence by Richard Henry Lee. Since there was no executive branch under the Confederation, President of Congress was the highest political office in America.

After returning once again to Massachusetts to serve in the state senate, he was elected and served as Congressman from 1793-1795 in the third U.S. Congress under the new federal Constitution. Notable for being a supporter of Thomas Jefferson, he was an opponent of the first Treasury Secretary Alexander Hamilton. After his time in Congress ended in 1795, he continued holding elected positions in Danvers, and was an Essex County Probate Court judge.

After he returned to Danvers, Holten continued to live in his family’s house at the intersection of what are now Holten Street, Centre Street, and Collins Street. This historic structure, located in the Salem Village Historic District, has been owned and preserved by the Gen. Israel Putnam Chapter of the Daughters of the American Revolution since 1921. Built in 1670 by his ancestor Benjamin Holten, the Holten family also played a prominent role in the 1692 witch trials, with members of the family among both the accusers and defenders of those accused of witchcraft.

Photo of the Samuel Holten House, in the 1890s. Frank Cousins photo, Digital Commonwealth.

Dr. Samuel Holten died in January 1816, and is buried in the Holten Burying Ground, which bears his name on Holten Street. Once Danvers established its first public high school in 1850, it was named Holten High School in his honor, the name used until the new Danvers High School was built in Woodvale in the 1960s. The old high school building and the old Richmond junior high building are currently used for the Holten-Richmond Middle School.

In addition to Holten’s letters that were recently auctioned, he has other letters in the collections of many major archives and libraries that were written to various leaders of the American Revolution, papers from his medical practice are at Harvard’s Countway Library of Medicine, and there are many of his documents located in the Danvers Archival Center.


Dan Gagnon is a lifelong Danvers resident and the author of the forthcoming biography A Salem Witch: The Trial, Execution, and Exoneration of Rebecca Nurse.



Mulholland, Elizabeth. “Judge Samuel Holten and His House.” In 250th Anniversary of the Town of Danvers, 98. Danvers, Mass.: Danvers 250th Committee, 202AD.

Tapley, Harriet S. Chronicles of Danvers (Old Salem Village), Massachusetts, 1632-1923. Danvers, Mass.: The Danvers Historical Society, 1923.

Town of Danvers. The Celebration of the One Hundred and Fiftieth Anniversary of the Establishment of the Town of Danvers, Massachusetts, as a Seperate Municipality. Boston, Mass.: Fort Hill Press, 1907.

Lane Memorial Parkway

(Forthcoming in the Herald-Citizen)

Lane Parkway in November 2020.

Passed by many in Danvers each day, the blue memorial marker on the street sign for Lane Parkway near the Holten-Richmond Middle School stands in remembrance of a Danvers veteran: Lt. Ralph W. Lane, who died defending the United States in World War I. During the war, 730 men from Danvers entered the service, and 15 were killed either in combat or from the flu pandemic that ravaged military bases.

Born in Springfield in 1894, Ralph Lane later attended Worcester Academy and the University of Maine before moving to Danvers in 1911. A single man in his early twenties who was new to town, Lane lived in a boardinghouse at 20 Lawrence Street and was very active in the community. He was a member of the Maple Street Congregational Church and several clubs and bible study groups associated with the church, along with the Amity Lodge of the Danvers Masons, and the Danvers I.O.O.F.

Lane served in the Massachusetts state militia and was briefly deployed to the Mexican border in 1916 as part of an expedition sent to capture Mexican revolutionary Pancho Villa, who had led an army across the border and attacked New Mexico. After this campaign, Lane returned to Danvers and was appointed drill instructor at the state armory on Essex St. in Salem.

Lt. Ralph William Lane in uniform, 1917. All departing Massachusetts troops were photographed by the Boston Globe before embarking for France. Massachusetts State Library.

Once it became clear in 1917 that the US would likely join the ongoing world war, Lane’s state militia unit was federalized into the National Guard. Promoted to second lieutenant in August 1917, Lane and his regiment were under the command of Col. (later Major General) Edward Lawrence Logan, for whom Logan Airport was named, and were assigned to the newly-formed 26th Infantry Division in September 1917. Known as the “Yankee Division” because it was made up of New England National Guard units, the 26th Infantry Division is the namesake for Route 128: “The Yankee Division Highway.”

Lane’s draft card. Even though he was already in the National Guard, he was still required to fill out the form. National Archives.

Arriving in France as the first unit of the National Guard deployed overseas, Lane and the Yankee Division trained with the French army to learn trench warfare techniques before entering the front line in February 1918 along the Western Front under the command of a French army corps. As soon as the Germans realized that Americans were in the line for the first time, there was a heavy German offensive in the area to try and break these new arrivals, but the line held.

That summer, Lane and the Yankee Division fought to slow the Germans’ spring offensive. While fighting along the Marne River, the Germans used poison gas against Lane’s position on the front line, causing him to be seriously hurt and hospitalized.

In a bizarre twist, when Lane was recovering in an Army field hospital, he encountered another Danvers man who served on a different section of the front with a field artillery regiment: Corp. Harold P. Sillars. Not only were these two men from Danvers, but they were friends who lived in the same boardinghouse on Lawrence Street! This unique “joyous reunion” was noteworthy enough to be mentioned in the Boston Globe.

By October, Lane was back with his unit to participate in the Meuse-Argonne Offensive, the final push that ended in the armistice of November 11, 1918. But, he never lived to see the Allied victory.

The Yankee Division was along the front line north of Verdun, near Belleau-Bois just below the French-Belgian border. This area was desolate, charred, and cratered land that had been destroyed during the Battle of Verdun two years prior, and known as “Death Valley” to the troops. The Yankee Division, as one of the most experienced American units in France – which previously survived bullets whizzing overhead, charges of German shock troops, constant shelling, mud, rats, and poison gas – was given the task of fighting through difficult hills and ravines in this wooded region of the front.

The area of Belleau Bois is in the bottom left quadrant of the map. American Battle Monuments Commission. (To see where this location is in GoogleMaps, click HERE).

As the offensive began in other sectors, Lane and the Yankee Division assaulted Belleau, a wooded ridge alongside the road to the village of Crépion. They advanced into the wood on the 23rd, had to withdraw that night due to heavy shelling, and then advanced 500 yards on the 24th starting the attack under a smokescreen, at which point they encountered fortified German positions of timber and concrete. Four times that day the Germans withdrew, called in heavy artillery on the Americans, and then the moment the shelling ceased, charged the American line inflicting heavy casualties.

After a full day of brutal fighting, at 2:30am the next day, October 25, the Yankee Division charged back into the woods, in the pitch dark and pouring rain, as German shells fell around them. They took the wooded hill, but Lane was killed – only 18 days before the end of the war, and only three miles from where the front line ended up on Armistice Day.

On December 8, 1918 Lane’s obituary ran in the Boston Globe, alongside a large list of Massachusetts men reported killed overseas. The Globe noted his father John S. Lane as his only surviving relative. Back home in Danvers, the Maple Street Church held a memorial service on February 9, 1918 for Lane and Sgt. Hadley McPhetres, two members of its congregation who died in the war. This was the closest thing to a funeral that Lane ever received.

Lane’s obituary in the Boston Globe, December 6, 1918.

Lane Parkway’s memorial sign, dedicated November 11, 1929, notes Lane’s death on that October night, and the Army records likewise note his death that day, but he has no grave. According to the American Battle Monuments Commission that oversees the American cemeteries in France, Lane’s remains were either never recovered or never identified, and therefore his name is inscribed on the “Tablets of the Missing” at the Meuse-Argonne American Cemetery in France. Closer to home, the sign on Lane Parkway keeps his memory alive.

Boston Globe, November 8, 1929.
Lane’s name on the Tablets of the Missing in the Meuse-Argonne American Cemetery in Romagne-sous-Montfaucon, France. From FindAGrave.com.


 “Airplane Drops Wreath at Danvers Dedication.” Boston Globe, November 12, 1929. Boston Globe Archive. http://bostonglobe.newspapers.com/image/431193458/?terms=ralph%2Blane%2Bdanvers.

American Battle Monuments Commission. 26th Division Summary of Operations in the World War. Washington, DC: U.S. Government Printing Office, 1944. http://hdl.handle.net/2027/mdp.39015051180605.

“Dedicate Danvers Park to Lieut. Lane Monday.” Boston Globe, November 8, 1929. Boston Globe Archive. http://bostonglobe.newspapers.com/image/431182143/?terms=ralph%2Blane%2Bdanvers.

“Eight Infantry.” Boston Globe, January 9, 1916. Boston Globe Archive. http://bostonglobe.newspapers.com/image/430938131/?terms=ralph%2Bw%2Blane.

Forman, Ethan. “Danvers Veterans’ Squares Get New Plaques.” Salem News, May 4, 2017. https://www.salemnews.com/news/local_news/danvers-veterans-squares-get-new-plaques/article_6ae3f460-be41-5d0c-ad99-21ce23eb7e18.html.

Globe Newspaper Company. Photograph of Lieut. Ralph W. Lane, 101st Infan. 1917. Massachusetts State Library. https://archives.lib.state.ma.us/handle/2452/211551.

“Lieut. Ralph Williams Lane (Obituary).” Boston Globe, December 6, 1918. Boston Globe Archive.

“Lifelong Chums Meet in French Hospital.” Boston Globe, September 5, 1918. Boston Globe Archive.

American Battle Monuments Commission. “Lt. Ralph W. Lane Memorial Certificate.” Accessed October 29, 2020. https://www.abmc.gov/print/certificate/291473.

 “Nine of 17 New Majors Made At Plattsburg Are Boston Men.” Boston Globe, August 11, 1917. Boston Globe Archive.

Palmer, Frederick. Our Greatest Battle: The Meuse-Argonne. New York: Dodd, Mead, and Company, 1919.

“Plattsburg Men Join 26th Division.” Boston Globe, September 2, 1917. Boston Globe Archive.

American Battle Monuments Commission. “Ralph W. Lane.” Accessed October 29, 2020. http://www.abmc.gov/decedent-search/lane%3Dralph.

FamilySearch. “Ralph Williams Lane, ‘United States, Veterans Administration Master Index, 1917-1940.’” Accessed October 29, 2020. /ark:/61903/1:1:W3CV-9TN2.

“Salem Church Honors Memory of Two Soldiers.” Boston Globe, February 10, 1919. Boston Globe Archive.

Tapley, Harriet S. Chronicles of Danvers (Old Salem Village), Massachusetts, 1632-1923. Danvers, Mass.: The Danvers Historical Society, 1923.

Tuoti, Gerry. “Danvers Residents Remembered for Efforts during World War I.” Taunton Gazette, April 6, 2017. https://www.tauntongazette.com/news/20170406/danvers-residents-remembered-for-efforts-during-world-war-i.

“United States World War I Draft Registration Cards, 1917-1918,” database with images, FamilySearch (https://familysearch.org/ark:/61903/3:1:33S7-9BRN-C17?cc=1968530&wc=9FH6-T3X%3A928311301%2C928801701 : 24 August 2019), Massachusetts > Peabody City no 26; A-Mazurkiewicz, Witold > image 3860 of 4811; citing NARA microfilm publication M1509 (Washington, D.C.: National Archives and Records Administration, n.d.).

War Department – Office of the Quartermaster General. Graves Registration Service. “Card Register of Burials of Deceased American Soldiers,” 1922 1917. National Archives Identifier: 6943087. National Archives at College Park – Textual Reference(RDT2). https://www.familysearch.org/ark:/61903/3:1:33S7-9BRN-C17?i=3859&cc=1968530&personaUrl=%2Fark%3A%2F61903%2F1%3A1%3AKZNF-BNK.

War Department – The Adjutant General’s Office. Massachusetts World War I, Dead, A.E.F. Series: Compiled Data on Casualties of the American Expeditionary Forces by State or