From Pirates to Patriots
The unique family history behind a private guided walking tour.
Ben Edwards’ Walking Boston private tour does not focus on his ancestors, but several of their stories are woven into his Boston history narrative. One is the tale of a Boston sea captain named Benjamin Edwards and his battle with pirate George Lowther in the Caribbean on January 10, 1722. It is told in detail in two books: A General History of Pyrates by Captain Charles Johnson (1724) and The Pirates of the New England Coast 1630-1730 by George Francis Dow and John Henry Edmonds (1923). The event is depicted in the painting above. During the tour, Ben puts his own spin on this story that is something right out of a Disney movie.
Ben first learned about Captain Benjamin Edwards when, at the age of 2 1/2, he and his family traveled from Connecticut to Boston to walk the Freedom Trail. They stopped at Copp’s Hill Burying Ground to see the marker of a Captain Edwards, Ben’s first ancestor in America. Photos taken at Copp’s Hill that day appear below. At that time little was known about Captain Edwards. His marker was first located by a family member around 1925. During genealogical research on the Edwards family, that same relative also claimed to have discovered a connection to Paul Revere but when she died all of her written research was lost.
Ben and his father at the marker of Captain Benjamin Edwards.
The Edwards family at Copp’s Hill Burying Ground in 1964.
When Ben was in grade school, he often looked back at the black and white photos of his early visit to Boston and wondered if he really was related to Paul Revere. As a ten-year-old, he would page through the family record section of an Edwards family Bible passed down through five generations. Printed in 1812, it contained the handwritten records of his third great grandfather Joseph B. Edwards born in Boston in 1799. There was an entry for a Benjamin Edwards noting that he had died in 1808 at the age of 43. Ben guessed that this Benjamin, who would have been born in 1765, was Joseph’s father. But how did he connect to Captain Benjamin Edwards? That was still a mystery. To add even further intrigue, there was a yellowed newspaper clipping from 1921 tucked in the pages of the family Bible with the headline “Tribute Paid to Philip Edwards”. It covered the funeral of Ben’s grandfather’s cousin who was killed in action in France in World War I at the age of 23. The clipping even contained the text of a farewell letter Phil had written to his parents before “going over the top”. Ben would read that clipping every time he opened the family Bible. Phil fascinated Ben more than any other relative. He admired Phil’s courage and grew up hearing stories of how incredible he was with the neighborhood children. They loved and admired Phil and followed him wherever he went. Phil even addressed these children in his final letter.
The birth of Joseph B. Edwards in the 1812 Edwards family Bible.
The clipping about Philip Edwards that Ben read at age 10.
As time passed, Ben’s focus moved to high school, college, and his career but he never let go of his desire to learn more about his ancestors. Ben’s big breakthrough came in 1994 at an Edwards family reunion. He received a copy of an old newsletter called The Edwards Journal. It contained extensive information from Jeannie Edwards Cook, a woman in Cody, Wyoming, who claimed to have a Bible from 1708 belonging to her ancestor, Captain Benjamin Edwards, a Boston sea captain! The article listed all the family entries from the Bible and gave other information. That information included a reference to the Captain’s granddaughter, Sally Edwards, and noted that she had married Paul Revere Jr., firstborn son of the famous patriot. It also listed her siblings, including a brother named Benjamin. After reaching out to Jeannie, Ben learned that research she possessed noted the baptism date of Sally’s brother, Benjamin, as April 14, 1765. Other entries in the 1812 and 1708 family Bibles served to confirm the relationship. Ben learned that Benjamin Edwards (1765-1808) was his fourth great grandfather. Benjamin and his sister Sally were the children of Captain Edwards’ son Dolling. Jeannie was related to the Captain’s firstborn son, Benjamin 2nd.
A page from the 1708 Edwards family Bible with entries in the hand of Captain Benjamin Edwards. Cotton Mather performed his marriage in 1706.
Jeannie began telling Ben stories she had heard from her grandfather of family members being involved in the Sons of Liberty. Research conducted later at the Massachusetts Historical Society confirmed that one of Captain Edwards’ sons, Alexander, was indeed a member. Alexander likely raised Benjamin, his sister Sally and their other siblings as their parents Dolling and Rebecca had both died by 1773. Genealogical clues tell us what Alexander meant to his nieces and nephews as they each named a son in his honor. Sally Edwards and Paul Revere Jr. had 12 children and their firstborn son was not named Paul Revere, but rather Alexander Edwards Revere. From Jeannie, Ben also learned that a painting of Captain Benjamin Edwards, Ben’s sixth great grandfather, existed. Not only was there a painting of him, but also a painting of his father and his father’s original desk that the family had brought to Boston from England in the early 1700s. All of these were located in a private home in Plymouth, Massachusetts and Ben had them photographed in 1994.
These finds inspired Ben to perform additional research which occurred on and off over a period of several years. Utilizing this research and all he had learned about the Boston his ancestors called home, Ben decided to write a children’s book that would tell their story. As he was working on that project, Ben was again drawn to that yellowed newspaper clipping he had first read as a child in the 1812 Edwards family Bible — the one with press coverage of the funeral of a World War I hero by the name of Philip Edwards. He wanted to include Phil in the story but first Ben needed to learn more about him. Extensive research into the life of Private Philip Edwards commenced. In 1997, Ben was able to find photos of Phil as a child and in 1999 he located a military historian in France named Gilles Lagin who could help find the exact areas where Philip Edwards had fought. (Ben ended up working with Gilles intermittently on subsequent research for over a decade.) Phil was a member of Boston’s 26th “Yankee” Division, formed in the summer of 1917 and comprised of National Guard units from the New England states.
Philip Edwards, circa 1905, with his father, mother, and other relatives.
Philip Edwards (right), John Simmons (center), and a friend circa 1908.
In 2000, Ben met and interviewed 70-year-old Fran Jenkins, the daughter of Philip Edwards’ best friend John Simmons who had fought with Phil in France, and 90-year-old Doris Wininger Harkins, the sister of Phil’s sweetheart Ella Wininger. Fran had her father’s World War I diary, a photo of her father and Phil in uniform, and the text of a moving letter her father had written to Phil’s parents after his death. Doris’s memory was so sharp she took Ben right back to 1915. She spoke of her sister Ella’s undying love for Phil. From Doris, Ben learned that the farewell letter Phil wrote to his parents before “going over the top” wasn’t the only one he penned that day — he wrote one to her sister too. Ben asked Doris if she might have a photo of Phil and Ella together. She promised that she would look and if she located one she would send it to him. Was Doris able to keep her promise? Years later a photo of Phil and Ella was discovered in a remarkable way and Ben believes Doris played a role in getting it to him. That photo is contained in the video at the bottom of this page. When Ben’s children’s book One April in Boston: The Gift of the Spyglass was published in the fall of 2000, two of the first copies went to Fran and Doris. They also received copies of the audio book when it came out the following year.
Private Philip Edwards and Private John Simmons before they left for France in 1917 as part of Boston’s 26th “Yankee” Division.
In 2004, Ben started a private guided walking tour business called Walking Boston. He wanted to teach Boston history in a creative and engaging way through storytelling aided by primary sources. To support this objective, for more than a decade Ben has developed an extensive collection of rare documents and historic newspapers that he shares along the tour route. In 2015 the second edition of his children’s book One April in Boston: The Gift of the Spyglass was released as an eBook and audio book. The eBook contains additional illustrations and new content not found in the first edition. Tour participants receive both products. In 2017 the second edition of Ben’s book was released in print form. It features 48 original pen and ink illustrations created by Cortney Skinner. One April in Boston is available for purchase on this website, at the Paul Revere House Online Gift Shop, and at the Paul Revere House Gift Shop at the new Education and Visitor Center.
Today, you’ll find Ben along the Freedom Trail telling stories and sharing his knowledge of Boston history with students, families, and visitors from across the United States and around the globe. Ben begins his private guided walking tour on Boston Common, just yards away from where Boston’s 26th Division returned to a “Welcome Home” parade on April 25, 1919. Ben’s relative Private Philip Edwards, if only in spirit, was surely with them on that day. The video below called “Finding Philip Edwards in France” pays tribute to Phil and contains a photo from the parade. Ben ends his tour at the marker of Captain Benjamin Edwards at Copp’s Hill Burying Ground — the exact spot where he stood as a 2 1/2-year-old during his first visit to Boston. Each day Ben honors his ancestors by walking in their footsteps and conveying his passion for Boston history on a customized private guided walking tour unlike any other in Boston.