A Poll on the Pole Capping Tradition – What’s Bedford Thinking?

March 29, 2024

Pole Capping is coming up on Saturday, April 6.  Started in 1965, Pole Capping Day is the unofficial start of Patriots’ Day celebrations in Massachusetts. Although no battle took place in Bedford on April 19, 1775, the town played an important part in what transpired that day. Poll Capping Day was a celebration idea brought forward after the re-establishment of The Bedford Minuteman Company in 1964.

Bedford Minuteman Roy Kring caps the Liberty Pole in 2014 – Image Michael Nosal

What is the tradition of Pole Capping?

Capping a pole or tree with a red hat was an act of defiance against the government that traces its roots back to the Roman Empire. During the American Revolution, a Liberty Tree in Boston was capped as well as others throughout Massachusetts to show their resistance to the British.  

Bedford Pole Capping Tradition

In 1965, the Bedford Minutemen held their first Pole Capping event. After the success of the first one, the Bedford Minuteman Company decided to make it an annual event. They invited other Minuteman companies from around the region to take part. This past spring (2023), there were more than 250 participants in the Pole Capping Day activities.

Traditions within the Tradition

There are traditions within the tradition of Pole Capping Day. First Parish on the Common offers a pancake breakfast. (Note: This year is an exception – there will not be a pancake breakfast in 2024.) It’s also traditional for the Bedford Minutemen to stop for breakfast at the Fitch Tavern on The Great Road just as the 1775 Bedford Minutemen did before they went on to Concord to join the battle at the North Bridge and Meriam’s Corner. Although not required, owners of the Fitch Tavern have honored that tradition through the years.

The actual climbing of the pole and placing the flag was not part of the original ceremony. The earliest incarnations just lowered the pole and placed the hat on top. The crowd was not pleased with taking the easy way out and put pressure for someone to climb the pole. That has been the tradition ever since.  

Crowd participation is also part of the tradition; jeering the British “Lobster Backs” is all part of the fun.

Pole Capping Day is the first event of the Patriots’ Day celebrations that take place throughout Massachusetts, and one Bedford is proud to call its own.

What’s Bedford Thinking?  Have you ever attended a Pole Capping Event?

  • Yes, I have been to the parade and the reenactment (58%, 139 Votes)
  • No, I have never attended any Pole Capping Day events (31%, 74 Votes)
  • Yes, I’ve been to both (parade/reenactment and pancake breakfast) (10%, 25 Votes)
  • Yes, I have been to the pancake breakfast (There will not be a pancake breakfast this year) (1%, 2 Votes)

Total Voters: 240

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