LEARNED, EBENEZER. (1728–1801). Continental general. Massachusetts. Born on 18 April 1728 at Oxford, Massachusetts, Learned was a captain in 1756 in Colonel Timothy Ruggles's provincial regiment during the final French and Indian War. A farmer and innkeeper, he later led the revolutionary movement in his hometown. In 1774 and 1775 he was a delegate to the Massachusetts Provincial Congress. Colonel of a Worcester county regiment of minutemen, he led his men to Cambridge on 19 April 1775 and two days later was assigned to the right wing of the Boston army. He returned home on 24 April but on 20 May was commissioned colonel of one of the Massachusetts regiments raised for eight months of service at the siege of Boston. During the battle of Bunker Hill (17 June 1775) his men held the lines at Roxbury and, although they came under desultory fire, were not otherwise engaged. He was named colonel of the Third Continental Regiment (1 January 1776) in the reorganized Continental Army, and on 8 March began to serve as an intermediary between William Howe and George Washington in negotiating the British evacuation of Boston. About 11:00 a.m. on Sunday, 17 March, he unbarred the gates on the main road with his own hands and, because Washington was worried about disease in the dirty and crowded town, marched into Boston at the head of five hundred men who had either survived smallpox or been inoculated against it. His regiment was then assigned to operate whaleboats in Boston Harbor to watch the British fleet before it sailed away.
He resigned on 2 May 1776 because of poor health, but on 4 April 1777 he returned to duty when Congress appointed him a brigadier general. Assigned to command a brigade of Massachusetts Continental regiments in the Northern Department (Second, Eighth and Ninth Regiments), he collected militia at Forts Edward and Anne and assisted in the evacuation of stores from Ticonderoga before its occupation by Burgoyne (July 1777). He accompanied Arnold in the move to Fort Stanwix that ended Barry St. Leger's expedition, and returned to Horatio Gates's army on 31 August. His Fourth Massachusetts Brigade, reinforced by the First New York and two battalions of New Hampshire militia, was posted on the left wing of the American defenses at Bemis Heights. At Freeman's Farm on 19 September, during the first Battle of Saratoga, much of the brigade lost its way in the dense woods and was not heavily engaged. At Bemis Heights on 7 October, during the second Battle of Saratoga, Benedict Arnold usurped command and led it to flank Breymann's redoubt, whose loss helped seal Burgoyne's fate.
Along with the other New England brigades, Learned moved south to rejoin the main army after Burgoyne's surrender, marching part of the way as escort for the Convention army, as the captive British force was termed. But the winter at Valley Forge proved too debilitating, and Learned again resigned for physical disability on 24 March 1778. He was elected to the convention that adopted the Massachusetts state constitution of 1780 and served as a judge in Worcester County. In 1783 he was a member of the state legislature. In 1786 he supported the Massachusetts government against Daniel Shays's rebels, although this brought him into conflict with his family and neighbors and exposed him to serious personal danger. He died at Oxford on 1 April 1801.
revised by Harold E. Selesky