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of the con
flict at Lexington,
deprive us of our understanding; that unconscious of what we have been or are, and ungoaded by tormenting reflections, we may bow down our necks, with all the stupid serenity of servitude, to any drudgery, which our lords and masters shall please to command. . .
Venienti occurrite morbo
Oppose disease at its beginning
THE PUNISHMENT OF MASSACHUSETTS
The news of the battle of Lexington reached England, in General Gage's despatches, June 9, 1775, and the official account of the fight was forthwith published in April 19, 1775 the London Gazette. "From the praises bestowed upon officers and men for their activity and bravery," says Dr. Gordon, "it is evident that the Americans made the business of the day a hard, difficult, and dangerous service." The following account of the battle hangs framed in the Hancock-Clark House, and is reprinted here by courtesy of the Lexington Historical Society.
A CIRCUMSTANTIAL ACCOUNT OF AN ATTACK THAT
On Tuesday the 18th of April, about half past 10 at Night, Lieutenant-Colonel Smith of the 10th Regiment, embarked from the Common at Boston, with the Grenadiers and Light Infantry of the Troops there, and landed on the opposite side, from whence he began his March towards Concord, where he was ordered to destroy a magazine of military stores, deposited there for the Use of an Army to be assembled, in Order to act against his Majesty, and his Government. The Colonel called
1 Reverend William Gordon, D.D., The History of the American Revolution, London, 1788, Vol. I, p. 503.
his Officers together and gave Orders that the Troops should not fire unless fired upon; and after marching a few miles, detached six Companies of Light Infantry under the command of Major Pitcairn, to take Possession of two Bridges on the other side of Concord. Soon after they heard many signal Guns, and the ringing of alarm Bells repeatedly, which convinced them that the Country was rising to oppose them, and that it was a preconcerted Scheme to oppose the King's Troops, whenever there should be a favorable Opportunity for it. About 3 o'clock the next Morning, the Troops being advanced within two Miles of Lexington, Intelligence was received that about Five Hundred Men in Arms, were assembled, and determined to oppose the King's Troops*; [*At this time advanced Light Companies loaded, but the Grenadiers were not loaded when they received their first Fire] and on Major Pitcairn's galloping up to the head of the advanced Companies, two Officers informed him that a Man (advanced from those that' were assembled) had presented his musquit [musket] and attempted to shoot them, but the Piece flashed in the Pan. On this the Major gave directions to the Troops to move forward, but on no Account to fire, nor even to attempt it without Orders. When they arrived at the End of the Village, they observed about 2001 armed Men, drawn up on a Green, and when the Troops came within a Hundred Yards of them, they began to file off towards some Stone Walls, on their right Flank the Light Infantry observing this, ran after them; the
1 This is a gross exaggeration. The Salem Gazette of Friday, April 21, 1775, under the caption "Bloody Butchery by the British Troops, or the Runaway Fight of the Regulars,” says: "At sunrise they observed between 30 and 40 inhabitants exercising near the Meeting-House. The Commanding Officer ordered them to lay down their arms and disperse, which not being directly complied with he demanded them for a pack of rebels, ordered his men to fire upon them, and killed eight men on the spot, besides wounding several more." That there were men in England who believed the colonial report of the "bloody butchery" is shown by the fact that Horne Tooke was fined £1000 in 1777 for collecting and transmitting to Franklin a fund to relieve the widows and orphans of those "who faithful to the character of Englishmen, preferring death to slavery, were inhumanly murdered by the King's troops at or near Lexington and Concord.”
Major instantly called to the Soldiers not to fire, but to surround and disarm them; some of them, who had jumped over a wall, then fired four or five shot at the Troops, wounded a man of the 10th Regiment, and the Major's Horse in two Places, and at the same Time several Shots were fired from a MeetingHouse on the left: Upon this, without any Order or Regularity, the Light Infantry began a scattered Fire, and killed several of the Country People; but were silenced as soon as the Authority of their Officers could make them.* [*Notwithstanding the Fire from the Meeting-House, Colonel Smith and Major Pitcairn, with the greatest Difficulty, kept the Soldiers from forcing into the Meeting-House and putting all there in it to Death]. . . .
Far different is the account in the original dispatch of the news of the battle of Lexington, sent by express riders from Watertown, Massachusetts, a few hours after the battle, and attested by patriotic committees in all the towns through which it passed to reach Philadelphia, April 24.
Wednesday morning, near 10 of the clock To all friends of American liberty be it known that this Morning, before break of day, a brigade consisting of about 1000 or 1200 men, landed at Phip's farm at Cambridge, and marched to Lexington, where they found a company of our colony militia in arms, upon whom they fired without any provocation, and killed six men, and wounded four others. By an express from Boston, we find another bridage [brigade] are now upon their march from Boston, supposed to be about 1000. The bearer, Trail Bissel, is charged to alarm the country quite to Connecticut, and all persons are desired to furnish him with fresh horses as they may be needed. I have spoken with several who have seen the dead and wounded. Pray let the Delegates from this Colony to Connecticut see this, they know Colonel Foster, of Brookfield, one of the Delegates.
One of the Company of S.Y. [Safety]
Anxious to prove that the British and not the Colonials fired the shot at Lexington which opened the Revolutionary War, the Provincial Congress of Massachusetts ordered many of the men who had taken part in the events of April 19 to tell their story under oath. A set of these depositions was sent to Benjamin Franklin, the Massachusetts agent in London, to be published. The letter to Franklin and the deposition of Captain John Parker, who commanded the Lexington Minutemen, follow:
In Provincial Congress, Watertown
To the Hon. Benjamin Franklin, Esq., London:
Sir: From the entire confidence we repose in your faithfulness and abilities, we consider it the happiness of this Colony that the important trust of agency for it, on this day of unequalled distress, is devolved on your hands; and we doubt not your attachment to the cause of the liberties of mankind will make every possible exertion in our behalf a pleasure to you, although our circumstances will compel us often to interrupt your repose by matters that will surely give you pain. A single instance hereof is the occasion of the present letter; the contents of this packet will be our apology for troubling you with it. From these you will see how and by whom we are at last plunged into the horrours of a most unnatural war. Our enemies, we are told, have despatched to Great Britain a fallacious account of the tragedy they have begun; to prevent the operation of which to the publick injury, we have engaged the vessel that conveys this to you as a packet in the service of this Colony, and we request your assistance in supplying Captain Derby, who commands her, with such necessaries as he shall want, on the credit of your Constituents in Massachusetts-Bay. But we most ardently wish that the several papers herewith enclosed may be immediately printed and dispersed through every Town in England, and especially communicated to the Lord Mayor, Aldermen, and Common Council of the City of London, that they may take such order thereon as they may think proper;
and we are confident your fiäelity will make such improvement of them as shall convince all who are not determined to be in everlasting blindness, that it is the united efforts of both Englands that must save either. But that whatever price our bretheren in the one may be pleased to put on their constitutional liberties, we are authorized to assure you that the inhabitants of the other, with the greatest unanimity, are inflexibly resolved to sell theirs only at the price of their lives. Signed by order of the Provincial Congress :
Jos. Warren, President pro tem.
Lexington, April 25, 1775
I, John Parker, of lawful age, and Commander of the Militia in Lexington, do testify and declare that on the nineteenth instant, in the morning, about one of the clock, being informed that there were a number of Regular Officers riding up and down the road, stopping and insulting people as they passed the road, and also was informed that a number of Regular Troops were on their march from Boston, in order to take the Province Stores at Concord, ordered our Militia to meet on the common in said Lexington, to consult what to do, and concluded not to be discovered, nor meddle or make with said Regular Troops (if they should approach) unless they should insult us; and upon their sudden approach, I immediately ordered our Militia to disperse and not to fire. Immediately said Troops made their appearance and rushed furiously, fired upon and killed eight of our party, without receiving any provocation therefor from us.
John Parker (Attested by Justices of the Peace of Middlesex County)