THE BATTLES OF LEXINGTON AND CONCORD
APRIL 19, 1775
PROVINCE OF MASSACHUSETTS BAY
During the 1760’s and 1770’s, the British colonies of North America were growing increasingly concerned and agitated by the various acts of the mother country. New proclamations and laws by the British were transforming the feelings that many Americans held for their colonial masters.
Due to many reasons, Britain’s national debt exploded in the years prior to 1775. Britain’s economy, although extremely strong, faced many challenges. Primary challenges were due to the struggle to support the growing British Empire, pay for the various wars engaged by The Kingdom of Great Britain and help finance the newly emerging Industrial Revolution, increased global trade and their unique challenges.
To ease the financial pressure, Great Britain wanted her American colonies to help pay the cost of the recent French and Indian War which was fought in the North American colonies. The French and Indian War was the local, North American version of the history changing Seven Years War.
The Seven Years War
The Seven Years War (1756-1763) was history’s first global war. France and Britain fought for control of their colonies and territories in North and South America, Asia and Europe. Great Britain and her American colonies defeated the French and their Native American allies, gaining full control of North America.
By 1763 the financial impact of growing and increasing taxes became intolerable in Britain. To help ease the financial pain of the native British, King George III decided to increase taxes on the American colonies, even though his advisors strongly argued against this.
The Sugar Act of 1764 increased taxes on sugar, molasses and other imported products to America. The Currency Act of 1764 effectively cut the value of American paper money in half and plunged the Americans into a financial depression.
The Stamp Act of 1765 imposed taxes via a stamp on all documents such as business contracts, property mortgages, college diplomas and even newspapers and playing cards.
Americans became infuriated with these onerous taxes and of having to suffer such financial hardships without any representation within the government of Great Britain.
Anger over the growing financial hardships imposed upon the American colonists was further increased when in 1765 the British government passed the Quartering Act which forced the colonists to provide housing and supplies for British troops located in the American colonies.
By this time, many Americans felt that the British were becoming more like an occupying army stripping the colonists of their hard earned money and freedom. Talk of rebellion began to grow and become increasingly more brazen.
By 1774 tension between Britain and the American colonists was reaching a tipping point. In reaction to the many laws and regulations imposed by the British, the various colonies reacted by instituting numerous changes to their established governmental bodies, their militias and their commerce infrastructure.
For example, in response to American Indian attacks and other potential threats; local colonial militias were formed, armed and locally managed for decades. The British were now looking at local colonial militias as a potential threat given the rising tension.
To combat this potential threat, control of local militias were increasingly being monitored and managed directly by the British. Moreover, the British forced alterations to colonial governmental bodies, effectively limiting local colonial control.
In 1774 the Massachusetts colonial government instituted the Suffolk Resolves, which were designed to resist British enforcement of forced changes to the colonial government’s assembly and governing power. The British instituted governing power restrictions in reaction to the recent Boston Tea Party in which colonists dressed as Native Americans boarded a ship and dumped barrels and packages of tea into the Boston Harbor in protest to the increased taxes levied upon tea and other goods.
The Massachusetts Provincial Congress was formed in an illegal move by the colonists and it began calling for local militias to begin preparing for possible hostilities against the British. Since the colonists effectively controlled the entire Massachusetts colony outside of Boston, the British viewed this move as a significant threat. In 1775 the British government considered the Province of Massachusetts Bay to be a rebellious colony and began preparations to bring the colonists to heel.
Preparing for Battle
The British military governor of the Massachusetts colony was General Thomas Gage. Aware that the rebellious colonists were making preparations for a possible armed conflict, Gage alerted his army to prepare for battle.
General Gage received orders from the Secretary of State William Legge, the Earl of Dartmouth on April 14, 1775. These orders instructed Gage to capture and disarm the rebellious militias and their leaders. Leaving their protected base of Boston, Gage’s army marched toward the towns of Lexington and Concord where spies in service of the British reported militia activity and the buildup of supplies. Moreover, outspoken colonial patriots Samuel Adams and John Hancock were known to be in the area of these towns as well. Capture of these men would help the British undermine the rebel leadership.
Paul Revere and William Dawes
Part of the preparations for the potential of armed conflict with the British was the implementation of early warning communications. The Massachusetts Committee of Correspondence was formed in 1774 with the goal of forming a communications network to supply critical information to the rebel leadership.
A local patriot, Paul Revere, joined the Committee and served as a courier, riding throughout the area supplying news and information. Information via the Committee network alerted Paul Revere very early the morning of April 19, 1775 that the British were heading toward the area of Lexington and their intent was to capture rebel leaders Samuel Adams and John Hancock and capture or destroy the militia and their supplies.
Paul Revere, William Dawes and another rider galloped throughout the area on their way to Adams and Hancock, warning everyone that the British army was coming towards them.
The Battle of Lexington
The Battle of Lexington, started at sunrise, April 19, 1775. The assembled militia, known as Minutemen, gathered on a field in the area of Lexington. Given advanced warning, the Minutemen were prepared to defend themselves, their town and their supplies.
British Major John Pitcairn assembled his small army on the green across from the Minutemen. Facing each other, neither side knew what they should do next. Reports that over 100 colonial spectators gathered around the field watching the standoff.
Both armed groups, Minutemen and British, did not want this situation to escalate to a danger point and no orders were given to fire their weapons. No one knows who fired the first shot. Some speculate that a spectator fired first. The result was a massive exchange of fire from both sides, exploding in sound and smoke.
The British cleared the Americans from the field, killing 8 Minutemen and wounding 10. The Minutemen quickly retreated. Although this was a small, short battle, the significance of this historical event was that it began the American Revolution, which would change history forever.
The Battle of Concord
After clearing the Americans from the Lexington battlefield, the British marched to the nearby town of Concord to capture arms, ammunition and other supplies believed to be stowed there as well by the colonists.
Flanking the British, Minutemen quickly assembled in the vicinity of the North Bridge in Concord and waited for reinforcements to confront the British Army which had previously occupied the town in their effort to destroy rebel supplies.
The American force, now swelling to over 400 men, were led by Major John Buttrick towards the North Bridge. British regulars were now outnumbered by the Minutemen but engaged in a brief but fierce exchange of fire. With casualties on both sides, the British withdrew from the bridge and marched to join their comrades in town.
Realizing that they could be surrounded by American militias, the British began an orderly retreat towards Boston. The British rear guard was harassed by Minutemen at Meriam’s Corner and all along the way towards their base in Boston.
The British were relieved when reinforcements under the command of Sir Hugh Percy arrived with over a 1,000 regulars. The British force, though reinforced, continued their retreat march under continuous sniper fire from the Americans.
Arriving near Charlestown towards sun down, the British regulars safely arrived under the protection of their main army and the firepower of the British fleet in the harbor. Approximately 49 colonists and 72 British regulars died during the battles and collectively 367 were wounded.
After the retreat to the Boston area by the British, the colonial militias began encircling and securing the land access to the Boston and Charlestown area. Their intent was to lay siege to the British stronghold of Boston.
The Battles of Lexington and Concord proved to the Americans that they could not only hold their own against the most powerful army in the world but could out maneuver and defeat them. The colonists celebrated their first engagement of their fight for freedom. The American Revolution had begun.