Sunday, July 22, 2018

Episode 054: British Advance on Lexington and Concord




Last week I talked about Paul Revere’s ride to warn the colony about the imminent raid by soldiers on Concord.  The week before that, I left off with Gen. age getting ready to deploy his soldiers on the evening of April 18, 1775.  Today we will pick up there and follow the army along its route to Lexington and Concord.

Regulars Deploy

At around 10:00 PM on the evening of April 18, after the ferry out of Boston and the land exit over Boston Neck were both closed, Lt. Col. Francis Smith, per Gen. Gage’s orders, began to assemble his soldiers.  Smith had only received his orders a few hours earlier and had to work quickly to collect his forces for the march.

Lexington (artist's conception) (from BritishBattles)
The soldiers deployed for this mission did not come from any particular regiment.  In a typical regular army regiment, there were two special companies.  Regimental commanders would put the largest and strongest soldiers in the company of grenadiers.  Their original purpose a century earlier was to hurl large heavy grenades at the enemy.  Although they no longer did that, commanders found grenadiers useful as shock troops.  They were the most effective in hand to hand combat.

The light infantry constituted the other elite company in each regiment. This was a relatively new innovation.  These soldiers were selected for being particularly active and energetic.  A regimental commander would use the light infantry as skirmishers or flanking guards to protect the main body of soldiers from snipers or other smaller attack parties.

Gage decided to pull the grenadier and light infantry companies from each of his regiments, to create a single brigade of elite soldiers for this particular mission.  The detachment consisted of eleven companies of grenadiers and ten companies of light infantry.  The detachment also included a few companies of royal marines.  This probably meant Gage had all his best fighting men on this mission.  But it also meant the companies were fighting alongside other companies outside their regiment.  They had not worked together before and were serving under unfamiliar regimental commanders.  This could be why many of the regulars seemed more inclined to act on their own initiative during this battle, rather than strictly following the orders of their officers.

Col Francis Smith
(from Wikimedia)
Gen. Gage also decided that his soldiers would travel to Charlestown by boat, so that his soldiers could start their march from there.  Admiral Graves did not supply enough boats to take all the 900 or so soldiers across the harbor in one trip.  As a result, the marines had to take half in one trip, then return to take the other half.  Even on two trips, the boats were so full that soldiers had to remain standing to fit everyone.  On the other side, again in the interest of secrecy, the ships landed in an unused area away from Charlestown to avoid prying eyes.  The reason the area was unused was that it was wet swampy land.  The soldiers had to tramp through wet mud up to their knees in order to get to dry land.  April in New England is still pretty cold.  There were still patches of melting snow on the ground.  Since this mission began without notice at 10:00 PM, the men had already been awake for a full day before being called to arms.  So before even starting their march, the men were wet, cold, and tired.

It took nearly two hours to ferry all the soldiers across the harbor.  Because they were not from any single regiment, and because the company officers still had no orders on what they were doing or where they were going, the soldiers collected into disorganized groups on the Charlestown side of the harbor.  Col. Smith had to waste even more time assembling the units in proper order for march.

British March to Concord (from Wikimedia)
Next, the soldiers had to march through more swamps to avoid roads where they might encounter civilians.  Some soldiers later reported that they were in water up to their waists.  Finally, after reaching dry land, the army had to spend more time waiting for the navy to deliver two days worth of rations to the soldiers for their march.  By the time they were ready to march, it was already 2:00 AM.  Before they had even left Charlestown, Paul Revere had already reached Lexington, left, and had been captured.  Samuel Prescott had arrived in Concord to deliver the alarm. Messengers had already spread word of the march all over the region and militia were on the march to meet the regulars.

As the soldiers passed through Cambridge and on the road to Lexington, more and more locals were alerted to the march.  As they passed by, more militia units assembled behind the column and began to follow at a safe distance.  Col. Smith began to hear gunshots, ringing bells, and other indications that the element of surprise was gone.  Fearing this surprise attack would not go well, he sent word back to Boston that they had better start preparing a relief force in case the column came under attack.

Pitcairn’s Advance Column

Once the column reached Monotemy, still about five miles from Lexington and twelve miles from Concord, Smith deployed his second in command, Major John Pitcairn of the Royal Marines with six companies of light infantry and marines.  Pitcairn would march his men quickly ahead of the main column.  Smith ordered him to secure the two bridges north and south of Concord.  The detachment moved forward at the quickstep, making up for lost time.  They encountered multiple riders along the road, whom they took prisoner.  But it became clear that the entire countryside was now alive with innumerable riders spreading the alarm everywhere.

Maj. John Pitcairn
(from Wikimedia)
Along the way, Pitcairn’s column met up with the officers who had captured Revere, interrogated him, and released him.  The officers repeated what Revere had told them, that the mission was to seize munitions at Concord, something the junior officers in the advance column were learning for the first time, and that there were about 500 militia assembled in Lexington, armed and waiting for them.  Another rider captured on his way from Lexington told them there were at least 1000 militia in Lexington.  Though not accurate, the information must have unnerved the men that they might be walking into a trap.

Around 4:30, as Pitcairn’s advance column approached Lexington, they encountered two riders ahead of them.  One shouted a warning that they should turn back.  Another fired his pistol. There are differing accounts as to whether he fired in the air as a warning, or took aim at the column.  In any event, he was too far away to hit anyone.  But firing the weapon convinced Pitcairn that it was time to stop the column and have the men load their weapons.  He also deployed flanking units to make sure there was not ambush waiting for them as they marched into town.

Lexington Green

Pitcairn’s advance column arrived at the outskirts of Lexington just about sunrise, around 5:00 AM.  Both sides greatly overestimated the other.  British accounts estimate 200-300 militia still assembling on Lexington Green.  Most estimates by the militia seem to put their numbers at 60-70.  Similarly, the militia estimated the British force to be 1200-1500 men, when in fact the advance column totaled about 250.

Maj. Pitcairn was bringing up the rear of his advance column while a young Lieutenant named Jesse Adair led the front.  Pitcairn had planned to march past Lexington straight to Concord. Rather than remain on the road to Concord, Adair steered the column toward Lexington Green to confront the militia.  As the column turned, Pitcairn realized what was happening, galloped forward and rerouted the column along the road to Concord.  But the first two companies were already moving with Adair to confront the militia.  Before Pitcairn could do anything, they charged forward, nearly running as they quickly assembled into a line of battle.  The Regulars began shouting, making it difficult for everyone to hear orders.

British fire at Lexington (from BritishBattles)
Witnesses differ on the exact words, but some British officers called the militia rebels and villains and demanded they drop their arms and disperse.  Captain Parker, commanding the Lexington militia, ordered his men to disperse.  Some began walking away, but others apparently not hearing the orders or ignoring them, remained standing.  No one laid down their weapons..

Everyone seems to have a different account about what happened next. Several militia report a British officer firing his pistol, followed quickly by a ragged volley from the regulars.  More accounts seem to indicate the first shot came from a pistol off to the side, either behind a fence or hedge. Paul Revere, who was still struggling to hide Hancock’s trunk in the woods, could not see the encounter, but said he heard a pistol then quickly followed by the volley from the regulars.

Although the two lines were probably only 50-70 yards apart, few men fell in the first volley.  Many at first thought the regulars might have fired blanks.  But they soon realized they were using live rounds, just poor shots.  The regulars continued to reload and fire as fast as they could.  The militia scattered for cover.  A few militia returned fire, but most ran.  Most of the casualties were shot in the back while running away.  A few were bayoneted.  The regular officers lost control of their men, who began charging off in different directions after militiamen, or entering buildings.

After about 15 minutes, Col. Smith arrived with the main column.  He immediately rushed onto the field, found a drummer and ordered him to beat to arms, the instruction to the regulars to return back to their lines.  Within a few minutes, he had restored order.  Seven Lexington men had been shot dead.  An eighth man, one of the prisoners taken on the road to Lexington was shot and killed while trying to escape.  Nine other militiamen were injured.  The regulars suffered only one injury, a soldier shot in the leg.  Maj. Pitcairn also claimed his horse had been shot twice.

Onward to Concord

Finally, Col. Smith revealed to his officers that the mission was to advance on Concord and seize the supplies there.  Many of his junior officers objected, pointing out that they would be marching another seven miles into unknown territory, while the militia, who would now be angered at the attack at Lexington continued to assemble all around them.  Smith, however, was determined to carry out his orders and reach his objective.  After a few victory cheers, the column continued its march toward Concord.
March to Lexington & Concord (from Wikimedia)

In Concord, a rider from Lexington arrived with the news that the regulars had fired on the militia there.  He did not stay around long enough to know if there were casualties, but clearly things were getting serious.

A group of Concord militia under the command of Col. James Barrett, moved out to a hill overlooking to road into town.  As the British approached, they spotted the militia and deployed a line of skirmishers against them.  The militia retreated in good order before the regulars could get close enough to engage.  They returned to town ahead of the regulars.  The outnumbered militia decided there was little point in confronting the regulars in town as had happened in Lexington.  They retreated north of town, across the north bridge onto higher ground.

The regulars marched into Concord unopposed around 7:00 AM.  Col. Smith deployed one company of light infantry to secure the south bridge and sent seven companies to secure the north bridge.  Four of those companies were tasked to continue about two miles beyond the bridge to Col. Barrett’s Mill.  Spies had indicated he kept a large cache of munitions there.

British burning arms at Concord (from Sutori)
The grenadiers remained in Concord, searching those houses and buildings where informants had reported there were military stores.  But the people of Concord had received enough advanced notice to hide or remove just about anything of military value.  The only weapons found were three cannon.  Maj. Pitcairn burst into the local tavern pointed a pistol at the owner, and threatened to fire unless he revealed where they were hiding their weapons.  The owner led Pitcairn to three large 24 pounders buried in his yard.  After that, Pitcairn released his prisoner and offered to buy breakfast for his men.

Beyond that, the soldiers destroyed a few bags of powder and burned some wooden tools.  They cut down and burned the town’s Liberty Pole.  They also found a cache of lead balls which they dumped in a local pond.  The next day, the locals simply waded into the pond, and salvaged the balls for later use.

As the regulars burned the gun carriages and other wooden items, they accidentally set a house on fire.  The regulars and locals worked together to form a bucket brigade and quickly extinguished the house fire.

The detachment of regulars at Barrett’s Mill did little better.  Again, the locals had enough warning to remove or hide virtually anything of military value.  The regulars forced Mrs. Barrett to provide them with breakfast.  Mrs. Barrett fed the men but refused money when offered, calling it blood money.  The men threw a few coins at her feet anyway and began to move back to the north bridge.

Battle of the North Bridge

The Concord militia observed events from high ground near the north bridge.  As they waited, minutemen from all over the area continued to join them and swell their ranks.  Soon they had over 500 men against about 100 regulars holding the north bridge.  They also saw smoke from the fire in Concord, and grew worried that the regulars were burning their town.

Col. Barrett advanced his militia against the regulars holding the bridge.  The two companies of regulars that had taken high ground near the bridge began to retreat back toward the bridge so that all three companies would be together on the other side of the bridge from the militia.  The one company at the bridge, however, had set up in a defensive line that made it difficult for the other two companies to cross.  The men became tangled in a mess and broke formation.  Several regulars then discharged their weapons at the advancing militia, killing two men and wounding four others.

Regulars had a disdain for militia, thinking they would often run at the first hint of fire.  To their surprise, the militia continued to march forward, maintaining formation.  They got within 50 yards of the regulars and opened fire.  Many of the militiamen targeted the officers.  In the first volley, they hit four of the eight officers at the North Bridge.

Battle at Old North Bridge (from Liberty Seed)
To almost everyone’s surprise, the regulars then turned and fled.  They were outnumbered, the enemy fired bravely, accurately, and remained in proper formation.  The soldiers fled for their lives, leaving behind their wounded.

The militia did not seem quite sure what to do next.  Some men advanced on the retreating regulars.  Others decided they had given the soldiers a good shellacking and turned around to head home.  One young militiaman approached the bridge to find Lt. Edward Thoroton Gould lying wounded but alive on the bridge, abandoned by his men.  The militiaman pulled out a hatchet and struck the lieutenant in his head, cutting off part of his scalp and exposing part of his brain.  Amazingly Gould survived to tell this story later, though the militia left him for dead on the bridge.

Meanwhile, back in Concord village, Col. Smith heard the gunfire as the battle began at the North Bridge.  He immediately took two regiments of grenadiers and personally led them toward the bridge.  On the way, he encountered the fleeing remnants of the light infantry companies who had retreated from the bridge.  Smith pressed forward, with the intention of retaking the bridge so that the four companies returning from Barrett’s Mill would be able to cross and return to the main column.

He never reached the bridge though.  About 200 militiamen had already crossed the bridge and positioned themselves on a hill behind a stone wall along the road to the bridge.  Smith and his grenadiers saw the line of militia from about 200 yards away.  The two lines faced one another for about ten minutes, neither firing a shot.  Smith decided his outnumbered men with the inferior ground could not face down the militia.  They turned around and went back to town.

The four companies of regulars returning from Barrett’s Mill also heard the gunfire and rushed to the bridge, only to find the regulars gone and a disorganized group of militia surrounding the bridge.  The regulars marched forward and crossed the bridge, walking right past the militia.  Neither side opened fire and the militia allowed the regulars to cross.

The crossing regulars saw the wounded Lt. Gould on the Bridge.  There was no ethic of “no man left behind” in the British army of the time.  They allowed him to lay there, though word of his scalping spread through the British ranks, exaggerated so that word got around that the colonists were torturing wounded soldiers.  This story would contribute to further atrocities as the day wore on.

By 10:00 AM, Smith had collected all of his forces back in Concord.  He packed the wounded officers into wagons.  The walking wounded soldiers would have to keep up.  They would leave behind the severely wounded to whatever fate they faced from the angry colonists.  All Col. Smith would have to do now is lead his tired, hungry, force of soldiers, who were running low on ammunition on a twenty mile march back to Boston.  They would have to pass through a gauntlet ever growing number of angry and heavily armed militiamen bent on revenge.

Next Episode 55: British Retreat from Lexington and Concord (available 7/29/18)

Previous Episode 53: Paul Revere Rides


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Further Reading:

Web sites:

Patriot’s Day Timeline: http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/amex/patriotsday/timeline

Gen. Gage's orders to Col. Smith, April 18, 1775:  http://www.digitalhistory.uh.edu/active_learning/explorations/revolution/account2_lexington.cfm

Eyewitness account of Regulars leaving Boston:
http://www.digitalhistory.uh.edu/active_learning/explorations/revolution/account1_lexington.cfm

Depositions concerning Lexington and Concord, April 19, 1775:
http://www.loc.gov/teachers/classroommaterials/presentationsandactivities/presentations/timeline/amrev/shots/concern.html

Three Boston 1775 Blog posts on Lt. Edward Thoroton Gould, wounded on the North Bridge:
http://boston1775.blogspot.com/2009/04/lt-edward-thoroton-gould-wounded-and.html
http://boston1775.blogspot.com/2009/04/lt-gould-testifies-in-london.html
http://boston1775.blogspot.com/2009/04/lt-gould-gets-married.html

Free eBooks
(from archive.org unless noted)

City of Concord Proceedings at the Centennial Celebration of Concord Fight, April 19, 1875, by Concord (1876).

Journals of the Continental Congress, Vol. 2, 1904 (pages 24-44 contain eyewitness testimony of the battles of Lexington and Concord).

Abbatt, William (ed) Memoirs of Major-General Heath, New York: William Abbatt 1901 (originally published by William Heath, 1798).

Bolton, Charles (ed) Letters of Hugh, Earl Percy, from Boston and New York, 1774-1776,  Boston: Charles E. Goodspeed, 1902.

Clark, Jonas The fate of blood-thirsty oppressors, and God's tender care of his distressed people. A sermon, preached at Lexington, April 19, 1776. To commemorate the murder, bloodshed, and commencement of hostilities, between Great Britain and America, in that town, by a brigade of troops of George III, under the command of Lieutenant-Colonel Smith, on the nineteenth of April, 1775, Boston: Powers and Willis, 1776.

Coburn, Frank, The Battle of April 19, 1775: in Lexington, Concord, Lincoln, Arlington, Cambridge, Somerville, and Charlestown, Massachusetts, Lexington: Self-Published, 1912.

Dana, Elizabeth Ellery (ed) Barker, John John Barker diary - The British in Boston, 1774-1776, Cambridge: Harvard Univ. Press 1924.

Everett, Edward An Oration Delivered at Concord, April the Nineteenth, 1825, Boston: Cummings, Hilliard & Company, 1825.

French, Allen The Day of Concord and Lexington The Nineteenth of April, 1775, Boston: Little Brown & Co. 1925.

French, Allen (ed) A British Fusilier in Revolutionary Boston, by Lt. Frederick Mackenzie, Cambridge, MA: Harvard Univ. Press, 1926 (Mackenzie was an officer in the British Army, occupying Boston in 1775.  This is his diary).

Frothingham, Richard History of the Siege of Boston, Boston: Little Brown & Co. 1903.

Lincoln, William (ed) The journals of each Provincial congress of Massachusetts in 1774 and 1775, and of the Committee of safety, with an appendix, containing the proceedings of the county conventions-narratives of the events of the nineteenth of April, 1775-papers relating to Ticonderoga and Crown Point, and other documents, illustrative of the early history of the American revolution, Boston: Dutton and Wentworth, 1838.

Miller, John Origins of the American Revolution, Stanford, Stanford University Press 1943 (Based on date, I am not sure about the copyright status of this book.  Since it may get pulled, I have also included a link to Amazon below).

Murdock, Harold Late News of the Excursion and Ravages of the King's Troops, Cambridge: Press at Harvard College, 1927.

Seeley, O.G. Views and descriptive history of Lexington and Concord, Lexington, W.B. Clarke Company, 1901.

Smith, Whitney (ed) Concord town records: manuscript transcripts, 1774-1776, Unpublished Manuscript, 1774.

Tomlinson, Abraham (ed) The Military Journals of Two Private Soldiers, 1758-1775, Poukeepsie: Museum, 1855.

Varney, George The Story of Patriots' Day, Lexington and Concord, Boston: Lee and Shepard, 1895.

Books Worth Buying
(links to Amazon.com unless otherwise noted)*

Beck, Derek, Igniting the American Revolution 1773-1775, Naperville, Ill: Sourcebooks, 2015.

Bell, J.L. The Road to Concord, Yardley, PA: Westholme, 2016.

Borneman, Walter American Spring: Lexington, Concord, and the Road to Revolution, New York: Little, Brown & Co. 2014.

Bunker, Nick An Empire on the Edge, New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 2014.

Daughan, George C. Lexington and Concord: The Battle Heard Round the World, New York : W.W. Norton & Co., 2018.

Fisher, David Hackett Paul Revere's Ride,  Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1994.

Fowler, William The Baron of Beacon Hill: A Biography of John Hancock, Boston: Houghton-Mifflin, 1979.

Hallahan, William H. The Day the American Revolution Began: 19 April 1775, New York: Harper Collins, 2000.

Knollenberg, Bernhard Growth of the American Revolution 1766-1775, Indianapolis: Liberty Fund, 1975.

Miller, John Origins of the American Revolution, Stanford, Stanford University Press (1943) (also available as a free eBook, see above).

Phillips, Kevin 1775: A Good Year for Revolution,  New York: Penguin Books, 2012.

Philbrick, Nathaniel Bunker Hill: A City, A Siege, A Revolution, New York: Penguin Books, 2013.

Raphael, Ray & Marie The Spirit of ‘74: How the American Revolution Began, New York: The New Press, 2015.

Smith, Page A New Age Now Begins, Vol. 1, New York: McGraw-Hill 1976.

* This site is a registered Amazon Associate.  Please help support this site by purchasing any of these books, or any other Amazon product, via the links on this site.  If you start by clicking on a book link here and then browse to buy something completely different on Amazon, American Revolution Podcast will get credit for your purchase.



Sunday, July 15, 2018

Episode 053: Paul Revere Rides




Last week, I noted Gen. Gage’s receipt of Lord Germain’s orders to make more of an effort to suppress the rebellion.  Colonists had been training and preparing for armed conflict for months.  Everyone anticipated a deadly encounter. It was just a matter of when, where, and who would fire first.

Gage Prepares for a Deployment

On Easter Sunday April 16, 1775 Paul Revere rode out to Lexington to warn Hancock and Adams that some raid was imminent.  Thanks to Benjamin Church’s regular messages, Gage had known for some time that most of the colonial stores were in Concord and Worcester.  Worcester was nearly 40 miles away.  Soldiers could not march there and back in one day.  Concord was only 20 miles away, meaning troops could march out, capture or destroy the munitions, and return in a single day.  Gage hoped the militia would not have enough time to react.

On Tuesday, April 18, Gen. Gage received intelligence that the stores in Concord remained there and had not been removed.  The Provincial Congress had adjourned until May meaning defenses were lower as well.  This was the time to strike.

Paul Revere's Ride (from biography.com)
Gage also knew from earlier alarms that the necessary element of surprise had been impossible.  Riders always seemed to reach their target faster than his soldiers could march.  He did not have any significant cavalry for fast moving actions.

To counter this problem, Gage deployed 20 officers and sergeants on horseback on April 18.  Their mission was to stop any riders attempting to alert the countryside to the movement of British troops.  Yet this unusual deployment of soldiers in the evening was itself enough to raise a general alarm that something was happening.

The Patriots fully expected Gage to try to prevent any alarm, and that he would likely shut down Boston to prevent word reaching the militia.  In Boston, Joseph Warren planned for multiple riders using different routes.  He would send one messenger by land across Boston Neck.  Although Gage would likely shut down Boston Neck at some point, doing that too early would set off alarm bells.  Therefore, a messenger might pass through before the gates closed.  Another messenger would row across the harbor to Charlestown, where a horse would be waiting. The river crossing had its own dangers, since the navy deployed ships to block any such crossings.

The third method was a pre-planned signal from Christ Church, also known as the Old North Church.  When troops were leaving town, which would happen at night, patriots would raise a lantern signal in the church tower.  One lantern meant the soldiers were marching overland through Boston Neck.  Two lanterns meant they were deploying in longboats to cross the harbor.  A rider in Charlestown, waiting for the signal, would ride out to alert the countryside.

To use any of these methods, Warren had to figure out when the British were leaving, and what they planned to do.  The soldiers would most likely leave at night after night time roadblocks prevented any civilians from leaving town.  By late afternoon, it seemed clear that a deployment would take place that night.  Warren went to confer with one of his top secret intelligence sources.  No one knows for certain who this source was.  Warren alone knew the identity, knowledge that he carried to his grave.

Margaret Gage (from Wikimedia)
Some stories indicate that Warren’s spy was none other than Gen. Gage’s wife, Margaret Kemble Gage.  Thomas and Margaret Gage had married in 1758 and by all accounts had a close and loving marriage, producing 11 children.  Her brother Stephen served as one of Gage’s officers. Another brother, Samuel, served as Gage’s private secretary. Yet there is some evidence that Margaret, who was born and raised in New Jersey, and whose family had lived the colonies for generations, had some sympathy with the patriot cause.

According to one account, on the afternoon of April 18, Gen. Gage informed on of his generals, Lord Percy, of his plans to take Concord the next day, Gage made clear that this was top secret, not to be revealed even to his other officers.  While walking back from headquarters, Percy heard several men discussing the planned attack and that the target was Concord.  Percy immediately returned to Gage to tell him this, at which point Gage became irate.  He said he had only shared his plans with one other person so far, besides Percy. 

This story is not in any contemporary records, and seems to have been written years later.  Therefore, it may be apocryphal.  Even if true, Gage did not say who that other person was.  No other officer ever received any sort of reprimand.  That is one reason why some people point the finger at Margaret. As evidence, they point to the fact that he shipped his wife back to London shortly after these events, and that their marriage was strained after he joined her in England.  But Margaret did not leave Boston until August, four months after the fact. There was good reason for her to leave at that time since hunger and disease were spreading through Boston by then.  Also, as far as any estrangement, Margaret was about one month pregnant when she left, and the couple would have another child after Gen. Gage returned to England.

What makes me question this even more is that Warren’s message was wrong.  He sent his riders to Lexington saying the British would attempt to capture Hancock, Adams, and possibly other leaders.  That was not part of Gage’s orders to his commanders.  He was after the munitions at Concord.  It was only after the army marched that patriot leaders decided that it was too large a deployment to capture a few men and that they must be going after the munitions. Warren was still guessing at Gage’s ultimate goal, as were just about all the British officers sent out under secret orders.

The Army Moves on Lexington and Concord

Francis Smith (from Wikimedia)
Gen. Gage granted command of the expedition to Lt. Col. Francis Smith, a competent officer though not particularly outstanding.  Neither Gage nor any of his three division commanders would participate in the mission.  Smith would lead about 700 men to Concord via Lexington.  His goal was to capture or destroy all arms and ammunition in Concord.  Gage’s orders say nothing about capturing any patriot leaders.  It is possible the riders he had sent out earlier that day, whose primary mission was to stop any couriers, may have been ordered to arrest leaders as well.  According to some of the locals they stopped that night, they interrogated them about the whereabouts of Hancock and Adams.  But if it was a consideration at all, it did not seem to be a primary one.  Rather, this seemed to be just another mission to capture or destroy munitions, much like earlier raids on Quarry Hill, Portsmouth, and Salem.

Smith informed only a few top officers of the mission.  Most of the junior officers would not learn of the mission objective until they reached Lexington.  They simply received orders that evening to assemble their men on the beach near Boston common at 10:00 PM.

The Rides to Lexington

At around 8:00 PM, Warren summoned William Dawes, a Boston tanner who was part of Paul Revere’s spy network.  Although Dawes was a loyal Patriot, he seemed to have a friendly relationship with the soldiers and regularly passed through Boston Neck on business.  He was able to ride out of Boston around 9:00 PM.  A few minutes after he left town the guard received word to shut down for the night.  No one else would pass in or out that night.  Dawes headed for Lexington.  He did not hurry there, nor is there good evidence that he alerted anyone along the way, although some claim he did.  Warren simply directed him to warn Hancock and Adams that they might be targeted for arrest the following day.

William Dawes
(from Wikimedia)
After troops began to assemble around 10:00 PM, it became clear that the raid would begin that night and would involve hundreds of troops.  Warren met with Revere around that same time to tell him to cross the harbor where a horse would be awaiting him in Charlestown.  From there, he could ride to Lexington and Concord to warn everyone.

Before Revere crossed the harbor, he went to find a friend at  the North Church.  According to the pre-arranged plan,  Robert Newman, a sexton and or Thomas Pulling, a vestryman at the Church (accounts differ) climbed to the steeple a little after 10:00 PM.  They lit two lanterns, hung them out for about one minute, then climbed back down.  That was enough to alert patriots in Charlestown, who sent out at least one rider.  My sources seem a little vague and contradictory on how many riders set off from Charlestown, but some indicate more than one.

It appears, though, that any rider or riders that started the trip, did not finish it.  British officers doing their job to intercept any riders that night probably captured whoever had been sent.  The signal also told the Charlestown patriots to have a fast horse waiting for Revere as soon as he crossed the harbor.

Aided by two other patriots, Revere crossed the harbor in a small rowboat.  They used muffled oars to avoid notice by the naval vessel keeping watch in the parbor.  By 11:00 PM, Revere had crossed the harbor, found his horse, and left Charlestown on his way to Lexington.  Before leaving Charlestown, locals warned him that they had seen soldiers on horseback along the road, possibly waiting to intercept riders.

Rides of Revere, Dawes, and Prescott (from Weebly)
Shortly after starting down the road, Revere saw two men on horseback under a tree up ahead.  He soon realized they were British regulars.  He turned around and took off at a gallop.  The British riders gave chase, but Revere’s knowledge of the land and a faster horse allowed him to leave his pursuers behind.

Instead of riding down Lexington Road, Revere detoured up Mystic Road, to the north, heading through what is today Medford.  This route was a little longer and out of the way, but it also turned out to be free of any more sentries.

Along the way, Revere alerted any farms or small towns that he passed through.  Many of Revere’s calls to alarm were not random houses that he happened to pass. Revere knew very well who the militia leaders were, who could be available to ride to other towns and continue to spread the alarm.  This night was the culmination of months of organization and planning.

By midnight, multiple riders were spreading over the colony while militia captains began summoning their units.  Revere’s word that the regulars were marching toward Lexington and Concord that night was all they needed to know to call up their men and move toward their target.

Following his detour through Medford, Revere turned south again to the town of Monotomy (current day Arlington) and continued on the main road to Lexington.

Revere Confers with Leaders at Lexington

Revere finally arrived in Lexington a little after midnight on the morning of April 19.  He went straight to the home of Rev. Jonas Clarke, where Hancock and Samuel Adams had been staying for more than a week.  Along with them were Lydia Hancock, John’s Aunt and adopted mother, as well as his fiancĂ©e Dorothy (Dolly to her friends).

Revere in Lexington (from National Park Service)
The Lexington militia had already mustered, after being put on notice by the British sentries that rode out earlier that day. They posted a guard around the house were Hancock and Adams were staying, with the main force drinking over in Buckman’s tavern.

The guard in front of the house told Revere not to make so much noise at this late hour as people inside were trying to sleep.  Revere responded “Noise! You’ll have noise soon enough before long.  The Regulars are coming out!”  After rousing Clarke, Hancock and Adams, the men went over to Buckman’s Tavern to discuss matters over a few drinks.

A short time later, William Dawes, who had left Boston hours before Revere, finally arrived.  He had taken a longer route on a slower horse, resulting in his late arrival.  The group decided that such a large force would not be out to arrest a few leaders.  They must be after the munitions at Concord.

Hancock wanted to collect his arms and fight with the Lexington Militia.  But Adams and Revere quickly convinced him that he was too important a target for the regulars and needed to leave town before they arrived.  Adams and Hancock prepared to flee to another safe house farther away.

Revere Captured on Ride to Concord

The militia was already gathering on Lexington Green.  Revere and Dawes continued their ride to Concord to alert the militia there.  The two men set off around 1:30 AM.  Just after leaving town, they met another rider, Dr. Samuel Prescott, a young man who was returning home to Concord after a late night visit to his girlfriend.  He agreed to join the men and assist them.  Fearing they might meet another military patrol, the group warned every house they passed, each man in turn stopping to alert a house while the other two rode to the next ones.

After a few miles, the three men met another patrol.  Officers on horseback with pistols demanded their surrender.  Instead they made a run for it.  Revere dashed for the woods but ran into another group of soldiers and was captured.  On his slow horse Dawes somehow rode away after the patrol chased after Revere and Prescott.  After he got away though, his horse threw him and took off.  Without a horse, Dawes walked back to Lexington.

Prescott, who knew the area best and had the freshest horse, jumped a stone wall and escaped his pursuers.  He stayed off the roads, riding over fields to reach Concord in time to deliver the alert.  Prescott continued to alert other houses along the way and recruited other riders to spread out across the countryside.  He arrived in Concord around 2:00 AM where he used the church bell to alert the militia.  He delivered the alarm and then continued on to other towns.  Others used prearranged signals including three gunshots, or signal fires on top of hills to spread the alarm.

Revere’s ride was over for the night.  The angry and tired officers took him into custody and held him along with four other riders that the patrol had stopped earlier.  The patrol questioned their prisoners, particularly about the whereabouts of Hancock and Adams.  While Revere was not going to give up that information, he was happy to tell them his own identity.  They already knew the name Revere.

Revere also told them more about their own mission.  Gage had deployed these soldiers the day before with instructions to detain riders, but did not tell them why.  Revere informed them of the soldiers deployed under Col. Smith who had crossed the harbor to Charlestown and were marching out in their direction.  He also told them that the militia was already on high alert and was gathering in Lexington.  He may have been trying to discourage the group from returning to Lexington and possibly finding Hancock and Adams still there.

Revere Returns to Lexington 

The party, however, rode their captors back toward Lexington.  Upon approaching Lexington a little after 2:00 AM, the group heard gunfire, most likely militia members discharging their weapons before entering Buckman’s Tavern.

The sound of gunfire unnerved the British officers.  They released their prisoners and rode quickly back to Boston, without entering Lexington.  Though they confiscated Revere’s horse, preventing him from spreading further alarm.  Revere walked back to Lexington.

Revere Gets Hancock and Adams out of Lexington

Around 3:00 AM, Revere reached Lexington.  He returned to the Clarke house only to find that Hancock and Adams were still there.  Hancock had decided not to leave town and was cleaning his gun and sword in preparation to join the militia.  Although he had never seen combat, Hancock had been commander in the Boston militia for decades and considered himself a military man.  Adams was still trying to convince him he needed to leave.  Revere weighed in, discussing his own capture only hours before.

The men received a report that an  British officer had asked a local where the Clarke Tavern was.  There was no such tavern, but it was clear the British were looking for the men staying in Clarke’s home.  Finally, Hancock agreed to leave with Adams and Revere for Woburn, a small village a few miles northwest of Lexington.  They took Hancock’s coach, which was a fancy and highly recognizable.  Fortunately, they did not encounter any soldiers during their escape.

Buckman Tavern (from Wikimedia)
Hancock left behind his aunt and fiancee, but made it to Woburn without incident.  Revere decided to return to Lexington to see what was happening.  Hancock sent his coach back to Lexington.  Someone had given him a fresh salmon the night before, and he wanted to collect the fish for his dinner.  Oh, and as long as he was collecting his dinner, the coach could also bring Aunt Lydia and Dolly.

When Revere returned to Lexington, one of Hancock’s aides asked him for help.  While Hancock had secured his family and his dinner, he had neglected to collect a trunk full of top secret papers with all sorts of information about the Provisional government’s activities and strategy.  That trunk was still sitting in Buckman’s Tavern.  Revere and the aide went to secure it.

While in the tavern, Revere heard the men saying that the whole night had been a false alarm.  The Lexington militia had turned out hours earlier.  Tired of waiting, they had sent riders to look for the regulars.  One rider had returned saying there was no sign of any army.  The militia commander dismissed his troops but told them to stay in the area just in case.  Most of them continued to hang around Buckman’s Tavern, enjoying a few beers.

While Revere was arguing with the men that it was not a false alarm and that he had seen the soldiers himself, the other militia rider returned saying that the soldiers were, in fact, on the way, and were almost in town.  The militiamen scrambled to get into formation before the British arrived.  Meanwhile, Revere struggled to get Hancock’s top secret papers out of the tavern.

Around this time, near dawn, the army entered the town to face the quickly assembling militia on Lexington Green.  Revere carried Hancock’s trunk into the woods as he heard the first shots of the Revolution.

Next Episode 54: British Advance on Lexington and Concord (available July 22, 2018)

Previous Episode 52: Salem and Hearts & Minds


Click here to donate
American Revolution Podcast is 100% free and completely ad free.  If you can chip in to help defray my costs, I'd appreciate whatever you can give.  Do not feel obligated though.  If you are not in a position to help, please continue to enjoy at no cost.  Also, see the very bottom of this page to see how you can support this Podcast by making purchases you would make anyway on Amazon.  Thanks, Mike Troy


Visit http://amrevpodcast.com for a list of all episodes.

Visit https://amrev.podbean.com for free downloads of all podcast episodes.

Further Reading:

Web sites: 

Longfellow, Henry Wadsworth The Midnight Ride of Paul Reverehttp://poetry.eserver.org/paul-revere.html

Margaret Kemble Gage: http://www.womenhistoryblog.com/2009/05/margaret-kemble-gage.html

Beck, Derek "Joseph Warren's Informant" Journal of the American Revolution, 2014: https://allthingsliberty.com/2014/04/dr-joseph-warrens-informant

Beck, Derek "Dissecting the Timeline of Paul Revere’s Ride" Journal of the American Revolution, 2014: https://allthingsliberty.com/2014/04/dissecting-the-timeline-of-paul-reveres-ride

Anderlik, Todd "How Paul Revere's Ride was Published and Censored in 1775" Journal of the American Revolution, 2015: https://allthingsliberty.com/2015/02/how-paul-reveres-ride-was-published-and-censored-in-1775

Bell, J.L. "Did Paul Revere's Ride Really Matter?" Journal of the American Revolution,  2014: https://allthingsliberty.com/2014/04/did-paul-reveres-ride-really-matter

Weisberger, Bernard A. "Paul Revere: The Man, the Myth, and the Midnight Ride" American Heritage Magazine, 1977: http://www.americanheritage.com/content/paul-revere?page=show

The Real Story of Paul Revere's Ride: https://www.paulreverehouse.org/the-real-story

Letter written by Paul Revere describing his famous ride:  http://www.masshist.org/database/viewer.php?item_id=99&img_step=1&mode=dual#page1

Bell, J.L. Series of articles about the lanterns in Old North Church, Boston 1775 Blog, 2018:
Online Videos: 

David Hackett Fischer discusses his book, Paul Revere Rides, C-SPAN, 1994: https://www.c-span.org/video/?58074-1

Jane Triber discusses her book: True Republican: the Life of Paul Revere, C-SPAN ,1998: https://www.c-span.org/video/?110989-1

Free eBooks
(from archive.org unless noted)

Bolton, Charles (ed) Letters of Hugh, Earl Percy, from Boston and New York, 1774-1776, Boston: Charles E. Goodspeed, 1902.

Dana, Elizabeth Ellery (ed) Barker, John John Barker diary - The British in Boston, 1774-1776, Cambridge: Harvard Univ. Press 1924.

French, Allen The Day of Concord and Lexington The Nineteenth of April, 1775, Boston: Little Brown & Co. 1925.

French, Allen (ed) A British Fusilier in Revolutionary Boston, by Lt. Frederick Mackenzie, Cambridge, MA: Harvard Univ. Press, 1926 (Mackenzie was an officer in the British Army, occupying Boston in 1775.  This is his diary).

Miller, John Origins of the American Revolution, Stanford, Stanford University Press 1943 (Based on date, I am not sure about the copyright status of this book.  Since it may get pulled, I have also included a link to Amazon below).

Smith, Whitney (ed) Concord town records: manuscript transcripts, 1774-1776, Unpublished Manuscript, 1774.

Books Worth Buying
(links to Amazon.com unless otherwise noted)*

Beck, Derek, Igniting the American Revolution 1773-1775, Naperville, Ill: Sourcebooks, 2015.

Bell, J.L. The Road to Concord, Yardley, PA: Westholme, 2016.

Borneman, Walter American Spring: Lexington, Concord, and the Road to Revolution, New York: Little, Brown & Co. 2014.

Bunker, Nick An Empire on the Edge, New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 2014.

Daughan, George C. Lexington and Concord: The Battle Heard Round the World, New York : W.W. Norton & Co., 2018.

Fisher, David Hackett Paul Revere's Ride,  Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1994.

Hallahan, William H. The Day the American Revolution Began: 19 April 1775, New York: Harper Collins, 2000.

Knollenberg, Bernhard Growth of the American Revolution 1766-1775, Indianapolis: Liberty Fund, 1975.

Miller, Joel The Revolutionary Paul Revere, Nashville: Thomas Nelson, Inc. 2010.

Miller, John Origins of the American Revolution, Stanford, Stanford University Press (1943) (also available as a free eBook, see above).

Philbrick, Nathaniel Bunker Hill: A City, A Siege, A Revolution, New York: Penguin Books, 2013.

Phillips, Kevin 1775: A Good Year for Revolution,  New York: Penguin Books, 2012.

Raphael, Ray & Marie The Spirit of ‘74: How the American Revolution Began, New York: The New Press, 2015.

Smith, Page A New Age Now Begins, Vol. 1, New York: McGraw-Hill 1976.

* This site is a registered Amazon Associate.  Please help support this site by purchasing any of these books, or any other Amazon product, via the links on this site.  If you start by clicking on a book link here and then browse to buy something completely different on Amazon, American Revolution Podcast will get credit for your purchase.

Sunday, July 8, 2018

Episode 052: Salem Alarm & Hearts and Minds




The winter of 1774-75 left everyone with the expectation that war was inevitable.  Massachusetts had formed its own government beyond the King’s authority.  It was training its army and collecting munitions.  Gen. Gage in Boston was calling for reinforcements, trying to prevent an outbreak of violence before those reinforcements came.  Officials in London were refusing to back down on anything or offer any serious compromise.  Further, they were writing letters to Gage demanding that he take action against the rampant acts of treason in his colony.  The rebellion clearly seemed to be spreading beyond Massachusetts itself, as was clear from New Hampshire’s military attack on a British fort that I discussed last week.

Spy Networks

Also in a previous episode, I discussed General Gage’s efforts to develop an effective spy network throughout Massachusetts, including coopting Benjamin Church, a high ranking Patriot leader.  The Patriots also developed a pretty thorough spy network of their own.  Patriot leaders seemed to be aware of just about everything Gage was doing or even thinking.  They often received word of his instructions from London before he did.

Repulse at the North Bridge by Lewis Jesse Bridgman
(from Historic Ipswich)
Much of this was pretty easy since Gage never bothered to arrest any of the Patriots.  All the leaders, including Samuel and John Adams, John Hancock, Joseph Warren, and Thomas Cushing freely went about their business in Boston, walking right alongside the officers and men of the British army.  They only needed to keep their ears open when officers spoke in public taverns, or even in private quarters where servants with patriot leanings picked up useful intelligence.  Merchant ships continued to bring word of events in London to the Patriot leaders.

Because the patriot forces were dispersed, the big problem was not receiving intelligence but getting out the word when something happened.  Joseph Warren and Paul Revere worked to put together a network of messengers, based on the Committees of Correspondence throughout the colony, to create an emergency news delivery system.  Revere frequently carried the messages himself getting more familiar with the area roads and his militia contacts.  They would put this warning system to the test in February 1775 in what became known as the Salem Alarm, also called Leslie's Retreat.

Salem Alarm

Gage tried to prevent an outbreak of violence before he was ready to deal with it.  With the use of his spy network, he was always on the lookout for an opportunity to seize weapons and munitions from the rebels.  A ban on imports would prevent them from getting replacements.  Disarming the local militia would be the only way to restore order without an overwhelming military force to destroy them.

In February 1775, Gage received intelligence that the rebels had a cache of 17 cannon in Salem.  Some of these were old cannon.  A local artisan was building new carriages so they could be used in the field.  Others were some newer brass field cannon that had been imported recently.  Two of them may have been cannon that the rebels had stolen from Gage’s guard and smuggled out of Boston.

Since Salem was on the coast, Gage could land his soldiers within a few miles of the cannon, and have his soldiers march in to seize them before the locals could respond.  He assigned the mission to Lt. Col. Alexander Leslie, and the 64th regiment stationed on Castle Island.  That way, no one would be able to see soldiers in downtown Boston preparing for a mission.  The soldiers would sail to Salem during the night and take the cannon before anyone could react.  That was the plan anyway.

Alexander Leslie
(from Find-a-Grave)
Despite the attempted secrecy, Revere got word that something was going on in the harbor.  He sent out three men in a rowboat for a closer look.  A guard pounced on them as they got to the island and arrested them for trespassing.  The men would be held until after the mission was complete.  Still, the capture indicated to Revere that the British must be up to something.

A ship carrying 240 British regulars left Boston just after midnight on Sunday February 26.  Leslie even ordered the soldiers below deck so anyone watching for a passing ship would not see them. By 9:00 AM, they had begun to disembark on a secluded beach near Marblehead, about five miles from their target.  They could have sailed closer, but since it took hours to disembark the troops and their equipment, they thought it better to do that away from prying eyes, some distance away.

Once underway, the soldiers made no attempt at secrecy.  They marched through town, fifes and drums announcing their presence to everyone.  Most locals were sitting in Sunday services.  Several local militia officers jumped on their horses and hurried ahead of the marching soldiers to warn Salem.  Many other civilians began to follow alongside or behind the soldiers to witness whatever they were going to do.

Conveniently, many members of the Salem militia were already together in town for Sunday services.  They immediately set to work removing all the cannon and other munitions stored in the town, hiding them on distant farms or in the forest.  They knew soldiers would not have hours to scour the countryside.

To get into Salem, Col. Leslie would have to cross a bridge on the south river.  Locals removed the floorboards from the bridge to prevent easy crossing.  This slowed the column for a short time, although they were soon able to put down temporary flooring to get across.

Leslie’s intelligence told him the cannon were stored at the blacksmith shop just north of town.  To get to it, they would need to cross another bridge over the north river.  This bridge, however, was a drawbridge, with the controls on the north bank of the river.  The column approached the south bank of the river to find the bridge raised.  Several locals on the north bank and on top of the bridge taunted the soldiers who could not get across.

By some accounts Leslie gave order to prepare a firing line against the locals on the north bank, but backed down when local patriots made clear they knew he would not dare fire.  There were a few small gondolas on the south bank of the river which the soldiers might have used to cross.   One local jumped into the boats and smashed out their bottoms, scuttling them.  When the soldiers tried to stop him at gunpoint, he ripped open his shirt and dared them to fire.  One of them pricked his chest with a bayonet, but did not cause any serious harm.

The locals were unarmed but clearly defiant and hostile.  Leslie and his men were just getting more angry and frustrated.  He realized that if someone opened fire, his party of soldiers was surrounded by a hostile population who could immediately arm themselves.  The Marblehead militia was already assembling to block his retreat back to the ship.  Leslie was determined to complete his mission, but wanted to make sure none of his men would fire their weapons and start something they could not finish.

The standoff at the bridge lasted about 90 minutes.  As it began getting dark, Leslie informed the locals that he would not leave until he crossed the bridge, and would take over several buildings in town as barracks until his men could cross the bridge.  No one in Salem wanted the soldiers around, any more than they wanted to stay.  Eventually, the two sides reached a compromise.

The Patriots had plenty of time to remove all the weapons and munitions from the blacksmith shop.  They told Leslie they would lower the bridge if he promised to go no further than the shop.  Since that was his only goal, and he had no inclination to march randomly around the countryside in the dark looking for hidden weapons, he agreed.

Locals lowered the bridge, the column crossed and searched the blacksmith shop, finding nothing.  A woman named Sarah Tarrant taunted the soldiers from the second story of a house nearby.  One frustrated soldier pointed his gun at her.  She did not flinch but dared him to fire.  Both of them knew the soldiers firing on an unarmed woman would be about the worst thing they could do.  Bluff called, the frustrated soldier turned and resumed his march.

Because the regulars never fired their weapons, the local militia did not attempt to confront the column as it returned to its ship.  Leslie and his men returned home empty handed.

The incident made clear that even a short march would not remain a secret very long.  The entire population was on high alert for any military activity.  The people were willing to oppose and provoke the soldiers, though they still had not been willing to bear arms against the regular army.  The Salem Alarm was one of several flashpoints that could have started the war.  But cool heads on both sides kept it from starting that day.

The Eve of War

A few weeks later, on March 6, 1775 Boston held its annual commemoration of the Boston Massacre.  Joseph Warren gave the oration, John Hancock, as well as Samuel and John Adams, attended along with other patriot leaders.  Also in attendance were a number of British officers who hissed at all the lines when the crowd applauded.  As the meeting adjourned, some of the officers began shouting “oh fie” an 18th century equivalent of “boo”.  Some in the crowd though they were saying “fire” and that it was a command to fire on the crowd.  Terrified locals rushed out to the street.  By coincidence, a British column of fife and drums came marching down the street at that same moment.  Many thought the army was coming to arrest the leaders, resulting in even further panic.

The incident came to nothing.  But it is evidence of the tensions created by the army and Patriot leaders living side by side in the same town.

Still, Revere and his men kept a close eye on all movements.  His group met in secret and discussed anything anyone had heard that could be of use.  They were also aware that the British seemed to know everything they discussed.  Revere went to great lengths trying to find the mole in his group, but never could find one.  There wasn’t one.  One of few Provincial leaders privy to all of their work was Patriot leader Benjamin Church, still working as a paid agent for Gage.  Copies of everything they revealed to the Patriot leaders went straight to Gen. Gage as well.

Patriots Flee Boston

Through the winter, and despite tensions, Patriot leaders had remained in Boston.  The Provincial Congress continued to meet in Cambridge, just across the river, without any interference from Gage.  Civilians continued to go about their business, entering and leaving the city at will.

Soldiers regularly made short forays outside the city, simply marching around the countryside and returning home.  The main point seemed to be to keep the locals off guard, getting used to the idea that most marches were pointless events.  On April 7, Hancock and Samuel Adams suddenly packed up and left Boston for Lexington.  A few days earlier, the Provincial Congress in Cambridge adjourned and agreed to resume business farther away from Boston in Concord.
Thomas Gage
(from Wikimedia)

On April 14, 1775 Gage received Lord Dartmouth’s January 27 letter that I discussed a few episodes back, telling him to arrest the patriot leaders and begin to take decisive action with the soldiers he had on hand.  The Patriots had received word on a ship from London that landed in Marblehead on April 2, that Gage would receive these instructions.  This explained why everyone was moving away from Boston. Gage now understood that he would need to get more aggressive and that there was no point in waiting for reinforcements that were not coming.

Despite his orders, Gage took no immediate steps to arrest anyone.  Several prominent Patriots, including Joseph Warren and Paul Revere remained in Boston, moving about freely, keeping an eye on British activities.  On April 8, Revere rode out to Concord with more warnings and to discuss plans to hide their armaments.

On April 10, Gage sent a few companies of soldiers on a march out to Watertown.  This seemed to be just another effort to keep the locals off guard to marches through the countryside.  It seems clear that his plans for Concord were well underway even before he received Dartmouth’s letter on April 14.  His goal remained the seizure or destruction of munitions at Concord, not the arrest of any leaders.

Hearts and Minds

Years after the Revolution, John Adams famously said: “The Revolution was effected before the War commenced. The Revolution was in the minds and hearts of the people; a change in their religious sentiments of their duties and obligations. This radical change in the principles, opinions, sentiments, and affections of the people, was the real American Revolution.

John Adams
(from Boston Athenaeum)
We have already seen numerous acts of war in New England, the sinking of the Gaspee in Rhode Island, the Assault on Fort William & Mary in New Hampshire, the numerous Powder Alarms in Massachusetts.  But without the hindsight of seeing how they let to all out war, they could be seen simply as acts of violence or rioting, not revolution.

I’ve already discussed at length the widespread support in Massachusetts for the Provincial Congress, which was a government completely separate from the Royal Government.  This was an extremely radical step, considered an act of treason back in London.  One could argue that Parliament had forced Massachusetts into this step when it passed the Government Act several months earlier.

Other colonies, however, began to stake similar steps.  Rhode Island and Connecticut already had locally elected governors and legislatures who were friendly to the Patriot cause.  They had no need to set up separate governments or militia.

Maryland delegates met in a Provincial Convention, which operated as an independent government, meeting three times in 1774, and more in 1775, to make decisions for the colony without any input from the royal government.

Virginia Patriots met as a Provincial Committee in March 1775 to select delegates to the Second Continental Congress.  They had selected delegates to the First Congress informally in a tavern after the Governor dissolved the legislature.  This new Provincial Committee met in Richmond, away from the capitol in Williamsburg.  The Committee also resolved to create at least one company of infantry or cavalry in every county, separate from the royal government.  It was during this debate that Patrick Henry gave a speech where he said it was clear that the war between Britain and the colonies had already begun.  They were just waiting for the shooting to start, and ending with the famous line, “give me liberty, or give me death!

North Carolina created its first Provincial Congress in August 1774 to select delegates to the First Continental Congress, against the orders of its royal governor.  It also passed a list of resolves objecting to the Coercive Acts and supporting a boycott.

Patrick Henry, 1775 (Currier and Ives 1876)
(from Metropolitan Museum of Art)
In July 1774, when South Carolina created an extra-legal committee to select delegates for the First Continental Congress, it also created a Committee of 99 to run local affairs since the royal governor would not allow the colonial legislature to meet.  In November, the Committee called for elections to  Provincial Congress of South Carolina, which were held in December.  The Provincial Congress met in January.  Like Massachusetts, South Carolina’s Provincial Congress began setting up militia units independent of the royal government, training soldiers and collecting munitions and supplies for war.

Even Georgia, which had skipped the First Continental Congress, formed its own Provincial Congress in January 1775 to select a delegate for the Second Continental Congress.  It did so in opposition to its royal governor.

Three of the more reluctant colonies on this growing divide were New York, New Jersey, and Pennsylvania.  None of these had created Provincial governments nor independent militia prior to Lexington.  New York’s legislature even passed a resolution rejecting the First Continental Congress’ proposal for a boycott of British goods.  These large mid-Atlantic colonies certainly had significant patriot movements in them, with Sons of Liberty organizations and radical committees pushing the Patriot cause.  But before the outbreak of hostilities, these colonies overall seemed the least willing to join in the movement, or at least not organized or powerful enough to bypass the loyalist governments still controlling the colonies.

Even with all these colonies prepared for an armed struggle, the vast majority of Americans did not seem ready to contemplate complete independence from Britain.  Many still seemed to think that they could effect reforms in London that would put things back to the way they were.  Even so, a growing number seemed to view the colonies not simply as an appendage of the British Empire with certain rights, but already as a separate country.

In February 1775, John Adams, writing under the pseudonym Novanglus argued that the colonies should operate as separate countries, united only by the King, just as Britain and Hanover were operating at the time.  Essentially the colonies would be independent countries within the British Empire.

Even committed Loyalists understood that war was inevitable and that opinions had grown too far apart for any compromise acceptable to both sides.  Royal Governor of New Jersey, William Franklin commented that colonial views were so divergent from those in London that the Parliament would either have to consent to humiliating terms, or use military force to compel obedience.

Even a moderate author who published an article in Massachusetts on April 7, 1775 still seeking a compromise, signed his letter A Friend to Both Countries implicitly conceding that Massachusetts and Britain were at this point separate countries.

In their thoughts, words, and deeds, many colonists were moving to the understanding that the colonies and Britain had become fundamentally different.  Many saw themselves as allies of the British, not subjects.  They further seemed to understand that their view would not remain unless they were willing to spill blood to defend it.

Next Week: Gage prepares to deploy his soldiers to Concord and Paul Revere rides out with his famous warning.

Next Episode 53: Paul Revere Rides

Previous Episode 51: The Portsmouth Alarm


Click here to donate
American Revolution Podcast is 100% free and completely ad free.  If you can chip in to help defray my costs, I'd appreciate whatever you can give.  Do not feel obligated though.  If you are not in a position to help, please continue to enjoy at no cost.  Also, see the very bottom of this page to see how you can support this Podcast by making purchases you would make anyway on Amazon.  Thanks, Mike Troy


Visit http://amrevpodcast.com for a list of all episodes.

Visit https://amrev.podbean.com for free downloads of all podcast episodes.

Further Reading

Web sites: 

Leslie’s Retreat (Salem Alarm): https://storiesfromipswich.org/2014/07/05/leslies-retreat-or-how-the-revolutionary-war-almost-began-in-salem

Barnes, Eric W. "All The King’s Horses… And All The King’s Men" American Heritage Mag. Oct. 1960 (Salem Powder Alarm): https://www.americanheritage.com/content/all-king%E2%80%99s-horses%E2%80%A6-and-all-king%E2%80%99s-men

Glickstein, Don "How Gen. Leslie Really Died"Journal of the American Revolution, 2013:
https://allthingsliberty.com/2013/10/general-leslie-really-died

MacLean, Maggie Sarah Tarrant, 2009 (the women in Salem who taunted the British): http://www.womenhistoryblog.com/2009/04/sarah-tarrant.html

Virginia Provinicial Comittee and Patrick Henry’s “give me liberty” speech: http://www.history.org/almanack/life/politics/giveme.cfm

North Carolina’s Provincial Congress: http://ncpedia.org/provincial-congresses

South Carolina’s Provincial Congress: http://www.carolana.com/SC/Revolution/sc_revolution_provincial_government.html

Georgia’s Provincial Congress: http://www.georgiaencyclopedia.org/articles/history-archaeology/revolutionary-war-georgia

Free eBooks
(from archive.org unless noted)

Adams, John Novanglus, and Massachusettensis, Boston: Hews & Goss, 1819 (political essays from 1774-75).

Dana, Elizabeth Ellery (ed) Barker, John John Barker diary - The British in Boston, 1774-1776, Cambridge: Harvard Univ. Press 1924 (Barker was a British officer stationed in Boston).

Endicott, Charles Account of Leslie's retreat at the North Bridge in Salem, on Sunday Feb'y 26, 1775, Salem: Wm. Ives & Geo. Pease, 1856.

Gage, Thomas General orders for British regiments encamped at Boston Dec. 1774 - June 1775, Unpublished Manuscript, 1775.

Lincoln, William (ed) The journals of each Provincial congress of Massachusetts in 1774 and 1775, and of the Committee of safety, with an appendix, containing the proceedings of the county conventions-narratives of the events of the nineteenth of April, 1775-papers relating to Ticonderoga and Crown Point, and other documents, illustrative of the early history of the American revolution, Boston: Dutton and Wentworth, 1838.

Miller, John Origins of the American Revolution, Stanford, Stanford University Press 1943 (Based on date, I am not sure about the copyright status of this book.  Since it may get pulled, I have also included a link to Amazon below).

Books Worth Buying
(links to Amazon.com unless otherwise noted)*

Beck, Derek, Igniting the American Revolution 1773-1775, Naperville, Ill: Sourcebooks, 2015.

Bell, J.L. The Road to Concord, Yardley, PA: Westholme, 2016.

Borneman, Walter American Spring: Lexington, Concord, and the Road to Revolution, New York: Little, Brown & Co. 2014.

Bunker, Nick An Empire on the Edge, New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 2014.

Daughan, George C. Lexington and Concord: The Battle Heard Round the World, New York : W.W. Norton & Co., 2018.

Fisher, David Hackett Paul Revere's Ride,  Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1994.

Hallahan, William H. The Day the American Revolution Began: 19 April 1775, New York: Harper Collins, 2000.

Hoffer, Peter Prelude to Revolution: The Salem Gunpowder Raid of 1775, Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 2013.

Knollenberg, Bernhard Growth of the American Revolution 1766-1775, Indianapolis: Liberty Fund, 1975.

Miller, John Origins of the American Revolution, Stanford, Stanford University Press (1943) (also available as a free eBook, see above).

Philbrick, Nathaniel Bunker Hill: A City, A Siege, A Revolution, New York: Penguin Books, 2013.

Raphael, Ray & Marie The Spirit of ‘74: How the American Revolution Began, New York: The New Press, 2015.

Smith, Page A New Age Now Begins, Vol. 1, New York: McGraw-Hill 1976.



* This site is a registered Amazon Associate.  Please help support this site by purchasing any of these books, or any other Amazon product, via the links on this site.  If you start by clicking on a book link here and then browse to buy something completely different on Amazon, American Revolution Podcast will get credit for your purchase.