How to Use
Reading 1: A Wednesday That Changed the World Forever
Most towns in the colony of Massachusetts had minute men companies by 1775. The name “minute man” comes from the idea that a member of the militia could be ready to fight at a minute’s notice. Members of minute men companies included farmers, local merchants, and both free and enslaved African Americans. Even though the idea of an American Citizen-Soldier grew out of the minute men companies, these men were subjects to the British crown. The British colony’s government gave the minute men supplies and kept the supplies in strategic places. Concord, located 20 miles west of Boston, was one of these places.
British Governor Thomas Gage tried to clamp down on patriot activities and destroy and confiscate whatever weapons and arms they had collected. He sent 700 British soldiers to Lexington and Concord on what was supposed to be a clandestine operation. In Boston, members of a secret patriot organization called the Sons of Liberty found out about the operation. "Patriots" were colonists who resisted British authority. The group sent out riders into the Middlesex County countryside to warn residents about the British operation. At dawn there were 70 to 80 patriots waiting on the Lexington Green when the British arrived. Captain John Parker directed the patriots. There is no evidence they intended to start a fight. These men simply wanted to make their presence and anger known. However, a shot rang out and the British troops fired into the colonial militia assembled on the Green.
Historians continue to debate who fired the first shot to this day. Eight minute men fell dead, ten more were wounded, and the rest scattered. Reforming ranks the British then moved on to Concord five miles west of Lexington. Word traveled quickly throughout the region about the events on the Lexington Green. Several minute man companies from towns around Concord gathered on a hill just north and west of the town by the time the British arrived in Concord. Numbering in the several hundred, the gathering patriots were further angered when they saw smoke rising from the town. The British dispatched three companies to secure the North Bridge. At 9 a.m. the minute men moved down the hill to check the British advance and to challenge them. The British on the south side of the bridge fired into the throng of patriots as they neared the opposite side. Two minute men fell dead. Unlike their comrades at Lexington, these minute men returned fire at the prompting of their commander, Major John Buttrick. Buttrick yelled, "Fire fellow soldiers, for god sake fire!" Three British soldiers crumpled dead to the ground. In a panic the British made a hasty retreat back to the town to join the rest of their units.
The British began their withdrawal from Concord at noon. Using their knowledge of the countryside, the minute men companies at the bridge skirted the English troops and encountered them again a short distance east of town at Merriam’s Corner. From this point along the battle road, thousands more minute men from around eastern Massachusetts joined the fight, harassing the British as they retreated to Boston. For the next five to six hours the British troops endured the anger of the minute men who fought them from behind trees, walls, and buildings. The retreat became a rout. When the British troops entered the safe confines of Boston that early evening, they had lost 73 officers and men. Another 174 wounded and more than two dozen were missing. Fewer than 100 patriots fell.
The patriots took this opportunity to turn more colonists against the British. Patriots published a broadside (a one-page news publication) with the headline: “The Bloody Butchery of the British.” Their publication claimed British troops raided and pillaged property as they retreated to Boston. The Sons of Liberty group sent out more riders to spread the word of the battle to people in New England and the rest of the colonies.
Two weeks after the battle, New England minute men and militia companies poured in to the Boston area. Amos Doolittle, an artist and member of the Connecticut militia, visited the battle sites at Lexington and Concord. While there, he sketched four images of the scenes he witnessed. These sketches today are called the Doolittle Prints. At the time, they served the revolutionaries’ cause as patriot propaganda. Today, for historians and students of the past, they provide a rare visual primary source of April 19, 1775.
In the early twenty-first century, a Connecticut artist and historian named Don Troiani visited Lexington and Concord to draw his own pictures of the battles. Troiani crafted scenes based on what he knew as a historian and what he saw while visiting the sites of the battles. Like Doolittle, Troiani roamed the battlefields to gather inspiration to craft his own art.
No one in 1775 could have known that the events of April 19 were the beginning of an eight-year war. They could not foresee the emergence of a new nation in which the “consent of the governed” held sway instead of the arbitrary rule of a monarch. A revolution started that fateful Wednesday with shots that were not only heard “round the world,” but also changed the world. Subjects would soon become citizens.
Questions for Reading 1:
1) What does the name “minute man” mean? Who served in the minute man companies? How many patriots and British soldiers died during the fighting? How do you think a British soldier from England is different from a minute man from Massachusetts? How are they similar?
2) How many minute men assembled at the North Bridge at Concord and along the route? How many British soldiers came? What advantages do you think the minute men had over the British? What disadvantages?
3) How were the battles portrayed in the colonial press? Do you think this an accurate portrayal of events? Why do you think that?
4) Why do you think artists want to illustrate and paint these events? Why do you think that Doolittle and Troiani visited the battleground sites to create their artistic interpretations?
Reading 1 was adapted from several secondary sources including The Day of Lexington and Concord (1925) by Allen French, The Minutemen and Their World (1976) by Robert A. Gross, Lexington and Concord: The Beginning of the War of the American Revolution (1959) by Arthur B. Tourtellot, and Paul Revere’s Ride (1994) by David Hackett Fischer.