Major John Buttrick

Revolutionary War militia soldier in a light green coat, red vest and breeches
Major John Buttrick gave the order to fire during the fight at Concord's North Bridge

NPS photo

Quick Facts
Major John Buttrick of Concord was the colonial officer who gave the fateful order to return fire on the British regulars at the North Bridge Fight
Place of Birth:
Concord, Massachusetts
Date of Birth:
July 20, 1731
Place of Death:
Concord, Massachusetts
Date of Death:
May 16, 1791
Place of Burial:
Concord, Massachusetts
Cemetery Name:
Old Hill Burial Ground

John Buttrick ( born July 20, 1731) was an illustrious member of the Buttrick family, a name that is linked to Concord as far back as 1635. His great grandfather was one of the small group who established the English settlement at the Pennacook Native American village of Musketaquid ( now Concord). He secured approximately 215 acres near the present day North Bridge. In the one hundred years between his great-grandfather's arrival at Musketaquid and John’s birth, Middlesex County had become a prosperous area of villages and farms primarily populated with descendants from Great Britain.

John Buttrick married Abigail Jones in 1760. Together the couple raised 10 children. John was a prosperous farmer and enjoyed a respected position in town. He is listed in the Concord town records as being paid for work on local highways as well as the North Bridge, making stocks for the Town House, making repairs to the Town schoolhouse and helping to build a stone wall around the burial grounds. He also held several positions in town government including fence viewer, field driver, fish officer, constable and Selectman, as well as serving on numerous committees during the Revolution.

John also served in the militia. In January of 1775 Concord raised two companies of minute men. John Buttrick was chosen to command one of them and was commissioned as a Captain. Soon after he was promoted to Major and command of his company fell to his neighbor, Captain David Brown.

When the alarm was brought to Concord early on the morning of April 19, 1775 Major Buttrick responded quickly. By about 8:30 a.m. he and other officers were working to organize the growing number of minute and militia companies that had arrived on the field from surrounding towns. By about 9:30 a.m. the situation worsened as smoke was seen rising above the town in the distance. The bridge into town, the North Bridge, was held by 96 British soldiers. Conferring with the other officers present, Colonel James Barrett ordered the make-shift battalion to march upon the bridge but not "to fire unless first fired upon." Major Buttrick was assigned to lead the advance.

As the column of over 400 minute men and militiamen approached the bridge, the British soldiers retreated to the opposite shore and began a scattered fire followed by a heavier discharge. A young fifer in the colonial column cried out that he was wounded. Major John Buttrick then shouted "Fire! For God's sake fire!" Smoke and flame erupted from the colonial muskets and 12 British soldiers were hit, three of them fatally. These were the first British soldiers to die in the American Revolution. Two minute men also died in the skirmish: Captain Isaac Davis and Private Abner Hosmer of Acton. This brief encounter also represented the first time a colonial officer ordered his men to fire upon British soldiers.

Major Buttrick continued his military service during the American Revolution. He was involved in Colonel John Nixon’s regiment during the siege of Boston. He acted as Captain in Colonel Reed’s regiment at the taking of General Burgoyne at Saratoga, and reinforced the Continental Army with his Regiment in the Rhode Island campaign.

After the war, Major Buttrick returned to his farm and served as Selectman for the town. He died in Concord on May 16 ,1791 at age 60 and is buried in the Old Hill Burial Ground in Concord. His home is now owned by the National Park Service and there is a bas-relief sculpture memorial on Liberty Street in Concord, erected in his honor in 1915.

The inscription on his tombstone is a fitting tribute to this Patriot.

In Memory of Colonel JOHN BUTTRICK

who commanded the Militia Companies which made the first attack upon the British troops at Concord North Bridge on 19 April 1775. Having, with patriotic firmness, shared in the dangers which led to American Independence, he lived to enjoy the blessings of it, and died May 16, 1791, age 60 years. Having laid down the sword with honor, he resumed the plough with industry; by the latter to maintain what the former had won. The virtues of the parent, citizen & Christian adorned his life and his worth was acknowledged by the grief and respect of all ranks.

Boston National Historical Park, Minute Man National Historical Park

Last updated: September 11, 2021