Lesson Plan

Barrett Farm and the Start of the American Revolution

Revolutionary War-era British soldiers in red coats confronting an elderly woman at the door of her house.

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Grade Level:
High School: Ninth Grade through Twelfth Grade
Social Studies
Lesson Duration:
90 Minutes
State Standards:
Massachusetts History and Social Science Curriculum Framework
Concepts and Skills, 8-12 History and Geography
U.S. History I Learning Standards
Additional Standards:
Common Core Literacy in History/Social Science Grades 9-10
Thinking Skills:
Understanding: Understand the main idea of material heard, viewed, or read. Interpret or summarize the ideas in own words. Analyzing: Break down a concept or idea into parts and show the relationships among the parts. Evaluating: Make informed judgements about the value of ideas or materials. Use standards and criteria to support opinions and views.

Essential Question

1.) How is history created?
2.) Are all historical sources reliable?
3.) How did the American colonists contribute to the coming of the Revolution?


At the end of this lesson students will be able to...
1.) Explain and evaluate the role of Colonel James Barrett on April 19, 1775
2.) Analyze primary sources and cite specific examples from them to create a narrative about a historical event.
3.) Evaluate the credibility of secondary sources about the Barrett family on April 19, 1775.


April19, 1775 is undoubtedly one of the most important days in American history, but how do we know what happened that day almost two hundred and forty years ago? Historians use primary sources as a clue to determine what happened in the past. Many of the events leading up to and on April 19, 1775 in Concord relate to town resident Colonel James Barrett. Using primary sources your students will become historians and answer the question, “What was Colonel James Barrett’s role on April 19, 1775?”

Background information on Colonel James Barrett: On April 19, 1775, Colonel James Barrett was 64 years old. As a younger man he fought in the French and Indian War as a militia captain. He was a selectmen in the town of Concord and delegate to the Massachusetts General Court before the relationship between Great Britain and the American colonists turned sour. James Barrett even supplied the British troops stationed in Boston with produce from his farmbetween 1768-1774. After the Intolerable Acts essentially ended self-government in Massachusetts, James Barrett served as a delegate to the illegal Provincial Congress. The Provincial Congress began the work of military preparations and made James Barrett a colonel of a militia regiment in October 1774. He was placed in charge of the military stores that were collected in the town of Concord, 20 miles from Boston.


Break students into groups of approximately four students. Give students the primary sources at the end of this document. Tell the students that they must use the primary sources, just like historians do, to figure out what happened on April 19, 1775 and specifically to answer the
question, “What was Colonel James Barrett’s role on April 19, 1775?” Each of the primary sources has clarifying questions at the end to help guide the students in their interpretation of the source. Also, please suggest to students that they use the following questions as a guide to determine Colonel Barrett’s role.

  1. What did Colonel Barrett do before April 19, 1775?
  2. What did Colonel Barrett do on April 19, 1775?
  3. What happened on Colonel Barrett’s farm before April 19, 1775?
  4. What happened on Colonel Barrett’s farm on April 19, 1775?


A list from the Provincial Congress of military supplies under the supervision of Colonel James Barrett.

Download Primary Source 1: List of Military Supplies

This is the draft of the orders from General Thomas Gage to Lieutenant Colonel Francis Smith regarding the mission to Concord.

Download Primary Source 2: Draft of orders from General Gage

These are the actual orders given from General Gage to Lieutenant Colonel Francis Smith

Download Primary Source 3: Actual orders given from General Gage to Lieutenant Colonel Francis Smith

This is the account of a young British officer regarding the defense of North Bridge and the march to Colonel Barrett's farm.

Download Primary Source 4: Account of Ensign Henry DeBerniere

This is a sworn deposition given by James Barrett regarding the fighting at Concord's North Bridge

Download Primary Source 5: Deposition of Colonel James Barrett

In 1825, the town of Lexington took new depositions from ten surviving participants of April 19, 1775. These depositions were included in The Battle of Lexington by Elias Phinney. The main purpose of the work was to disprove Concord's claim that the first active resistance to the British soldiers was at the North Bridge and show what an important role the Lexington militia had in the events of the day. The town of Concord countered Phinney's work with A History of the Fight at Concord by Ezra Ripley. Ripley included four new depositions from surviving Concord participants in the battle and used them to prove the first true resistance of the day came in Concord.

Download Secondary Source 1: Ezra Ripley

Excerpt is based on an interview done by Shattuck with Mary Prescott Barrett in 1831. She married Col. Barrett's son Peter and was not present at the farm on April 19, 1775

Download Secondary Source 2: Excerpt from Lemuel Shattuck's


Have the students write or bullet point a short narrative answering the main question, “What was Colonel Barrett’s role on April 19, 1775?” when they are done analyzing the sources. Remind students that their narrative should include specific example from the sources. When students are complete, have them share their narratives with the class and consider the following questions.
  1. Are all of the narratives the same?
  2. Did different groups interpret the sources uniquely from other groups?
  3. What information is missing from the sources that would help us write the narrative?
  4. Do we think that these sources are reliable? Why or why not?
  5. Are we as a class confident that our narratives are what actually happened on April 19, 1775? Why or why not?
Tell students that these are the same challenges that historians must face when analyzing sources and creating the histories that we read.

Explain to students that sometimes what we believe is historical fact is not based on primary sources from the time of the event. Often times, stories emerge decades after the event that are passed through families. Stories like these emerged in the 19th century about Colonel James Barrett and his farm; should we believe them?

Ask students to read the following secondary source accounts related to the events of April 19, 1775 and Colonel James Barrett and consider the following questions for each.
          1. Do you believe this is a credible account? Why or why not?
          2. What information from the previous activity did you use to make this assessment?

After reading the sources and answering the above questions, discuss the sources on the whole as a group and consider the following questions.
    1. What information does all of the sources include? Does this make it true?
    2. How does the content of the sources change over time?
    3. Why do you think authors included some information while leaving other information out?

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Last updated: November 5, 2021