On April 19, 1775, British and American soldiers exchanged fire in the Massachusetts towns of Lexington and Concord. On the night of April 18, the royal governor of Massachusetts, General Thomas Gage, commanded by King George III to suppress the rebellious Americans, had ordered 700 British soldiers, under Lieutenant Colonel Francis Smith and Marine Major John Pitcairn, to seize the colonists’ military stores in Concord, some 20 miles west of Boston.
A system of signals and word-of-mouth communication set up by the colonists was effective in forewarning American volunteer militia men of the approach of the British troops. Henry Wadsworth Longfellow’s poem “Paul Revere’s Ride” tells how a lantern was displayed in the steeple of Christ Church on the night of April 18, 1775, as a signal to Paul Revere and others.
One if by land, and two if by sea;
And I on the opposite shore will be,
Ready to ride and spread the alarm
Through every Middlesex, village and farm,
For the country folk to be up and to arm.
At Lexington Green, the British were met by approximately seventy American Minute Men led by John Parker. At the North Bridge in Concord, the British were confronted again, this time by 300 to 400 armed colonists, and were forced to march back to Boston with the Americans firing on them all the way. By the end of the day, the colonists were singing “Yankee Doodle” and the American Revolution had begun. Documents from the Continental Congress and the Constitutional Convention, 1774-1789 includes a timeline of the events that followed.
By the rude bridge that arched the flood
Their flag to April’s breeze unfurled
Here once the embattled farmers stood
and fired the shot heard round the world.
Ralph Waldo Emerson, “Concord Hymn”
- Search on the terms Lexington, Concord, and Minute Man in Touring Turn-of-the-Century America: Photographs from the Detroit Publishing Company, 1880-1920 to find more photographs of these historic towns.
- To find maps of the Boston area at the outset of the Revolution, browse the Subject Index of the Military Battles and Campaigns section of Map Collections.
- Search through the George Washington Papers at the Library of Congress, 1741-1799 on Thomas Gage for correspondence between the two men which pre-dates the Revolution by nearly twenty years, when both were British officers. There is also an interesting exchange on the treatment of prisoners of war in their correspondence during the year 1775.
- The text of many of the depositions of eyewitnesses can be read in the May 11, 1775, entry in the Journals of the Continental Congress in A Century of Lawmaking for a New Nation: U.S. Congressional Documents and Debates, 1774-1875. The depositions themselves begin on page 28.
- A Guide to the American Revolution, 1763-1783 and Primary Documents in American History: The American Revolution and the New Nation are rich in materials related to this era. Visit the Web guides for links to a wide variety of information on the Revolutionary War.
- Visit the Web site for Minute Man National Historic Park, which winds along the original battle grounds of April 19, 1775.
- Works of American art and literature were inspired by events at Lexington and Concord. Among those noted in Today in History are the poem “The Midnight Ride of Paul Revere” by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow and the statue The Minute Man by sculptor Daniel Chester French.