Revolutionary War Historical Article
WHO FIRED THE FIRST SHOT AT LEXINGTON?
The Confrontation Between the British and Colonials
on Lexington Common, Apr. 19, 1775
by Donald N. Moran
We, as members of the Sons of the American Revolution, should
take extra pains to separate the truth from the myths in regard to the
Revolutionary War. Legends and history have always been, and always will be,
mortal enemies. The skirmish on Lexington Common on that fateful April morning
in 1775, has been a subject of controversy since the day it occurred. We intend
to shed additional light on this subject and dispel some of those myths and
This period of the American Revolution is much distorted in our history. This distortion is basically the result of the historian's point of view. The majority of the written accounts of those events were written by and for supporters of the American independence. A major contributing factor was the lengthy duration of continuing hostilities between America and Great Britain. Generally, it takes a full generation to separate itself from the emotionalism associated with a great war. Usually fifty years after a war, unbiased accounts are written. This is not the case of the American Revolution. Thirty years after the Revolution we were again engaged in a war with Great Britain (The War of 1812), which is frequently referred to as the "Second War of American Independence". By the time the desired period of time (50 years) had lapsed, there were no participants that could be interviewed by the historians. To further complicate the historic situation, when that fifty years lapsed we were thoroughly immersed in the Civil War.
By comparison, following the Civil War both the victors and the vanquished published in depth accounts, hence noted historian Sydney G. Fisher wrote in 1912: "No one has yet dared to falsify or conceal the facts of that (Civil War) history or turn it into myths and legends"
Reviewing the wealth of information we now have available to us enhances our ability to be more objective than the historians of earlier generations. The facts regarding the skirmish on Lexington Common, as reported by the participants and eye witnesses are as follows General Sir Thomas Gage, Commander-in-Chief of His Majesty's Forces in North America ordered Lt. Colonel Frances Smith to lead an expedition of some eight hundred men from Boston to Concord. The objective was to capture the military stores hidden in Concord. Smith's force consisted of the Grenadier Companies of the l0th, 18th, 23rd, 38th, 43rd, 47th, 52nd, 59th Regiments; the 1st and 2nd Royal Marines; the Light Infantry Companies of the 4th, 5th, 10th, 23rd, 38th, Regiments. This detailed account of the British detachments that participated in the skirmish was supplied Lieutenant Frederick MacKenzie, an Officer of the 23rd Regiment. This account was found in 1925 by the descendents of Lt. MacKenzie, and was extensively used by Historian Allen French in his book "General Gage's Informers" (1932).
A short distance from Lexington, Major John Pitcairn of the Royal Marines, second in command of the expedition, was leading the advance element of the column when they met the mounted British Officers (there was no British Cavalry in North America at the time), who had captured Paul Revere. He advised Pitcairn that some five hundred men under arms were waiting for them at Lexington Common and that he had personally alarmed the entire countryside and that another 1,000 were coming(1). At about the same time, the leading element of the British Expedition, which consisted of two mounted officers, Lt. William Sutherland of the 38th Regiment and Lt. Adair of the Royal Marines, were confronted by an armed colonist who aimed his musket at them, pulled the trigger, but the gun misfired (actually it flashed in the pan, i.e. the primer powder failed to ignite the charge in the musket). Convinced that the colonist meant to kill them, they returned to the column and informed Major Pitcairn of the incident. Pitcairn ordered his men to load their weapons and fix bayonets. It appears that this took some time, as Colonel Smith and the main column arrived. In Colonel Smith's official report to General Gage, he makes mention of the incident and went on to state that Major John Pitcairn gave the following instructions to the light infantry - - "On no account to fire, nor even attempt it without orders". The column then marched the last mile to Lexington. This is very significant as it demonstrates that the British expedition had every reason to anticipate a confrontation at Lexington.
Minuteman Thaddeus Brown, sent down the road as a scout galloped up to Buckman's Tavern at Lexington and alerted Captain John Parker that the "Regulars" were only minutes away. Parker issued his orders to Sergeant Munroe to have the men fall in on the common. Drummer William Diamond beat the “Call-to-Arms”. The Lexington Militia formed into a line of battle for their suicidal stand.
Undoubtedly expecting the worst, Pitcairn and several mounted officers rode forward, acting as cavalry. These gentlemen have been identified as being: Major Pitcairn, Major Edward Mitchell of the 5th, Lt. Peregrine E. Thorne of the 4th; Lt. Thomas Baker of the 5th, Captain Lawrence Parsons of the l0th and Lieutenants Edward Gould and John Barker of the 4th. Upon entering the village in the dawn's early light, there must have been a sigh of relief from Pitcairn - - only about 150 people were visible, not the anticipated 500 to 1000. Pitcairn and his Officers rode on to the Common from the left side Of the MeetingHouse, while the light infantry marched around the right side.
This places Pitcairn on the flank of the assembled Minutemen and his own troops. From this vantage point Pitcairn could direct his orders at both groups. Several contemporary accounts state that Pitcairn and perhaps some of his Officers ordered the Minutemen to lay down their arms. At the same time the Light Infantry were forming their line-of-battle in front of the Meeting House. Some accounts stated that the British soldiers rushed forward in confusion. However, to form a line-of-battle from a column formation it is necessary that the rear most ranks run, while the foremost simply march. The movement appears to be mass confusion, but it is completely organized. If the infantry were as disorganized as some alleged, they could not have discharged an effective volley, as they did soon after forming up. Some of Captain Parker's men obeyed Major Pitcairn instantly, others reluctantly, while still a hand full of Minutemen stubbornly stood their ground. It was at this moment in history that the controversial shot was fired. It is at this point that we start our search for the truth. Most of the materials that we have to be reviewed have been with us for over two hundred years, while other documents and letters have only recently come to light.
Three days after the skirmish the Massachusetts Provincial Congress appointed a committee, chaired by Elbridge Gerry (later Vice President under James Madison) to meet with the survivors of the Lexington Minuteman Company and other eye witnesses to take their depositions. It is obvious that the Committee's intention was to establish the Minutemen as “victims” of British injustice, thereby securing the much needed support of the other twelve colonies. As politicians we assume they were also looking at possible reconciliation with England, hence would have wanted to be able to say that the colonist fired in self-defense and did not commit treason.
So well did they do their job that it was not until the tour of the Marquis de LaFayette in 1824 that the American people learned that some of Parker's men returned the fire! State Senator Samuel Hoar, at the ceremonies at Concord Bridge welcoming General Lafayette stated that the General was standing on the very spot where the first forcible resistance was raised against the British Crown. The town of Lexington was so outraged by that remark that they took steps to correct it. Nothing had been done to immortalize the events of that day, even the 25th anniversary of the skirmish came and went without recognition. Since the visit of the Marquis, both Lexington and Concord have celebrated the event every year without fail - but never jointly! Nathaniel Parkhurst, Jonas Parker, John Monroe, Jr., John Winship, Solomon Pierce, John Muzzy, Abner Mead, John Bridge, Jr., Ebenezer Bowman, William Munroe, III, Micah Hagar, Samuel Sanderson, Samuel Hastings and James Brown, all members of the Lexington Militia Company gave a collective deposition. "Whilst our backs were turned on the troops, we were fired on by them. Not a gun was fired by any person in our Company on the regulars to our knowledge, before they fired on us".
Thirty-four other survivors also set their hands to a collective deposition: "Not a gun was fired by any person on the regulars, to our knowledge, before they fired on us."
Twenty-six additional survivors were known to have been present that fateful morning, but failed to file depositions. Several possible reasons come to mind. lst: they were unavailable, participating in the Siege of Boston; 2nd: they were not asked, 3rd although they had proven their courage by facing the King's fury that morning, they did not elect to sign their names to a document that admitted they had committed high treason and could suffer death as the result. 4th: they could not bring themselves to make a deposition they did not agree with, Interestingly, eight of these men swore to depositions in 1825, in the Concord versus Lexington debate.
Among the most important depositions or reports on any conflict is from the surviving senior officers. In the case of the Lexington Militia, here is Captain John Parker’s deposition, reprinted in its entirety.
Lexington, April 25th, 1775. "I, John Parker, of lawful age, and commander of the Militia in Lexington, do testify and declare, that on the nineteenth instant, in the morning, about one of the clock, being informed that there were a number of Regular Officers riding up and down the road, stopping and insulting people as they passed the road, and also was informed that a number of regular troops were on their march from Boston, in order to take the Province stores at Concord, ordered our militia to meet on the Common in said Lexington, to consult what to do, and concluded not to be discovered, not meddle or make with said Regular Troops (if they should approach) unless they should insult us, and upon their sudden approach, I immediately ordered our Militia to disperse and not to fire. Immediately Said Troops made their appearance and rushed furiously, fired upon and killed eight of our party without receiving any provocation therefore from us. .....................John Parker"
Not another word from Captain Parker on this subject has ever been recorded. First, in some detail, Parker explained that he consulted with his men. This is understandable, for he was elected "Captain", and was related directly or through marriage to many of his men. He had gone to school with others, went to church with most of them, and served in the French and Indian Wars with yet others. He certainly could not "order" them to do anything, as would his counterpart in the British Army. Yet, three hours later, he states he "ordered" the Lexington Militia out on the Common, having been advised that the British Infantry was on the very edge of town.
Why Captain Parker, a seasoned veteran of the French and Indian Wars, decided to confront a force of Regulars, ten times his strength, was never explained, nor will we likely find out. Some authors have tried to convince their readers that Samuel Adams, known to have been at the Hancock-Clarke house with John Hancock, convinced Parker to make a stand. Historian Harold Murdock suggested this line of reasoning in his narrative "The Nineteenth of April, 1775" (1925) but that contention is without any proof whatsoever. Doctor Bernard Knollenberg in his paper "Did Samuel Adams Provoke the Boston Tea Party and the Clash at Lexington'' (2), effectively argues the innocence of Sam Adams.
There are more depositions, some sixty-two in all, some signed by individuals and some with several signatures. These add little to what has been transcribed herein. All have a common thread, which in itself is unusual, as so many witnesses should not be in complete agreement. From the colonist's statements, events that led to the first shots can be capsulated as follows: The Regulars came on quickly, three mounted Officers proceeded toward Parker's Minutemen, who were already dispersing, shouting orders to lay down their arms. The Officers made the traditional 'Huzzah', waving their swords over their heads. A pistol shot was fired by one of the Officers, followed by a volley from the Regulars at 40 yards range. Of particular interest is that all the depositions claim, "they did not fire the first shot" - - - but do not address the question of who fired first, with the exception alleging that a British Officer fired his pistol. The British version of the incident has been very limited. To those participating, this was not an earth-shattering event. Major Pitcairn, the senior British Officer present on the Common, should have been one of the most important witnesses. However, for years his version of the event was reported from a fourth party! Highly respected historian, Allen French, in his definitive book(3) states: "Unfortunately, Pitcairn never made a written report. He was but a subordinate, and probably made a verbal report to [Lt. Colonel Frances] Smith, and Smith to [General Thomas] Gage."
The reported version of the skirmish as described by Major Pitcairn is given in French's book. The report is fourth hand! Major Pitcairn to John Brown(4); Brown to Darius Sessions (5); and Sessions to Ezra Stiles (6). "There is a certain sliding over and indeterminateness in describing the beginning of the firing. Major Pitcairn who was a good man in a Bad cause, insisted upon it to the day of his death (7) that the colonist fired first. And that he then told this with such circumstances as convinced me that he was deceived tho' on the spot. He does not say that he saw the colonist fire first. Had he said it, I would have believed him, being a man of integrity and honor. He expressly says this 'that he rode up to them, ordered them to disperse; which they not doing instantly, turned about and ordered his troops to draw out as to surround and disarm them. As he turned he saw a gun in a peasant's hand from behind a wall flash in the pan without going off and instantly or very soon 2 or 3 guns went off by which he found his horse wounded and also a man near him wounded. These guns he did not see, but believed they could not come from his own soldiers, doubted not and so asserted that they had come from our people and that they began the attack".
As stated earlier, to a historian, the opinion of the leadership involved in any incident is extremely important. They generally had a good overview of the entire incident, or more importantly, how they perceived the situation. Some of the most pertinent source materials on the American Revolution were not discovered until the late 1920's and than not made available to historians until the 1930's. William L. Clements, founder of the Clements Library at the University of Michigan, brought to the library six extremely important manuscript collections. The papers of Lord Shelbourne, Prime Minister of England during the peace negotiations; the papers of Lord St. Germaine, Colonial Secretary 1775 - 1782; The papers of Sir Henry Clinton, Commander in Chief of the British Forces in America - -1778 -1782; the papers of American Major General Nathanael Greene; and the papers and diaries of the Hessian Officers sent to the Baron von Jungkenn(?), War Minister of Hess-Cassel.
Any history written about the American Revolution before the availability of the Clement Collection should be carefully checked against these important documents. Surprisingly, many authors have repeated the same myths and legends that are explained away by this collection.
Of interest to those studying the skirmish at Lexington and Concord is the Original written report of Major John Pitcairn! We have transcribed it herein in its entirety.
Boston Camp, 26 April 1775
"Sir, as you are anxious to know the particulars that happened near and at Lexington on the 19th instant[ant] - -agreeable to your desire, I will in as concise a manner as: possible state the facts. For my time at present is so much employed, as to prevent a more particular narrative of the occurrences of that day.
Six companies of Light Infantry were detached by Lt. Col. Smith to take possession of two bridges on the other side of Concord - - near three in the morning when we are advanced within two miles of Lexington, intelligence was received that about 500 men in arms were assembled, determined to oppose the Kings Troops and retard them in their march - - on this intelligence, I mounted my horse, and galloped up to the six Light Companies - - when I arrived at the head of the advance Company, two Officers came and informed me that a man of the rebels advanced from those assembled, had presented his musket and attempted to shoot them, but the piece flashed in the pan - - On this I gave directions to the troops to move forward, but on no account to fire, or even attempt it without orders: When I arrived at the end of the Village, I observed drawn up upon the green near two hundred of the rebels. When I came within about one hundred yards of them, they began to file off towards some stone walls on our right flank - - The Light Infantry observing this, ran after them - - I instantly called to the soldiers not to fire, but surround and disarm them and after several repetitions of these positive orders to the men, not to fire, etc. - - some of the rebels who had jumped over the wall, fired four or five shots at the soldiers, which wounded a man of the Tenth, and my horse was wounded in two places, from some quarter or other and at the same time several shots were fired from a Meeting House on our left --- upon this without any order or regularity, the Light Infantry began a scattered fire, and continued in that situation for some little time, contrary to the repeated orders both of me and other officers that were present. It will be needless to mention what happened after, as I suppose Colonel Smith hath given a particular account of it.
I am Sir, Your most obedient, humble servant, ...............John Pitcairn"
Major Pitcairn's report makes it clear that General Gage was compiling information for a report that would address the question of who fired first. Pitcairn addressed his remarks, brief as they were, directly and solely toward that question. It is also obvious that Pitcairn did not sense the historic importance of Lexington. He handles the letter both reluctantly and with very little concern of its significance.
Other letters and reports recently discovered also have an air of indifference about them. It is a safe assumption that in April of 1775, the British were still confident that General Gage and his Regulars would prevail and the entire matter forgotten.
Ensign Jeremy Lister of the l0th Regiment of Foot wrote in 1782 (while on recruiting duty in England, he having been shot thru the elbow on the retreat from Concord, and appears to have not fully recovered).
' .... however to the best of my recollection about 4 o'clock in the morning being the 19th of April the front Company was ordered to load which we did. About half an hour after we found that precaution had been necessary for we had then unload again [note: as in "to fire" and then was the first blood drawn in this American Rebellion. It was at Lexington when we saw one of their Companies drawn up in regular order. Major Pitcairn of the Marines, second in command, call'd to them to disperse, but their not seeming willing he desired us to mind our space [note: to maintain formation] which we did when they gave us a fire then ran off to get behind a wall. We had one man wounded of our Company in the leg. His name was Johnson. Major Pitcairn' s horse was shot in the flank. We returned their salute, and before we proceeded on our march from Lexington. I believe we kill'd and wounded either seven or eight men..."
The next account is taken from two separate letters both written by Lieutenant William Sutherland of the 38th Regiment. The first was written on April 26th, to Sir Henry Clinton, and the second to General Thomas Gage on the 27th.
Sutherland had been wounded in the shoulder at Concord Bridge, but apparently not that seriously for eight days later, in his own hand he wrote both letters. His letter to General Gage was a rewrite of the first letter, hence better thought out and cleaned up for the Commander-in-Chief. The differences in the letters were, for the most part, grammatical. The few instances where there is a factual difference, we have noted both statements. Because Lieutenant Sutherland was a volunteer and not encumbered by a command, he was able to place himself in the location that promised the most excitement. Because the narrative is so interesting, we have transcribed it in its entirety.
"On the evening of the 18th, about 9 o'clock I learned there was a large detachment going from this garrison on which I immediately resolved to go with them and meeting a few men in the street fully accoutered. I followed them and embarked at the Magazine Guard and landed near Cambridge where I joined Major Pitcairn, who I understood was to command next to Colonel Smith, where we remained for two hours (In the Clinton letter 'two long hours'), partly waiting for the rest of the detachment and for provisions. About half an hour after 2 in the morning on the 19th, we marched with Major Pitcairn commanding in front of the Light Infantry. The tide being in we were to our middles before we got into the road, continued for 3 miles (in the Clinton letter - 4 miles) without meeting any person. When I heard Lieut. Adair of the Marines who was a little before me in front call out, here are two fellows galloping express to Alarm the Country, on which I immediately ran (Clinton letter - rode which is interesting as Sutherland was clearly on foot and later says 'I mounted a horse I had' - could it have been captured?) up to them, seized one of them and our guide the other, dismounted them and by Major Pitcairn's direction gave them in charge to the men. A little after we were joined by Lieut. Grant of the Royal Artillery who told us the Country he was afraid was alarm'd of which we had little reason to doubt as we heard several shots being then between 3 & 4 in the morning, a very unusual time for firing. When we were joined by Major Mitchell, Capt. Cochrane, Capt. Limm & several other gentlemen who told us the whole country was alarm'd & galloped for their lives, or words to that purpose, that they had taken Paul Revierre, but was obliged to lett him go after having cutt his girths and stirrups, a little after a fellow came out of a Cross Road galloping, Mr. Adair and I called to him to stop, but he galloped off as hard as he could, upon which Mr. Simms, Surgeons Mate of the 43rd Regiment who was on horseback pursued him and took him a great way in front. A little after I mett a very genteel man riding in a carriage they called a sulky who assured me there were 600 men assembled at Lexington with a view of opposing us. I think I should know the man again if I saw him as I took very particular notice of his features and dress. I waited with him till Major Pitcairn came up with the division to whom he repeated much the same as he did to me, then going on in front, I mett coming out of a cross road another fellow galloping, however, hearing him some time before I placed myself so that I got hold of the bridle of his horse and dismounted him, our guide seemed to think that he was a very material fellow and said something as if he had been a Member of the Provincial Congress, a little after this I mounted a horse I had, & Mr. Adair went into a Chaise, it began now to be daylight & we mett some men with a wagon of wood who told us there were odds of 1000 men in arms at Lexington & added that they would fight us. Here we waited for sometime but seeing nothing of the divisions I rode to the left about half a mile to see if I could fall in with them, but could see nothing of them, however, saw a vast number of Country Militia going over the hill with their arms to Lexington & mett one of them in the teeth whom I obliged to give up his Firelock and Bayonet. Which I believe he would not have done so easily but for Mr. Adair coming up. On this we turned back to the road we came and found the division who halted in consequence of the intelligence the man in the sulky gave them, in order to make a deposition, by advancing men in front and on the flanks to prevent a surprise. I began to file off towards some stone walls on our right flank - - the Light Infantry observing this I went on with the front party which consisted of a Sergeant and 6 or 8 men. I shall observe here that the road before you go into Lexington is level for about 1000 yards. Here we saw shots fired to the right and left of us, but as we heard no whistling of balls, I concluded they were to alarm the body that was there of our approach. On coming within gun shot of the Village of Lexington a fellow from the corner of the road on the right hand cock'd his piece at me, burnt priming. [note: flash in the pan]. I immediately called to Mr. Adair & party to observe this circumstance which they did. I acquainted Major Pitcairn of it immediately."
"We still went on further when three shots were fired at us, which we did not return, & this is sacred truth as I hope for mercy these 3 shots were fired from the corner of a large house to the right of the Church [note: the large house was Buckman's Tavern and the Church was the meeting house] when we came up to the main body which appeared to me to exceed 400 in & about the Village who were drawn up in a plane opposite to the Church, several officers called out to throw down your arms & you shall come to no harm, or words to that effect which they refused to do. Instantaneously the gentlemen who were on horseback rode amongst them of which I was one, at which instant I heard Major Pitcairn's voice call out 'soldiers don't fire, keep your ranks, form & surround them, instantly some of the villains who got over a hedge [In 18th Century English a hedge could have been a wall] fired at us which our men for the first time returned, which sett my horse a going who galloped with me down a road about 600 yards among the middle of them before I turned him. In returning a vast number who were in a wood at the right of the Grenadiers fired on me, but the distance was so great that I only heard the whistling of the balls, but saw a great number of people in the wood. In consequence of their discovering themselves by firing, our Grenadiers gave them a smart fire. I shall take the liberty of observing here that it is very unlikely our men should have fired for some time otherwise they must have hurt their own officers who galloped in amongst the arm'd mob. Our men now kept up the fire and on my coming up to Colonel Smith [he] turned to me and asked me do you know where a drummer is, which I found, who immediately beat to arms. Then the men ceased firing. During this time there were three shots fired at Col. Smith from the Gavel Garreft(?) windows of a house within 50 yards of us, & it was from the end of that house the first 3 shots were fired at us. Col. Smith and Major Pitcairn regretted in my hearing then too great warmth of the soldiers in not attending their officers & keeping their ranks & in recommending a more steady conduct to them for the future."
The balance of the letter addressed the march to Concord and the retreat to Boston. The report ended as follows: "Much egotism must appear in this relation which I hope the General will not ascribe to any vanity in one who is with great respect.
Sir, Your most Obdt. & Huml. Servt.
William Sutherland, Lt. 38th Regiment "
The next piece of evidence is in the form of a deposition found in the “Gage Manuscript Collection”, from a Loyalist named George Leonard. We know little about him. He appears to have been a Loyalist from Boston, and was among those who went to New Brunswick after the British evacuated Boston. He died there in 1826. He sent General Gage the following deposition. It is possible that he may have been a "guide" mentioned by Lieutenant Sutherland'
"George Leonard of Boston deposes that he went from Boston on the nineteenth of April with the Brigade commanded by Lord Percy upon their march to Lexington (8). That being on horseback and having no connexion with the army, he several times went forward of the Brigade, in one of which excursions he met with a countryman who was wounded supported by two others who were armed. This was about a mile on this side of Lexington Meeting House. The deponent asked the wounded person what was the matter with him. He answered that the Regulars had shot him. The Deponent then asked what provoked them to do it - - he said that some of our people fired upon the Regulars, and they fell on us like bull dogs and killed eight and wounded nineteen. He further said that it was not the Company he belonged to that fired but some of our Country people that were on the other side of the road. The Deponent enquired of the other men if they were present. They answered, yes, and related the affair much as the wounded man had done. All three blamed the rashness of their own people for firing first and said they supposed now the Regulars would kill everybody they met with.
Boston, May 4, 1775
Ensign Henry de Berniere of the l0th Regiment of Foot along with Captain William Browne of the 52nd Regiment of Foot had been sent to Concord in March by General Gage. They were responsible for much of the intelligence Gage received. De Berniere started a personal account of his spying mission and continued it through out the nineteenth - - - it regarding commencement of hostilities on Lexington Common. He wrote: "The troops received no interruption in their march until they arrived at Lexington, a town eleven miles from Boston, where there were about 150 rebels drawn out in divisions, with intervals as wide as the front of the divisions, the light infantry who marched in front halted and Major Pitcairn came up immediately and cried out to the rebels to throw down their arms and disperse, which they did not do. He called out a second time, but to no purpose, upon which he ordered our light infantry to advance and disarm them, which they were doing when one of the rebels fired a shot, our soldiers returned the fire and killed about fourteen of them, there was only one man of the 10th light infantry received a shot through the leg. Some of them got into a church and fired from it, but were soon drove out." (9)
Lieutenant John Barker of the Kings Own Regiment (the 4th), wrote in his personal diary the events of that day. He expressed his concern that the two hour delay at Cambridge had doomed the mission to failure from the beginning. In regard to the Lexington Skirmish, he wrote: "At 5 o'clock we arrived there [Lexington] and saw a number of people, I believe between 200 and 300, formed on a Common in the middle of the town. We still continued advancing, keeping prepared against attack tho' without intending to attack them, but on our coming near them they fired one or two shots, upon which our men, without any orders rushed in upon them, fired and put 'em to flight." (10)
Reviewing all of the reports, several things become apparent. The British unanimously state that they were fired on first. This could be looked upon skeptically, however, two of these reports, were from private diaries, and never meant to be read by anyone, let alone to be published.
The deposition of George Leonard, although a third person account, has a ring of truth to it. Then, where comparing these reports with those of the Minutemen, they all agree that "they did not fire the first shot", they were not stating they did not know who fired it, just that they did not.
The wounding of Major Pitcairn's horse is a piece of important physical evidence. For the Major to know his horse was shot twice and still rideable, the injuries would have had to have drawn blood. At the same time we know he rode that horse until 1:00 p.m. when it bolted during the engagements along "Battle Road". The only plausible explanation is that the horse was struck by spent musket balls - - musket balls fired from a distance greater then 100 yards. The same applies to Private Johnson of the l0th who was shot in the leg. There is no record of the British commandeering any carriages or wagons when they passed through Lexington. After the engagements in Concord and on the way back to Boston, they did use carriages and carts for the wounded. Hence, Private Johnson had to have marched to Concord, which infers his wound was very slight – again a spent musket ball.
Another important factor, not yet discussed in this article. This was not the first sortie from Boston made by the British into the countryside. Major Pitcairn wrote to the Earl of Sandwich on the 14th of February, 1775, "I often march out with our battalion six or seven miles into the Country. The people swear at us sometimes, but that does us no harm. I often wish to have orders to march to Cambridge and seize those impudent rascals that have the assurance to make such resolves. They some times do not know what to make of us, fore we march unto the town where they are all assembled, but we have no orders to do what I wish to do and what I think may easily be done. I mean to seize them all and send them to England."
All of the British reports, diary entries, etc. are interesting in that they all appear to have ignored the historical significance of the day. Even Pitcairn's official report was obviously forced upon him by General Gage, and he handled the entire affair in a very off handed manner, certainly not the style of a man attempting to justify his actions or to prove a point.
Lt. Sutherland's lengthy report, was very interesting. Sutherland was a 'volunteer', and obviously since he wrote lengthy well scripted reports to his immediate Commanding General, Sir Henry Clinton and a second to Sir Thomas Gage, he was looking for personal recognition and possibly promotion. Unlike the other officers, he was free to ride around and to perform as he did, as he was not encumbered by having a command to watch over. He was wounded in the shoulder at Concord Bridge which delayed his writing for eight days.
Since he was probably attempting to further his position in the British Army by his actions, it would be hard to believe that he would write any accounts that did not agree with every other possible report.
As an aside, we were interested in finding out if Lieutenant Sutherland was successful in his efforts to gain promotion. We found a letter dated August 11th, 1775, from Mr. Frances Hutcheson to Lt. General Sir Frederick Haldimand (11). It states: "... this has made the Generals form a Company of Riflemen of which Lt. Sutherland, the pretty Mrs. Sutherland's husband, is appointed Captain" [some things never change!].
1. “Paul Revere and the World He Lived in” – Esther Forbes
2. Proceedings of the American Antiquarian Society, Volume 70 – April 20th, 1960
3. “The Day of Concord and Lexington” (1925)
4. John Brown was arrested while smuggling flour into Boston.
5. Darius Sessions was Deputy Governor of Rhode Island.
6. Ezra Stiles, a diarists, and later president of Yale, recorded the story.
7. Major John Pitcairn was killed in the assault on Breed's Hill (Bunker Hill) on June 17th, 1775.
8. Lord Percy led the relief column to rescue Lt. Col. Frances Smith's embattled detachment.
9. De Berniere's diary is in the Second Series of the Massachusetts Historical Society Collection, IV, p.216.
10. Lt. Barker's diary was published in the Atlantic Monthly, April & May 1877.
11. Lt. General Sir Frederick Haldimand was the Commander-in-Chief of British Forces in Canada.