Announcing “Rev War Roundtable with ERW” on Zoom!

On April 19, 1775, Massachusetts militia and minutemen responded to the call of British Regulars, “redcoats” marching from Boston to the town of Concord. What ensued was the “shot heard around the world” at the North Bridge in that town. What that shot signified was the changing course from words to war, that would define the relationship between 13 British North American colonies and Great Britain.

Now, 245 years later, Emerging Revolutionary War will turn that war back into words with its inaugural Rev War Revelry Zoom series. On Sunday, 7 p.m. EST, tune in to listen and watch historians from Emerging Revolutionary War discuss in an informal setting this momentous day in American history. Other topics are welcomed that pertain to the American Revolutionary War era as well.

As the title of the Zoom series relates, this will be similar to a tavern talk, much like the talks and information sharing rendezvous that went on in the 18th century, in places like Boston, where the road to revolution gained momentum as ales and spirits flowed. Thus, grab your favorite beverage, rest assured that ERW historians will be doing the same and join us, virtually, in our tavern Sunday evening.

April 19th Memories from Lexington

Leading up to the anniversary of April 19, 1775, we will be sharing some short remembrances from a few people who are from Lexington and Concord. This installment is by Rich Gillespie, a native of Lexington, Massachusetts.

If you live in Lexington, Massachusetts, the beginning of the American Revolution is an essential piece of life. The Minuteman statue dominates the center of town, the village green where the Alarm List stood to face the Regulars is much as it once was, the Town Seal seen on your friendly snowplow quotes Sam Adams’ comment to John Hancock upon hearing the firing—“Oh, What a glorious morning for America!”, and the high school’s team is predictably the Minutemen.  The British marched to and from Concord within 150 yards of my 4th grade classroom, and the spring field trip was to the key sites of Lexington and Concord.  My first job (as was my sister’s) was guiding visitors on Lexington Green.

Hip-hip Huzzah-Haughty British troops leave Lexington
(author collection)

Continue reading “April 19th Memories from Lexington”

Defending the New Nation: The Fredericksburg Gun Manufacturing Plant

Emerging Revolutionary War is honored to welcome back historian Malanna Henderson. 

Part One

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N-7 Fredericksburg Gun Manufactory State Marker

Located at 200 Gunnery Road between Dunmore and Ferdinand Streets is the Old Walker-Grant public school. The three-acre campus is home to the Fredericksburg Regional Head Start educational program. Built in 1938, Walker-Grant was the first publically financed high school for black youth in Fredericksburg. The institution was named for Joseph Walker and Jason Grant.

Walker, born into slavery in Spotsylvania County in 1854, was freed after the Civil War and moved to Fredericksburg. Employed in a paper mill, Walker was self-taught and had a keen interest in expanding educational opportunities for black youth. He served as the sexton at St. George’s Episcopal Church for more than 50 years.  Jason Grant was born free in Chatham, Ontario, Canada, in 1861 to a middle-class family. He attended Wilberforce Educational Institute in Ohio. He met an inspiring educator from Fredericksburg and decided to move there and teach.  Grant taught at the county and city schools and also served as principal. His career spanned 42 years. Both Walker and Grant worked diligently to establish a learning institution for black children whose educational opportunities were marginalized by the social order of the day: segregation and racial discrimination.

Over two-hundred years ago, this location was once the site of the Fredericksburg Gunnery plant; the first government ran factory of its kind in the nation. Established in 1776, its existence was paramount to the victory of the Continental forces in winning the Revolutionary War.

By then, the colonists had interpreted an array of British economic policies as threatening their rights as Englishmen. When a slew of taxes were demanded of the colonists who were accustomed to governing themselves, their rebellious cry became, “no taxation without representation.” Until then, the planter-statesmen and other notables still felt they could reconcile with the mother country, despite the occurrences of the Boston Massacre in 1770 and the Boston Tea Party in 1773. However, in Virginia an odious act by the royal governor put the colonists on notice that the British were willing to spill more blood in an effort to vanquish the rebellion.

In the dead of night, on April 21, 1775, a mixed military unit of His Majesty’s Navy and Marines confiscated gun powder and armaments from the Williamsburg Magazine. This vital repository of weapons was stockpiled for the defense against Indian raids, slave revolts and riots. The action of the British soldiers left Virginia virtually defenseless.

John Murray, Fourth Earl of Dunmore and the last royal governor of Virginia ordered the raid. Many colonists saw this as the last straw. Dunmore had repeatedly rebuked the colonial statesmen’s demands, dissolving the House of Burgess and other political committees. An aristocrat, accustomed to having his word obeyed without question, Dunmore saw the burgeoning independence of the statesmen as an affront to his authority and responded by acts of retribution instead of compromise.

Blood had already been spilt at the Battles of Lexington and Concord a few days prior. Thus, disarming the colonists seemed a logical strategy to weaken their resolve. The shot heard around the world occurred in the north and in the south; the stealth act of a midnight raid struck a wedge between Britain and the American colonies that was irreparable.

The colonists had to arm themselves if they were going to war with England, whose military might seemed Herculean to the limited martial skills of the local colonial militias. There was no standing army. Each of the thirteen colonies had their own reservists, comprised of farmers, merchants and tradesmen who were needed sporadically for lawless incidents.

On July 17, 1775, the Third Virginia Convention convened in Richmond to create a working government structure. Delegates were elected to serve on the Committee of Safety, which replaced the Committee of Correspondence. Its powers were comparable to the defunct House of Burgess. The most important resolutions that sprung from those meetings were to raise two regiments, a total of sixteen companies of sixty-eight men each to serve one year tours. In addition, sixteen districts of Minutemen were planned.  In all of the county militias, the remaining free white males between the ages of fifteen to fifty were to muster, eleven times a year. Below is a page from Colonel Lewis’s manual on military exercises and drills, dated 1777.

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(Courtesy of The George Washington Foundation)

The last meeting of the convention took place on the 26th of August. An ordinance to build a gun manufacturing plant was enacted. One prominent Virginian intellectual described it as, a first step “in open defiance of British parliamentary law.”

The five commissioners appointed to operate the gun factory were Mann Page; William Fitzhugh; Samuel Selden; Charles Dick and Fielding Lewis, George Washington’s brother-in-law, husband to his sister Betty Washington. Lewis was elected chairman of the Committee. As it turned out, the only men who stayed the course was Charles Dick and Fielding Lewis.

Initially, the convention issued to Lewis 2,000 pounds to construct the gun manufacturing plant. Early in November, Lewis purchased a ten-acre tract of land located south of town. He also leased a nearby mill on four town lots.

Knowing how desperate the Continental Army was for arms, Lewis penned a letter, on February 4, 1776, to George Washington in haste. Now the Commander-in-chief of the Continental Army, George received this letter from Fielding describing the developments of the factory and the formation of the army regiments they were establishing. Of note, in August of 1775, Patrick Henry was named Colonel of the 1st Regiment, and the 2nd Regiment was commanded by William Woodford with Alexander Spotswood serving as major. In January of 1777, Hugh Mercer was named Colonel of the 3rd Regiment.

fielding-lewis-letter-to-george-washington-on-the-building-of-the-gunnery
(Courtesy of The George Washington Foundation)

“…our Gunn Manufactory is now beginning & expect by New Years day to have near fifty Men imploy’d who will make about Twelve Gunns compleat a Day…”

The gunnery was close to the Hunter Iron Works, an important supplier. James Hunter, the owner, added the manufacturing of muskets to his production output, independent of government funding.  He also supplied regiments with axes, spades, shovels and mattocks.

The items produced at the Fredericksburg Gunnery were muskets, bayonets, flint locks, ramrods and more. The plant encompassed a main manufactory, a stone powder magazine, cartridge works, repair shops and a vegetable garden, for the benefit of the employees.

Charles Dick ran the day to day operations, hiring a master workman and artisans. Although, the very capable Mr. Dick never discussed his origins or even his birthdate; the self-made man wasn’t a member of the established gentry. However, he easily found his place amongst Fredericksburg’s leading citizens. Dick was a successful merchant, land owner, Mason and a well-respected member of the community. He served on several important civic organizations; the Committee of Correspondence and later the Committee of Safety.  A business partner and personal friend of Fielding Lewis, Dick was godfather to Lewis’ first son.

On September 22, 1775 an advertisement for locksmiths was published, most likely in the Virginia Gazette. Dick needed gunsmiths, artisans and a variety of other laborers to make the gunnery productive. It was evident, early on, that there was a deficiency of expert gunsmiths ready for hire. The House of Delegates passed an apprentice act so Dick could train a class of artisans from the white youth in the area. The young men would be housed, fed and clothed; all paid for by the government. Dick forbade the drinking of beer and rum at the establishment, a drastic change from Eighteenth Century practices. Three black men were engaged to cook, bake and do an assortment of odd jobs. Whether they were slave or free is unknown.

In an emergency the aristocrats of the town, women, too, worked at the factory stuffing cartridges, etc., for the more than one hundred guns hastily readied for the Fredericksburg and Spotsylvania militia. The most commonly used weapon at the time was the British Brown Bess, a muzzle-loading smoothbore musket. It fired a single shot ball or a cluster shot which fired multiple projectiles like a shotgun. About four shots per minute was the typical output from most soldiers. By May of 1777, the factory produced similar muskets to the British Brown Bess by the rate of twenty per week.

a-musket-produced-from-the-fredericksburg-gun-manufactory
(Courtesy of The George Washington Foundation)

 

 

April 19, 1775 – Minute Men vs. Militia

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Monument to the “Lexington      Minute Men”

“Minutemen” on April 19, 1775 at Lexington and Concord have always been grouped together in history and textbooks. But, is that completely historically accurate? Well, no. There is a common misperception that most of the Americans that went to arms on the morning of April 19, 1775 were “Minutemen.” This view has become part of American mythology and popular memory, referenced in most histories dealing with this April day. Despite all of this, the fact remains that many of the men who answered the call that day were not “Minutemen” at all.

The British colonies in North America had a long standing tradition of locally based military units. Most men between the ages of sixteen and thirty five were required to be part of the local militia and these units would meet periodically throughout the year for basic training. Many of these occasions became festive events for the local community. The colonial militia was called out often by the colonial governor to defend against Native American attacks or foreign invasions. Frequently, the militia would supplement a professional force for short campaigns.  This was especially common in the French and Indian War, fought between 1756 and 1763.

But the militia was far from a professional and well trained force. Colonies, such as Massachusetts, began to create select companies of men chosen from the local militia regiment. These companies would train more often and be better equipped. They were to be the “elite” force of the militia. Also, these men would be required to respond to an emergency at a short notice. The rise of the “Minuteman” concept can be found as early as 1645. In response to an Indian tribe disturbance, the Massachusetts Council of War created a new regulation. This regulation ordered militia companies to “appoint out and to make choice of thirty soldiers of their companies in ye hundred, who shall be ready at a half an hour’s warning.” The need for a quick response force was already recognized by colonial leaders.

Though the idea of the “Minuteman” can be found in 1645 Massachusetts, the more popular idea of the “Minuteman” came from Worcester, Massachusetts. In 1774 the town was in the forefront of opposing Governor (and General) Thomas Gage’s efforts to enforce Royal authority. The Worcester County Convention passed new militia regulations that highlighted/reinforced how the populace was getting closer and closer to open confrontation with the British Crown. In these new regulations, the Worcester Convention called for “officers in each town of the county, to enlist one third of the men of their respective towns, between sixteen and sixty years of age, to be ready to act at a minute’s warning…” Thus the “Minuteman” was born.

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Monument on the Lexington Green marking the place where the “Lexington Minute Men” stood

As events in Massachusetts spiraled into open confrontation between the Whigs (Patriots) and the Crown, every town in Massachusetts ramped up their military training of their militia and created “Minuteman” companies. These units became a source of local pride. Along with the militia forces, towns and counties created a complex network of communication via riders that could notify hundreds if not thousands of militia units of possible threats. As Gage began to use his growing military force in Boston to search for colonial military stores, these riders and “Minutemen” showed their effectiveness.

On the morning of April 19, 1775 riders rode out to a very well prepared countryside west of Boston. Paul Revere, William Dawes and many others connected each town with the news that the British regulars were marching on Concord to capture provincial military stores (and possibly capture colonial leaders). Militia and “Minutemen” by the hundreds began to arrive along the road from Cambridge to Concord.

The first Americans the British confronted on the road to Concord were members of Captain Parker’s Lexington Militia. These men, gathered the night before at Buckman’s Tavern in Lexington after an early warning, were still in the area in the early morning of April 19th as the vanguard of the British column neared Lexington. As they formed up in two lines on the Lexington Green, the British quickly came onto the Green to confront the armed colonials.  What happened next set off a shockwave not just through Massachusetts, but the entire British colonies in North America. These first shots were fired by militia, not the famed “Minutemen.”

It is here in Lexington that the confusion and myth of the “Minutemen” was born. Several of the monuments around the Lexington Green are dedicated to the “Lexington Minutemen.” But the men on the green were typical militia; they ranged in age and skill levels. They were not highly trained like a “Minutemen” company.

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Isaac Davis Monument in Acton, MA. The Acton Minute Men were one of several Minute Men units to take part in the action at Concord.

As the British made their way to Concord, Militia and “Minuteman” companies began to answer the well-traveled call that the British were marching on to Concord. After the skirmish at the North Bridge in Concord, more and more colonials answered the call and began to confront the British column as it made its way back to Charlestown. Thousands of militia and “Minutemen” made their way to the towns of Lexington, Menotomy, and Cambridge to confront the British. Because of the great response of these men, there was no turning back after April 19th.

The importance of the “Minutemen” cannot be exaggerated but neither can the importance of the militia. They were two distinct colonial military forces, both created with their own specific uses. In modern times, most wanted to attach their local story to that of the famed “Minutemen.” Though it is most likely that more militia turned out on April 19th than “Minutemen.”

Many monuments in Lexington, Concord and along Battle Road mention the “Minutemen” of 1775. Also, many of the sites associated with the events of April 19th are preserved by Minute Man National Park.  I guess “Militia National Park” didn’t have as good of a ring to it.

Recommended Reading:

The Minute Men: The First Fight: Myths and Realities of the American Revolution by John Galvin

 

Reflections of April 19, 1775

On this date, 241 years ago, the first salvo of what would become the American Revolutionary War, was fired on Lexington Green and North Bridge in Concord.

Historian John Galvin once wrote about the Battles of Lexington and Concord that they were the “least known of all American battles.” I never really understood what Galvin meant, as I had read extensively about April 19, 1775 and thought I understood the details of that day in history.

Yet, until this past weekend, when I spent the better part of four days touring the sites and walking the trails, talking to the historians around the towns, I did not realize how much more there is to what actually happened on that April day.

For starters, did you realize that Paul Revere did not go town-to-town calling out, “The British are Coming” to homesteads and roadside taverns? Instead, he was the catalyst that started a chain reaction of messengers and runners to different towns throughout the countryside that cast the alarm in a wide net.

He also would have told farmsteads and meetinghouses along the way that the “Regulars are Coming,” since the colonists still thought of themselves as British.

Or that the unofficial birth of the United States Army is attributed to the militia that followed Colonel James Barrett and Colonel John Buttrick down the hill toward the British at the North Bridge?

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The field where the militia under Colonel James Barrett and Colonel John Buttrick began their advance from toward the North Bridge. The militia would be coming toward us to descend toward the span.

That was the first time that men, formed in regiments with officers, made an advance against what they perceived as an enemy force, and did so in a “very military manner.”

What prompted the various militia companies, which came from other towns than just Concord, to sally forth from the hill toward the now infamous North Bridge? The main reason was what was happening in Concord was the mistaken reason behind the smoke emanating from the town?

In the town, the British were burning military supplies and the wooden gun carriages found in the hamlet. Sparks landed one of the nearby dwellings and British soldiers actually put down their muskets to form a bucket brigade, with civilians, to help put out the flames. The smoke that billowed from the doused fires is what prompted the militia and minutemen response.

With water being dumped on the flames, smoke billowed up, which prompted milita Adjutant Joseph Hosmer to ask the officers; “Will you let them burn the town down?” That prompted the forward movement of the militia down the hill and against the British.

Or did you realize that some of the militia, from the nearby town of Acton, suffered some of the first casualties at North Bridge, including their militia captain, Isaac Davis, who was one of the first killed in the engagement?

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View of the Old Manse, built in 1770 for Reverend William Emerson. View from the Concord River/North Bridge direction.

Somewhere in the midst of the action in Concord was Reverend William Emerson, the grandfather of Ralph Waldo Emerson who would later write that the action on April 19, would be known as the “shot heard round the world” years later.

These are just a few of the interesting tidbits that I picked up this past weekend. Altogether, they reinforce the historic events that I knew unfolded on this day in American History. However, along with reflecting on what transpired in my visit to Massachusetts, these new tidbits of valuable information underscore the important stories and accounts that shape this spring day that are beckoning to be told.

There is so much to be gained by walking the grounds, talking to the historians and historical enthusiasts of the area, and just taking time to appreciate what this day, April 19th, meant to the future of the United States and the era it was leaving behind as part of the British Empire.

Review: The Spirit of ’74, How the American Revolution Began by Ray and Marie Raphael

ERW Book Reviews (1)Why did Boston’s act of political vandalism lead to a British military expedition against small towns in Massachusetts sixteen months later?

How, exactly did evolving political tensions result in actual warfare?

How did Lexington and Concord become, as Ralph Waldo Emerson wrote, “the shot heard around the world.”

The Spirit of '74, How the American Revolution Began by Ray Raphael and Marie Raphael
The Spirit of ’74, How the American Revolution Began by Ray Raphael and Marie Raphael

In a much-needed narrative, historians Ray and Marie Raphael fill in the movement toward those first shots at Lexington and Concord. In a primary source driven, easy to read history of that year before and leading up to 1775. However, “our story slows, pausing at additional markers that are often bypassed or slighted” (x).

Therein lies “only in a full telling is war a plausible outcome” (x).

The Raphael duo fluidly walks the reader through the build-up to that fateful April 1775 day. The book sheds light on developments in towns and counties across the colony of Massachusetts. A timeline in the beginning provides a good resource to remember the important dates as you read.

With the British response to the Boston Tea Party of December 1773, committed activists perceived that Britain had handed them a blueprint for disenfranchisement (44). What would be seen in the colony as the Coercive Acts, which, among other changes nullified the Charter of 1691 which colonists in Massachusetts held as sacrosanct. When the news of what the British government had did, which arrived in the harbor of Boston in May 1774 until the following April 1775, “resistance would mount, coalesce, and manifest itself in armed, relentless rebellion (44).

That coalescing would resemble an accordion, with Boston being one end and the countryside of Massachusetts the other end of the instrument. Both ends would reverberate the bellows as ideas, exchanges of opinions, passive and aggressive action, all marred the intervening months of 1774. Until as Abigail Adams wrote many months before April 1775, the”flame is kindled and like lightening it catches from soul to soul” (192).

The Raphael duo capture what the farmers in Berkshire set in motion, in accordance with capturing the attitude of townspeople in Worcester, Massachusetts at the same time. These various local uprisings, which put an emphasis on peaceful activities coalesced into the call for committees and eventually into the need for the Provincial Congress. This Congress acted as the de-facto governing body of Massachusetts in response to British measures to subdue and punish the intransigent rebels.

When viewed through the prism of the preceding years, what happened on the green of Lexington or the North Bridge at Concord becomes clearer as the pivot in which the simmering resentment in Massachusetts finally boiled over and led to the “shot heard around the world.”

Every once in a while a monograph is written that fills a necessary void in the field of early American Revolutionary history. This history is definitely one of those as it fills in that critical, yet overlooked, time period in the build-up to the fighting between British-American colonists and the redcoats that represented the mother country.

One cannot hope to understand the events of 1775 and beyond without knowing how the colonists of Massachusetts, so many that have unfortunately been lost to the passing of time, began the protests that led to independence, beginning in the years before.

Or as the authors more succinctly state; “and so begins a story we know” (214).

 

Book Information:

Publisher: The New Press, New York, NY

Pages: 219 pages plus acknowledgements, bibliography, index, and, timeline

 

 

240th Anniversary of the “Shot Heard Around the World”

Battle of Lexington, Engraved 1874
Battle of Lexington, Engraved 1874

As we remember the events around Bennett Place this weekend, keep in mind our friends near Boston are commemorating another important anniversary.  Today marks the 240th anniversary of the battles of Lexington and Concord.  To read more about the events taking place at Minuteman National Park, the Lexington Historical Society and the Concord Historical Society our friend J.L. Bell’s “Boston 1775” blog is an excellent resource. You may visit his blog by following the link: http://boston1775.blogspot.com/

Thank you to everyone who has taken the time to read our Rev War Wednesday posts.  We hope shedding light on the events during the American Revolution gives more perspective to the events leading up to the American Civil War.

“A Negro Man”: Prince Estabrook of Lexington

RevWarWednesdays-header

As the British under Lt. Col. Francis Smith marched out of Lexington on the morning of April 19th, they left behind them 18 American casualties. One of these men who suffered wounds that morning was Prince Estabrook. Estabrook was unlike the others who lined up that morning on the Lexington Green, Estabrook was an enslaved African American.

Prince Estabrook Service Record for June 1775
Prince Estabrook Service Record for June 1775

Born in the 1740’s and owned by Benjamin Estabrook there is little information on Prince’s life and family. Benjamin Estabrook operated a grist mill near Lexington and maintained a decent sized farm. Benjamin served in various positions in Lexington including coroner, justice of the peace and Selectman. He inherited Prince from his father and both men were near the same age. Prince enlisted in the Lexington militia in 1773 and his owner had to grant him the ability to do so. Continue reading ““A Negro Man”: Prince Estabrook of Lexington”