Our monthly recap of what our good friend and fellow historian Tom Hand has written on his blog, AmericanaCorner.
The Legacy of Paul Revere November 2, 2021
Paul Revere began his famous ride from Boston to Concord, around 11:00pm on April 18, 1775, informing the residents and militiamen that the British were on the march. He arrived in Lexington, a town about 10 miles from Boston, around midnight. Read more here.
Lexington and Concord: Minutemen in Arms November 9, 2021
The Battles of Lexington and Concord, fought on April 19, 1775, marked the start of America’s war for independence from England. The story of that fight is an inspiring account of how everyday Americans came together to resist the power of Great Britain. Read more here.
Lexington and Concord: The Shot Heard Round the World November 16, 2021
The fight between our Minutemen and the British regulars at Lexington was over in a matter of minutes, and the British began the seven-mile march to Concord. By now, reports of the shooting had reached the minutemen in the surrounding area, and they began to assemble. A bad day for the British was about to begin. Read more here.
The Battle of Bunker Hill November 23, 2021
The Battle of Bunker Hill, fought on June 17, 1775, is one of the most iconic and familiar events in American history. It was our first pitched battle against the British army and, although technically a defeat, the efforts of the American militiamen were inspirational. Read more here.
Love brought Dr. Samuel Prescott, a practicing physician, to the town of Lexington on the night of April 18, 1775. The young doctor was courting Ms. Lydia Mulliken, when the alarm of the British soldiers marching from Boston went out to the local militia. Lydia’s brother was one of those called to gather.
Love. That emotion also drew Dr. Prescott back toward his hometown of Concord—this time to alert friends, neighbors, and family members of the urgent news of the evening. En route, Dr. Prescott along with Paul Revere and William Dawes, alerted the countryside of the moving British troops. After being vetted and vouchsafed as a true friend of liberty, Dr. Prescott rode posthaste to his hometown, where his word carried greater weight.
As events quickly spiraled out of control in the winter and spring of 1774-1775 around Massachusetts, several armed confrontations between local “Patriots” and the British army heightened tensions. On many occasions, both sides adverted open confrontation and were able to diffuse the situation. Understanding these events and how they made an impression on both sides helps explain what happened on the Lexington Common on April 19, 1775.
As soon as British General Thomas Gage arrived in Boston in the spring of 1774, he set about enforcing the newly passed “Coercive Acts.” In response to these new laws that restricted many of the rights the people of Massachusetts had grown accustomed too, local groups began to arm themselves in opposition to British authority. Even though Gage was once popular in the colonies, he soon became an enemy to those around Boston who believed the Coercive Acts were an overstep of British authority. Continue reading ““If you Fire, You’ll all be dead men” The Salem Alarm”→
Emerging Revolutionary War welcomes back guest historian Katie Turner Getty.
Towering over Charlestown, Massachusetts, its foundation set in sacred battleground soil, the Bunker Hill Monument is a 221 foot obelisk commemorating the Battle of Bunker Hill. The cornerstone of the monument was laid by the Marquis De Lafayette in 1825, fifty years after the battle was fought on June 17, 1775.
Although the land surrounding the monument has been greatly developed since the battle, visitors today can get still get a sense of the 18th-century landscape just by walking through Charlestown and climbing the hill to reach Monument Square. Approaching visitors are greeted by the statue of Colonel William Prescott, the gray granite of the monument serving as an impressive backdrop behind him. Continue reading “ERW Weekender: Bunker Hill Monument & Museum”→
Emerging Revolutionary War welcomes back guest historian Katie Turner Getty
“Fire! Fire! You dare not fire!” “Cowardly rascals!” “Lobsters!”
Shouts pierced the icy stillness of the night as a raucous crowd gathered in Boston’s King Street on the night of March 5, 1770. With their voices carrying through the wintry air all the way to Long Wharf, the crowd hurled insults at eight British soldiers and their captain. The soldiers’ muskets rattled as snowballs, oyster shells, and chunks of ice lobbed by the unruly crowd rained down upon them.
The soldiers shot eleven townspeople that night. Three died in the snow where they stood. Two more would later die from their wounds. The remaining six would survive. All of the victims were male.
Emerging Revolutionary War is honored to welcome guest historian Katie Turner Getty. A short biography is at the bottom of the post.
In terms of historical significance, few American cities rival Boston, where shades and shadows of the Revolution can be found around every corner. By walking the city’s famous Freedom Trail, one can follow in the literal footsteps of the inhabitants who left such an indelible mark on the city. Indeed, many heroes of revolutionary Boston—Revere, Adams, Otis—lie in their eternal repose in burying grounds mere steps from busy thoroughfares.
The presence of those revolutionaries still looms large in Boston and many of their old stomping grounds still stand. Several buildings located on the Freedom Trail played unforgettable parts in the revolution. From the fiery speeches at Old South Meeting House on the eve of the tea party to the blood shed by those massacred outside the Old State House*, these sites are popular and are frequently visited.
But there is one site not located on the Freedom Trail that is yet imbued with great historical import. Indeed, it is the site of the 1768 arrival of British warships in Boston Harbor and the troops who first took those fateful steps into Boston for the purposes of occupying the city.
The name of this site, so often overlooked, is Long Wharf.
Long Wharf has stretched into the Atlantic from Boston for 300 years, serving as the world’s great doorway to the city. It was the longest wharf in Boston, extending 1,586 feet into the deep water of the harbor allowing up to 50 ships to dock at one time. It would have been a place of great bustle—the loading and unloading of cargo by longshoremen, transporting of such cargo to the busy warehouses and shops that lined the wharf, and then the purchase of such goods by local people.
On Friday, September 30, the Beaver, the Senegal, the Martin, the Glasgow, the Mermaid, the Romney**, the Launceston, and the Bonetta anchored in the harbor. On board the ships were “the 14th and 29th Regiments, a detachment from the 59th regiment, and an artillery train”. The next day, Bostonians warily watched as “the war ships maneuvered closer to the town and ranged themselves as if for a siege.” Then, carried off the warships by small boats, British troops stepped onto Long Wharf and into American history.
These ships and troops had arrived in the port of Boston as a response to colonial opposition to the Townshend Acts which were enacted by Parliament in 1767 in an effort to enforce their sovereignty over the colonies and raise revenue. The Townshend Acts imposed a tax on imports such as tea, glass, paper, and paints, as well as instituted a Customs board to help enforce British trade regulations and deter smuggling activity. Many Bostonians were opposed to the Townshend Acts and protested by gathering in mobs and harassing officials.
Paul Revere immortalized the landing of the troops in an engraving entitled “A View Of Part of the Town of Boston In New England And Brittish [sic] Ships of War Landing Their Troops! 1768”. The image depicts the eight British ships of war arrived in the harbor, with smaller boats carrying red-coated soldiers to Long Wharf. Some troops are already amassed on the wharf, gathering into formation.
Revere’s engraving also shows many buildings running along the north side of Long Wharf in an uninterrupted line toward the town. They were warehouses, counting houses, shops, and dwellings. One of these buildings was John Hancock’s Counting House, which still stands on Long Wharf today. Currently incarnated as a restaurant called the Chart House, it is the oldest extant building on Long Wharf, built in 1763. John Hancock’s original wall safe is actually still set in the red brick wall of the second floor dining room. The safe is not off-limits; visitors may freely open and close the safe’s inner and outer doors or even run a hand over the smooth metal.
When standing at the wall safe, take a few steps to the right and look out the front windows of the building. Look down to the ground level to see the path of the troops as they passed right by Hancock’s Counting House, “with insolent parade, drums beating, fifes playing, and colours flying, up King Street” as they headed down the wharf and into the town. The soldiers were marching to the Town House, at the base of King Street. And beyond that, to Boston Common.
Long Wharf at the time (as it is today) was really just an extension of King Street, which ran all the way from the Town House (later to become the site of the Boston Massacre), down to the shoreline, then continued along in the form of a wharf, out into the harbor. After the Revolution, King Street was (perhaps appropriately) renamed State Street and is known by that decidedly more American moniker today.
The soldiers’ route may be traced today by any perambulating history enthusiast. Walk out past Hancock’s Counting House, to the terminus of Long Wharf and stand where the British soldiers disembarked. As you gaze out across the cold gray Atlantic, feel the stiff sea breeze rolling in off the water just as they did. Then turn your gaze away from the Atlantic and look back toward the city. The view is the same as in 1768—the Town House will be in your direct line of sight. As the soldiers marched down the wharf in a straight line, they too would have seen the Town House quite clearly.
A pamphlet published by the Boston Redevelopment Authority in the 1980s reveals that although the wooden timbers of Long Wharf are experiencing decay, the 17th and 18th century granite bulkheads beneath the wharf are still intact. It is a thrill for any revolutionary history enthusiast to walk out to the end of Long Wharf, knowing that deep beneath his or her feet are the very same granite blocks, impervious to time and history, that bore silent witness to the arrival of the British soldiers who stepped onto Long Wharf and into history when they came to occupy Boston.
*The building known today as the Old State House was known in the 1770s as the Town House.
**The Romney actually arrived in Boston Harbor in May 1768 to help enforce customs and discourage the flouting of trade regulations, attempting to seize John Hancock’s ship, Liberty.
*Katie Turner Getty is a lawyer, history enthusiast, and lifelong resident of Boston. She holds an A.A. from Bunker Hill Community College in Charlestown, Massachusetts, a B.A. in History from Wellesley College, and a J.D. from New England Law Boston. She can often be found exploring historic sites both on and off the Freedom Trail.
Emerging Revolutionary War is honored to welcome historian Malanna Henderson to the blog. A biography of Mrs. Henderson is at the bottom of this post.
Historical records are generally written by men about men.
When most of us think about the role women played in the Revolutionary War, Betsy Ross comes to mind. Why did early historians choose to recognize the contributions of Betsy Ross instead of others? We all know the answer to that question. Her contribution was sewing the American flag. Sewing, a traditional “female” occupation, was elevated to heroic heights by the legacy of Ross. Most historians today don’t name Betsy Ross as the designer of the first American flag, but that’s another story.
Women whose contributions didn’t fall neatly into categories that weren’t exclusively defined as “feminine” were intentionally excluded; and yet, without their contributions, big and small during the years that the war ensued, the war could have raged on longer or dare I say, we might be flying the Union Jack instead of the Stars and Stripes.
Heroism has many forms.
On the home front women maintained the farms, took care of livestock and fed, clothed and educated their children while their husbands took up arms against the British. That was how most women supported the war effort. However, as in the Civil War women were camp followers, accompanying their husbands and sons to the battlefield. For these women, the army could supply food and protection since they could no longer support themselves after their men left for war. In the military camps, women nursed the sick and wounded, laundered and mended uniforms and cooked meals. At some time in the war, women were paid for providing these services.
Then there were women who chose to pursue more daring endeavors, like spying or binding their breast, cutting their hair and donning men’s clothing to enlist in the war under an alias.
Often the study of history can ground us and make us feel less “unique.” This allows us to hopefully put our own experiences into perspective and be able to hopefully learn from lessons of the past. Many today complain about how print and social media can distort facts to support a particular agenda. This is not a modern phenomenon. Many in the Sons of Liberty (such as Paul Revere) used print media to their advantage to promote resistance to and then independence from Great Britain.
Many pro-Patriot newspapers printed nothing less than propaganda pieces after the battles of April 19, 1775. Here is part of what was printed by the Massachusetts Spy on May 3, 1775.
“Americans! forever bear in mind the BATTLE of LEXINGTON! where British Troops, unmolested and unprovoked wantonly, and in a most inhuman manner fired upon and killed a number of our countrymen, then robbed them of their provisions, ransacked, plundered and burnt their houses! nor could the tears of defenseless women, some of whom were in the pains of childbirth, the cries of helpless, babes, nor the prayers of old age, confined to beds of sickness, appease their thirst for blood! – or divert them from the DESIGN of MURDER and ROBBERY!”
Obviously a historic study of the events on April 19, 1775 disputes much of what is claimed by the Massachusetts Spy. But when you have a point to make, an agenda to promote and a local population to rally to a cause…why should truth get in the way?! We have come a long way since 1775, but in many ways not much has changed.
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?
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?
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.
The above words were written by Lt. Col. Francis Smith in his official report to General Thomas Gage. Smith, in command of the British expedition to Concord recently returned from what would be the opening salvo of rebellion. Smith wanted to be clear that he never intended to start bloodshed. In the days afterwards, the Massachusetts militia made it clear that they intended to lay the blame at the “regulars.” As soon as the British returned to Boston, the war of words began on who fired the first shot to begin a worldwide war. The British column that was led by Smith was sent from Boston to capture supplies reportedly stored at nearby Concord. To get to Concord, the British would have to march through Lexington. Due to a complex warning system, the local militia in Lexington were mustered and called to arms. Captain John Parker and his minutemen were lined up on the Lexington green in two rows, facing the road to Cambridge and the Lexington meetinghouse. The road south of the green headed to Concord, and Parker had his mean assembled on the northern portion of the green, away from the Concord road.