Account of the commencement of Hostilities between Great Britain and America


An account of the Commencement of Hostilities between GREAT BRITAIN and AMERICA, in the Province of the MASSACHUSETTS-BAY. By the Reverend Mr˙ WILLIAM GORDON of ROXBURY, in a Letter to a Gentleman in ENGLAND, dated MAY 17, 1775.

MY DEAR SIR: I shall now give you a letter upon publick affairs. This Colony, judging itself possessed of an undoubted right to the chartered privileges which had been granted by our glorious deliverer, King William the Third, and finding that the Continent Was roused by the measures and principles of Administration, was determined upon providing the necessary requisites for self-defence, in case there should be ah attempt to support the late unconstitutional Acts by the point of the sword, and upon making that resistance which the laws of God and nature justified, and the circumstances of the people would admit, and so to leave it with the righteous Judge of the world to settle the dispute. Accordingly the Provincial Congress, substituted by the inhabitants in lieu of the General Assembly, which could not convene but by the call of the Governour, prepared a quantity of stores for the service of an army, whenever the same might be brought into the field. These stores were deposited in various places; many of them at Concord, about twenty miles from Charlestown, which lies on the other side of the river, opposite to Boston, answering to Southwark, but without the advantage of a bridge. It was apprehended by numbers, from the attempt made to


surprise some cannon at Salem on the 26th February, that there would be something of the like kind in other places; and many were uneasy, after the resolutions of the Parliament were known, that any quantity of stores was within so small a distance of Boston, while there was no regular force established for the defence, of them. Several were desirous of raising an army instantly upon hearing what had been determined at home; but it was judged best upon the whole not to do it, as that step might be immediately construed to the disadvantage of the Colony by the enemies of it, and might not meet with the unanimous approbation of the Continental Congress.

Here I must break off for a few minutes to inform you, by way of episode, that on the 30th of March, the Governour ordered out about eleven hundred men to parade it for the distance of five miles, to Jamaica Plains, and so round by the way of Dorchester back again; in performing which military exploit, they did considerable damage to the stone fences, which occasioned a Committee' s being formed, and waiting upon the Provincial Congress, then at Concord, on the point of adjourning, which prevented their adjournment, and lengthened out the session till the news of what Parliament had done reached them on April 2d, by a vessel from Falmouth, which brought the account before the Governour had received his despatches, so that obnoxious persons took the advantage of withdrawing from Boston, or keeping away, that they might not be caught by the General, were orders for that, purpose given him from home, as there is much reason to suppose was the case, from a hint in an intercepted letter of Mr˙ Mauduit' s to Commissioner Hallowell, and from subsequent intelligence. The Tories had been for a long while filling the officers and soldiers with the idea that the Yankees would not fight, but would certainly run for it, whenever there was the appearance of hostilities on the part of the Regulars. They had repeated the story so often that they themselves really believed it, and the military were persuaded to think the same in general, so that they held the country people in the utmost contempt. The officers had discovered, especially since the warlike feat of tarring and feathering, a disposition to quarrel, and to provoke the people to begin, that they might have some colour for hostilities. This cast of mind was much increased upon the news of what Parliament had resolved upon; the people, however, bore insults patiently, being determined that they would not be the aggressors.

At length the General was fixed upon sending a detachment to Concord, to destroy the stores, having been, I apprehend, worried into it by the native Tories that were about him, and confirmed in his design by the opinion of his officers, about ten of whom, on the 18th of April, passed over Charlestown Ferry, and by the neck through Roxbury, armed with swords and pistols, and placed themselves on different parts of the road in the night to prevent all intelligence, and the country' s being alarmed; they stopped various persons, threatening to blow their brains out, ordering them to dismount, &c. The Grenadier and Light-Infantry Companies had been taken off duty some days, under pretence of learning a new exercise, which made the Bostonians jealous; one and another were confirmed in their suspicions by what they saw and heard on the 18th, so that expresses were forwarded to alarm the country, some of whom were secured by the officers on the road; the last had not got out of Town more than about five minutes, ere the order arrived to stop all persons from leaving the Town. An alarm was spread in many places, (to some the number of officers on the road to Concord proved an alarm;) however, as there had been repeated false ones, the country was at a loss what to judge. On the first of the night, when it was very dark, the detachment, consisting of all the Grenadiers and Light-Infantry, the flower of the army, to the amount of eight hundred or better, officers included, the companies having been filled up, and several of the inimical torified natives, repaired to the boats, and got into them just as the moon rose, crossed the water, landed on Cambridge side, took through a private way to avoid discovery, and therefore had to go through some places up to their thighs in water. They made a quick march of it to Lexington, about thirteen miles from Charlestown, and got there by half an hour after four.


Here I must pause again, to acquaint you that in the morning of the 19th, before we had breakfasted, between eight and nine, the whole neighbourhood was in alarm; the Minute-men (so called from their having agreed to turn out at a minute' s warning) were collecting together; we had an account that the Regulars had killed six of our men at Lexington; the Country was in an uproar; another detachment was corning out of Boston; and I was desired to take care of myself and partner. I concluded that the Brigade was intended to support the Grenadiers and Light-Infantry and to cover their retreat, in which I was not mistaken. The Brigade took out two cannon, the detachment had none. Having sent off my books, which I had finished packing up the day before, conjecturing what was coming on from the moment I had heard of the resolutions of Parliament, though I did not expect it till the reinforcement arrived, we got into our chaise, and went to Dedham. At night we had it confirmed to us, that the Regulars had been roughly handled by the Yankees, a term of reproach for the New-Englanders, when applied by the Regulars. The Brigade under Lord Percy marched out, playing, by way of contempt, Yankee Doodle; they were afterwards told, that they had been made to dance to it.

Soon after the affair, knowing what untruths are propagated by each party in matters of this nature, I concluded that I would ride to Concord, inquire for myself, and not rest upon the depositions that might be taken by others. Accordingly I went the last week. The Provincial Congress have taken depositions, which they have forwarded to Great Britain; but the Ministry and pretended friends to Government, will cry them down, as being evidence from party persons and rebels; the like may be objected against the present account, as it will materially contradict what has been published in Boston, though not expressly, yet as it is commonly supposed, by authority; however, with the impartial world, and those who will not imagine me capable of sacrificing honesty to the old, at present heretical, principles of the Revolution, it may have some weight.

Before Major Pitcairn arrived at Lexington signal guns had been fired, and the bells had been rung to give the alarm; but let not the sound of bells lead you to think of a ring of bells like what you hear in England; for they are only small sized bells, (one in a Parish,) just sufficient to notify to the people the time for attending worship, &c. Lexington being alarmed, the train band or Militia, and the alarm men (consisting of the aged and others exempted from turning out, excepting upon an alarm) repaired in general to the common, close in with the meeting-house, the usual place of parade; and there, were present when the roll was called over about one hundred and thirty of both, as I was told by Mr˙ Daniel Harrington, clerk to the company; who further said, that the night being chilly, so as to make it uncomfortable being upon the parade, they having received no certain intelligence of the Regulars being upon their march, and being waiting for the same, the men were dismissed, to appear again at the beat of drum. Some who lived near, went home, others to the publick house at the corner of the common. Upon information being received about half an hour after, that the Troops were not far off, the remains of the company who were at hand collected together, to the amount of about sixty or seventy, by the time the Regulars appeared, but were chiefly in a confused state, only a few of them being drawn up, which accounts for other witnesses making the numberless, about thirty. There were present as spectators, about forty more, scarce any of whom had arms. The printed accounts tell us, indeed, that they observed about two hundred armed men. Possibly the intelligence they had before received bad frightened those that gave the account to the General, so that they saw more than double. The said account, which has little truth in it, says, "that Major Pitcairn galloping up to the head of the advanced companies, two officers informed him, that a man (advanced from those that were assembled) had presented his musket, and attempted to shoot them, but the piece flashed in the pan."

The simple truth, I take to be this, which I received from one of the prisoners at Concord in free conversation, one James Marr, a native of Aberdeen, in Scotland, of the Fourth Regiment, who was upon the advanced guard,


consisting of six, besides a sergeant and corporal: They were met by three men on horseback before they got to the meeting-house a good way; an officer bid them stop; to which it was answered, you had better turn back, for you shall not enter the Town; when the said three persons rode back again, and at some distance one of them offered to fire, but the piece flashed in the pan without going off. I asked Marr whether he could tell if the piece was designed at the soldiers, or to give an alarm? He could not say which. The said Marr further declared, that when they and the others were advanced, Major Pitcairn said to the Lexington Company, (which, by the by, was the only one there,) stop, you rebels! and he supposed that the design was to take away their arms; but upon seeing the Regulars they dispersed, and a firing commenced, but who fired first he could not say. The said Marr, together with Evan Davies of the Twenty-Third, George Cooper of the Twenty-Third, and William McDonald of the Thirty-Eighth, respectively assured me in each other' s presence, that being in the room where John Bateman, of the Fifty-Second, was, (he was in an adjoining room, too ill to admit of my conversing with him,) they heard the said Bateman say, that the Regulars fired first, and saw him go through the solemnity of confirming the same by an oath on the bible.

Samuel Lee, a private in the Eighteenth Regiment, Royal Irish, acquainted me, that it was the talk among the soldiers that Major Pitcairn fired his pistol, then drew his sword, and ordered them to fire; which agrees with what Levi Harrington, a youth of fourteen last November, told me, that being upon the common, and hearing the Regulars were coming up, he went to the meeting-house, and saw them down in the road, on which he returned to the Lexington Company; that a person on horseback rode round the meeting, and came towards the company that way, said something loud, but could not tell what, rode a little further, then stopped and fired a pistol, which was the first report he heard, then another on horseback fired his pistol; then three or four Regulars fired their guns; upon which, hearing the bullets whistle, he ran off, and saw no more of the affair.

Mr˙ Paul Revere, who was sent express, was taken and detained some time by the officers, being afterwards upon the spot, and finding the Regulars at hand, passed through the Lexington Company with another, having between them a box of papers belonging to Mr˙ Hancock, and went down a cross road, till there was a house so between him and the company as that he could not see the latter; he told me likewise, that he had not got half a gun-shot from them before the Regulars, appeared; that they halted about three Seconds; that upon hearing the report of a pistol or gun, he looked round, and saw the smoke, in front of the Regulars, our people being out of view because of the house; then the Regulars huzzaed and fired, first two more guns, then the advanced guard, and so the whole body. The bullets flying thick about him, and he having nothing to defend himself with, ran into a wood, where he halted, and heard the firing for about a quarter of an hour.

James Brown, one of the Lexington Militia, informed me, that he was upon the common; that two pistols were fired from the party of the soldiers towards the Militia men as they we' re getting over the wall to be out of the way, and that immediately upon it the soldiers began to fire their guns; that being got over the wall, and seeing the soldiers fire pretty freely, he fired upon them and some others did the same.

Simon Winship of Lexington, declared, that being upon the road about four o' clock, two miles and and half on this side of the meeting-house, he was stopped by the Regulars, and commanded by some of the officers to dismount, or he was a dead man; that he was obliged to march with the said Troops until he came within, about half a quarter of a mile of the said meeting-house, when an officer commanded the Troops to halt, and then to prime and load; which being done, the Troops marched on till they came within a few rods of Captain Parker' s Lexington Company, who were partly collected on the place of parade, when said Winship observed an officer at the head of said Troops flourishing his sword round his head in the air, and with a loud voice giving the word fire; the said Winship is positive that there was no discharge of arms


on either side, until the word fire was given by the said officer as above.

I shall not trouble you with more particulars, but give you the substance as it lies in my own mind, collected from the persons whom I examined for my own satisfaction. The Lexington Company upon seeing the Troops, and being of themselves so unequal a match for them, were deliberating for a few moments what they should do, when several dispersing of their own heads, the Captain soon ordered the rest to disperse for their own safety. Before the order was given, three or four of the regular officers, seeing the company as they came up on the rising ground on this side the meeting, rode forward one or more, round the meeting-house, leaving it on the right hand, and so came upon them that way; upon coming up one cried out, "you damned rebels, lay down your arms;" another, "stop, you rebels;" a third, "disperse, you rebels," &c. Major Pitcairn, I suppose, thinking himself justified by Parliamentary authority to consider them as rebels, perceiving that they did not actually lay down their arms, observing that the generality were getting off, while a few continued in their military position, and apprehending there could be no great hurt in killing a few such Yankees, which might probably, according to the notions that had been instilled into him by the tory party, of the Americans being poltrons, end all the contest, gave the command to fire, then fired his own pistol, and so set the whole affair agoing, The printed account says very different; but whatever the General may have sent home in support of that account, the publick have nothing but bare assertions, and I have such valid evidence of the falsehood of several matters therein contained, that with me it has very little weight. The same account tells us, that several shots were fired from a meeting-house on the left, of which I heard not a single syllable, either from the prisoners or others, and the mention of which it would have been almost impossible to have avoided, had it been so, by one or another among the numbers with whom I freely and familiarly conversed. There is a curious note at the bottom of the account, telling us, that notwithstanding the fire from the meeting-house, Colonel Smith and Major Pitcairn, with the greatest difficulty kept the soldiers from forcing into the meeting-house, and putting all those in it to death. Would you not suppose that there was a great number in the meeting-house, while the Regulars were upon the common on the right of it, between that and the Lexington Company? Without doubt. And who do you imagine they were? One Joshua Simonds, who happened to be getting powder there as the Troops arrived; besides whom, I believe there were not two, if so much as one; for by reason of the position of the meeting-house, none would have remained in it through choice but fools and madmen. However, if Colonel Smith and Major Pitcairn' s humanity prevented the soldiers putting all those persons to death, their military skill should certainly have made some of them prisoners, and the account should have given us their names. To what I have wrote respecting Major Pitcairn, I am sensible his general character may be objected. But character must not be allowed to overthrow positive evidence when good, and the conclusions fairly deduced there from. Besides, since hearing from Mr˙ Jones in what shameful abusive manner, with oaths and curses, he was treated by the Major at Concord, for shutting the doors of his tavern against him and the Troops; and in order to terrify him to make discoveries of stores; and the manner in which the Major crowed over the two four-and-twenty pounders found in the yard, as a mighty acquisition, worthy the expedition on which the detachment was employed, I have no such great opinion of the Major' s character; though, when he found that nothing could be done of any great importance by bullying, blustering, and threatening, he could alter his tone, begin to coax, and offer a reward. It may be said this Jones was a jailer; yes, and such a jailer as I would give credit to, sooner than the generality of those officers that will degrade the British arms, by employing their swords in taking away the rights of a free people, when they ought to be devoted to a good cause only. There were killed at Lexington eight persons — one Parker of the same name with the Captain of the company, and two or three more, on the common; the rest on the other side of the walls and


fences while dispersing. The soldiers fired at persons who had no arms. Eight hundred of the best British Troops in America having thus nobly vanquished a company of non-resisting Yankees while dispersing, and slaughtering a few of them by way of experiment, marched forward in the greatness of their might to Concord. The Concord people had received the alarm, and had drawn themselves up in order for defence; upon a messenger' s coming and telling them that the Regulars were three times their number, they prudently changed their situation, determining to Wait for reinforcements from the neighbouring Towns, which were now alarmed; but as to the vast numbers of armed people seen assembling on all the heights, as related in the account, ' tis mostly fiction. The Concord Company retired over the north bridge, and when strengthened returned to it, with a view of dislodging Captain Laurie, and securing it for themselves. They knew not what had happened at Lexington, and therefore orders were given by the commander not to give the first fire. They boldly marched towards it, though not in great numbers, (as told in the account,) and were fired upon by the Regulars, by which fire a Captain belonging to Acton was killed, and I think a private. The Reverend Mr˙ Emerson of Concord, living in the neighbourhood of the bridge, who gave me the account, went near enough to see it, and was nearer the Regulars than the killed. He was very uneasy till he found that the fire was returned, and continued till the Regulars were drove off. Lieutenant Gould, who was at the bridge, and was wounded and taken prisoner, has deposed that their Regulars gave, the first fire there, though the printed narrative asserts the contrary; and the soldiers that knew any thing of the matter, with whom I conversed, made no scruple of owning the same that Mr˙ Gould deposed.

After the engagement began, the whole detachment collected together as fast as it could. The narrative tells us, that as Captain Parsons, returned with his three companies over the bridge, they observed three soldiers on the ground, one of them scalped, his head much mangled, and his ears cut off, though not quite dead; all this is not fiction, though the most is. The Reverend Mr˙ Emerson informed me how the matter was, with great concern for its having happened. A young fellow coming over the bridge in order to join the country people, and seeing the soldier wounded and attempting to get up, not being under the feelings of humanity, very barbarously broke his skull, and let out his brains with a small axe, (apprehend of the tomahawk kind,) but as to his being scalped and having his ears cut off, there was nothing in it. The poor object lived an hour or two before he expired. The detachment, when joined by Captain Parsons, made a hasty retreat, finding by woful experience that the Yankees would fight, and that their numbers would be continually increasing. The Regulars were pushed with vigour by the country people, who took the advantage of walls, fences, &c˙, but those that could get up to engage were not upon equal terms with the Regulars in point of number any part of the day, though the country was collecting together from, all quarters, and had there been two hours more for it, would probably have cut off both detachment and Brigade, or made them prisoners. The soldiers being obliged to retreat with haste to Lexington, had no time to do any considerable mischief. But a little on this side Lexington Meeting-House where they were met by the Brigade, with, cannon, under Lord Percy, the scene changed. The inhabitants had quitted their houses in general upon the road, leaving almost every thing behind them, and thinking themselves well off in escaping with their lives. The soldiers burnt in Lexington three houses, one barn, and two shops, one of which joined to the house, and a mill-house adjoining to the barn; other houses and buildings were attempted to be burnt, and narrowly escaped. You would have been shocked at the destruction which has been made, by the Regulars, as they are miscalled, had you been present with me to have beheld it. Many houses were plundered of every thing valuable that could be taken away, and what could not be carried off was destroyed; looking-glasses, pots, pans, &c˙, were broke all to pieces; doors when not fastened, sashes and windows wantonly damaged and destroyed. The people say that the soldiers are worse than the Indians; in short, they have given the Country such


an early specimen of their brutality as will make the inhabitants dread submission to the power of the British Ministry, and determine them to fight desperately rather than have such cruel masters to lord it over them. The Troops at length reached Charlestown, where there was no attacking them with safety to the Town, and that night and the next day crossed over in boats to Boston, where they continue to be shut up; for the people poured down in so amazing a manner from all parts, for scores of miles round, (even the grey-headed came to assist their countrymen,) the General was obliged to set about further fortifying the Town immediately at all points and places.

The proceedings of April 19th have united the Colony and Continent, and brought in New-York to act as vigorously as any other place whatsoever; and has raised an army in an instant, which are lodged in the several houses of the Towns round Boston till their tents are finished, which will be soon. All that is attended to, besides ploughing and planting, &c˙, is making ready for fighting. The non-importations and non-exportations will now take place from necessity, and traffick give place to war.

We have a fine spring, prospects of great plenty; there was scarce ever known such a good fall of lambs; we are in no danger of starving through the cruel acts against the New-England Governments; and the men who had been used to the fishery, (a hardy generation of people,) Lord North has undesignedly kept in the Country to give strength to our military operations, and to assist as occasion may require: thanks to a superiour wisdom for his blunders. The General is expecting reinforcements, but few have arrived as yet; the winds, contrary to the common run at this season, instead of being easterly, have been mostly the reverse. When the reinforcement arrives, and is recovered of the voyage, the General will be obliged in honour to attempt dislodging the people, and penetrating into the country; both soldiers and inhabitants are in want of fresh provisions, and will be like to suffer much, should the Provincial Army be able to keep the Town shut up on all sides, excepting by water, as at present.

The General engaged with the Selectmen of Boston, that if the Town' s people would deliver up their arms into their custody, those that chose it should be allowed to go out with their effects. The townsmen complied, and the General forfeited his word, for which there will be an after reckoning, should they ever have it in their power to call him to an account. A few have been allowed to come out with many of their effects; numbers are not permitted to come out, and the chief of those who have been, have been obliged to leave their merchandise and goods (linen and household stuff, cash and plate excepted) behind them. You must look back to the origin of the United Provinces, that you may have an idea of the resolution of this people. May the present struggle end as happily in favour of American liberty, without proving the destruction of Great Britain. We are upon a second edition of King Charles the First' s reign, enlarged. May the dispute be adjusted before the times, are too tragical to admit of it. Both officers and privates have altered their opinion of the Yankees very much since the 18th of April.

The detachment, while at Concord disabled two twenty-four-pounders, destroyed their two carriages and seven wheels for the same, with their limbers; sixteen wheels for brass three-pounders, and two carriages, with limber and wheels for two four-pounders; five hundred pounds of ball thrown into the river, wells, and other places; and broke in pieces about sixty barrels of flour, half of which was saved. Cannot be certain of the number that were killed. Apprehend, upon the whole, the Regulars had more than one hundred killed, and one hundred and fifty wounded, besides about fifty taken prisoners. The country people had about forty killed, seven or eight taken prisoners, and a few wounded.

N˙B. I never saw the printed account till Monday, so that I was not directed by it in any of my inquiries when at Lexington and Concord. The General, I am persuaded, gave positive orders to the detachment not to fire first, or I am wholly mistaken in my opinion of him. The prisoners at Worcester, Concord, and Lexington, all agreed in their being exceedingly well used. The policy of the people would determine them thereto, if their humanity did not.