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home : community : history July 7, 2022

5/1/2022 9:08:00 AM
And so, it begins...the Revolutionary War
The Battles of Lexington and Concord were the first military engagements of the Revolutionary War. The battles were fought on April 19, 1775.
The Battles of Lexington and Concord 
were the first military engagements
of the Revolutionary War. The battles
were fought on April 19, 1775.
This is the 43rd in our series of
articles from the SAR and DAR
leading up to the celebration of
America's 250th birthday in 2026.

Jennifer Baker
Vesuvius Furnace Chapter, DAR

On May 28,1754 the French and Indian War, also called the Seven Years War, began. The French and Indian War pitted the North American colonies of the British Empire against those of the French, each side being supported by various Native American tribes. The Treaty of Paris, signed on February 10, 1763, ended the French and Indian War.

As the English drove the French from North America, the English national debt soared. Parliament and the King make plans to recover their losses and resolve their debt. With the Proclamation of 1763, King George III banned colonists from settling beyond the Appalachian Mountains. What came next started tension building at an exponential rate…

The Sugar Act of 1764, also known as the American Revenue Act of 1764 or the American Duties Act, was a revenue-raising act passed by the Parliament of Great Britain on April 5th, 1764.   British legislation aimed at ending the smuggling trade in sugar and molasses from the French and Dutch West Indies and at providing increased revenues to fund enlarged British Empire responsibilities following the French and Indian War. Actually, a reinvigoration of the largely ineffective Molasses Act of 1733, the Sugar Act provided for strong customs enforcement of the duties on refined sugar and molasses imported into the colonies from non-British Caribbean sources. Further, this meant that smugglers could be tried in Admiralty Courts, without the benefit of a jury.

Then in March of 1765, two more acts were passed which increased tensions…The Stamp Act and the Quartering Act. The Stamp Act placed a tax on paper goods and legal documents which covered everything from playing cards to permits. The Quartering Act said that colonists must provide housing and food for British troops. Almost immediately, the Virginia House of Burgesses passed the Virginia Resolves, seven resolutions that challenged the legality of the Stamp Act.  By October, the colonies began to organize, and the Stamp Act Congress met in Philadelphia to discuss the crisis. The Sons of Liberty began organizing throughout the colonies to advance the rights of the colonists and to fight taxation by the British government. It played a major role in most colonies in battling the Stamp Act in 1765.

Parliament decided changes are in order in 1766. They repealed the Stamp Act and passed the Declaratory Act, which reiterated Parliament's authority over the colonies. Starting the next year, additional laws were passed, intended to instill Britain’s dominance over the colonies, called the Townsend Acts. The purposes of the acts were to raise revenue in the colonies to pay the salaries of governors and judges so that they would remain loyal to Great Britain; create more effective means of enforcing compliance with trade regulations; punish the Province of New York for failing to comply with the 1765 Quartering Act; and establish the precedent that the British Parliament had the right to tax the colonies.  

In 1768, Massachusetts led the colonies in measures annoying the crown with the Massachusetts Assembly issuing the Massachusetts Circular Letter, denouncing the Townsend Acts in February. In August, Boston merchants agreed not to import British goods, or sell to Britain – the Boston Non-Importation Agreement.

In January of 1770, Isaac Sears and others tried to stop some soldiers from posting handbills at the Fly Market at the foot of Maiden Lane in New York. Sears captured some of the soldiers and marched his captives towards the mayor's office, while the rest of the British soldiers ran to the barracks to sound the alarm. A crowd of townsfolk arrived along with a score of soldiers. The soldiers were surrounded and badly outnumbered. Fellow soldiers tried to rescue them but were ordered to their barracks. As they were being escorted to their barracks, they reached John Street between William Street and Pearl Street. This area was known as "Golden Hill," after a nearby wheat field. An officer then said, “Soldiers, draw your bayonets and cut your way through them." More soldiers arrived and a group of officers arrived to disperse the soldiers before the situation got totally out of hand. Several of the soldiers were badly bruised and one had a serious wound. Some of the townsfolk were also wounded.

The next incident was not as peaceful. About six weeks later in Boston, Private Hugh White stood on guard duty outside the Boston Custom House on King Street. A wigmaker's apprentice, approximately 13-years-old, named Edward Garrick called out to Captain-Lieutenant John Goldfinch, accusing him of refusing to pay a bill due to Garrick's master. Goldfinch had settled the account the previous day and ignored the insult. Private White called out to Garrick that he should be more respectful of the officer, and the two men exchanged insults. Garrick then started poking Goldfinch in the chest with his finger; White left his post, challenged the boy, and struck him on the side of the head with his musket. Garrick cried out in pain, and his companion Bartholomew Broaders began to argue with White which attracted a larger crowd.

Henry Knox was a 19-year-old bookseller who later served as a general in the revolution; he came upon the scene and warned White that, "if he fired, he must die for it." More than 50 Bostonians pressed around White, led by Crispus Attucks, throwing objects at the sentry, and challenging him to fire his weapon. White had taken up a somewhat safer position on the steps of the Custom House, and he sought assistance.

Runners alerted Captain Thomas Preston, the officer of the watch at the nearby barracks. According to his report, Preston dispatched a non-commissioned officer and six privates from the grenadier company of the 29th Regiment of Foot to relieve White with fixed bayonets.

Upon their arrival, there was a pause of uncertain length, after which the soldiers fired into the crowd. It was not a disciplined volley, since Preston gave no orders to fire; the soldiers fired a ragged series of shots which hit 11 men. Three Americans died instantly: rope maker Samuel Gray, mariner James Caldwell, and Crispus Attucks. Samuel Maverick, a 17-year-old apprentice ivory turner, was struck by a ricocheting musket ball at the back of the crowd and died early the next morning. Irish immigrant Patrick Carr died two weeks later. Apprentice Christopher Monk was seriously wounded; he was crippled and died in 1780, purportedly due to the injuries that he had sustained in the attack a decade earlier. This event became known as the Boston Massacre.

The British government continued to tax the American colonies without providing representation in Parliament. American resentment, corrupt British officials, and abusive enforcement spurred colonial attacks on British ships, including the burning of the Gaspee in the Providence harbor in 1772. The Townshend Acts' taxation on imported tea was enforced once again by the Tea Act of 1773, and this led to the Boston Tea Party, in which Bostonians destroyed a large shipment of taxed tea. Inspired by the Boston Tea Party, the calls for tea boycotts and the resolutions of the first North Carolina Provincial Congress, 51 women led by Penelope Barker, met on October 25, 1774, in Edenton, NC. They signed a statement of protest vowing to give up tea and boycott other British products "until such time that all acts which tend to enslave our Native country shall be repealed." Other similar protests sprung up across the colonies...

In response to the Boston Tea Party, the British government decided that it had to tame the rebellious colonists in Massachusetts. In the spring of 1774, Parliament passed a series of laws, the Coercive Acts, which closed Boston Harbor until restitution was paid for the destroyed tea, replaced the colony’s elected council with one appointed by the British, gave sweeping powers to the British military governor General Thomas Gage, and forbade town meetings without approval. Virginia reacted quickly to call upon the other colonies to elect delegates to attend a provincial congress in which unified delegates replied to Parliament’s action. Within a day, the North Carolina Committee of Correspondence agreed not only to follow Virginia’s lead and hold delegate elections but also to call for a boycott against British commerce and to avoid trading with Britain until the Port Act was repealed.

Parliament responded with severe punishments in the Intolerable Acts 1774. Parliament closed Boston’s port in response to the Tea Party. The Quartering Act was amended and the administration of Justice Act and Massachusetts Government Act further angered colonists. These events led up to the First Continental Congress in Philadelphia in September of 1774. On September 5, 1774, the First Continental Congress drafted a Petition to the King and organized a boycott of British goods. 

By March of 1775, the boycott was taking effect alongside the rising tensions of the colonists. Patrick Henry’s “Liberty or Death” speech was given at St. John's Church in Richmond during the Second Virginia Convention.  A few weeks later, the British decided to take action to exert their dominance over the colonies.

On April 18, 1775, British troops marched out of Boston on a mission to confiscate the American arsenal at Concord and to capture Patriot leaders Samuel Adams and John Hancock, known to be hiding at Lexington. As the British departed, Boston Patriots Paul Revere and William Dawes set out on horseback from the city to warn Adams and Hancock and rouse the Minutemen. Revere arrived in Lexington shortly before Dawes, but together they warned Adams and Hancock and then set out for Concord. Along the way, they were joined by Samuel Prescott, a young Patriot who had been riding home after visiting a lady friend. Early on the morning of April 19, a British patrol captured Revere, and Dawes lost his horse, forcing him to walk back to Lexington on foot. However, Prescott escaped and rode on to Concord to warn the Patriots there. After being roughly questioned for an hour or two, Revere was released when the patrol heard Minutemen alarm guns being fired on their approach to Lexington.

About 5 AM on April 19, approximately 700 British troops under Major John Pitcairn arrived at the town to find a 77-man-strong colonial militia under Captain John Parker waiting for them on Lexington’s common green. Pitcairn ordered the outnumbered Patriots to disperse, and after a moment’s hesitation, the Americans began to drift off the green. Suddenly, the “shot heard around the world” was fired from an undetermined gun, and a cloud of musket smoke soon covered the green. When the brief Battle of Lexington ended, a handful of Americans lay dead, and several others wounded. The American Revolution had begun.

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