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The Battles of Lexington and Concord

In this document, a well-to-do Loyalist lady recounts the events of the first battles of the American Revolution.

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Summary

On the 18th instant at 11 at Night, about 800 Grenadiers and light Infantry were ferried across the bay to Cambridge, from whence they marched to Concord, about 20 miles. The Congress had been latterly assembled at that place, and it was imagined that the General had intelligence of a magazine being formed there and that they were going to destroy it. On the night of April 18, 1775, the British Army marched to Concord. The Army heard a rumor that the Patriots were collecting weapons, and it was going to destroy them.
The people in the country (who are all furnished with arms and have what they call minute companies in every town ready to march on any alarm), had a signal it’s supposed by a light from one of the steeples in Town, upon the troops embarking. The alarm spread through the country, so that before daybreak the people in general were in arms and on their march to Concord. The Patriots used a signal to spread the word about the attack. Local Patriots started gathering to stop the British Army.
About daybreak a number of the people appeared before the troops near Lexington. They were called to, to disperse, when they fired on the troops and ran off, upon which the Light Infantry pursued them and brought down about fifteen of them. The troops went on to Concord and executed the business they were set on, At dawn, the armed Patriots met the British Army in Lexington. The Army ordered them to leave. The Patriots shot at the Army and ran away. Some soldiers ran after them and killed fifteen men. When the fighting was over, the troops marched to Concord and destroyed the hidden weapons.
and on their return found two or three of their people Lying in the agonies of death, scalped and their noses and ears cut off and eyes bored out—which exasperated the soldiers exceedingly—a prodigious number of people now occupying the hills, woods, and stone walls along the road. The Light Troops drove some parties from the hills, but all the road being enclosed with stone walls served as a cover to the rebels, from whence they fired on the Troops still running off whenever they had fired, but still supplied by fresh numbers who came from many parts of the country. When the British Army started back to Boston, it found British soldiers brutally injured and dying in the road. This greatly angered the Army. As the troops continued their march, Patriots shot at them from hiding places in the hills. Anytime the Army tried to shoot back, the Patriots ran away.
In this manner were the troops harassed in their return for seven or eight miles, they were almost exhausted and had expended near the whole of their ammunition when to their great joy they were relieved by a Brigade of troops under the command of Lord Percy with two pieces of artillery. The troops now combatted with fresh ardor, and marched in their return with undaunted countenances, receiving sheets of fire all the way for many miles, yet having no visible enemy to combat with, for they never would face them in an open field, but always skulked and fired from behind walls, and trees, and out of windows of houses, but this cost them dear for the soldiers entered those dwellings and put all the men to death. The troops marched for about eight miles. The whole time, they were being shot at by hidden Patriots. Just when they were about to give up, Lord Percy arrived with reinforcements. He rallied the troops, and they continued to fight their way through the countryside. The Patriots continued to shoot from hiding places in the countryside. This made the British soldiers so angry that they started killing every man they found, whether he was fighting or not.
Lord Percy has gained great honor by his conduct through this day of severe service, he was exposed to the hottest of the fire and animated his troops with great coolness and spirit. Several officers are wounded and about 100 soldiers. The killed amount to near 50, as to the Enemy we can have no exact account but it is said there was about ten times the number of them engaged, and that near 1,000 of them have fallen. Lord Percy is celebrated for his bravery. About fifty British soldiers were killed, and about 100 were wounded. There is no exact count of how many Patriots fought, but nearly 1,000 of them were killed or wounded.
The troops returned to Charlestown about sunset after having some of them marched near fifty miles, and being engaged from daybreak in action, without respite, or refreshment, and about ten in the evening they were brought back to Boston. The next day the country poured down its thousands, at this time from the entrance of Boston Neck at Roxbury round by Cambridge to Charlestown is surrounded by at least 20,000 men, who are raising batteries on three or four different hills. We are now cut off from all communication with the country and many people must soon perish with famine in this place. Some families have laid in store of provisions against a siege. We are threatened that whilst the out lines are attacked with a rising of the inhabitants within, and fire and sword, a dreadful prospect before us, and you know how many and how dear are the objects of our care. The Lord preserve us all and grant us an happy issue out of these troubles. The British Army made it back to Boston at around 10 pm. The men were exhausted. Since they returned, about 20,000 armed Patriots have surrounded the city. They’ve set up cannons aimed at the city. We are cut off from all help and supplies. We’ll soon be starving. We fear that when the Patriots attack, the people in the city will rise up to help them. We pray that God will help us out of this difficulty.
For several nights past I have expected to be roused by the firing of cannon. Tomorrow is Sunday, and we may hope for one day of rest, at present a solemn dead silence reigns in the streets, numbers have packed up their effects and quitted the town, but the General has put a stop to any more removing, and here remains in town about 9,000 souls (besides the servants of the Crown). These are the greatest security, the General declared that if a gun is fired within the town the inhabitants shall fall a sacrifice. I expect an attack to come at any time. People were fleeing the city, but Lord Percy stopped them from leaving. He has promised that every person in the city will be killed if the Patriots attack the city.

“Anne Hulton to Elizabeth Lightbody [April 1775],” Letters of a loyalist lady, being the letters of Anne Hulton, sister of Henry Hulton, Commissioner of customs at Boston (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1927). New-York Historical Society Library.

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Background

The war that became the American Revolution began with the Battles of Lexington and Concord on April 19, 1775. The major events of the battle are very well known. British troops left Boston in the middle of the night to make a surprise attack on an illegal Patriot magazine. Paul Revere and other Patriot riders spread news of the impending attack throughout the Massachusetts countryside. The “shot heard ’round the world” was memorialized as the official start of the Revolutionary War.

But what is lost in these glorified accounts is the brutality of the fighting that took place that day. When the British marched through Lexington at dawn, eight Patriot militiamen were killed for not leaving the area fast enough. The Patriot militia retaliated by constantly firing on the British as they marched back to Boston. This prompted some British soldiers to defy orders and kill any male colonist they came across. By the end of the day forty-nine Patriots and seventy-three British soldiers were killed. Thirty-nine Patriots and 174 British soldiers were wounded. And the city of Boston was under siege, with 15,000 Patriot militiamen surrounding it. The civil unrest had finally passed the point of no return, and the colonies were officially at war.

About the Document

In 1767, Anne Hulton moved from England to Boston to help her brother and sister-in-law keep house and raise their family. She also had plans to start her own business or buy a farm. But her brother, Henry Hulton, was the Commissioner of Customs in Boston, a hated representative of English power in the American colonies. Her status as a Loyalist meant that it was dangerous for Anne to try to strike out on her own while political tensions in the city were so high.

While she lived in the Boston area, Anne wrote letters to a friend back in England. Her letters include striking accounts of the political unrest in Boston before the outbreak of the Revolutionary War. In this letter Anne gives an account of the Battles of Lexington and Concord, which took place on April 19, 1775, with details she probably learned from her brother and his colleagues. Her account is undoubtedly biased in favor of the British, particularly her hero, Lord Percy, but it also shows that the war for independence was a brutal and dangerous conflict from the very start.

As Anne makes clear at the end of her letter, Boston was a dangerous place for a loyal British family. The whole Hulton household moved back to England later in 1775.

Vocabulary

  • customs: Taxes.
  • magazine: A collection of firearms and gunpowder.
  • militiamen: Men who belonged to a volunteer fighting force organized by their county. In the early days of the American Revolution, militiamen made up the majority of the Patriot fighting force.

Discussion Questions

  • What does this letter teach us about the Battles of Lexington and Concord?
  • Is Anne Hulton an objective narrator? Why or why not? How can you tell?
  • How were non-combatants affected by the outbreak of the war?
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Suggested Activities

  • Read this document in any lesson about the outbreak of the Revolutionary War.
  • Compare Anne’s account of the Battles of Lexington and Concord with the images that were made of the battles after the fact.
  • Compare and contrast Anne Hulton’s account of the Battles of Lexington and Concord with Ralph Waldo Emerson’s “Concord Hymn.”
  • Invite students to write a letter back to Anne, reflecting on the events of the battle and her situation.
  • Teach this letter together with Lucy Knox’s letters and Mrs. A. Hampton’s letter for a lesson about how non-combatants were affected by the outbreak of the war.

Themes

POWER AND POLITICS

New-York Historical Society Curriculum Library Connections

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