Commander of one of the Reading Minute Companies on April 19, 1775
This account was shared with the author William Sumner who recounts in his 1851 book, "A History of East Boston" having walked the grounds near Meriam's Corner with John Brooks, presumably in the early part of the nineteenth century. Brooks, though a major at this time, would go on to later become Governor of Massachusetts during the War of 1812.
"The mere names of Lexington and Concord remind the writer of his duty to the memory of his much respected friend, the late Gov. Brooks, which has so long a time been omitted. The account which follows was received from him when riding with him to attend a review near Concord. On the way, in passing over the bridge, he pointed out the very barn under cover of which he made the attack. The site of these brought to his mind the circumstances which he then related; or otherwise, from his well-known modesty, it is probable the public would never have been informed of the particulars of this attack of the gallant captain, with a single company, puon the whole British Army, which would hardly have been justifiable had not the enemy been on a hasty retreat.
When speaking of the valor of our undisciplined militia in the first day’s conflict at Lexington and Concord, which spread so much alarm through the country, he observed that the Reading company of minute-men, which he was chosen to command when he first commenced the practice of medicine in that town, were a little better drilled, although he did not claim for the greater courage, than those who were earlier engaged in the conflict. When he took command of that company he judged the from the signs of the times that it was first duty to those who had placed confidence in him, to acquire what knowledge he could of military matters. Accordingly he made a visit to Salem to consult Col. Pickering, who was then considered the best tactician with whom he could readily confer. He found the instructions he thus received of great use when, soon afterward, he fired upon the British army on their retreat from Concord.
As soon as the news of the fight at Lexington reached Reading, he called out his company and marched directly towards Concord, where were the stores which they supposed Gen. Gage had in view to destroy. On his march, at the intersection of the road from Chelmsford with the one that led from Bedford to Concord, upon which he was travelling, he came in contact with Col. Bridge, to whose regiment his company belonged. He was on his way to Concord with the rest of the regiment, or as much of it as he had been able to collect. Capt. Brooks saluted, and reported himself for orders. Col. Bridge said, “I am glad you have come up, Captain. We will stop here and give our men some refreshment, and then push on to Concord.” The answer was, “My men have just refreshed themselves, and as I think there is no time to be lost, with your leave I will go ahead; and as neither of us is aware of what is taking place, if I get into any difficulty I shall know that you will soon follow me, and shall have the main body of your regiment to fall back upon.” The colonel replied, “You may go; but as you are unaqcuainted with with the posture of affairs, be careful and not go too far ahead.” Having this authority from his colonel, Capt. Brooks hastened on toward Concord, and when he came near the main road from Concord to Lexington, he saw the flank guard of the British army on this side of a hill which intervened and kept the main body from his sight. He imagined that the soldiers he saw belonged to the Charlestown Artillery Company (having the same colored uniform) on their retreat from the scene of conflict. He halted until he discovered his mistake by seeing the flank guard fall in with the main body to cross a bridge over a large brook on the road. Finding that his position could not be outflanked, he ordered his men to advance, and taking a position at Merriam’s Corner, covered by a barn and the walls around it, told them to fire directly at the bridge, which was twenty or thirty rods off. As the British Army was in great haste to make good its retreat, it fired but one volley in return. When the enemy had passed, examination was made to see what had been the effect of the fire, and several persons – the writer thinks he said nine – were hors de combat on or near the bridge."
Doctor, General, and Governor, John Brooks, 1752-1825
Capt. David Brown's Minute Company
One of two Concord Minute Companies
Part of a letter written in 1825, recounting his experiences on April 19, 1775
On the British march to Concord:
"Before sunrise thair was I beleave 150 of us and more of all that was thair. --We thought we wood go and meet the British. We marched down to ward L about a mild or mild half and we see them a comming, we halted and stayd till they got within about 100 rods then we was orded to about face and marchd before them with our drums and fifes agoing and also the B. We had grand musick. We marched into town..."
On the British retreat from Concord:
“After a while we found them a marching back toward Boston, we was soon after them. When they got about a mil half to a road that comes from Bedford to Bildraa (Billerica?) they was way laid and a grait many killd when I got their a grait many lay dead and the road was bloddy..”
One of two militia companies from Concord on April 19, 1775 Thaddeus Blood recounted what he remembered from April 19, 1775 in a letter written in 1825. On the British march to Concord:
"...About 4 o'clock the several companys of Concord were joined by two companies from Lincoln. The malitia commanded by Capt. Perce...we were then formed, the minute on the right & Capt. Barrett's on the left . & marched in order to the end of Meriam's Hill then so called. & saw the British troops a coming down Brook's Hill. The sun was arising & Shined on their arms & they made a noble appearrance in their red coats & glising arms - - we retreated in order, over the top of the hill to the liberty pole erected on the heighth opposite the meeting house & made a halt..."
On the British retreat from Concord:
"...After the fire every one appearred to be his own commander it was thot best to go to the east part of the Town & take them as they cam back each took his own station, for myself I took my stand south of where Den. Minot then lived, & saw the British come from Concord their left on the hill when near the foot of the hill, Col. Thomeson of Billerica came up with 3 or 4 hundred men and there was a heavy fire but the distance so great, that little injury was done on either side, at least I saw but one killed. number wounded I know not. - - I know it has been said that Genl Bridge commanded the Regiment from Chelmsford & Billerica he might be some officer in the Reg. But it can be easily proved that Col.Tomson went with the Regt to cambridge & stodd till the troops was organized. & bring old Bridge was made Col..."
Probate Record of Thaddeus Blood from 1832 recounting service during the American War for Independence (click picture for complete record)
Son of Nathan Meriam who was a private in Capt. Minot's Militia Company
One of two in Concord on April 19, 1775
This account is from Concord by John McKinstry Merriam published in 1894. His grandfather was Jospeh Meriam, who lived at Meriam's corner on the 19th of April 1775 and was seven years old on that day.
"On the morning of the nineteenth of April, when the alarm was given in Concord that British soldiers were coming, Josiah Meriam, with his older sons, Josiah, Jr., and Timothy, went to the village, and later were among the forces at the North Bridge, and probably crossed the meadows and appeared again at the encounter near their house. Joseph, the youngest son, my grandfather, then seven years old, remained at home, as he always said, "to take care of the women," and soon went with them to a place of refuge in the woods behind the hill. The British soldiers entered the house, helped themselves to whatever breakfast they could find, taking the unbaked pies from the oven, took the kettle of soft soap from the crane over the open fire, spilled it upon the floor, and scattered the ashes from the fireplace. It was fortunate that they helped themselves liberally in the morning, for later in the day they repassed the same house when hot johnny cake and new baked bread and fragrant pies could not tempt them to linger.
" My grandfather lived to be eighty-nine years old. He must have been among the very last who could, from actual recollection tell the story of the 19th of April. Toward the end of his life he was asked if hr thought the British soldiers understood the art of war. His reply was that "he did not know whether they did or not when they came into Concord, but he was pretty sure they did before they went out of it."
Teacher's Guide to the Documents
In order to help teachers as they present this material to their students, we have provided the following guides for teachers associated with each document. The major points have been provided in a short summative format with more detailed analysis beneath.
As with all historical research and interpretation these documents are always open to multiple interpretations and the author would welcome your views as to interpretation of these documents.
5) Letter from a Private Soldier in the Light Infantry
Provincials Point of View:
6) Rev. Edmund Foster
7) Gov. John Brooks
8) Amos Barrett
9) Thaddeus Blood
10) Joseph Meriam
Teacher's Guide: Lieutenant John Barker
Light Infantry Company
His Majesty’s 4th Regiment of Foot
This account comes from a diary, and as such needs to be read with an eye towards the fact that he was writing this account for his own posterity, not necessarily for public distribution
Diary was a daily recording of events as they transpired, as best we can tell
His account of April 19 was probably written within days of the events occurring
Was probably the senior man from the 4th Reg't of Foot (King's Own) on April 19, 1775 after the fighting as his superior, Lt. Gould was taken prisoner that day by the Provincials
Lieutenant Barker is famous for his diary which was published as The British in Boston in the 20th century. This book recalls the events as best as remembered by Barker on that day. That being said he certainly does color his entire diary with statements of personal opinion and disdain for not only the "country people" but for the leadership under which he serves, including Capt Laurie of the 43rd Light Infantry, Lt. Col. Smith of the 10th Regiment, and General Thomas Gage himself. Of the latter two Barker refers to Smith as a "heavy, fat man" and numerously refers to Gage as "Tommy". Barker's account is fascinating because it is very thorough, but there are sections where the reader wishes he would have included more information on certain events, and spent less time reciting army facts and orders. That being said this account with its flaws is one of the best accounts of the events in Boston and Massachusetts during 1774-1775.
To read a copy of the entire diary online, please use this link:
Teacher's Guide: Capt. William Soutar
British Marines Light Infantry Company
Soutar was the commander of the Light Infantry company of the British Marines
This information was written soon after as a report on the events of April 19, 1775, written on April 22-25,1775.
The only reference we have to Capt Soutar's account is from a book called Bloodybacks, however his entire account is allegedly in the Massachusetts Historical Society archives
This account, which was a letter addressed to "Sir" and being sent from "Headquarters" appears to be an official report of the engagement to a superior officer, presumably to Lt. General Thomas Gage. Though it probably gives as many facts as remembered by Capt. Soutar it must also be remembered that Soutar is also trying to shed blame for the incidents of that day. In addition, Souter was listed amongst the wounded in General Gage's report of April 19, 1775. It is unclear if he continued in his role as captain of the British Marines Light Infantry through the remainder of the Siege of Boston, though it is certainly possible he recovered and remained in command. The full copy of this letter can be found in the library at Minuteman National Historical Park.
Teacher's Guide: Ensign Jeremy Lister His Majesty's 10th Regiment of Foot
Was 22 years old on the day of the expedition, having been in the army for five years on April 19, 1775
Account was taken from his diary which was written in 1782 when he was serving as a Captain in the 10th Regiment of Foot.
Volunteered to be a part of the expedition - his company remained in Boston that day, though he was detached with his regiment's light infantry company
Was detached to the North Bridge as part of that detachment and was promoted to second in command of that company as it's commander, Laurence Parsons, took charge of the expedition out to Barrett's Farm
Was wounded near the brook by Meriam's Corner, receiving a shot through the elbow
Ensign Lister was born into a family of means and as such enjoyed the privileges of wealth as a youngster. He was given his commission by his father as a Christmas present in 1770, which today may seem almost insulting, was in the 18th century a very happy occasion. His father was essentially the giving him all of the necessary means to have a career at the age of 17. The commission purchase was possible through the good will and affection of Jeremy's older cousin, with whom he was quite close, General Sir William Fawcett, GCB, then adjutant-general of the British Army (essentially one of the top commanders in the entire army).
Lister was still an ensign in 1775, though one who was well connected by 1775 standards. Lt. Col. Smith, commander of the 10th Regiment, shows concern for the young man when he wishes him not to come on the expedition out of fear for his well-being. Lt. Col. Valentine Jones of the 52nd Regiment wrote a letter on behalf of Jeremy shortly after he received his wounds to assure his father he was recovering but could not write with his own hand. It is highly unlikely that any other ensign serving Boston at that time would have the attention and affection of two high ranking field commanders, which speaks to his well connected status.
This background on Ensign Lister, and the 1782 date of the writing of this journal stands to reason that he was not writing this letter to shed blame for his participation in those events, as he does share some shortcomings of himself (in particular how he shared the news of Lt. Sutherland's "impending death" while poor Mrs. Sutherland stood behind him unseen by Lister). In addition, he does not necessarily seek to lay blame on senior officers as many of his contemporaries like Barker and Sutherland do. He certainly makes note of where he would have done things differently, but does not do so in such a way that would make it seem as if others are at fault.
The portion of Lister's diary concerning April 19 was published in 1931 under the title "The Concord Fight". That portion of the diary is available online at this link:
The remainder of the diary remains unpublished, but it, along with much of Lister's correspondence from the American Revolution is available to view and photocopy at the West Yorkshire Archives in England:
A photocopy of what is believed to be Lister's full diary can also be found in the Special Collections Department of the Concord Free Public Library in Concord, MA. You can visit their website here for information on visitng the Special Collections Department:
Teacher's Guide: Lt. William Sutherland
His Majesty's 38th Regiment of Foot
Volunteered to be a part of the expedition - his company remained in Boston that day.
Was detached to the North Bridge as part of that detachment and received a wound there
Made note of the area near Meriam's Corner twice on that day, once on the march into Concord and again as they left.
Lt. Sutherland was a younger officer who volunteered for the expedition to Concord. He was assigned to the 43rd Light Infantry Company under the command of Capt. Walter Laurie. However he was unknown by the men of the 43rd Light Company, and many of us can probably sympathize with the predicament this posed. At the North Bridge Sutherland urged men of the 43rd to follow him into an open pasture, however those men were skeptical as they felt safe with their company in the relative seclusion of a walled road. Being exposed in an open field, following a stranger would understandably make these men uncomfortable so only three men followed Sutherland. This of course left Sutherland exposed in that field and he received a wound by a shot across his breast. He was described as being in great pain, and Ensign Lister did not believe that Lt. Sutherland would survive the day. Being so severely wounded Sutherland was placed in a cart for the march back to Boston, and for the remainder of the day was lying on his back in this cart.
So as you look at the maps and then see Lt. Sutherland describing a hill off to his right, it is important to remember that Sutherland is facing the opposite direction of the men who are marching. He dsecribes a height off to his right hand and this is referring to the ridge that is actually to the left of the British column, but lying on his back Sutherland would describe this height to his right.
Sutherland ended up surviving the day and made a full recovery as best as we can tell. This account, in its entirety, can be found at this link:
You will need to scroll down a bit in order to get to the diary. This is an OCR (Optical Character Recognition) transcription so there are mispellings, but you can certainly ascertain the context of the entire entry.
Teacher's Guide: Letter from a Private Soldier in the Light Infantry
This account comes from an enlisted man, presumably a private, in one of the Light Infantry companies of Col. Smith's expedition
This account speaks of both the morning and afternoon encounters at Meriam's Corner
This is the only account that can be found which recounts shots being fired on the hill near Meriam's Corner as the regulars were entering Concord.
This letter was never received by the recipients as it was intercepted by Provincial forces
This account of the actions at Meriam's Corner is very unique and interesting for several reasons. Firstly it is written by an enlisted soldier who though only a commoner, can read and write. There are not many enlisted men who recounted their memories of April 19 in writing. In addition this soldier had no stake in the outcome of investigations conducted after April 19, yet he very clearly has strong opinions as to the righteousness of the position of the Regulars and demonized the Provincials. Most interestingly his descriptions are extremely clear, concise and detailed. His account of fixing bayonets to chase the soldiers off the ridge on the march to town is in agreement with other accounts, as his recounting of the removal of a liberty pole. However he also claims there was an exchange of shots between the Regulars and Provincials which according to all other sources currently available never occurred. The account of this firing is probably a mistake by the writer. Many of the other details, including the number of men in the column "being only about 756" and his account of a group of minute men and militia assembled on the ridge overlooking the column as it came into Concord, seem to indicate that this soldier was on the expedition and was confusing details as he had recently spent over 24 hours in a hostile combat situation. It does further add to our learning about Meriam's Corner as it does paint a good picture from the common soldiers point of view.
For a complete version of this letter, please see Vincent J. R. Kehoe's book, We Were There!, available through the Minuteman National Historical Park Library
Teacher's Guide: Edmund Foster
Divinity Student at Yale College
Staying in Reading, MA in April of 1775
Mustered that day with one of the Reading Minute Companies under the command of Capt. (Major) John Brooks
Foster was not required to serve being a divinity student at the time, however he felt the desire to serve and having borrowed arms and accoutrements from Capt. Brooks, chose to march with that company of men to respond to the alarm.
Makes it very clear that the regulars fired upon the Reading men first
Describes the scenery very accurately with specific details as one would expect someone with the educational background of a minister who had attended Yale
Foster's account is very interesting in that it recalls many aspects of the 19th of April, 1775. He does not participate in either of the initial fights in Lexington or at Concord's North Bridge and as such does not spend much time discussing these. He begins his story speaking of joining with the Reading men and making his way down to Concord with those men. He then immediately speaks about the action at Meriam's Corner speaking quite specifically about the hill and the brook and the bridge. He does mention that the regulars fired first, which in 1825 might not have been as popular of a position as we in the 21st century may think it to be. With the patriotic fervor that was sweeping America during the 50th Anniversary of the Battles of Lexington and Concord, it was undoubtedly popular to speak of how opposition to the evil invaders was the noble stance. In spite of this sentiment, Rev. Foster still believes it was the regulars who fired first and he may well have captured the moment very accurately. From a tactical standpoint the Regulars have their flanks exposed and need to address that in order to prevent any further damage to their column. From the point of view of the men from Reading, they had not participated in the fighting at this point, yet the Regulars had. If the men from Reading took it upon themselves to fire first it would have been (in their minds) open treason, which can often be a hard pill to swallow knowing what the punishment for such a crime could be.
Edmund Foster's account can found in We Were There! by Vincent J.R. Kehoe