Every student in the United States is taught about the beginning of the American Revolution by learning about the famous “battles” on Lexington’s Common and Concord’s North Bridge. What most do not learn is that these two incidents were seen as skirmishes by both sides on that day, both only lasting a matter of minutes with few casualties. In fact both the Lexington Common fight and the North Bridge fight were very similar to the Boston Massacre, with both sides reeling themselves back unsure how to react. What made April 19th different from the Boston Massacre, as well as the powder alarms of 1774-1775, was that after the initial shots and withdrawals by both sides the men of Massachusetts decided that they were no longer going to live in fear of British reprisals and would make a firm stand to defend themselves against a violent threat that had invaded their communities.
It was at a place known as Meriam’s Corner that the lesser known, but no less brave, men of towns like Reading, Billerica, Chelmsford, Sudbury, and countless others joined with the men of Concord, Lincoln, and Bedford and stood up for their rights to be secure in their homes, free from the fear of violence at the hands of their own government.
This lesson will explore the stories of those men; the ones who began the running fight we today call the Battle Road which would besiege a British army in Boston and would mark the beginning of what would become the American War for Independence.
Standards (MA Curriculum):
USI.4 Analyze how Americans resisted British policies before 1775 and analyze the reasons for the American victory and the British defeat during the Revolutionary war. (H) USI.5 Explain the role of Massachusetts in the revolution, including important events that took place in Massachusetts and important leaders from Massachusetts. (H)
the Battles of Lexington and Concord and Bunker Hill
Common Core Standards, Grades 6-12 Literacy in History/Social Studies
RH.9-10.1. Cite specific textual evidence to support analysis of primary and secondary sources, attending to such features as the date and origin of the information.
RH.9-10.2. Determine the central ideas or information of a primary or secondary source; provide an accurate summary of how key events or ideas develop over the course of the text.
RH.9-10.4. Determine the meaning of words and phrases as they are used in a text, including vocabulary describing political, social, or economic aspects of history/social science.
RH.9-10.5. Analyze how a text uses structure to emphasize key points or advance an explanation or analysis.
RH.9-10.6. Compare the point of view of two or more authors for how they treat the same or similar topics, including which details they include and emphasize in their respective accounts.
RH.9-10.8. Assess the extent to which the reasoning and evidence in a text support the author’s claims.
RH.9-10.9. Compare and contrast treatments of the same topic in several primary and secondary sources.
Students will be able to independently use their learning to…Decide if and when pre-emptive violence is an appropriate response to political unrestDetermine historical truth by examining multiple perspectivesIdentify the importance of who instigates violence and why that matters so much to participants
UNDERSTANDINGS Students will understand that…
Revolutions often begin with simple, swift actions by small groups of people.
Individuals can have a profound impact on history based upon quickly, and sometimes rashly, made decisions.
Throughout history, the question of “Who started it?” has always been one that matters to both participants and their descendants
Comparing and contrasting differing accounts of the same event
Writing persuasively, using primary evidence as support
Tracing change over time amongst witnesses to history
Recognize, define and use key vocabulary in context
Identify main idea and details
Massachusetts Before April 19
The American Revolution did not begin spontaneously. There was a long line of escalating events which was powder keg waiting to explode. The British Regulars' expedition to Concord is simply the spark which ignited that keg.
Beginning with the end of the Seven Years' War (known in America as the French and Indian War, in reality it was the last of four French and Indian Wars that happened in North American during the 18th century), tensions began to rise. Prior to 1763 the North American colonists had always been left to essentially govern themselves, and had become quite proficient in doing so.
When Parliament moved to tax the colonists without granting them seats in Parliament the colonists used whatever means necessary to assert their right as free born Englishmen.
The Lexington Road by the Meriams' Corner: Setting the Stage for a tragic day in American History
On April 19, 1775 General Thomas Gage sent an expedition of 700 soldiers to Concord, MA to confiscate stolen and illegal weapons and military supplies being stored in Concord in preparation for conflict with Britsh military forces. The Provincial Congress in 1774 had ordered towns in Massachusetts to begin storing supplies to prepare for what might happen if a conflict broke out with the British military. Concord was considered a key holding place for Provincial supplies particularly the farm of Colonel James Barrett, commander of the militia from the Concord area, as he was thought to be storing much of the arms and supplies for his regiment at his farm.
The column of 700 soldiers was made up of the Grenadiers and Light Infantry of the regiments in Boston at the time. Grenadiers and light infantry were considered elite troops of the British army of the 18th century, so this expedition was designed to be a surprise strike by the elite soldiers of the time to seize supplies before open violent conflict could begin. This was not to be the case.
After enduring numerous interruptions at the beginning of the march (late at night on Tuesday April 18) the column began their march under the command of Lt. Col. Francis Smith of the 10th Regiment of Foot. His second in command was Major John Pitcairn of the British Marines. At Lexington Common the regulars were met with the sight of the Lexington Militia assembled in 2 ranks in a military manner. A few companies of the Light Infantry were tasked with disarming the militia, who as the regulars approached began to disperse. As the regulars closed in a single shot rang out and the regulars opened fire on the militia. The officers and NCO's could not maintain control of the men who chased the militia from the Common. It was only the sound of the drum which drew the men back into their ranks.
Lt. Col. Smith ordered the column to continue the march to Concord, which was done immediately. As they came into town the regulars crossed the brook using the small bridge near the Meriam Houses. Overlooking the house the hill now known as Revolutionary Ridge. Seeing a number of the Provincials gathered there (Capt. David Brown's Concord Minute Company) the light infantry were dispatched to move them from that hill. The provincials retired and marched back to town in plain view of the regulars. This hill is crucial to the story of the Meriam houses as we will see later. This encounter made it clear to both sides that the provincials would be able to pick the time and place of any violent encounters were they to happen that day.
Upon arriving in Concord center the column split up. One contingent of four light infantry companies and some artillerymen under the command of Capt. Laurence Parsons of the 10th Light Infantry marched to Barrett's Farm to search for the supplies being stored there. Another contingent under the command of Capt. Mundy Pole of the 10th Foot took control of the South Bridge and secured that. A third contingent of light infantry took control of the North Bridge under the command of Capt. Walter Sloane Laurie of the 43rd Light Infantry.
Several local minute and militia companies gathered nearby the North Bridge at Major Buttrick's farm. The field in which they gathered (now known as the "Muster Field") gave the minute and militia companies a good vantage point of both the Bridge and troops located there as well as looking beyond the bridge into Concord Center.
Upon seeing smoke rise from the town center, Major Buttrick decided to lead the 300-400 men gathered on his farm down to attempt to retake the town and extinguish the fire. Unbeknownst to Major Buttrick the fire was already being extinguished by the regulars who acciedntally lit the townhouse on fire while burning contraband (gun carriages).
The regulars under Capt. Laurie's command attempted to thwart the provincials by pulling planks out of the bridge, but meeting with little success as the provincials were upon them faster than expected, needed to retreat to the far side of the Bridge. Once there, the regulars attempted to form up in street firing, but being unable to do so a fire commenced from both sides. It is unclear who fired first as the accounts vary, with several provincial witnesses claiming that there were fired upon before firing at the regulars, obeying orders given them by Col. Barrett which instructed them to only fire if fired upon. Most accounts by the regulars claimed that the provincials fired into the regulars first, thereby justifying a return volley. We will probably never know who fired first, but regardless both sides experienced casualties with two provincials being skilled instantly, Capt Isaac Davis and Pvt. Abner Hosmer of the Acton Minute Company, and two regulars killed instantly and a third mortally wounded. In addition four of eight British officers at the Bridge were wounded as were a number of other British soldiers.
Being outnumbered near four to one, the British regulars turned and "ran with a great precipitance" according to Ens. Jeremy Lister of the 10th Regiment. The provincials followed across the bridge and as they the wounded British regular left at the bridge reached out and according to Rev. William Emerson of Concord (an outspoken Whig minister) was assaulted by one of the young men serving in Capt. David Brown's Concord minute company, Ammi White. According to Rev. Emerson: "not under the feelings of humanity, barbarously broke his (soldier's) skull" using his hatchet. This incident would be one that would stick in the minds of the regulars for the remainder of the day and was indeed used as justification by British officials to explain why the British soldiers would behave in a similar manner later in the day, particularly in the town of Menotomy (modern day Arlington).
Once Capt. Parsons returned to the center of town the column assembled and began to march. The Light Infantry were dispatched again on the ridge to ensure that the provincials were unable to hold that high ground. As the regulars marched out of town a quiet gripped them as they made their way towards Meriam's Corner at the base of the ridge.
History Investigates: Meriam's Corner
Meriam's Corner is the site where the Battle Road begins. It is where April 19 went from a day of a couple of small violent skirmishes to becoming a running 16 mile long battle which became the opening salvo in a war which would last eight years. Meriam's corner is the site where the people of Massachusetts openly committed treason and turned a fight for rights and self government into a fight to defend their homes and families from those who meant to do them harm. It is here at Meriam's Corner that people remember the bravery of the minutemen and militia who took up arms against their government in order to protect their property and loved ones.
Much of what we know about Meriam's Corner is still up for debate. There are multiple accounts which claim different actions at different places.
Students will be investigating what occurred at Meriam's Corner and will be trying to determine two major facts:
1) Who initiated the fighting at Meriam's Corner (WHO SHOT FIRST)?
2) Where on the Meriam's property were the Regulars and Provincials located?
To do this, students will be examining a number of primary source documents which recount the details from participants. As students read the primary sources they should complete the Primary Source Analysis: Eyewitness Account chart below which will help students think about context, point of view, and how to best use each document. This chart is simply an adaptation of an APPARTS chart, which many Social Studies teachers currently use in their classes. If you would like to utilize APPARTS for this exercise it would work just as well.
In addition, each source will have a number associated with it. Beneath the Primary Source Analysis: Eyewitness Account chart you will find a map of the Meriam property as it existed on April 19, 1775. Students should place the number on the map where they believe the person sharing the account was during the fighting at Meriam's Corner.
Primary Source Analysis.docx
Printable Meriams Corner Map.docx
Eyewitness Accounts to Meriam's Corner
The following accounts are all from people who were part of the fighting at Meriam's Corner on April 19, 1775. When it is a story being related to someone else that will be clearly noted.
British Regulars Point of View:
1) Lieutenant John Barker
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
The Account of Lieutenant John Barker
Light Company, His Majesty's 4th (King's Own) Regiment of Foot
From his diary, later published (first in 1876) as The British in Boston, being the daily diary of Lt. John Barker of the King's Own Regiment from November 15, 1774 to May 31, 1776.
"We waited a considerable time there, and at length proceeded on our way to Concord, which we then learnt was our destination, in order to destroy a magazine of stores collected there. We met with no interruption till within a mile or two of the town, where the country people had occupied a hill which commanded the road. The Light Infantry were ordered away to the right and ascended the height in one line, upon which the Yankies quitted it without firing, which they did likewise for one or two more successively..."
An officer of the 4th (King's Own) Regiment of Foot(1776-1780)