Lexington: The End of a Myth

On April 19th, 1775, the fatal clash took place, on the Common of a small Massachusetts town, between British troops and local militia. From this village battle the American War of Independence took its start. John A. Barton queries whether the clash was deliberately organized by “Patriot” leaders in order to provoke an incident, after which there could be no retreat?

On a cool morning in April 1775, a small group of American provincials gathered defiantly on the Common at Lexington, Massachusetts. Ostensibly they were protesting against England’s infringement of what they considered their inherent right to broader economic and political freedom. More practically, they were concerned with preventing a column of British regulars from raiding an illegal arsenal at Concord, eight miles away.

Or it may be suggested that they were the unwitting dupes of a notorious clique of militant rabble-rousers, bent on dealing a final blow to any hope of peace between England and her colonies. The first premise is, and always has been, the most popular. The second has the ring of truth, but scarcely justifies the event and its terrible consequences. The third, while difficult to prove, or accept, is the most logical.

The fact is that some seventy-odd American militia faced up to more than six hundred angry and impatient British soldiers. In an atmosphere charged with fear and mutual hatred, a single musket exploded. Other guns were fired in anger and men died. The echo of that brief bloody skirmish sounded violently in Concord, then Boston.

To continue reading this article you will need to purchase access to the online archive.

Buy Online Access  Buy Print & Archive Subscription

If you have already purchased access, or are a print & archive subscriber, please ensure you are logged in.

Please email digital@historytoday.com if you have any problems.