In 1825, Elias Phinney published his History of the Battle of Lexington. As that little book’s title implies, Phinney argued that the shooting on Lexington green at dawn on 19 Apr 1775 was not one-sided and irregular but the first fight of the Revolutionary War. (A local historian from Concord disagreed, naturally.)
Phinney had gathered several legal depositions from current and former residents of Lexington who recalled the royal troops shooting, and themselves or their neighbors shooting back. Back in 1775, the Massachusetts Provincial Congress had published similar depositions—including some from the same men—that described only the British firing. That booklet didn’t explicitly deny the possibility that some locals had fired back, but it described an unprovoked and furious redcoat attack.
Phinney’s depositions also offered some other previously unreported details of the events in Lexington on 18-19 April, including what Paul Revere actually said (to one man, at least) about the approaching British soldiers. According to the militia sergeant in command at the Lexington parsonage, Revere didn’t say, “The British are coming.” Here’s the start of that man’s deposition:
I, William Munroe, of Lexington, on oath do testify, that I acted as orderly sergeant in the company commanded by Capt. John Parker, on the 19th of April, 1775; that, early in the evening of the 18th of the same April, I was informed by Solomon Brown, who had just returned from Boston, that he had seen nine British officers on the road, travelling leisurely, sometimes before and sometimes behind him; that he had discovered, by the occasional blowing aside of their top coats, that they were armed.Munroe called Revere a colonel because that was the title the silversmith received later in the Revolution. He misunderstood how Revere had crossed the Charles River, saying he’d come “over the ferry” rather than rowing himself along the ferry’s approximate route. And Revere didn’t mention Dr. Warren sending letters to Hancock and Adams; he delivered the warning orally. As for “Mr. Lincoln,” that was apparently how Munroe remembered William Dawes.
On learning this, I supposed they had some design upon [John] Hancock and [Samuel] Adams, who were then at the house of the Rev. Mr. [Jonas] Clark, and immediately assembled a guard of eight men, with their arms, to guard the house.
About midnight, Col. Paul Revere rode up and requested admittance. I told him the family had just retired, and had requested, that they might not be disturbed by any noise about the house. “Noise!” said he, “you’ll have noise enough before long. The regulars are coming out.” We then permitted him to pass.
Soon after, Mr. Lincoln came. These gentlemen came different routes. Revere came over the ferry to Charlestown, and Lincoln over the neck through Roxbury; and both brought letters from Dr. [Joseph] Warren in Boston to Hancock and Adams, stating, that a large body of British troops had left Boston, and were on their march to Lexington. On this, it was thought advisable, that Hancock and Adams should withdraw to some distant part of the town.
We can therefore ask whether Munroe quoted Revere accurately. “The regulars are coming out” certainly sounds right for early 1775, though.