J. L. BELL is a Massachusetts writer who specializes in (among other things) the start of the American Revolution in and around Boston. He is particularly interested in the experiences of children in 1765-75. He has published scholarly papers and popular articles for both children and adults. He was consultant for an episode of History Detectives, and contributed to a display at Minute Man National Historic Park.

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Tuesday, April 20, 2010

“Ordered to March in the Midst of the Body”

On the 18-19 Apr 1775 expedition to Concord, Lt. William Sutherland of the 38th Regiment volunteered to ride out ahead of the British army column and scout for trouble. In a 26 April report for Lt. Col. Francis Smith, he wrote that he heard:
Lieut. [Jesse] Adair of the Marines who was a little before me in front Call out, here are 2 fellows galloping express to Alarm the Country, on which I immediately rode up to them, Seized one of them & our guide [Samuel Murray?] the other, dismounted them & by Major [John] Pitcairns directions gave them in charge to the men,

A little after we were joined by Lieut. [William] Grant of the Royal Artillery who told us the Country, he was afraid was alarmed, of which we had little reason to doubt as he heared several shot being then between 3 & 4 in the morning (a very unusual hour for firing) when we were joined by Major [Edward] Mitchell, Capt. [Charles] Cochrane, Capt. [Charles] Lumm & several other Gentlemen who told us the whole Country was Alarm’d & had Gallopped for their lives, or words to that purpose, that they had taken Paul Revierre but was obliged to lett him go after having cutt his girths & Stirrups.
In his edition of Sutherland’s manuscript, Harold Murdock suggested that those “2 fellows galloping express to Alarm the Country” were Asahel Porter and Josiah Richardson. Sutherland and the other British officers whose accounts I’ve read don’t describe capturing any other pair of men together, so that seems likely.

Murdock tended to lean toward the British, and he suggested Porter and Richardson had actually “been sent out from Lexington as scouts.” But the two farmers might truly have been traveling on business, as they claimed, and tried to gallop away only after they spotted the officers. It’s notable that in the 1820s and later men from Lexington acknowledged that some of them were scouting the roads that night, but they never said Porter and Richardson were doing so.

The regulars took Porter and Richardson’s horses and farm goods, made sure they were unarmed, and ordered them to walk in the middle of the ranks. As the column got closer to Lexington, the mounted officers spotted another young man on horseback.

On 25 April that man, Simon Winship, signed a deposition describing how the officers treating him:
on the 19th April instant, about four o’clock in the morning, as he was passing the public road in said Lexington, peaceably and unarmed, about two miles and a half distant from the meeting-house in said Lexington, he was met by a body of the king’s regular troops, and being stopped by some officers of said troops, was commanded to dismount.

Upon asking why he must dismount, he was obliged by force to quit his horse, and ordered to march in the midst of the body; and, being examined whether he had been warning the minutemen, he answered, “No, but had been out, and was then returning to his father’s.”
Again, the British officers were suspicious of Winship’s story. And even if he hadn’t been trying to spread the alarm at 4:00 A.M., he almost certainly would do so if they let him go.

So the British column moved on toward Lexington, with Porter, Richardson, and Winship in the vanguard as prisoners surrounded by soldiers.

TOMORROW: Asahel Porter released.


A rootdigger said...

This is nice. I love history. I love names of soldiers and volunteers here too. thanks so much.

Many people need to see these names and events.

J. L. Bell said...

Thanks for the comment. Whenever I can, I try to include people’s full names since I see history as the conglomeration of lots of individuals’ actions. Even if the importance of many individual acts has been overstated because we humans are attracted to the heroic narrative, in the end life does come back down to lots of little individuals. And if the same name keeps popping up in different contexts, then we get a more rounded view of that individual.