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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Wednesday, September 28, 2011

“John Raymond, an aged man,…was brutally fired upon”?

Hugh Earl Percy. Digital ID: 465991. New York Public LibraryAs I discussed yesterday, in the first half-century after John Raymond’s death outside the Munroe Tavern on 19 Apr 1775, people in Lexington agreed that British soldiers had killed him, but didn’t make a big deal of his death compared to others the same day.

That changed around the time of the Centennial. The Rev. Artemas B. Muzzey (1802-1892) of Cambridge, grandson of a man in Capt. John Parker’s militia company in 1775, published a reminiscence of Revolutionary veterans in the New England Historical and Genealogical Register in 1877 which stated:

William Munroe…kept the public house known as “Munroe Tavern.” Here the British stopped on their retreat, and murdered John Raymond, an inoffensive man, as he was leaving the house.
Thus Raymond’s death during a battle became a murder.

Three years later, in a History of Middlesex County, Massachusetts, Lexington historian Charles Hudson wrote:
The officers with Percy resorted to Munroe’s tavern just below. The occupants of the house left the place in affright, leaving only John Raymond, an aged man, who was at the time one of the family. The intruders ordered him to supply them with all the good things the house afforded, which he readily did. But after they had imbibed too freely, they became noisy and so alarmed Raymond that he sought to escape from the house; but was brutally fired upon and killed in his attempt to flee from danger.
Hudson also used Raymond’s death to complain about the British soldiers’ “system of personal insult, treachery, and murder” in his history of Lexington, published in 1913.

In The Battle of April 19, 1775 (1912), Frank W. Coburn went into further detail in describing the activity of Col. Percy (shown above) and his troops:
This energetic destroyer of American homes had selected Munroe Tavern as his temporary headquarters, and ordered his wounded conveyed there also. While their wounds were being dressed his men demanded such refreshments as the place could provide, and unlike [Lt. Col. Francis] Smith’s subordinates in Concord, were not considerate enough to pay for them. So landlord William Munroe’s loss was £203, 11s. 9d., of which £90 was in the “retail shop,” presumably of a liquid nature.

As he was orderly sergeant in Captain Parker’s Company, he was naturally absent on duty, and left a lame man, John Raymond, in charge, who waited upon the unbidden guests because he was compelled to. His last service was to mix a glass of punch for one of the red-coats, after which he essayed to escape through the garden. He was not alert enough, for two soldiers fired, and one of their bullets readily overtook him as he hobbled away. Thus one more was added to the list of American dead, one of the easiest victims, of course, for he was simply an unarmed cripple. This probably happened at the rear of the Tavern.
For this paragraph Coburn cited “A carefully written newspaper clipping evidently from a Boston periodical, dated April 19, 1858, preserved in a scrap book once belonging to the Thomas Waterman collection of American History.” I couldn’t locate such an article in the Archive of Americana newspaper database, but I wouldn’t be surprised if one turns up. I would be surprised if an 1858 article offers more reliable information than was available to William Munroe in 1825.

In fact, as authors added to the drama of John Raymond’s death, they inserted contradictions into the story. Hudson referred to Raymond as “aged,” but also reported his birth date, which showed that he was forty-three years old.

Coburn called Raymond a “cripple,” but other authors listed him among the members of Capt. Parker’s militia company, which suggests that Raymond’s lameness was temporary or didn’t interfere with his military activity, like Nathanael Greene’s. (Alternatively, those authors might have assumed that Raymond’s name on the list of dead meant he died as a militiaman.)

Harold Murdock noted those contradictions in his Nineteenth of April, 1775, published in 1925. He theorized that the British troops might have viewed Raymond as their prisoner, and shot him as he was trying to escape. He also argued that Percy himself spent little time at the tavern. In any event, Murdock felt sure that the Lexington minister Jonas Clarke would have made more of Raymond’s death if his neighbors in 1775 had seen it as an atrocity.

To the credit of the historians who wrote the words now engraved on the memorial to John Raymond at the Munroe Tavern, that text sticks to the facts stated by Munroe and his family. There are a lot of details about Raymond’s killing that we’ll probably never know, so it’s wise to avoid the incendiary language of some authors writing well after the event.

TOMORROW: John Raymond’s children.

5 comments:

EJWitek said...

Coburn probably based his statement that William Munroe suffered approximately L203 in damages to his tavern from the records of the Massachusetts Provincial Congress. But the original records of the losses suffered by the residents in Lexington (in good colonial fashion determined by a special committee) were not retained and the losses were determined by special order of the Legislature in 1783. It's not clear how the amounts were determined. William Munroe (long since deceased) did claim L203 in damages, but one of the heirs to his estate, Issac Reed, addded an additional L9 for "household goods and furniture" on January 24th, 1783.

Harold Titus said...

My sources jibe with that of Sergeant Munroe: he was lame, he was a neighbor, he stood in for Munroe when Munroe was absent, and, fearful of his life, he fled the tavern and was shot. I depict all of this in "Crossing the River."

J. L. Bell said...

Have you found sources other than those I’ve quoted, particularly from the first few decades after the Revolution?

Harold Titus said...

I'm sorry to be tardy with my response. My sources are probably the secondary sources "Paul Revere's Ride" by David Hackett Fischer and "William Diamond's Drum" by Arthur Bernon Tourtellot. I don't have these books available to confirm. I wish I had been aware of your website when I was writing my book.

J. L. Bell said...

Thanks for the reply. (Sorry if my question seemed brusque; I was excited about the prospect of additional early sources.)

As a general pattern, I see American accounts of Revolutionary War incidents from, say, 1830 to 1900 getting more dramatic and often more accusatory than the initial reports. See, for example, the stories of Samuel Whittemore and Richard Stockton.

Part of the difference might be some stoic reticence in the culture of the late colonial and early Federal period, in contrast to post-Romantic drama. But I think that as the stories got passed down, families and local historians exaggerated or filled gaps in the most dramatic way.

In the case of John Raymond, it seems most likely to me that the Munroe family found his body outside the tavern after the battle, but there were no local eyewitnesses to his death. In the late 1800s writers filled in that incident with details about how he interacted with the British soldiers that probably no one left in Lexington could have known.