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 23, 2013

Pvt. John Bateman Testifies and Declares

I’m going to break away from “King Hancock” for a while to highlight a document dated 23 Apr 1775.

In the aftermath of the Battle of Lexington and Concord, the Massachusetts Provincial Congress set out to collect testimony about who fired first in that fight, and about any other arguable examples of British army misbehavior. Here’s the text of one of the depositions that magistrates set down:
Lincoln, April 23d, 1775.

I, John Bateman, belonging to the fifty-second regiment, commanded by Colonel [Valentine] Jones, on Wednesday morning, on the nineteenth day of April instant, was in the party marching to Concord. Being at Lexington, in the county of Middlesex, being nigh the meeting-house in said Lexington, there was a small party of men gathered together in that place, when our said troops marched by; and I testify and declare, that I heard the word of command given to the troops to fire, and some of said troops did fire, and I saw one of said small party lie dead on the ground nigh said meeting-house; and I testify, that I never heard any of the inhabitants so much as fire one gun on said troops.

John Bateman.
The Massachusetts authorities were no doubt pleased to have testimony supporting their version of events from a British soldier. The image above shows a copy of Bateman’s deposition that the legislature sent to the Continental Congress; it is now part of the U.S. National Archives.

TOMORROW: Are there any more clues about John Bateman?


Joe Bauman said...

Does this answer the question of who fired the shot heard 'round the world?

J. L. Bell said...

Not by my lights because:

A) There's conflicting testimony from British soldiers who weren't under the control of the provincials at the time; and

B) Emerson's phrase referred to the provincials shooting back at Concord, not to the skirmish at Lexington.

But by publishing Bateman's deposition and others, the Massachusetts congress certainly did a good job convincing many people that the regulars had fired first at Lexington.

Mr Punch said...

The confusion over the shootout (?) with the suspect in the boat in Watertown last week reminds us that questions about events 238 years earlier will not be settled by evidence available today