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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Friday, May 17, 2013

“They came three thousand miles and died”

So how many British soldiers died at the North Bridge in Concord? How many were buried nearby? Those questions have answers, but not definite ones.

As I quoted earlier in the week, one of the British officers there, Lt. William Sutherland, described leaving two men “dead on the Spot.” But Capt. Walter Sloane Laurie reported losing three men overall. And Capt. Lawrence Parsons reportedly saw three men dead at the bridge as he later passed that spot—or was that count influenced by Laurie’s report?

When Zechariah Brown and Thomas Davis, Jr., described burying corpses of the regulars who died at the bridge, they said “neither” had been scalped, suggesting there were two. But their testimony was probably selective. Had another corpse already been moved away?

In 1827, Concord minister Ezra Ripley wrote that in the firing at the North Bridge “Two of the British were killed and several wounded,” with the dead still lying “near the bridge” when their comrades returned from Col. James Barrett’s. Furthermore:
The two British soldiers killed at the bridge were buried near the spot where they fell, both in one grave. Two rough stones mark the spot were they were laid. Their names were unknown. Several others were buried in the middle of the town.
Ripley wrote nothing about Ammi White and his hatchet.

In his 1835 history of Concord, Lemuel Shattuck wrote that “Three British soldiers were killed” at the bridge, but only two were “left on the ground” there and later interred nearby. “One of the wounded died and was buried where Mr. Keyes’s house stood,” Shattuck added. Many later authors have therefore written that two British soldiers were killed immediately at the bridge and another badly wounded, making it back to the center of Concord before dying there.

And who were the “Several others” that Ripley said were interred in central Concord? Shattuck reported that one was Pvt. John Bateman, who died under the care of Dr. John Cuming “at the house then standing near Captain Stacy’s”—Daniel Bliss’s house, according to other authors. (This despite Bateman giving a deposition in Lincoln, not Concord, on 23 Apr 1775.) Bateman “was buried on the hill,” Shattuck wrote.

Don Hagist has reported that Bateman was a grenadier in the 52nd Regiment. The companies at the bridge came from the 4th, 10th, and 43rd. So Bateman must have been fatally wounded in the British withdrawal from Concord, not at the bridge. (It’s notable that some founding settlers of Concord were named Bateman; perhaps people of that town brought him back out of some feeling of kinship.)

According to Shattuck, therefore, there were four British soldiers buried at three sites in Concord soon after 19 Apr 1775. According to Ripley, there might have been “Several others,” but that’s too vague to track down.

TOMORROW: Commemorations and looking for names.

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