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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Thursday, February 06, 2014

“Undoubted intelligence of hostilities being begun at Boston”

The 28 Apr 1775 Pennsylvania Mercury newspaper contained several letters about the fighting in Massachusetts nine days before. One that had just arrived in Philadelphia the previous evening began:
Hartford, April 23, 1775.

Dear Sir,

These are to inform you, that we have undoubted intelligence of hostilities being begun at Boston by the regular troops; the truth of which we are assured divers ways, and especially by Mr. Adams the post [rider]; the particulars of which, as nigh as I can recollect, are as follow:

General [Thomas] Gage, last Tuesday night, draughted out about 1000 or 1200 of his best troops in a secret manner, which he embarked on board transports, and carried and landed at Cambridge that night, and early Wednesday morning by day break they marched up to Lexington, where a number of the inhabitants were exercising before breakfast as usual, about 30 in number, upon whom the regulars fired without the least provocation about 15 minutes, without a single shot from our men, who retreated as fast as possible, in which fire they killed 6 of our men, and wounded several, from thence they proceeded to Concord;

on the road thither, they fired at, and killed a man on horseback, went to the house where Mr. [John] Hancock lodged, who, with Samuel Adams, luckily got out of their way by secret and speedy intelligence from Paul Revere, who is now missing, and nothing heard of him since;

when they searched the house for Mr. Hancock, and Adams, and not finding them there, killed the woman of the house and all the children, and set fire to the house; from thence they proceeded on their way to Concord, firing at, and killing hogs, geese, cattle and every thing that came in their way, and burning houses. 
The letter’s description continued through the action at Concord, the march of the British reinforcement, the capture of prisoners, and many other events. Interesting events like “the death of General [Frederick] Haldimand,” Lord Percy being “burnt with other dead bodies, by the troops in a barn,” and the 300-man British contingent at Marshfield “all killed and taken prisoners.”

Alexander McDougall, one of the Patriot leaders in New York, had endorsed this document as an accurate copy of the original letter. Sharing and copying such letters was a common way to spread news in a crisis.

Of course, much of the information in this letter was completely false. Ironically, it’s one of the few public reports of Paul Revere’s part in the Battle of Lexington and Concord, but he’s lost in a great fog of unfounded accusations about the royal troops and unfounded boasts about the damage the provincials had done.

Tomorrow night I’ll speak to the Lexington Historical Society about the Massachusetts Patriots’ efforts to spread news of the events of 19 Apr 1775 and win public sympathy for their actions. I’m not sure whether this letter would count in that campaign as a success or a failure.

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