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, April 30, 2014

Viewing the “Shot Heard” Exhibit at the Concord Museum

Last week I took in the Concord Museum’s new “Shot Heard Round the World” exhibit about the events of 18-19 Apr 1775. It was quite an impressive gathering of artifacts related to one historic day.

This is definitely a military-based show. I counted six powder horns (one pierced by a musket ball), five swords, and four muskets, versus two looking-glasses and one clockface. Some of the items are already famous, such as one of the lanterns said to have hung in the Old North Church and William Diamond’s drum.

Other objects I’d never seen before in person or photograph. For instance, John Hancock’s letter to members of the Committee of Supplies in west Cambridge shows Patriot leaders discussing the likelihood of British troops heading to Concord before they went to bed on the 18th.

A shovel sheathed in iron is labeled as probably one of the fortification-building tools the Massachusetts Provincial Congress had collected in Concord. I wondered, had James Brewer taken this shovel from deacon Richard Boynton’s forge inside Boston? (I guess I haven’t told that story on Boston 1775 yet.)

There aren’t many portraits in this exhibit, but one familiar face on the walls was the watercolor painting of Maj. John Pitcairn that I discussed earlier this year. Its label offers a new theory of its origin, and I’m curious about the evidence behind that.

It was striking how many artifacts in this show come from local historical societies, and different historical societies. New England was built with lots of separate towns, and they have their separate treasures, many loaned for this show. Thus, from Arlington (formerly Menotomy) come not just the Royal Artillery cartridge pouch discussed back here but also a panel from little Joel Adams’s door and part of the meetinghouse silverware that some British soldiers carried into Boston.

Another element of the exhibit I liked was the use of stripes on the wall to show relative size of the British and American forces in action. You can see those in the background of the photo above, from Donna Seger’s report on visiting Concord on Patriots Day. (The foreground shows the gun flints found in two lines in Concord’s training field, where militia troops lined up before moving against the regulars at the North Bridge.)

If you go to the Concord Museum for this exhibit, don’t miss two other Revolution-related rooms: the “Last Muster” photographs of aged veterans and the portion of the “Why Concord?” exhibit downstairs that deals with the shift to independence.


Bob said...

"Another element of the exhibit I liked was the use of stripes on the wall to show relative size of the British and American forces in action."

This is an effective way to represent the comparative numbers. There's a famous 19th-century chart of Napoleon's invasion of Russia that is a classic example of this kind of diagram. It reads left-to-right in brown for the invasion, and then right-to-left in black for the retreat. It's hard to imagine a better illustration of the destruction of an army.

J. L. Bell said...

I recall seeing that in one of Edward Tufte's books, I think. It also offered some information about the route, which I don't think is so easy to do in the Concord march because of so much overlap.

I wonder if anyone's tried the same thing with the two-pronged American attack on Quebec in 1775-76.

T. Frantz said...

Thanks for the detailed review J.L. I'll definitely be making time for a trip to the museum when I'm in Boston over the 4th of July.

Anonymous said...

The interesting part about the letter written by John Hancock was that it was written at 9:00 p.m. on April 18, 1775. Paul Revere didn't arrive to the Hancock-Clarke House until close to midnight so when Revere arrived he gave Hancock and Samuel Adams information they already knew. Well the trip to them wasn't a total lose, Revere, with the help of John Lowell, did help retrieve Hancock's trunk before the British soldiers arrived.

J. L. Bell said...

If Hancock and Adams were primarily worried about being arrested, that might help to explain why Hancock left that trunk of important papers at Buckman's tavern. Then it wouldn't be in his possession when the regulars hunted him down.

Alternatively, that could simply have been where John Lowell was lodging, and as Hancock's secretary for the occasion he had charge of all the papers.