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, May 16, 2019

“Bateman, he thinks, could not have made the deposition”

When the Rev. William Gordon visited British prisoners of war in Concord in the spring of 1775, he reported that Pvt. John Bateman was “too ill to admit of my conversing with him.”

Bateman didn’t get any better. In 1835 local historian Lemuel Shattuck wrote that this wounded redcoat “died and was buried on the hill.” That was Concord’s elevated burying-ground, shown in the right foreground of the Amos Doolittle print of regulars searching the town.

In 1825 Elias Phinney’s History of the Battle of Lexington argued that the militiamen of Lexington were the first to shoot back at the redcoats. Two years later, the Rev. Ezra Ripley of Concord published A History of the Fight at Concord to refute that claim; five years later, Ripley brought out an expanded edition.

Both Phinney and Ripley gathered new testimony from veterans of the battle to support their case. Ripley also republished John Bateman’s deposition from 1775, which had said, “I testify, that I never heard any of the [Lexington] inhabitants so much as fire one gun on said troops.”

A few weeks back, I quoted some statements that Ralph Waldo Emerson wrote into his diary after a visit from Thaddeus Blood, a long-lived veteran, on 5 Aug 1835. (Thanks to Joel Bohy for alerting me to this latter-day source.) After recording Blood’s recollection of Lt. Isaac Potter, Emerson wrote:
Bateman, he thinks, could not have made the deposition in Dr. R[ipley]’s History. A ball passed through his cap and he cried, “A miss is as good as a mile.” Immediately another ball struck his ear and passed out at the side of his mouth, knocking out two teeth. He lived about three weeks, and his wounds stunk intolerably. It was probably Carr’s or Starr’s deposition.
Evidently Bateman’s wound became infected, and he died in American custody. Don Hagist tells me the muster rolls of Bateman’s regiment, the 52nd, state he died on 21 April, but his deposition was dated 23 April and Gordon encountered him after that. He probably died in early May.

Was Blood correct in saying that Bateman was never well enough to give the testimony published over his name? Probably not. In addition to magistrates Dr. John Cuming and Duncan Ingraham on 23 April, four other people told Gordon that they “heard the said Bateman say, that the Regulars fired first, and saw him go through the solemnity of confirming the same by an oath on the bible.” Those four reported witnesses were Bateman’s fellow prisoners in Concord.

I therefore think Bateman’s 23 April deposition was authentic, though he may well have been under the duress of being a prisoner and needing medical care.

TOMORROW: So who was “Carr” or “Starr”?

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