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, May 15, 2019

“The prisoners at Concord in free conversation”

The Rev. William Gordon visited British prisoners in the Concord jail and wrote about it in the form of a letter dated 17 May 1775.

Though from England, Gordon served a meeting in Roxbury and was a strong supporter of the Massachusetts cause. He happily accepted and spread stories that told the provincial side of how the shooting had started on 19 April.

Gordon wrote:
The simple truth, I take to be this, which I received from one of the prisoners at Concord in free conversation, one James Marr, a native of Aberdeen, in Scotland, of the Fourth Regiment, who was upon the advanced guard, consisting of six, besides a sergeant and corporal:

They were met by three men on horseback before they got to the meeting-house a good way; an officer bid them stop; to which it was answered, you had better turn back, for you shall not enter the Town; when the said three persons rode back again, and at some distance one of them offered to fire, but the piece flashed in the pan without going off. I asked Marr whether he could tell if the piece was designed at the soldiers, or to give an alarrm? He could not say which.

The said Marr further declared, that when they and the others were advanced, Major [John] Pitcairn said to the Lexington Company, (which, by the by, was the only one there,) stop, you rebels! and he supposed that the design was to take away their arms; but upon seeing the Regulars they dispersed, and a firing commenced, but who fired first he could not say.

The said Marr, together with Evan Davies of the Twenty-Third, George Cooper of the Twenty-Third, and William McDonald of the Thirty-Eighth, respectively assured me in each other’s presence, that being in the room where John Bateman, of the Fifty-Second, was, (he was in an adjoining room, too ill to admit of my conversing with him,) 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.

Samuel Lee, a private in the Eighteenth Regiment, Royal Irish, acquainted me, that it was the talk among the soldiers that Major Pitcairn fired his pistol, then drew his sword, and ordered them to fire…
Most of the prisoners Gordon spoke to were cooperative or even friendly to their captors. Pvts. Marr and Bateman had given depositions to local magistrates back on 23 April, as quoted here.

Pvt. Samuel Lee would end up marrying a local woman named Mary Piper in July 1776. Local tradition says she worked for the Concord physician Timothy Minot. The Lees settled in Concord and raised a family, supported by his skills as a master tailor.

George Cooper was likewise remembered for marrying a local woman, in his case “a woman who lived with Dr. [John] Cuming” as a servant.

That leaves only Pvts. Evan Davies and William McDonald. And they were still left in the Concord jail as of December, shown by another document from the Massachusetts archives that Joel Bohy shared with me.

TOMORROW: How was Pvt. Bateman “too ill to admit of my conversing with him”?

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