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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Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Joseph Palmer’s Letter on Lexington

At the blog of the National Heritage Museum in Lexington, Jeff Croteau offered a look at an official period copy of Joseph Palmer’s letter about the shots at Lexington, sent south with an express rider named Israel Bissell. That letter will be on display in the museum for the rest of this week only.

Joseph Palmer (1716-1788) was born in England and came to Massachusetts in 1746 with his wife Mary and her young brother, Richard Cranch. The two men developed a glass factory (archeological debris here) and other workshops in the Germantown section of Braintree, as explained in this lecture by Warren S. Parker. Cranch married Abigail Adams’s older sister Mary. The Palmers had a son, Joseph Pearse Palmer, and all three men were drawn into Revolutionary politics. Reportedly the older Joseph broke with the London government only after the Boston Massacre.

In 1774, Joseph Palmer became a member of the Massachusetts Provincial Congress, and then of its Committee of Safety. On 18 Apr 1775, he was staying in Watertown at the house of Joseph P. Palmer’s in-laws, the Hunts. That son’s wife, Elizabeth Palmer, later wrote this account:

On the night of the eighteenth of April, I heard the drum beat; I waked Mr. Palmer and said, “My dear, I hear the drum”

He was out of bed with the rapidity of a bullet from a gun and, while he was dressing, his father entered and said, “My son, we must ride, I have received an express. Three men lie dead at Lexington.” My husband was off in an instant.

I entreated the old gentleman not to go, but he would not stay. He told me that there would probably be another brigade along soon and that I had better remove out of the way. They had their horses saddled and their pistols loaded in the barn, for they expected some sudden alarm. They were gone immediately. I never saw anything more of them until the next night at ten o’clock.
I don’t believe all that; the family’s legends don’t all add up. But the letter in the National Heritage Museum’s collection shows that Palmer was active on the morning of 19 Apr 1775, spreading the word about the fight at Lexington on behalf of the Provincial Congress.

Today Jeff has posted about Israel Bissell’s route from Watertown to New York, using Google Maps. It took Bissell only four days riding, which shows how much he hurried. Along the way officials copied Palmer’s letter in order to pass the news on to others, and this document is one of those hurried copies, made for the Committee of Correspondence in Norwich, Connecticut.

[ADDENDUM: Please see Boston 1775’s 2010 postings about Isaac Bissell.]

1 comment:

Hilary said...

Thanks so much for letting your readers know about the "Lexington Alarm Letter." It is one of our favorites here at the museum. If anyone is interested in coming to see the letter, it will be on view in the museum's lobby through this Sunday, April 26.

Hilary Anderson Stelling, Director of Exhibitions, National Heritage Museum