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, April 16, 2009

The Rev. Jonas Clarke’s Sermon for 1776

Yesterday I quoted Gen. Thomas Gage’s official report on the Battle of Lexington and Concord. The provincials were more vigorous in disseminating their version of the events, and they kept at it longer.

One part of that effort was the Rev. Jonas Clarke’s sermon on 19 Apr 1776, one year after the battle, which was published along with “A Brief Narrative of the principal Transactions of that Day.” Clarke was caught up in the events himself—he was hosting John Hancock and Samuel Adams at his parsonage in Lexington—and digested his neighbors’ accounts of what they had experienced the year before.

The result is a valuable source on the fighting in Middlesex County, written soon after the event. At the same time, it’s a heavily biased piece of propaganda, absolving the provincial militiamen of all blame and putting the British military actions in the worst possible light. A sample:

In the retreat of the king’s troops from Concord to Lexington, they ravaged and plundered, as they had opportunity, more or less, in most of the houses that were upon the road. But after they were joined by Percy’s brigade, in Lexington, it seemed as if all the little remains of humanity had left them; and rage and revenge had taken the reins, and knew no bounds!

Clothing, furniture, provisions, goods, plundered, broken, carried off, or destroyed! Buildings (especially dwelling-houses) abused, defaced, battered, shattered, and almost ruined! And as if this had not been enough, numbers of them doomed to the flames! Three dwelling houses, two shops and a barn, were laid in ashes, in Lexington! Many others were set on fire, in this town, in Cambridge, etc. and must have shared the same fate, had not the close pursuit of the provincials prevented, and the flames been seasonably quenched!

Add to all this; the unarmed, the aged and infirm, who were unable to flee, are inhumanly stabbed and murdered in their habitations! Yea, even women in child-bed, with their helpless babes in their arms, do not escape the horrid alternative, of being either cruelly murdered in their beds, burnt in their habitations, or turned into the streets to perish with cold, nakedness and distress!

But I forbear—words are too insignificant to express, the horrid barbarities of that distressing day!!!
You can read Clarke’s whole text in Charles Hudson’s history of Lexington.

This image of the sermon comes from the Learning at the National Heritage Museum blog, showing a copy in the collection of Lexington’s Cary Memorial Library. This posting from the Museum’s current blog is a good place to begin to explore the older blog’s links to primary sources about the start of the Revolutionary War, and there are more postings about 18-19 Apr 1775 coming up.


jillj said...

did you look at the learning blog? have come to expect a higher level from 1775 endorsements.

J. L. Bell said...

I’m glad you like Boston 1775 recommendations. I thought the National Heritage Museum’s “Learning Blog” is quite good for what it sets out to be: suggestions for school history teachers with links to pertinent resources. It’s not a deep online database like some of the other sites I’ve featured.