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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Monday, April 22, 2019

“At wch time they took from him his gun”

Over at Historical Nerdery, Alexander Cain found a new source about the fight of Lexington: the claims that militiamen from that town made to the Massachusetts legislature seeking compensation for items lost in the skirmish.

Specifically, they complained about having lost guns. Cain writes:
As we reviewed the legislature’s response to these petitions, we discovered several claims from Lexington militia men or their family asserting that in the aftermath of the battle, British troops looted the dead and wounded of their arms and equipment.

For example, John Tidd asserted “on the 19th of April he received a wound in the head (by a Cutlass) from the enemy, which brought him (senceless) to the ground at wch time they took from him his gun, cartridge box, powder horn &c.” Thomas Winship, who was wounded in the engagement, sought compensation for a “sum of one pound for shillings in full for a gun lost in the Battle of Lexington.”
And there are other examples as well.

As Cain notes, these petitions suggest that the Lexington militiamen weren’t lightly armed, as some authors assumed. Some had bayonets. They also depict the British soldiers grabbing weapons from the ground after the shooting, making it safer for them and their comrades to pass by.

Sometimes when I see the Massachusetts government respond to such petitions for property lost in battle, I suspect that the payments aren’t really driven by the value of the property. Instead, the legislature might have seized on that channel as a simple way to recompense petitioners for other sorts of sacrifices. There were no pensions established for veterans or survivors yet.

About one example, Cain writes:
Lieutenant William Tidd, who also escaped the engagement unharmed, submitted a petition asserting his “losses by the Kings troops on the 19th of April 1775 … [included] ... a musket cut as under &c.” In a deposition years later, Tidd recalled being chased from the green by an officer on horseback. He claimed “I found I could not escape him, unless I left the road. Therefore I sprang over a pair of bars, made a stand and discharged my gun at him; upon which he immediately turned to the main body, which shortly after took up their march for Concord.”

It is possible Tidd lost his possessions as he hurdled over the fence. As for the “musket cut as under”, this appears to be a reference to a damaged gun. Whether this occurred at the battle or later in the day is unknown.
It’s indeed mysterious how Lt. Tidd could have effectively shot his musket at the mounted officer if it had been cut asunder. It’s also possible, I can’t help but note, that by 1824 Tidd’s story of driving that officer away had improved over time.

TOMORROW: The mounted officer’s story?

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