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Reflections 2011
Series 16
June 10
American Revolution: Boston - Summary of Major Events


American Revolution   It’s curious how interests grow. Topics in the past six months led at one point to our discussing the Battle of Long Island / Battle of Brooklyn (2011/2 [end]) including the Staten Island Peace Conference (2011/6 “Conference House”). At that point, bringing up the subject of loyalists in New York caused me to ponder the loyalists in general, a subject in which I’ve become very interested and which will be the subject of the posting following this one. Beyond that, I didn’t feel I knew enough about what happened before New York other than a passing reference to Boston, and I also didn’t have a clear image of just what followed those early events, in what order they happened, and what the significance was, even after having visited a large number of those sites over the years. I felt I knew quite a bit, but it was all a chaotic blur. I’ve found it compelling as I clarified for myself--and now for anyone else interested--what the facts are and how they fit together, starting with Boston in detail and followed by the rest of the major events in a short sequential summary.


The American Revolutionary War--a less violent and more pleasant name is the American War of Independence, although it’s much less frequently used--was different from others in that others were a change of government in the mother country--say France, or Russia--while this one took place in a group of colonies. It’s the difference between Mom and Pop remodeling the house as opposed to Junior saying “I’m leaving and getting my own apartment”--both are big changes but not in the same way. It was unheard of at the time for colonies to break away, something that didn’t become common until the mid-20C, in Africa, for example, so from the start we have a different model between what happened here and in France in the following decade, although with similar philosophical ideals.


In any case, as I’ve been reviewing a lot of history and found some very helpful maps--I learn from and depend on maps for enlightenment to a very great extent--it all really falls into place much more simply than I thought. One thing that helped me understand just why the war played out in the locations it did is this map showing the population density in 1775 of the American colonies. Note that the population was still concentrated around the four Settlement Areas (2009/21-25) of up to a century and three-quarters earlier, Cape Cod & Massachusetts Bays (Boston), New York Bay (New York) Delaware Bay (Philadelphia), and Chesapeake Bay (Baltimore, and later Washington). Population has been concentrated in this “Northeast Corridor” from the first settlements, right through the war period here, and up to today.


We note that the strip of medium population density is concentrated in the South, in coastal Virginia and North Carolina, and then again coastal South Carolina and Georgia, around Savannah and Charleston. We can use this map to very simply point out the four areas of conflict, which by chance, occurred in north-to-south sequence: Boston, New York, Philadelphia (twice), and Savannah/Charleston. But there was also a tangential fifth area of conflict, the Champlain Valley, because of the land corridor it forms, complementing the sea route.


The sea route up the coast leading to the British colony of Nova Scotia, particularly Halifax, was used by Howe as he fled Boston to recoup, and again as he returned to attack New York. The natural, low-level land corridor led directly to the British colony of Canada, particularly Montreal and Quebec. The land corridor can be seen if you look back at the previous map and, from New York, trace the Hudson Valley north to where it comes close to abutting the Valley of Lake Champlain, forming a natural low-level passage. The two valleys can be seen separately here: first the Hudson Valley and then the Champlain Valley. Note the Champlain Canal that later on in the next century even physically connected the Hudson to Lake Champlain (canal opened in 1823, busy until the 1970’s), but particularly notice the names Ticonderoga and Saratoga, since these two “-ogas” are the significant historical names in this supplementary inland area to the otherwise largely coastal war. Here is the final sequence of hotspots, and they actually did occur from north to south, roughly along the coast, with the two inland connections:

 1) Boston (with Ticonderoga)
2) New York
3a) Philadelphia (north)
3b) Philadelphia (south) (with Saratoga)
4) Savannah/Charleston & the South

Activity in three of the four areas was limited in scope to relatively short periods of time, a year or so, while New York, unfortunately remained occupied by the British for seven of the eight years of the War. We’ve already discussed New York, and this time we’re going to dwell on Boston, and then quickly tie the entire sequence of events together. It really does all come out to be quite clear, I now see, by just following the above series of cities.


My first misunderstanding involves the status of the Thirteen Colonies (“The 13”) in 1775, which I now see I misunderstood. I suppose my thinking was formed by images of armies fighting on fronts, such as in the World Wars, Korea, Vietnam. It always seemed to me that the colonial army had regions to conquer from the British somehow, and no matter where a famous battle occurred, surely other areas of The 13 were under some sort of occupation. I see now that what I’d pictured is quite inaccurate. In a word, as of 1775, the British influence in The 13 had waned, and once hostilities started, the only place occupied over time was New York City.


Another inaccuracy I’m glad I cleared up for myself was that, difficult as it was to get The 13 to agree on a common course of action, I still had felt the total action was an incomplete success, because change took place only within The 13, and other British colonies were not included, particularly Québec and the Maritimes. I now see I was mistaken there as well, since those two areas became British much later than The 13, and they really had little in common with them. The 13 were considered a clustered unit of colonies for a long time, since they’d been British for over a century and a half, while Nova Scotia had been British maybe only six decades, and still had a strong French influence, while Québec had been British for just over a mere decade and was--and is--very French.


Beforehand   What I have also learned is to distinguish between the American Revolution and the American Revolutionary War, since the American Revolution--a period of historical change--got well under way de facto about three years (or more, depending on what you consider revolutionary actions) before the hostilities of the War broke out. The War also ended de facto first, but in essence, the period of the Revolution continued two more years until the peace treaty. As I see it, it goes this way: circa 1772 the Revolution starts with a change of government(s); 1775 the War starts; 1781 the War ends de facto; 1783 the Revolution ends (and de jure, the War ends, too) with the peace treaty. No matter how you look at it, the revolutionary period is longer at both ends than the War, and if I’d understood that properly in the first place, I’d have had a clearer picture of events all along. In any case, the year we associate most strongly with these events is 1776, when the Declaration of Independence was signed, and the 13 Colonies became a unified country. This event, too, is part of period of the Revolution, but not of the War per se. The War was just a disagreeable interruption to the events of ongoing governmental change.


So as to the Revolution starting (but not yet the War), I understand how the provocative background of events from the 1760’s and early 1770’s caused anger and distrust, in particular the oppressive parliamentary legislation against the colonies, and events such as the Boston Massacre (1770) and Boston Tea Party (1773). But I didn’t realize until now that essentially, the colonials had already taken over their own fate, having rejected the rule of Parliament, and local British rule was close to powerless. Perhaps one can pick as a start late 1772, when Samuel Adams in Boston established networks of followers in all of The 13, which provided the framework for a rebel government. 7000 to 8000 rebels--Loyalists were of course excluded--served at the colonial and local levels, comprising most of the leadership in their communities, including serving as the leaders of the resistance movement to British actions. It was these groups that helped displace the royal officials that had been appointed and topple the British system in each colony. In late 1774 and early 1775, each of The 13 had already established a Provincial Congress of one sort or another, guided by these leaders. As a reflection of the Provincial Congresses, on 5 September 1774 the First Continental Congress (1CC) had already met briefly in Philadelphia to decide how to respond to British actions. To this the British responded by sending in combat troops to reimpose direct rule, but the 1CC had already planned what was essentially a reconvening of itself, a Second Continental Congress (2CC) for Philadelphia for the following year, 1775, if it should be necessary.


Then the War finally did break out near Boston on 19 April 1775, which essentially just interrupted the already ongoing changeover. So the following month, on 10 May, the 2CC met after all, just as had been provided for, to establish the defense of The 13, including establishing local militias and also the Continental Army, in order to manage the war effort. Thus, as the Provincial Congresses that had been established were a precursor to state legislatures, the 2CC--“Continental” here essentially means “National”, but on a tamer level--was a de facto national government.


Before discussing the first of the hostilities, in Boston, it’s worthwhile to point out that historians have estimated that approximately 40-45% of the colonials supported the rebellion, while 15-20% remained loyal to the Crown. The rest, 35-45%, attempted to remain neutral and keep a low profile, presumably waiting to see in which direction the wind was going to blow. Put differently, the rebels apparently had a slight numerical majority over the neutrals, followed by the much fewer loyalists. But discounting the neutrals, since by definition they would have been less active, and just looking at those with strong feelings, there were apparently more than twice as many rebels as loyalists.


Boston   So, contrary to what I’d always pictured, by 1775 we have The 13 well under way to becoming a country, with little British resistance. The only place where the British are still notably in charge is the city of Boston, and the reason why, aside from the fact that it was the major port, has to do almost entirely with geography.


BOSTON GEOGRAPHY We discussed the unusual original geography of Boston twice earlier, in 2006/11 “Off to Boston”, particularly regarding arriving historically from New York by ship at Long Wharf, and again when discussing arriving historically by the Boston Post Road in 2011/7 at Boston Neck and onto the Shawmut Peninsula, but now we have to look into it much more deeply, because without it, one cannot understand “one if by land, two if by sea”, or why the British remained in charge of the city or just how hostilities came about. We’ll first look at some maps, making occasional references to events, perhaps out of order, but after that, we’ll put everything together in proper historical sequence, telling the most interesting story once we’re all on the same page as to locations and other references.


I invite you to look back to 2011/7 for the map there showing the entry road to the city and also the picture of the scruffy look of the former Boston Neck today, but otherwise will bring up this other map of Boston in 1775, which is particularly oriented to the military situation at the time. Before clicking to enlarge, take note how Boston at that time was militarily ideal, a virtual castle with a moat around it. While the Massachusetts countryside was, as was much of The 13, in the hands of the rebels, the British were comfortably ensconced in Boston protected by its “moat”. Note in the upper left that this is a military map. Scroll to the bottom to see Boston Neck to understand the “by land” route, and see the fortifications. The Boston Neck was originally about 37 m (120 ft) wide at normal high tide, although the water areas were shallow, which (along with pollution) eventually led to their being filled in.


Follow the causeway up Orange, Newbury, and Marlborough Streets, then Cornhill. After the War, all these streets were unified under the name Washington Street, not just in his honor, but because this is the route he and the Continental Army entered Boston after the siege. When we’ve said that the Boston Post Road began (or ended) in Washington Street, in the road’s heyday, that was not yet the name, but it was shortly afterward and is today.


Continue NE to the smaller peninsula known as the North End. It’s still called that, even with its shape gone today due to all the landfill. The key at the bottom of the map identifies “A” in the North End as Christ Church, which is the official name of--let’s all say it together--Old North Church, as it is commonly known. Given the accuracy of this map, it will surprise no one that the dotted line leaving from Ferry Way across the Charles River to Charlestown is the “by sea” route Revere left Boston (although not the British). With this map it becomes clear that a lantern signal from Old North Church showing “one if by land, two if by sea” indicates a route leaving Boston either to the north or south.


Scroll down to the magnificent Long Wharf. It was built between 1710 and 1721 and was the busiest pier in the busiest port in colonial America, which is why the British wanted to be here. It originally extended almost 0.8 km (0.5 mi) into the harbor, beginning from today’s State Street, shown on this map as King Street--another indication that times change. It would have been where ships from New York and elsewhere docked. Because of all the landfill, it’s much shorter than it originally was, and still is used, but now for ferries and sightseeing boats.


To continue our review, look at this engraving of Boston in 1768, just seven years before the time we’re dealing with, 1775. The heading at the top points out that these are British ships off Long Wharf, all their names appearing at the key at the bottom. Old North Church would be the last steeple on the right. But for an interesting touch, note at the bottom right that this picture was “Engraved Printed & Sold by Paul Revere Boston”.


[It’s parenthetically worthwhile to see the changes in Boston due to landfill. The old city outline is unrecognizable in today’s borders. Washington Avenue, formerly so significantly located as the entryway, is just another street in the widened landscape. It’s a wonder there’s anything of Long Wharf left, and it can only be estimated today just where the Boston Tea Party actually took place.]


Boston was securely in British hands, but the countryside was, as in most places, in rebel hands. First remember the Boston Post Road (2011/7) and this map. Notice how the Lower and Middle routes merge at Dedham, continue to Roxbury, then Boston. Notice where the Upper route, famous for its taverns, passes Sudbury, where I’ll be revisiting Longfellow’s Wayside Inn this July, then goes to Weston and Waltham, but splits in Watertown, one fork leading to Brookline and Boston Neck, the other fork going via Cambridge to the ferry connection to Boston. At the top, notice that Concord and Lexington are not on this main road. Now we’re ready to take a look at the big picture of the nearby Boston countryside (click to enlarge). This is not of the quality of the Ratzer map of New York, but it serves its purpose very well. All the villages shown here are today either Boston neighborhoods, or small towns in the Boston metropolitan area.


Find Dedham at the bottom, where two routes merge across the Jamaica Plain to Roxbury and Boston Neck. The route from Sudbury (off the map) passes Weston and Waltham, splits at Watertown, first to Brookline, Roxbury and the Neck, as well as to Cambridge, Charlestown and the ferry.


Boston on its Shawmut Peninsula should by now look familiar, including the many British ships off Long Wharf. It is now easier to see how the Charles River originally entered the area. In its modern shape, it today continues a bit wider than that between Boston and Charlestown, meaning that that large bay called Back Bay to the west of Boston is now gone, and is instead the beautiful 19C Victorian brownstone neighborhood called Back Bay, including Back Bay rail station. In Charlestown, for later reference, note # 13, Bunker Hill and # 14, Breed’s Hill, which is lower, but closer to Boston. On the other side note Dorchester Neck, the location of Dorchester Heights, where the whole Boston episode ended. In its new shape after landfill, Dorchester Heights is now considered to be South Boston.


Back to the northwest. Note the village of Menotomy (here called Monatomy). After the Civil War, it became Arlington, after the cemetery in Washington, so I’ll refer to it as Menotomy/Arlington. Now connect some villages for routes. Dawes rode from the Neck via Roxbury, Brookline, Menotomy/Arlington, to Lexington. Revere rode from the ferry at Charlestown at first toward Cambridge, but ran into a patrol, so he changed his route around north to near Medford, then to Menotomy/Arlington to Lexington. The British troops (“Regulars”) went “by sea” south of Revere’s route, via Cambridge and Menotomy/Arlington to Lexington and Concord, and, as the map drawings show, had hostile encounters there and all the way back to Boston.


STRATEGIC SITUATION It strikes me that, given the emotional differences between sides in the colonies, any incident, such as something similar to the earlier Boston Massacre, could have exploded into what was essentially street fighting, escalating to warfare, as it did on 19 April 1775. But it was this situation instead, where, in 21C terms, the “cops” were being sent out of Boston to Lexington to pick up two “terrorists”, and then on to Concord to clear out a stash of “Uzis and AK-47s”, but a shootout developed along the way between locals and the “cops in their squad cars”; however, activists back in Boston had phoned ahead (no horseriders necessary), so the “terrorists” had escaped in advance and the weapons had been dispersed, making the whole police venture pointless. If the “street fighting with the cops” hadn’t broken out--it was accidental, and nothing of the sort had been planned--the “cops” would have driven back to Boston with empty hands, their police mission a failure, no harm, no foul. But yet it was this police-type incident, ironically rendered pointless, that nevertheless did result in “street fighting”, which blew up to be the incident that initiated the Revolutionary War.


The principal location of importance in the countryside was Concord. As had been done in other colonies (see above), the Massachusetts Provincial Congress, an unchartered, extralegal entity, had been established in Concord six months earlier, on 7 October 1774, and leaders who had been excluded from the official royal government adjourned there. Samuel Adams himself, the organizer of networks of rebel colonists (see above), was a member, and a President was none other than John Hancock, who later would be President of the 2CC and would be the first signer of the Declaration of Independence. Also having served as President was Dr Joseph Warren (see below). The Massachusetts Provincial Congress became the de facto government of Massachusetts outside of Boston, and Concord in a sense the capital, except that the Congress had to move from town to town to avoid capture.


The British troops that served to police the population were called the Regulars. Concord would have been the only destination of the Regulars on 19 April 1775, because that’s where arms were stored and that’s where Hancock and Adams had been, attending the Congress, but then, wary of returning to Boston, they stopped in Lexington at the Hancock family home, today the Hancock-Clarke House, thus making Lexington an additional destination for the Regulars. [When I visit the House in July, I’ll include their portraits by John Singleton Copley in the posting.] At this time, however, Joseph Warren had returned to Boston, serving as the local leader in town in Samuel Adams’ absence.


Other than Hancock and Adams, let’s now assemble the cast of characters. General Thomas Gage (here in a circa 1768 portrait by John Singleton Copley--we’ll see some nice 18C American portraiture in this study) was a British general who served as commander-in-chief of all the British forces in North America, and in 1774 he was also appointed the military governor of the Province of Massachusetts Bay. He was the one who attempted to seize military stores sparking the Battle. After the fiasco of Bunker Hill in June, he was replaced in October by General William Howe, who we saw (2011/6) was later in charge of the Battle of Brooklyn.


Although the expedition to Lexington and Concord was under the command of Francis Smith (and later reinforcements arrived under Hugh Percy), it was John Pitcairn who was in charge of the advance guard of the British force that arrived at Lexington, where he had a horse shot out from under him. Later, at the Battle of Bunker Hill in June, he fell to a musket shot. He is buried at the Old North Church in Boston. (What goes around, comes around.) One of his sons in the British navy in the South Pacific was the first to spot Pitcairn Island (“Mutiny on the Bounty”), which was then named after the son. (How small, the world.)


Captain John Parker was a farmer, mechanic, and soldier, who commanded the Lexington militia during the Battle. He was suffering from consumption (tuberculosis) during the battle, and died of it in September. He supposedly told his troops to stand their ground, and not to fire unless fired upon. His image is on the minuteman statue in Lexington (not the more famous one in Concord), both of which will be illustrated here when I visit them in July.


As mentioned above, Dr Joseph Warren (here another portrait by John Singleton Copley, circa 1765) had returned from Concord to Boston to manage underground activities in lieu of Samuel Adams. He was the one who sent out the riders that night after receiving intelligence about British troop movements that day. It has not been proven, but some historians believe, since circumstantial evidence indicates, that one of Warren’s sources for this information was none other than Margaret Kemble Gage, the American-born wife of General Thomas Gage, shown here in a circa 1771 portrait by John Singleton Copley (who was apparently a very busy man). Warren himself slipped out of Boston early in the morning of the Battle, and during the day, coordinated and led militia as the British Army returned to Boston. He then recruited and organized soldiers for the ensuing siege of Boston, and, as President of the Provincial Congress, was the person who negotiated with General Gage during that siege.


But then Warren was made a Major General by the Provincial Congress on June 14, and, eager to see action, he specifically asked to be sent into the Battle of Bunker Hill three days later, where he was killed instantly by a musket ball to the head. Since his body was recognized, it was stripped and bayonetted and thrown into a shallow ditch. His body was exhumed for proper burial ten months later by his brothers and, believe it or not, Paul Revere, who was able to identify the body because of the artificial tooth he had once placed in the jaw. This may be the first recorded instance of post-mortem identification of a body based on dental work. There are two statues of Warren in Boston, and one in Warren, Pennsylvania, named for him.


William Dawes was a tanner, and was the first to leave of some forty rider-messengers, including one woman, who fanned out into the countryside to alert the coming of British troops.


Paul Revere (again, the requisite portrait by John Singleton Copley, circa 1768-70) is by far the most notable name remembered in connection with that night. It’s safe to say that almost no one reading this, including myself, would have been able to name any of the other names in connection with these events (even Washington came on the scene somewhat later). His father was a Huguenot named Rivoire, who had Anglicized the family name to Revere. He was a prosperous silversmith (although also a sometime dentist; here are his dental tools) who also helped organize an intelligence and alarm system to keep watch on the British military, particularly in 1774 and 1775. His expanding silver business put him in touch with notable agitators, including Warren. Although Revere’s planning work was formidable, and is what he should be remembered for, the ride itself was grossly exaggerated close to a century later by Longfellow in his poem, and unfortunately, it’s this exaggeration that many now believe verbatim, and that even textbooks are based on. We’ll discuss the poem, and the reasons for Longfellow’s exaggerations when I visit Longfellow’s Wayside Inn in Sudbury in July, but for now, let’s just point out that he used Revere as a composite of some forty riders that night; Revere never made it to Concord; his ride was over at about 1AM, and he didn’t keep riding throughout the night--he didn’t have to, since the 40 other riders had spread the word. When Revere died in 1818 at 83, his obituary discussed his career as a silversmith, and made no mention whatsoever of his ride, since he was truly one of many active that night and over time, and there were many others who served the rebel cause just as well, certainly including Warren. It was Longfellow’s exaggeration that made him a household name.


Samuel Prescott was the third of the most important riders. He was the one who started at Lexington and was the only one to reach Concord.


THE DRAMA UNFOLDS We now have the geography and the cast of characters, but many facts are still out of sequence, à la Harold Pinter, so now let’s tell the story in sequential order. On 14 April 1775, General Gage, who commanded four regiments of British Regulars, or about 4,000 men, received instructions from the British Secretary of State to disarm the rebels. At that point, Paul Revere became suspicious that something was about to happen when he noticed that British landing craft were being drawn out of the water for repairs. On the 16th, as was typical for the underground work he did, he traveled in advance to Concord, which was indeed a storehouse for militia guns, powder, and shot. He gave the warning that the British might be on their way shortly to seize the arms supply, and the residents began to hide arms and valuables in barns, wells, and the neighboring swamps. Thus, unbeknownst to the British, Concord was really no longer a valid target, days in advance.


One should not be misled in thinking that, as I’m sure many do, largely because of the inaccuracies in Longfellow’s poem, that it was all a last-minute thing that Revere came up with to ride into the night, all by himself. There was an entire so-called “alarm and muster” network that had been carefully developed months before by many rebel colonials--including Revere. When Dawes and Revere left Boston (eventually joined by Prescott), and the lantern signal was given as well, this established network of far-reaching notification and fast turnout of local militia in an emergency was triggered. In addition to other riders delivering messages, bells, drums, alarm guns, bonfires and a trumpet were used for rapid communication from town to town, notifying the rebels across the countryside to muster their militias because a large number of Regulars--the cutoff number to initiate this was 500--were leaving Boston. This system was so effective that people in towns 40 km (25 mi) from Boston were aware of the army's movements while they were still getting of the boats in Cambridge. Given this long-established communications system, they apparently didn’t need cell phones.


THE RIDE In the late evening of the 18th, which was turning out to be the eve of the encounter, Joseph Warren, who was in charge of the rebel operation within Boston, confirmed to William Dawes and Paul Revere that the king’s troops were to sail across the Charles River during the night to Cambridge, bound for Lexington and Concord. They were less concerned about Concord, knowing the arms were safe, but they were concerned for the safety of Hancock and Adams in Lexington. To make sure the message got through, they resorted to multiple duplication of effort. At 10 PM, William Dawes was sent out of the city to the south, by land over Boston Neck, then swinging north as described earlier. He was well-known to the British sentries at the town gate on Boston Neck and passed through the checkpoint even though a lockdown was in force. He needed three hours to ride the 27 km (17 mi). Paul Revere was told to leave an hour later, at 11 PM, to the north, by boat to Charlestown. Crossings were banned at that hour, but he safely landed in Charlestown and got his horse. He started toward Cambridge, but came across two soldiers in a British patrol, so he turned and altered his route and went around to the north instead, as described earlier.


But for additional security, in case neither rider got through, Revere had arranged for the one-or-two lantern signal to be given in the steeple by Robert Newman, the sexton of Old North Church, in order to give riders in Charlestown the signal to set out. Thus, Longfellow twisted history: the lantern signal wasn’t TO Revere, it was FROM Revere to other riders, and the Charlestown colonists sent out additional riders into the countryside. It was Longfellow who popularized the phrase “one if by land, two if by sea”, which is apparently factually true, but you can hear a poet speaking when he says “sea” for “water”.


I suppose if they’d come “by land”, Dawes’s route, since it’s longer than coming “by sea” across the river, they would have gotten there a bit later, but all in all, it’s always seemed to me to be a triviality, since they didn’t get there until the next morning anyway, even taking the shorter route. In reality, it seems to me the importance of the lantern signal was that it showed THAT they were coming, and that it also indicated HOW they were coming is a minor issue. Furthermore, the land route was unlikely because they’d lose the element of surprise marching down the Neck. Crossing first by water, their movements could be concealed under cover of darkness, and that route was also 8 km (5 mi) shorter.


On reflection, it’s really quite amusing to think that almost everyone believes the legend that Revere and the other riders shouted out the phrase “The British are coming!” This is pure urban legend, and even Longfellow wasn’t responsible for the inaccuracy. First of all, there was minimal shouting, as the riders tried to keep a low profile because of British patrols. But then of course, everyone was British anyway! It would be as if a gang member being pursued in Boston today wanted to warn others of an impending police raid by shouting “The Americans are coming!” Both sides are American! What he’d say is “The cops are coming!”, and similarly, Revere himself related that he said “The Regulars are coming out!”, typical of what the others would have done as well.


Revere’s route was shorter, and he got to Lexington right after midnight, Dawes arriving a bit later. They met at what is now called the Hancock-Clarke House, where they discussed plans of action, but warned John Hancock and Sam Adams to leave. By 1 AM they were on the road to Concord, 8 km (5 mi) away, where they met Samuel Prescott, and the three rode together. Prescott was a doctor returning home to Concord who happened to be in Lexington that Wednesday night, turning into Thursday, visiting his fiancée Lydia Mulliken and returning at the “awkward hour of 1 AM”. He was also there to report on Concord’s readiness and status in hiding supplies and munitions.


But they came across a British roadblock where officers had already arrested some riders heading west. They called for the three to stop, at which point they instead burst through and rode in three different directions, hoping one would make it to Concord. Revere was captured; Dawes escaped, but was thrown from his horse, and ended up walking back to Lexington. Revere was being escorted back to Lexington under gunpoint, when dawn broke and they heard shots and church bells ringing. The officers panicked and let Revere and the other riders go. Revere, too, walked back to Lexington. So much for Longfellow’s description of Revere going on to Concord and then riding through the night.


So the two riders that started out from Boston made it to their first goal, but not their second, Concord. Fortunately they had joined up with Prescott, and, as a local boy, he used his knowledge of the countryside. He jumped his horse over a wall and escaped into the woods, eventually reaching Concord to spread the warning. He was, again, one of many locals willing to be rider-messengers, and he then continued west to warn Acton, while his brother road south to warn Sudbury (Wayside Inn) and Framingham. Not only were riders spreading the warning, but bells were rung and cannon fired across the countryside. Even given all Revere had done in advance and did do that night, the image of him riding alone as the sole messenger actually has no credibility at all.


THE BATTLE OF LEXINGTON & CONCORD While Dawes left at 10 PM southbound by Boston Neck and Revere at 11 PM northbound to Charlestown, the British had already begun to awaken their troops at 9 PM and assemble them by 10 PM on the water’s edge on the west side of Boston Common. As we can see in this map last used in 2011/7, although Boston Common today is in the center of town due to landfill, at the time it was in essence a waterfront park, and the departure point for the expedition. As Revere did, they crossed “by sea”, although Revere went north to Charlestown and they went across to Cambridge, so it’s lucky that Revere had that patrol to avoid as he was heading to Cambridge and was deflected to veer north instead.


The entire British march that night was a disorganized mess. Smith was late in arriving, and there was no organized boat-loading operation for the 700 Regulars, resulting in chaos. The naval barges that were used were packed so tightly there was standing room only. The “landing” at Cambridge was actually into waist-deep water at midnight, and the march was a soggy affair. They’d needed time to unload their gear, and began their 27 km (17 mi) march to Concord at 2 AM. When they reached Menotomy/Arlington the officers who were aware of their mission heard the alarms throughout the countryside and already knew they’d lost the element of surprise. By about 3 AM Smith sent Pitcairn ahead with an advance force under orders to quick-march to Concord. At about 4 AM Smith finally realized he was in trouble and made the belated decision to send a messenger back to Boston for reinforcements, where crossed signals delayed the reinforcements even more.


Parker, in Lexington with gathering militia of so-called minutemen (ready for action at a “minute’s” notice) had already waited most of the night, and had begun wondering if the alarm was real, but at about 4:15, a messenger brought confirmation they were coming. Parker was aware he was outnumbered and was not prepared to sacrifice troops for no purpose. He knew most of the arms in Concord were already hidden, and also knew that the British had gone on such expeditions in the past, found nothing and returned to Boston. In sight of between 40 to 100 spectators on the side of the road, as the men emerged from Buckman Tavern, Parker positioned his company of 77-80 men carefully in parade formation on Lexington Green. They were in plain sight, not hiding, and not blocking the road to Concord, and had orders not to fire unless fired upon.


Pitcairn arrived with the advance force and halted them, also ordering them to hold fire. It was just dawn, about 5 AM. And suddenly a shot rang out, from nowhere.


Afterward, when participants were interviewed, many stories emerged, but nothing was proven as to who fired the shot. The best estimation was that it came from Buckman Tavern or from behind some bushes, but it did not come from the two groups facing each other. Nobody except the person responsible ever knew with certainty, who fired the first shot of the American Revolutionary War.


Several militiamen were killed, and they feel back, being outnumbered, while the Regulars proceeded to Concord, where they searched for arms, and did find and destroy some but not many. Proceeding through town, they crossed both bridges, the South Bridge over the Sudbury River and the North Bridge over the Concord River, but it was at the North Bridge that they encountered, and were routed by, a force of some 500 minutemen, whereupon they began their retreat back to Boston. Not having captured Hancock and Adams, and having discovered only minimal arms, the entire expedition was a failure, especially considering the casualties suffered.


There had been a delay in Boston, and Percy didn’t leave with a brigade of some 1000 reinforcements (via Boston Neck) until 8:45 AM. He rescued Smith’s expedition at Lexington, preventing a total disaster, but as the combined force of about 1700 men marched back to Boston it was plagued by what was essentially guerrilla warfare with thousands of militiamen along the roads and in the towns. The worst occurred back in Menotomy/Arlington where 25 colonials were killed, half their fatalities for the day, as well as 40 British troops, more than half their fatalities.


There are two inaccuracies in calling the encounter “the Battle of Lexington and Concord”. Those two towns are evidently named since they had been the goals of the expedition, but many other towns along the way were subsequently involved during the return. Also, the word “battle” is an exaggeration. What occurred in all the towns along the way was no organized battle but a series of skirmishes, a skirmish being defined as “a brief or minor fight in war, as one between small forces”. The first true battle was two months later, at Bunker Hill.


We now have enough information to knowledgeably study the route of this encounter. This is the outbound route westward. Follow Dawes in green and Revere in blue and see where they stopped in Lexington at the Hancock-Clarke House, but never made it to Concord; they did meet Prescott (in purple) just before being stopped by the patrol, who made it to Concord and beyond. The British route, in red, crosses the Charles midway between the other two, passes the militia near the Buckman Tavern, and makes it to a thorough search of Concord.


However, the retreat from Concord (click to enlarge) shows the numerous skirmishes on the return. In Concord note the North Bridge and the historic Old Manse next to it. Notice the Wright Tavern, where, together with the neighboring church, the Massachusetts Provincial Congress had met, and where the minutemen had gathered before the British arrival. Afterwards it was Smith’s and Pitcairn’s headquarters. Note in blue the militia and minutemen flanking and attacking all along the route. At the other end, note in red Percy’s reinforcements leaving Boston and reaching Lexington, where the Munroe Tavern became his headquarters and a British field hospital. The final return was via Charlestown.


I’m sure the most important thing I’m taking away for myself from this study is the removal of layers of legend, not only imposed later by Longfellow, but also promulgated at the time. It was important to the colonials in order to spread the cause and gain sympathy that the issues had to be made very black and white, with a clear image of British fault and colonial innocence. A reasonable and impartial review indicates that the colonials were not quietly minding their own business in the months before the encounter but had a sophisticated warning network solidly in place that brought together many thousands of colonials to fight a couple of thousand Regulars. Even though at Lexington and Concord the British were in the majority, even with reinforcements they were outnumbered on the return. That no one knows who fired the first shot only came about later after historians had analyzed the reports, since at the time, blame was readily passed out. Incidents where the colonials had not acted fairly were strongly suppressed, such as the story of the wounded British soldier at the North Bridge was struck in the head by a minuteman with a hatchet, purportedly as a “scalping”. Depositions mentioning some of these activities were not published and were returned to the participants, something that happened to Paul Revere himself.


The issue of blame grew--and varied--into the next century. Participants who had given depositions under oath in 1775, saying they were not sure about the first shot at Lexington and that they were not able to fire back, gave testimony a half century later that the British fired first and that they had fired back, which can be viewed as an attempt in later life to burnish one’s own image and reputation. The events became mythical in the minds of Americans and legend became more important than truth. Paintings portrayed Lexington, not as the skirmish that it was, but as an unjustified slaughter, with the militia standing and fighting back. The colonials were portrayed actively fighting for their cause, which would have been true in battles afterward, but wasn’t the case at Lexington and Concord. From the standpoint of today, we have to peel back the legends and review the events dispassionately, where we’ll begin to find the black and white each turning to shades of gray.


The unknown shot that started it all is associated with the phrase “the shot heard round the world.” It later was also used to refer to the shot at Sarajevo, and is used in sports metaphors. But I’m afraid Longfellow wasn’t the only poet to obfuscate accurate history. Ralph Waldo Emerson, a resident of Concord, during the 1836 dedication ceremony of the monument at Old North Bridge in Concord wrote his Concord Hymn and was the first to state that phrase, by ending the first verse with it. However, he was discussing Concord, yet that first shot took place in Lexington, so it all adds to the twisted blur.


THE SIEGE OF BOSTON; BATTLE OF BUNKER HILL However, the colonial rebels WERE stunned by their success. Once the British retreated to Boston, a huge militia army, numbering over 15,000 converged on the city from throughout New England, and continued to grow as other colonies sent men and supplies. Then the Second Continental Congress adopted these men as the start of the Continental Army. (Once again, the use of the word “continental” essentially meant colonial, and with time, took on the meaning of “national”.) Thus Lexington/Concord was immediately followed back-to-back by the siege of Boston.


But there was a problem. A proper siege forms the letter O around a city, but the rebel colonials could at best form a C around Boston, including Boston Neck, since Boston Harbor was completely open to the sea, and the colonials had no navy. While the city couldn’t connect with its hinterland, British ships could easily supply its needs, and the needs of about 6000 troops, still under General Gage, which is why a stalemate developed and the siege lasted eleven months.


Besieged and besiegers eventually reached an informal agreement whereby the exchange of loyalists and rebels, unarmed, was allowed on Boston Neck. Most of the rebel residents left the city, and many loyalists in the countryside left their homes and fled into the city, some of the men joining loyalist regiments attached to the British army.


On 15 June, George Washington (shown here later at Trenton, by John Trumbull, 1792) was unanimously elected Commander-in-Chief of the Continental Army by the Continental Congress, so his name appears on this map illustrating the Siege of Boston. Notice the red positions of the British within Boston, and the blue positions of the rebels, forming a C-shape, not an O, around the city. Harvard College, dating from 1636, is also visible. Most important to note is the strategic position of the Charlestown peninsula to the north, with both the taller Bunker Hill and the closer Breeds Hill, where the British attempted breakout took place, and Dorchester Heights to the south, overlooking not only the city, but more importantly, the harbor. This is where it all ended months later.


Two months after the siege started, once 4500 additional soldiers had arrived by sea, the British were ready to try a breakout maneuver, and two days later, on 17 June (just two days after Washington’s appointment, so he wasn’t there yet), the Battle of Bunker Hill took place. The rebels had gotten word of the plans on the 13th, and 1200 colonial troops occupied both hills. When the British attacked, most of the fighting took place on the closer Breeds Hill. After three British assaults the colonials retreated over Bunker Hill for Cambridge, and the British occupied the peninsula, apparently achieving their breakout from the city. But the victory was at great cost: about 1000 British casualties, including an unusually high number of commissioned officers (including Pitcairn), 100, from a garrison of about 6000, as compared to 500 rebels (including Warren) from a much larger force. This battle, more accurately called the Battle of Breed’s Hill (the Bunker Hill monument, an obelisk, is located on Breed’s Hill), is cited as a classic example of a Pyrrhic victory, that is, winning the battle, but losing the war, the “lost war” being an expansion of the breakout effort, such as, for example, taking Cambridge. The siege was not broken, and Gage was replaced. The standoff continued for months after that, during which there was little action other than some raids, skirmishes, and sniper fire.


TICONDEROGA We said that events in the Champlain Valley had a significant effect on two other places, and Boston was one of them. Fort Ticonderoga commanded the southern end of Lake Champlain. On 10 May, shortly after Lexington and Concord, Ethan Allen, associated with the still non-existent Vermont, led a small force of his Green Mountain Boys to overcome a small British garrison and take Fort Ticonderoga, which included a considerable arsenal. The Fort was then used as a staging base for the unsuccessful invasion of Canada that summer, when a force left Ticonderoga on 25 August to complement another one leaving Cambridge on 11 September. Montréal was taken, but there was a defeat at Québec on 31 December, and the Continental Army withdrew. The thought was to draw the province of Québec into the fray, but in any case, the French were satisfied with British rule since the British had taken over just a dozen years earlier, as were the few British settlers recently arrived from Britain. Following this retreat, Fort Ticonderoga remained in colonial hands.


THE KNOX EXPEDITION & DORCHESTER HEIGHTS It was realized in Boston that the hills around the city, particularly at Dorchester Heights which commanded both city and harbor, could be used to advantage if the militia could obtain enough artillery pieces--and Ticonderoga had them. Washington asked a young Henry Knox to carry out the transport of this heavy weaponry in what is now known as the Knox Expedition. Some 60 tons of cannons and other armaments were moved by boat, horse, and ox-drawn sledges, along poor-quality roads, across two semi-frozen rivers, and through the forests and swamps of the Berkshire Mountains to Boston. He accomplished this difficult feat in the incredibly short time of 56 days in December and January. The L-shaped, 480 km (300 mi) route, followable on the above map, went south from Ticonderoga along the Hudson, then turned left (east) across the length of Massachusetts. The route he used is now known as the Henry Knox Trail, with some 56 markers, one for each day, put up by the states of New York and Massachusetts. Knox participated in most major battles from Bunker Hill to Yorktown, and became the first US Secretary of War. The location of the US bullion depository, Fort Knox, is named after Henry Knox.


Two months later, in early March, 1776, the cannons were placed on Dorchester Heights, overlooking the British positions, in the course of one day, after earthworks had been secretly prepared, and the British situation became untenable, since their naval supply lifeline was now threatened. General Howe now realized he could no longer hold Boston, and chose to evacuate it. It was agreed that, if their departure was not hindered, they wouldn’t burn the city. They sailed on 17 March for what turned out to be only temporary refuge at their naval base in Halifax, Nova Scotia, and the siege of Boston was ended, based on only the threat of Knox’s artillery. Howe positioned some ships at sea to intercept unknowing arriving British ships, and deflecting them to Halifax, however a few ships did end up docking in what was to their amazement revolutionary Boston, and were captured.


Many Massachusetts loyalists left with the British at this relatively early stage in the War. Some returned to Britain, many stayed in Nova Scotia (which then included New Brunswick), settling in such places as Saint John, becoming active in developing NS and NB. Some loyalists returned to the United States after the war.


The local militias dispersed, and in April, Washington took most of the Continental Army to fortify New York City, since he expected Howe would be back. While there were still many loyalists in The 13, they were no longer in control anywhere, and all the royal officials had fled. The revolutionaries were now in full control of all thirteen colonies and were ready to officially declare independence, which they did a few months later on 4 July. I had never realized that there were no British forces in power when that happened.


In Boston, 17 June is still celebrated as a public holiday, Bunker Hill Day. Exactly three months earlier, 17 March is also celebrated as a public holiday, Evacuation Day. Since Evacuation Day therefore coincides with Saint Patrick’s Day, one can only imagine the celebrations.


American Revolution: Summary of Major Events   After Boston, the sequence of events just followed the coast southward, to New York, Philadelphia, and the South.


New York   I will quote again in which postings we already discussed the New York events in detail: the Battle of Long Island / Battle of Brooklyn was in 2011/2 (end), and the Staten Island Peace Conference in 2011/6 “Conference House”. However, I now sense a greater feeling of poignancy. Even as I wrote about the battle and the peace conference, it was still muddled in the back of my mind that elsewhere in the 13 colonies the British were still in charge somewhere. I now understand that after the Boston evacuation, neither the British nor the loyalists controlled any significant areas in the 13 colonies, which made the pending invasion of New York that more ominous, and the attempt at a peace conference, that both sides knew was doomed to failure, that more poignant.


Washington had come down from Boston and set up his headquarters on Broadway on 13 April. Howe came down from Halifax and started massing his huge armada in Lower New York Bay on 29 June. Within a week there were 130 ships, and the population of New York began to panic, alarms went off, and troops took their posts. On 2 July, British troops began landing on Staten Island. On 4 July, the Declaration of Independence was signed in Philadelphia, in the midst of thirteen--up until now--totally unoccupied colonies. It was read in New York publicly on 9 July on the Common (today’s City Hall Park). On 27 August was the Battle of Brooklyn/Long Island, with Washington’s soldiers escaping from Brooklyn Heights at night. At this point both Brooklyn and Staten Island were occupied, being the two areas straddling the Narrows and the entrance to Upper New York Bay. It was at this point that the unsuccessful Staten Island Peace Conference took place on 11 September. On 15 September the British invaded New York (Manhattan) at Kip’s Bay on the East River, and area that was then countryside, but today is about at the foot of East 33rd Street. By the 21st the Great Fire had taken place, and on the 22nd, Nathan Hale had been hanged.


The above is detailed on the earlier posting. Beyond that, Washington and his forces retreated to northern Manhattan, and the day after Kip’s Bay, the 16th, the Battle of Harlem Heights was fought, where 1800 of Washington’s men held a series of high ground positions against an attacking British force of about 5000. It was Washington’s first battlefield victory of the war. (Harlem Heights in upper Manhattan is more usually referred to today as Morningside Heights, the site of Morningside Park and Columbia University. The high ground north of that is called Washington Heights, after the revolutionary Fort Washington. This is the area where the George Washington Bridge crosses the Hudson, and the Washington Bridge crosses the Harlem River. There is a lot of dedication to Washington in northern Manhattan.)


After a quiet month, Washington was forced to withdraw his army to White Plains to the north, after which he suffered two more defeats, at Fort Washington and White Plains. He then retreated across the Hudson and across New Jersey, which the British, following him, then occupied, to Pennsylvania. New York City then became the destination for loyalist refugees, just as Boston had during its occupation.


Philadelphia (North)   The British made two attempts to occupy Philadelphia, which was then the capital, being the seat of the Continental Congress. The first attempt was from the north, given their arrival from New York into New Jersey. By December, the fact that Philadelphia was about to be invaded led to half of its population fleeing the city, including the Continental Congress, which fled to Baltimore.


I now understand the logic and importance of Washington crossing the Delaware River from Pennsylvania back into New Jersey to attack its capital, Trenton on 26 December, since I now understand he was essentially defending Philadelphia, on the Pennsylvania side. The army captured most of the Hessian force at Trenton. Eight days later, on 3 January 1777, they had another success at the Battle of Princeton, the university town, where they further pushed back the British forces. Since Howe was overextended into New Jersey, he retreated, retaining only a few outposts in New Jersey closer to New York. At this point, the refugees and Continental Congress returned to Philadelphia. Crossing the Delaware and these two battle victories greatly improved morale, gave an important boost to pro-independence supporters, and have become iconic events of the war.


Philadelphia (South)   By now it was late 1777, and Howe wasn’t satisfied, so he decided to attack Philadelphia again, from the south. For reasons unknown--he had been feinting as to where his next move would be, he didn’t attack by entering Delaware Bay and sailing up the Delaware River, but instead sailed around into Chesapeake Bay, past Baltimore, and landed at the top of the bay in Maryland. There was a battle in southern Pennsylvania on Brandywine Creek on 11 September, but Washington lost the Battle of the Brandywine, and Philadelphia was successfully invaded this time. Thousands fled north into Pennsylvania and east into New Jersey. Congress fled west into Pennsylvania, first to Lancaster, then to York. British troops marched into the half-empty Philadelphia on 23 September to cheering loyalist crowds. At this point, Washington and his army retreated northwest from Philadelphia about 32 km (20 mi) to Valley Forge, named for an iron forge on Valley Creek, where they arrived on 17 December and spent six months under harsh winter conditions.


Just as the siege of Boston was ended by an event in the Champlain Valley, so was this second invasion of Philadelphia so affected, which proved to be the final undoing of General Howe. When the colonials had taken Ticonderoga, their invasion northward of British Canada from the Champlain Valley was unsuccessful. Similarly, when the British decided to invade the United States from Canada, their attempt was equally unsuccessful, and they were defeated at Saratoga.


It was a grand strategy to end the war by a pincer action to isolate New England. An invasion force would come down the Champlain Valley under General John Burgoyne (here in a portrait by Joshua Reynolds, circa 1766), take Albany, and then meet up with a similar force coming up the Hudson Valley from New York. But Burgoyne soon found himself surrounded and outnumbered by American forces. He fought two battles in the same location, on 19 September and 7 October, both together called the Battle of Saratoga (note that he had made it past Fort Ticonderoga, and was on his way to Albany, when stopped; still, he did reach the Hudson Valley). But he was not met by a British force from the south and had to surrender his army of 5000 men to the American troops on 17 October. Burgoyne faced criticism when he returned to Britain and never held another active command. Saratoga is considered a major turning point in the war, since it was an enormous morale boost, but primarily since it convinced France to enter the conflict in support of the United States, openly providing money, troops, and ships.


The missing puzzle piece here is: where were Howe’s troops that were supposed to come up from New York, that could have made Saratoga a British success? In a major case of miscoordination, he of course had gone to Philadelphia instead. Remember that the first Saratoga battle was on the 19 September, while Howe entered Philadelphia on 23 September. Burgoyne waited in vain for reinforcements from New York, and became trapped. Despite Howe’s record in capturing both New York and Philadelphia, much of the blame was controversially placed on him, and into the new year, 1788, he resigned his post as Commander-in-Chief of North America. With that, his successor decided New York needed more protection, and after an occupation of ten months, the British evacuated Philadelphia on 18 June to help defend New York. The American troops arrived the same day, the city government returned a week later, and the Continental Congress returned in early July.


Savannah/Charleston & the South   The South was the principal area of British strategy in the latter part of the war. The British now had fewer troops, and the South was perceived as being more loyalist. Later in 1788, after leaving Philadelphia, on 29 December the British captured Savannah, and the Georgia coast. They then besieged Charleston, the South’s biggest city and seaport, and captured it and most of the southern continental army on 12 May 1780, then moving from South Carolina to North Carolina to Virginia. However, they didn’t receive as much loyalist support as hoped, and had to fight their way north with a severely weakened army, while behind them, much of the captured territory dissolved into a chaotic guerilla war between loyalists and remnants of American militia. The army under General Charles Cornwallis (here in a portrait by John Singleton Copley, circa 1795) moved into Virginia in June, 1781, and at Williamsburg, received orders to fortify a naval base at Yorktown, where he then awaited the arrival of the Royal Navy.


It was at Yorktown (click to enlarge) that the northern, southern, and naval theaters of war converged in 1781. After Cornwallis had moved north to Virginia in June, Washington began moving forces south to Virginia in August. Then French naval forces defeated a British fleet at the Battle of the Chesapeake on 5 September, cutting off Cornwallis’s route of escape to the British base of operations in New York. (It’s curious how the British had success at the north end of the bay on their way to Philadelphia and failure at the south end trying to leave Virginia.)


A Franco-American force of 18,900 men began successfully besieging Cornwallis in early October. Cornwallis decided his position was becoming untenable, and he surrendered his entire army of over 7,000 men on 19 October 1781.


Afterwards   While hostilities ended, and the war was over de facto, it was two more years until the revolutionary period can be said to be over (and the war de jure), all of which I never fully understood before. Popular support for the war in Britain had never been strong, where many sympathized with the rebels (things are never really so black and white, are they?). George III personally wanted to continue, but his supporters lost control of Parliament. Then, after Yorktown, political support in London for the war plummeted. The next year, 1782, the Prime Minister resigned in March and Commons voted to end the war in April.


But Washington could not know that the British would not reopen hostilities. They still had 26-30,000 troops occupying New York City, Charleston, and Savannah, as well as a powerful navy. Preliminary peace articles were signed in Paris at the end of November 1782, although the formal end of hostilities didn’t occur until the Treaty of Paris was signed on 3 September 1783. The last British troops left New York City (after seven years of occupation) three months later, in late November and early December, 1783. The Articles of Confederation, a working constitution, but a weak one, had been drafted in 1776-7. It was replaced by the current Constitution, adopted on 17 September 1787, which is the oldest written constitution in the world. It is noted for its preamble, which starts with the three capitalized words (click to enlarge) WE THE PEOPLE.

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