When it came to breaking news, eighteenth-century information networks were susceptible to some of the same problems as modern-day media.
Even as redcoats and minute men clashed on April 19, 1775, colonists began to circulate sketchy reports of the events. In the rush to alert people to what was going on, preliminary and sometimes inaccurate details were put forward as facts. And in the day's aftermath, reports were constructed as pro-American propaganda. Because of conflicting information sources, historians today still dispute central questions, like who fired the first shot.
This printed broadside from the Library of Congress illustrates how early information about the Battle of Lexington and Concord spread.
New-York, Sunday 23d April, 1775.
The following interesting Advices, were this Day received here, by two Vessels from Newport, and by an Express by Land.
This evening intelligence hath been receiv'd, that about 1200 of the regular troops, have proceeded from Boston toward Concord; and having fired on the inhabitants, and killed a number of them, at Lexington, are now actually engaged in butchering and destroying our brethren in the most inhuman manner. The inhabitants opposed them with zeal and courage, and numbers have already fallen on both sides. Reinforcements were on their way, at 10 o'clock from Boston, and the provincials were alarmed, and mustering as fast as possible. It appears necessary therefore, that we immediately make some provision for their assistance, and his honour, the lieutenant governor, desires your immediate attendance, to advise and order in that behalf; he being very ill, occasions my writing in his behalf. We shall impatiently wait your arrival, as numbers are ready, and wait only for orders to proceed.
The country's friend and yours,
Watertown, Wednesday near
10 o'clock, 19th April, 1775.
To all friends of American Liberty, be it known, that this morning, before break of day a brigade, consisting of about 1000 or 1200 men, landed at Phips's farm, at Cambridge, and marched to Lexington, where they found a company of our colony militia in arms, upon whom they fired without any provocation, killed 6 men, and wounded 4 others. --
By an express from Boston, we find another brigade are on their march from Boston, supposed to be about 1000. -- The bearer, Israel Bissel, is charged to alarm the country quite to Connecticut, and all persons are desired to furnish him with fresh horses, as they may be needed. -- I have spoke with several who have seen the dead and wounded; pray let the Delegates from this colony to Connecticut see this, they know Col. Foster of Brookfield one of the Delegates.
J. Palmer, one of the Committee of S.
A true copy taken from the original, per order of the committee of correspondence for Worcester, April 19th, 1775.
Attest. Nathan Balding, town clerk.
Brookline, Thursday, 11 o'clock. The above is a true copy, received per express, forwarded from Worcester.
Attest. Daniel Tyler, jun.
Norwich, Thursday, 4 o'clock. The above is a true copy as sent by express from Mr. Tyler.
Attest. Christopher Leffingwell.
New-London, Thursday evening 7 o'clock. A true copy of express. Richard Law, Samuel H. Parsons, Nathan Shaw, jun. William Coit, committee.
Lyme, Friday, Morning 10 o'clock. A true copy as received per express. -- John Laynd, John McCurdy, William Noyes, Samuel Mather, jun. committee.
Saybrook, Friday morning 4 o'clock. A true copy as received per express. Samuel Field, John Cochran, Richard Dickinson.
Killingworth, Friday morning, 7 o'clock. -- Forwarded as received per express. George Elliot, Samuel Gale, committee.
East Guilford, Friday morning, 8 o'clock. -- Forwarded as received per express. Timothy Todd, Isaac Knight, committee.
Guilford, Friday morning 10 o'clock. Forwarded as received per express. Samuel Brown, and -- Landon, committee.
Branford, Friday at noon. Received and forwarded by Samuel Barker, one of the committee.
New-Haven, April 21. Received and forwarded upon certain intelligence, per Samuel Bishop, Joseph Munson, Timothy Jones, David Austin, Isaac Doolittle, Daniel Lyman, committee.
Fairfield, Saturday 22d, 8 o'clock. Forwardsd as per express from New-Haven. G. Selleck Silliman, Thaddeus Burr, Job Bartram, Andrew Rowland, Jonathan Sturges, committee.
Since the above written [...] received the following by second exp[ress:]
SIR, Thursday [...] afternoon
I am this moment informed by express from Woodstock, taken from the mouth [of] the express, that arrived there at two o'clock P.M. that the contest between the first [brigade], that marched to Concord, was still continuing this morning at the town of Lexington, to which town the said brigade had retired: That another brigade, said to be the second, mentioned in the letter of this [mo...] [had landed] with a quantity of artillery, [...] where the first did. -- The provincials [...] to prevent the two brigades from [...] strength, if possible, and remain in great [...] of succour.
N.B. The regulars, when in Concord, burnt the court house, took two pieces of cannon, which they rendered useless, and began to take up Concord bridge, on which Captain -- --, (who, with many on both sides, were soon killed) then made an attack upon the King's troops, on which they retreated to Lexington.
I am your humble servant, Eb. Williams.
To Col. Obadiah Johnson, at Canterbury.
P.S. Mr. Tarland, of Camfield, merchant, has just returned from Boston, by way of Providence, who conversed with an express from Lexington, who further informs, that about 4000 of our troops had surrounded the first brigade, abovementioned, who were on a hill in Lexington; that the action then continued, and there were about 50 of our men killed, and 150 of the regulars, as near as they could determine, when the express came away; it will be expedient for every man to go, who is fit and willing.
The above is a true copy as received per express from New-Haven, and attested to by committees of correspondence, from town to town.
Attest. Jonathan Sturges, Andrew Rowland, G. Sellek Silliman, Thaddeus Burr, Job Bartram.