Dr. Joseph Warren, Samuel Adams' protégé and the man who had assigned the two midnight riders, Paul Revere and William Dawes, their mission, knew that the story of what had happened in Lexington and Concord was still in flux in the days following April 19. Warren chaired the Committee of Safety of the Provincial Congress in John Hancock's absence. From the British perspective, unruly citizens who had set up an illegal shadow government were amassing weapons -- and had to be stopped to prevent a civil war. From the American opposition's perspective, an intrusive government had harassed its own free citizens.
The Committee of Supplies at Concord wrote a letter "expressing their joy at the event of the preceding day." This was the wrong message. Warren understood that the story of the battlewas evolving and spreading quickly. He felt the revolutionaries needed to issue a statement of outrage that focused on the injustices of what had occurred, not celebrate the remarkable rout of the British forces. The first circular on the subject from the Committee of Safety was a propagandistic screed decrying the crimes of the British soldiers and inciting paranoia within all the colonists. Sent out to other local Committees of Safety, Warren's letter motivated the patriots to create a provincial army.
In response to the alarms, militiamen from as far away as New Hampshire and Connecticut came to join the militia groups that had chased the British regulars back into Boston. In all, some 20,000 men volunteered to confront the 4,000 British soldiers in Boston. Some of the troops stayed in Cambridge and Charlestown, across the Charles River from the city. Others went to Roxbury, to control the small strip of land that connected the city to the mainland. The Siege of Boston had begun.
A Spy's Work
The Americans went to work to create an official record of clashes in Lexington and Concord. The Provincial Congress appointed a committee to take statements from witnesses to the battles -- among them three British prisoners -- and commissioned a written narrative. All the witnesses stated that the first shots, both at Lexington and Concord, came from the British troops. Even "witnesses" who could not have seen the first shots agreed. The final report did not limit itself to the facts of the deposition, painting a picture of innocent American farmhands menaced by armed British soldiers. The document's pro-American bias was undoubtedly exaggerated by its author, Benjamin Church, who expressed his loyalty to the American cause all the more emphatically to disguise the fact that he was a British informant. In fact, Church was integral to the events of that April -- he was the one who had sold information about the munitions in Concord to the British government.
News Travels Fast
The battles were big news. Copies of the report and depositions were sent to papers throughout the Colonies, as far south as Georgia. Newspapers everywhere published some of the most lurid details of the events. Copies were sent to England; a cargo ship carrying General Thomas Gage's report to his British superiors had a four-day head start, but Captain John Derby's lighter American schooner arrived in the British Isles a fortnight earlier. The London Evening Post published the American account weeks before the government had any of its own information ready. Derby's quick sailing ensured a public relations victory; the British public was split about the way the government was treating their colonial cousins.
A Unifying Virginia Commander
Back in the soon-to-be United States, the second Continental Congress met in Philadelphia. Massachusetts representative John Adams needed the Congress toassume responsibility for the ad hoc army that had gathered in Cambridge. Adams wanted all of the colonies to participate, so that the conflict would not be simply between Britain and New England. He realized that the best way to achieve full colonial participation was for the body to appoint a unifying leader. After some maneuvering, Adams nominated George Washington, a charismatic Virginian and veteran of the French and Indian War, as the Commander of the Continental Army. On July 13, Washington arrived in Cambridge to take command.
In the aftermath of April 19, 1775, it was clear that the day had served as the spark for revolution. It would be immortalized as a mythic American moment, in poems, engravings, songs, and in celebrated phrases like Ralph Waldo Emerson's "the shot heard round the world." The day is honored with a Massachusetts state holiday and its events are reenacted each year. Though historians today still discuss the question of who fired first and what exactly took place on Lexington Green, the battles of Lexington and Concord provided a few motivated men with the spark that they needed to ignite the passions of their countrymen. A war had begun, but more importantly, an epochal idea -- democratic government of, by, and for the people -- took root.