Skip PBS navigation bar, and jump to content.
Visit Your Local PBS Station PBS Home PBS Home Programs A-Z TV Schedules Watch Video Donate Shop PBS Search PBS

The Film & More
Special Features
People & Events
Teacher's Guide

spacer above content
People & Events: April 19: How It Began
Previous Next

return to people & events  

cover of a piece of sheet music, published in 1905 On April 18, 1775, Dr. Joseph Warren saw the British regulars mobilizing in Boston. He suspected the soldiers would soon be sent after the leaders of the illegal Provincial Congress, Samuel Adams and John Hancock, who were staying in Lexington, a town across the Charles River and to the west. Warren, the highest ranking member of the Whigs left in Boston, confirmed this information with an unnamed British source, and sent for two messengers.

One By Land
William Dawes rode by land past the guard at the gate of the strip of land that connected Boston to Roxbury. Dawes had befriended a number of guards in the preceding weeks, and was lucky to find a friendly face on duty that night. He slipped through the gate after some Redcoats. Continuing west to Brookline, over the Charles at a bridge in Cambridge, he sped his horse through Menotomy (today called Arlington) to Lexington.

One By Sea
Paul Revere took the more direct sea route. After he was rowed quietly across the Charles, within sight of the British warships, Revere obtained a horse at Lechmere and rode through Cambridge toward Adams and Hancock in Lexington. Stopped by British officers en route, Revere made a quick escape and chose an indirect path to Lexington, through Medford.

The Alarm is Sounded
Both riders arrived in Lexington just after midnight and delivered their news of the British plans. The two messengers also decided to warn the militia in Concord that their military supplies would be targeted. They were joined on this leg by Dr. Samuel Prescott, a Concord resident who had been visiting a Lexington friend. Prescott proved invaluable when the riders were surprised by more British soldiers. Revere was captured and Dawes lost his horse, but Prescott took the back trails he knew to reach Concord and sound the alarm.

"Secret" Mobilization
Meanwhile, a confused group of British soldiers had spent the night organizing on Boston Common. The 700 men came from different companies led by different commanders. By the time they had all been ferried over to Cambridge and put into formation, it was 2am. From all the gossip and rumors in Boston, British general Thomas Gage realized the secrecy of his mission had been compromised. He dispatched a relief column of 1000 men. Because some of the officers asked to report had already gone with the first group, the orders were delayed for some hours. The relief column did not set out on their march -- taking Dawes's long land route to the south -- until 9am.

A Shot Rang Out
British Major Pitcairn in Doolittle's sketch Around 4:30am, Captain John Parker and 77 other Lexington minute men stood on Lexington Green waiting for the arrival of the British troops. They did not block the road, but merely stood at attention off to the side. The British arrived. No one knows exactly what was said, but by the fiftieth anniversary in 1825, while veterans of the combat still lived, eyewitnesses reported that Captain Parker said, "Stand your ground! Don't fire unless fired upon! But if they mean to have a war, let it begin here!" British Major Pitcairn, at the front of his column, shouted to the Americans: "Lay down your arms, you damned rebels and disperse!" The Americans were clearly outnumbered. Parker ordered his men to back away.

A shot rang out.

Men on both sides fired their weapons.

Eight Americans fell dead.

Find out what happened next.

Previous Next

return to people & events  

page created on 3.30.2004
Site Navigation

Patriots Day Home | The Film & More | Special Features | Timeline
Maps | People & Events | Teacher's Guide

American Experience | Feedback | Search | Shop | Subscribe | Web Credits

© New content 1997-2004 PBS Online / WGBH

Patriots Day American Experience

Exclusive Corporate Funding is provided by: