Francis Smith

1723–1791

Francis Smith (1723–1791) was a British officer who is most famous for leading the British expedition to Concord on April 18–19, 1775, triggering the Battles of Lexington and Concord and starting the American Revolutionary War.

Lieutenant Colonel Francis Smith, British Officer, Portrait

Francis Smith. Image Source: National Army Museum.

Francis Smith Facts

Francis Smith (1723–1791) was a British officer during the American Revolutionary War. Smith was a large man and is known for his roles in the Battle of Lexington, the Battle of Concord, the Siege of Boston, the Battle of Long Island, and the Battle of Rhode Island. Although he is not remembered as an accomplished officer, he eventually earned the rank of Lieutenant General.

The following facts and details provide an overview of Smith’s role in the American Revolutionary War and his significance to American History.

Battle of Lexington, 1775, Doolittle, Plate 1 Detail, NYPL
This engraving by Amos Doolittle was made in 1775 and depicts the Battle of Lexington. Image Source: New York Public Library Digital Collections.

Early Military Career

  • Francis Smith was commissioned as a Lieutenant in the Royal Welch Fusiliers on April 25, 1741.
  • On June 23, 1747, Smith became a Captain in the 10th Regiment of Foot.
  • He was brevetted as a Lieutenant Colonel of the 10th Regiment on January 16, 1762, and received the full promotion in February.
  • In 1767, Smith traveled to America with the 10th Regiment.
  • Over time, he became known in the British ranks for his cautious approach and being overweight.

Lexington and Concord

  • Francis Smith was the senior officer in the Boston Garrison in 1775, which led to his appointment to command the expedition to Concord.
  • On the night of April 18, 1775, General Thomage Gage issued orders to Smith, instructing him to march to Concord to seize and destroy military supplies stored there by the Massachusetts Provincial Congress.
  • Smith’s advance force was led by Major John Pitcairn and engaged the Lexington Militia on the morning of April 19, starting the American Revolutionary War.
  • After Smith arrived at Lexington, he restored order and marched to Concord.
  • Once his force was in Concord, he sent contingents to guard the South Bridge and the North Bridge, while others searched Concord and the Barrett Farm for the hidden military supplies.
  • While Smith’s men searched, Massachusetts Militia forces gathered on a hill near Concord. Smith’s men set fire to some of the supplies, and the militiamen thought they were burning the town.
  • The Americans marched to the North Bridge, where the British fired on them. The Americans responded with the “Shot Heard ‘Round the World,” and the British retreated to Concord.
  • Smith gathered his forces and started the march back to Boston.
  • About a mile east of Concord, at Meriam’s Corner, the Americans attacked, starting a running battle that continued for the rest of the day.
  • Smith was wounded in the leg during the fighting at Fiske Hill, and the command of the expedition was turned over to Major John Pitcairn.

For more information, see these primary documents — Gage’s orders to Lieutenant Colonel Francis Smith and Smith’s official report of the Battles of Lexington and Concord.

Concord Fight, 1775, Doolittle, Plate 3 Detail, North Bridge, NYPL
This engraving by Amos Doolittle depicts the Concord Fight at the North Bridge. Image Source: New York Public Library Digital Collections.

Siege of Boston and Dorchester Heights

  • Francis Smith applied for retirement in August 1775 due to his leg wound but remained in the military and was promoted to Colonel and then Brigadier General.
  • In March 1776, American forces devised a plan to mount artillery on Dorchester Heights, overlooking Boston Harbor.
  • The American expedition was led by General John Thomas and set out on the night of March 4 to transport the artillery.
  • Around 10:00, British forces realized the Americans were fortifying Dorchester Heights and reported it to Smith.
  • Smith did not take action, allowing the Americans to complete their fortifications. This gave them command of the harbor, forcing the British to evacuate Boston two weeks later.

Battle of Long Island

  • After leaving Boston, British forces organized an expedition to capture New York City.
  • At the Battle of Long Island (August 27, 1776), Francis Smith commanded the 5th Brigade of the British Army, under the command of General William Howe.
  • British forces won the battle, forcing George Washington and the Continental Army to carry out a daring escape from Brooklyn Heights to Manhattan.

Battle of Rhode Island

  • In August 1777, British General Henry Clinton led an expedition to reinforce Newport, Rhode Island, where British forces led by General Robert Pigot were under siege by American forces commanded by General John Sullivan.
  • Francis Smith and his command were with the British forces at Newport.
  • Sullivan started to withdraw his forces to Aquidneck Island, leading Pigot to plan an attack.
  • On August 29, Smith led a column along the east side of the island, toward the Americans, but was under orders to avoid a significant engagement.
  • Smith was near Quaker Hill when he was attacked by Americans led by Lieutenant Colonel Henry Brockholst Livingston.
  • After receiving reinforcements, Smith resumed his advance and pushed the Americans back to defensive positions at Quaker Hill, which was under the command of General John Glover.
  • Glover and his men held their ground. Smith ended his advance, formed lines, and remained in position while the focus of the battle shifted to the west side of the island.
  • The battle came to a standstill on August 30, and the Americans withdrew to Bristol and Tiverton that night.
Battle of Rhode Island, 1778, Map Detail
This map, drawn by Charles Mielatz in 1883, depicts the military operations during the Battle of Rhode Island. Image Source: University of Michigan Library Digital Collections.

Later Years, Return to England, and Death

  • Toward the end of 1778, Francis Smith and his regiment returned to England, however, he returned to service in America in 1779.
  • Smith’s military career continued with promotions to Major General in 1779 and Lieutenant General in 1787.
  • He died in 1791, at the age of 68.

Citation Information

The following information is provided for citations, including APA Style, Chicago Style, and MLA Style.

  • Article Title Francis Smith
  • Date 1723–1791
  • Author
  • Keywords Francis Smith, Battles of Lexington and Concord, Battle of Long Island, Battle of Rhode Island
  • Website Name American History Central
  • Access Date May 30, 2024
  • Publisher R.Squared Communications, LLC
  • Original Published Date
  • Date of Last Update April 22, 2024

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