John Parker was a lifelong resident of the town of Lexington. He was a farmer and a mechanic, but also served in the provincial army during the French and Indian War. He saw action at Louisbourg in 1758 and the Battle of Quebec in 1759.
On the evening of April 18, 1775, British forces under the command of Colonel Francis Smith and Major John Pitcairn marched out of Boston toward Concord. They were on a mission to seize weapons and ammunition that had been stored there by colonists who were afraid war with Britain was inevitable.
In order to get to Concord, the British had to go through Lexington. When the network of spies in Boston found out the British were headed to Concord, they notified Joseph Warren, the head of the Committee of Safety.
Revere arrived in Lexington around midnight and warned Adams and Hancock. When the people of Lexington learned the British were on their way the alarm was raised and the minutemen and other militia, led by Parker, answered the call.
Parker assembled his men on Lexington Common and waited for the British to arrive. As the sun rose and the British appeared on the road, around 4:30 in the morning, Adams and Hancock made their escape from Lexington.
Parker ordered the alarm’s guns to be fired and for the drummer of the Lexington militia, William Diamond, to sound the alarm. These actions alerted the minutemen of the surrounding towns, who mobilized and started on their way to Lexington.
Parker had roughly 70 men assembled to confront the British. Some of Parker’s men did not have weapons, so he ordered them to go to the town’s magazine and arm themselves. He led the rest of his men to the north end of the Common and they formed a single line. Legend has it Parker told his men to “Stand your ground. Don’t fire unless fired upon. But if they mean to have a war, let it begin here.”
Pitcairn, who was at the head of the British advance force, rode to within a hundred yards of the militia. He ordered Parker and his men to lay down their arms and to disperse. Parker ordered his men to leave the common, but he did not instruct them to lay down their arms.
As the militia left the common, Pitcairn’s troops started shouting at the militia and moved forward toward them. Suddenly, a shot was fired.
Pitcairn tried to restrain his men, but it was too late. The British fired on the Lexington militia. The militia scattered, but some of them returned fire, enough to wound two British privates and Pitcairn’s horse. However, eight members of the Massachusetts militia lay dead, and 10 more were wounded.
After the rout, Parker organized his men and marched toward Concord. When the British left Concord, Parker and his men took defensive positions and fired on the British column in an action known as Parker’s Revenge.
Afterward, Parker led some of his men to Boston, where they participated in the early days of the Siege of Boston.
- Born in Lexington, Massachusetts on July 13, 1729
- Served in the provincial army during the French and Indian War
- Participated in the Siege of Louisbourg in 1758
- Participated in the Battle of Quebec in 1759
- Held several positions in the town of Lexington
- Professionally, he was a mechanic and farmer
- He and his wife were married for at least 20 years and had seven children
- He led the Lexington militia at the outbreak of the American Revolutionary War
- He died of tuberculosis at the age of 46 on September 17, 1775