Acton and the Battles of Lexington and Concord

April 18–19, 1775 — History of Acton, Massachusetts and the Concord Fight

Acton, Massachusetts was one of the towns that mobilized its militia forces in response to the Lexington Alarm. On April 19, three companies of Acton Militia marched to Concord, where the company led by Captain Isaac Davis took the lead in the advance on British forces at the North Bridge.

Lexington and Concord, 1775, Acton Militia

The Minuteman statue at Concord. Image Source: National Park Service.

Acton Militia and the Battles of Lexington and Concord

The following account of the Acton Militia and its role in the Battles of Lexington and Concord is taken from History of the Town of Acton, written by Harold Romaine Phalen and published in 1954.

Phalen’s history provides an overview of the events that led up to the battles, from Acton’s point of view, including:

  • The Middlesex County Convention.
  • The formation of the Massachusetts Provincial Congress.
  • The organization of the county and town militia forces.
  • British spies sent by General Thomas Gage to scout the countryside.
  • A British march out of Boston that raised the alarm in the countryside.

Phalen briefly covers the Battle of Lexington, which the Acton Militia did not participate in, and gives a more detailed account of the Concord Fight, or the Battle of Concord. As expected, he pays special attention to leading figures of the time in Acton, including Francis Faulkner and Isaac Davis.

For more information, please see the “Documenting the Battles of Lexington and Concord,” which follows Phalen’s account.

Please note that we have made minor text corrections and edits to the text, but have not changed the meaning. Spacing, section headings, and notes have been added to help readers scan and understand the text.

Facts About the Acton Militia and the Battles of Lexington and Concord

  1. Acton is slightly northwest of Concord. Today, it is roughly 5 miles from the center of Acton to the center of Concord.
  2. October 3, 1774, is the day “Acton cast in its lot against the Crown.”
  3. Joseph Robbins was the first person in Acton to be notified the British were marching to Concord.
  4. John Robbins was sent to warn Captain Isaac Davis and Captain Simon Hunt. It was Robbins’ 13th birthday.
  5. James Hayward, the Acton schoolmaster, joined the Acton Militia. Hayward was exempt because he had lost some toes on his foot in an accident, however, he marched to Concord with the company of Captain Isaac Davis.
  6. Three militia companies from Acton responded to the Lexington Alarm and participated in the Concord Fight.
  7. Captain Isaac Davis and his company of Acton Militia volunteered to be at the front of the American column that marched toward the British at the North Bridge.
  8. Captain Isaac Davis was the first American officer killed in the American Revolutionary War. He was shot and instantly killed at the North Bridge in the first volley fired by the British at the Americans.
  9. Two more men from Acton, Abner Hosmer, and James Hayward, were killed during the Battles of Lexington and Concord. Hosmer was killed at the North Bridge in Concord, and Hayward was killed in Menotomy.
  10. Following the Concord Fight, the Acton Militia participated in the pursuit of the British along the Battle Road.
Captain Isaac Davis, Historical Marker, Concord, HMDB
This historical marker at Concord commemorates Captain Isaac Davis, Abner Hosmer, and the Acton Militia. It reads, “On the morning of April 19, 1775, approximately 400 colonials stood on the hill overlooking the North Bridge. As smoke rose from Concord center, the order to march was given. In the exchange of fire that followed, Captain Isaac Davis, who had exclaimed ‘I haven’t a man who is afraid to go,’ was killed together with Abner Hosmer, a private, also from Acton.” Image Source: Historical Marker Database.

Acton and Events Leading to the Lexington Alarm and the Battles of Lexington and Concord

Middlesex County Convention

By late summer of 1774, the cast of public opinion was taking shape prophetic of things to come. The populace was apprehensive but withal determined. 

On August 30th and 31st, 150 delegates met in a county convention at Concord at which Honorable James Prescott of Groton presided. 

The Acton delegates were:

  • Francis Faulkner
  • John Hayward
  • Ephraim Hapgood

Nineteen resolutions bearing on the state of the province were brought before this body and passed after serious and dignified debate. 

The spirit in which these difficult matters were discussed is best understood by a consideration of the following excerpts taken from the preamble and concluding paragraph of the document as finally accepted.

AHC Note — The Middlesex County Convention was one of the county conventions held after Town Meetings were banned by the Intolerable Acts. The Suffolk County Convention is famous for producing the Suffolk Resolves, which were endorsed by the First Continental Congress and published in newspapers throughout the 13 Original Colonies.

Excerpts from the Resolutions of the Middlesex County Convention

From the Preamble

It is evident to every attentive mind that this Province is in a very dangerous and alarming situation. 

We are obliged to say, however painful it may be to us, that the question now is whether, by a submission to some late Acts of the Parliament of Great Britain, we are contented to be the most abject slaves, and entail that slavery on posterity after us, or, by a manly, joint, and virtuous opposition, assert and support our freedom. 

There is a mode of conduct, which in our very critical circumstances, we would wish to adopt — a conduct on the one hand never tamely submissive to tyranny and oppression, on the other, never degenerating into rage, passion, and confusion. 

There is a spirit which we revere, as we find it exhibited in former ages, and which command applause to latest posterity. 

The late Acts of Parliament pervade the whole system of jurisprudence by which means we think the fountains of justice are fatally corrupted. 

Our defense must therefore be immediate in proportion to the suddenness of the attack, and vigorous in proportion to the danger. We must now exert ourselves, or all those efforts which for ten years past have brightened the annals of this country, will be totally frustrated. 

Life and Death, or what is more. Freedom and Slavery, are in a peculiar sense now before us, and the choice and success, under God, depend greatly on ourselves. 

We are therefore bound, as struggling not only for ourselves, but for future generations, to express our sentiments in the following resolves — sentiments, which we think are founded on truth and justice and therefore sentiments we are determined to abide by.

From the Conclusion

These are great and profound questions. We are grieved to find ourselves reduced to the necessity of entering into the discussion of them. But we deprecate a state of slavery. 

Our fathers left a fair inheritance to us, purchased by a waste of blood and treasure. This we are resolved to transmit equally fair to our children after us. 

No danger shall affright, no difficulties intimidate us. 

And if in support of our rights we are called to encounter even death, we are yet undaunted, sensible that he can never die too soon, who lays down his life in support of the laws and liberties of his country.

Boston Leads the Way in Massachusetts

The lead taken by Boston and the towns thereabout in the matter of Committees of Correspondence began immediately to take effect. The populace saw thereby a means of keeping in touch with the march of events and in addition a device for circumventing in large measure the machinations of an unpopular administration. If the governor refused to call the regular session of the General Court an organization was now available to convene a provincial congress.

Acton Takes Action Against the Crown

In matters of this nature, Acton played its part and we find that a special town meeting called on October 3rd, with Captain Samuel Hayward acting as moderator, the town took three important steps. 

  1. Josiah Hayward was elected as a representative to the General Court if and when the governor dared to call it into session. 
  2. Francis Faulkner and Ephraim Hapgood were chosen as delegates to a Provincial Congress to be held at Concord on the second Tuesday of October. 
  3. Ephraim Hapgood, Francis Faulkner, John Hayward, Mark White, and Captain Samuel Hayward were elected as a Committee of Correspondence for the town.

This date of October 3, 1774, together with the list of men just mentioned should be well marked. It defines the time when Acton cast in its lot against the Crown and the committee sets out in relief forever those who were to guide the political destiny of the town in the very earliest stages of its progress along the chosen path of resistance.

The Massachusetts Provincial Congress Meets

The Provincial Congress convened on October 11 with 288 delegates. John Hancock presided and Benjamin Lincoln served as secretary. 

An address was directed to Governor Gage without avail and in consequence the body adjourned to Cambridge on October 15, presumably to be closer to the focus of affairs. 

Even so, no favorable action resulted and consequently a motion to adjourn was passed on October 17.

“Humbling the Tories”

The spirits of the citizenry were fully aroused. 

Soon after the meeting of October 3, a mass meeting was held on Concord Common at which time a committee was chosen, with Robert Chaffin of Acton as chairman, before whom every person suspected of being a Tory was compelled to appear for trial.

An ordeal known as “humbling the Tories” was devised and applied to more than a few of the stubborn royalists.

The exact nature of this punishment is not recorded but we do know that it varied from community to community and also depended upon the ingenuity of the admonishing committee and the degree of truculence of the victim.

AHC Note — In most cases, we refer to “Tories” as “Loyalists.” However, we have retained Phalen’s original terminology.

Formation of the Acton Minutemen

It was a natural step from the state of affairs to the carrying of arms and the training in military techniques. In consequence, a company of Minutemen was raised by volunteer enlistment in November of 1774. 

Isaac Davis, a gunsmith by trade, and a man of extreme sobriety and sound judgment, was elected captain and by mutual agreement, the company met twice each week for instruction and drill.

AHC Note — According to Phalen, this instruction and training was voluntary. There was some question in Acton if a committee should be organized to oversee the training, however, it was dismissed and Captain Davis continued to lead the training without interference from town leaders.

Acton Refuses to Pay Taxes to the Provincial Treasurer

In addition to the military preparations, many of the towns were refusing to make payments to the provincial treasurer for the annual tax allotments. Acton was staunchly in line on this issue. 

At a meeting called in December of 1774 with Captain Samuel Hayward acting as moderator it was voted that

“the town will raise 20 pounds 10 shillings 10 pence for the use of the province, also voted that the constable do pay the said sum to the treasurer of the Town and that said Money be Paid out by order of the Selectmen, also voted that this town will Defend and Save Harmless the Assessors of this Town for their not making return of the Province Rate to Harrison Gray, Esq. this present year.”

AHC Note — When studying the American Revolution, it is important to understand that Americans did pay taxes, and had no problem paying them — as long as they had a say in what the money was used for. Most of the acceptable taxes were levied by towns and colonial legislatures, which were elected by the people.

The Continental Association in Acton

Early in the new year of 1775, on January 4th in fact, a committee consisting of Lieutenant Billing, Captain Samuel Hayward, Lieutenant John Heald, Josiah Piper, Deacon Brooks, Joseph Robbins, and Francis Faulkner was selected to see that the resolves of the Continental Congress, in particular the Association of the said Congress, were strictly observed in the town.

AHC Note — See the Articles of Association and the Continental Association for more information. In Acton, Francis Faulkner was likely the head of the Committee of Inspection that was charged with enforcing the provisions of the Articles of Association.

Support and Pay for the Acton Minutemen

By the middle of January the people had become aware that it was their duty to support the Minutemen so on the 18th it was:

“voted to pay thirty men, if so many shall Inlist, Eight Pence per Day twice in a week they to spend in Exersising three Hours in Each Day untill the first Day of may Next, also voted that any man that Does not atend his Duty on Said Day for Exercise within Half and Hour of the time Per fixed Shall not be Intitled to any Pay for that Day.”

British Spies in the Countryside

As the posture of affairs moved to a climax, General Thomas Gage was not remiss in his duties either. 

Thomas Gage, Portrait, Copley
General Thomas Gage. Image Source: Wikipedia.

On February 10, he sent to Worcester two spies, Captain William Brown of the 52nd Regiment and Ensign Henry De Berniere of the 10th Rregiment. They wore brown clothes and reddish handkerchiefs tucked into their necks. 

On March 20th they again set forth, this time through Roxbury, Brookline, Weston, and Sudbury to Concord to learn where military stores might be hidden and the best roads of approach. 

They fooled nobody since their mission was immediately known and spread broadcast. On the other hand, they learned much from the several Loyalists with whom they lodged, particularly from a Mr. Bliss in Concord.

British Expedition Raises the Alarm

In addition, it became the custom at about this time for large contingents of Redcoats to take practice marches several miles into the hinterland. 

No doubt this was partly due to the fact that the winter of 1774-75 was amazingly mild, some of the days being of summertime character. But the balmy weather was not the sole reason as the yeomanry well knew, both from common sense and from certain aggravating episodes. 

For instance, Reverend Gordon of Roxbury records how one such expedition of 1,000 men marched to Jamaica Plain by way of Dorchester on March 30th, during which the soldiers amused themselves by pushing over the stone walls along the wayside.

This sally doubtless gave rise to the false rumor which was immediately circulated to the effect that the British were en route for Concord. 

The excitement was so great that some carried arms at all times, even to church. 

The provincial committee met on April 1, 5, 14, and 17th and on the latter date ordered Colonel James Barrett to raise an artillery company and to send four cannon to Groton and two to Acton. 

AHC Note — This likely refers to British troops marching to Roxbury, led by General Hugh Percy. The Massachusetts Provincial Congress responded by resolving that any time 500 or more British troops marched out of Boston an “Army of Observation” should assemble right away to “…act solely on the defensive…” 

Middlesex County Militia Forces and Commanding Officers

At this time there were in Middlesex County two regiments of the military, one of the regular militia and one of Minutemen. 

The militia had for officers the following personnel:

  • Colonel — James Barrett, Concord
  • Lt. Colonel — Ezekiel Howe, Sudbury
  • Captains
    • Nathen Barrett, Concord
    • George Minot, Concord
    • Joseph Robbins, Acton
    • John Moore, Bedford
    • Samuel Farrar, Lincoln
    • Moses Stone, Sudbury
    • Aaron Haynes, Sudbury

For the regiment of Minutemen:

  • Colonel — Abijah Pierce, Lincoln
  • Lt. Colonel — Thomas Nixon, Framingham
  • Majors
    • John Buttrick, Concord
    • Jacob Miller, Holliston
  • Adjutant — Thomas Hurd, East Sudbury
  • Captains
    • David Brown, Concord
    • Charles Miles, Concord
    • Isaac Davis, Acton
    • William Smith, Lincoln
    • Jonathan Wilson, Bedford
    • John Nixon, Sudbury

British Troops in Boston

According to a committee appointed by the Provincial Congress to look into the matter in detail, there were at this time, in the vicinity of Boston, about 2,850 British troops, distributed as follows: 

  • Boston Common — 1,700
  • Fort Hill — 400
  • Boston Neck — 340
  • Barracks at Castle William — 330
  • King Street — 80

This total included grenadiers, dragoons, and about 460 marines under Major John Pitcairn.

British Preparations for the Concord Expedition

About 800 of these, consisting of light infantry, grenadiers, and marines were taken off regular duty on Saturday, April 15th under the pretense of preparing for special maneuvers. 

At 10:00 p.m. Tuesday, April 18, they embarked from Boston under the command of Lieutenant Colonel Francis Smith and Major John Pitcairn. 

They landed at Lechmere Point, each man provided with one day’s rations and 36 rounds of ammunition. 

Due to the fact that the Lechmere shore was marshy and shallow, the soldiers had to wade several rods in water above their knees. In consequence, the column was slow in forming. 

From the standpoint of the common foot soldier, it was a welcome circumstance that the night was almost balmy and the moon was just past the full. 

But for sheer luck, the ground could have been covered a foot deep with frozen slush with razorlike edges that would have cut their boots to ribbons before they were halfway to Lexington.

Purpose of the Expedition

The object of the foray was to destroy the stores in Concord and to apprehend Adams, Hancock, and any other important rebels that might fall into the net. 

As an additional precaution, Gage had sent along the day before ten men with instructions to watch the roads during the night for suspicious persons who might be couriers carrying the alarm.

AHC Note — It is unclear if Smith’s expedition was supposed to arrest Adams and Hancock. Although older accounts of the Battles of Lexington and Concord say that was the case, it was not in the orders that General Thomas Gage issued to Smith on April 18.

The Sons of Liberty Raise the Alarm

The British thought that they had been very cautious in concealing their plans for the expedition to Concord but it is long since a matter of history how wrong they were. 

The ever-vigilant Sons of Liberty were aware of their every move and even before the completion of the crossing of the Charles two riders, Paul Revere and William Dawes, who had been chosen for the task several weeks in advance, were on their way to warn the countryside.

The Midnight Riders

Due to the Longfellow poem, the part played by Dawes never had its full share of attention. He arrived first at the rendezvous, the residence of Dr. Joseph Warren, and since his was the longer route to Lexington (via Roxbury, Brookline, Brighton, Harvard Square) he was the first to start. 

Revere, on the other hand, crossed the river by boat directly into Charlestown and made his way through Medford and Arlington (Menotomy) to the residence of the Reverend Jonas Clark in Lexington which he reached about midnight and gave the warning to Samuel Adams and John Hancock who were tarrying there for the night. 

In about half an hour, Dawes arrived and together they pushed on to Concord.

 Very shortly they were overtaken by young Dr. Samuel Prescott of Concord who had been courting his fiancee, a Miss Mullikin of Lexington. 

The three rode on together and since Prescott knew the dwellers along the route he was valuable in assuring them of the genuineness of the alarm.

As the trio were traversing that portion of the highway that lies in Lincoln they were accosted by four of the armed sentries sent forward by Gage the day previous. 

They were all armed and threatened to, “blow out your brains” unless surrender was immediate. 

There was some little exchange of argument and in the melee Prescott, being thoroughly familiar with the surrounding countryside, suddenly put his horse over the low stone wall and hastened to Concord by a route that only a native could know.

Dawes and Revere were retained and questioned for a couple of hours and then released. 

The length of Revere’s ride from the Charlestown shore to the place of capture was about 16 miles.

AHC Note — This is a very high-level overview of the Midnight Ride, and glosses over several details. An important fact that is missing is the British had already taken other men as prisoners earlier that night. Those men, Solomon Brown, Jonathan Loring, and Elijah Sanderson, were from Lexington, and were on the road looking for British troops (see Deposition No. 1 for their testimony).

The Battle of Lexington

The story of the progress of the British to Lexington and the one-sided engagement there which resulted in the needless death of 8 Minute Men is fully told in several authentic histories (see Battle of Lexington).

The Lexington Alarm Spreads to Acton

Our interest lies in what happened with respect to Acton. 

Prescott arrived in Concord in sufficient time so that the alarm bells were rung at 3:00 a.m. Immediately, by prearrangement, other couriers set out in various directions. 

The Alarm Reaches Joseph Robbins in Acton

No record has been kept of the identity of the person who came to Acton but, whoever he was, he rode up to the house of Captain Joseph Robbins, located a few rods east of the burying ground, struck sharply on the corner board with a bludgeon and at the same time shouted the well-known words seen so often by every Acton youngster, “Captain Robbins! Captain Robbins! The Regulars are coming!”, that are inscribed on the granite field stone marker designating the site of the old house.

According to Fletcher, the message contained the additional admonition for Captain Robbins to rendezvous at the old North Bridge and to alarm the rest of Acton as soon as possible. 

John Robbins Alerts Captain Isaac Davis

Accordingly, young John Robbins — aged exactly 13 since April 19, 1762, was his birthday — hastily mounted his father’s mare and started for the home of Captain Isaac Davis about a mile away, and then on to Deacon Simon Hunt’s, who commanded the West Company.

Colonel Francis Faulkner

Some unknown rider, possibly the same one, took the alarm to the house of Francis Faulkner. He was one of the town’s outstanding citizens. He operated the mills which, until the coming of the railroad, gave the settlement its name of Faulkner’s Mills. There was at first only a sawmill and a grist mill but later a fulling mill was added which was among the very first efforts in the manufacture of woolen cloth in this country.

As young Francis Faulkner, Jr., a boy of 15, lay awake early in the morning of April 19, he heard the clatter of hoofbeats approaching the house. 

Being fully aware of the tenseness of affairs and of the likelihood of a British advance, he immediately sensed the import of the arriving horseman. He leaped from his bed, ran to his father’s chamber, and cried, “Father, there’s a horse coming on the full run and he’s bringing news.”

Colonel Faulker, however, was already partially dressed with his accouterments at hand. The horseman crossed the bridge by the mill dam and arriving at the house shouted, “Rouse your men Mr. Faulkner! The British are marching on Lexington and Concord!”, then away he sped to carry the message westward.

Without stopping to dress, Colonel Faulkner fired his musket three times as rapidly as he could load, that being the prearranged signal to call out the Minutemen. 

Almost immediately a neighbor repeated it and young Francis related in later life the great thrill that was his as he heard the guns, ever fainter and fainter, carrying the alarm over the countryside. 

Signal fires were also lighted and the households awoke to the grim business of the day — which all deplored but which could not be averted by wishful thinking.

Captain Simon Hunt

During these preliminaries, Captain Simon Hunt took command of the company in order to release Colonel Faulkner for the duties that would occupy him upon his arrival at Concord. 

Captain Isaac Davis and James Hayward

Meantime word had come from Captain Isaac Davis that his men were coming in and that he would start by the route through Acton Centre as soon as 30 of his company had assembled. Shortly thereafter the line formed on the lawn south of the Faulkner house leaving the women grim and tearful, to complete the preparation of the rations.

Meanwhile, other Patriots were gathering at the house of Isaac Davis, the respected and godly gunsmith of the town. Among the very earliest to arrive was the local schoolmaster, James Hayward, not a member of the company and exempt from military service because of the loss of the toes of one foot from an axe cut, but, nonetheless, a man if ever one lived as the events of the day were to prove. 

In consequence of his craft, in which he was a master, Davis had provided his men with bayonets, and on arrival, observing Hayward busily engaged at the grindstone, inquired the reason for his industry. “Because,” said he, “I expect before night we shall come to a push with them and I want my bayonet sharp”.

Davis was a brave man, a Puritan, and a mystic. 

As he marched his company out of the yard in the glorious April morning he was heard to remark, “I have a right to go to Concord on the King’s highway: and I will go to Concord.”

AHC Note — Phalen includes some anecdotes about Davis and his “mystic” beliefs. These have been removed from the narrative about the Battles of Lexington and Concord and moved to the Appendix that follows.

The Acton Militia Starts the March to Concord

Thereupon, Luther Blanchard, the fifer, and Francis Barker, the drummer, broke out the stirring rhythm of the “White Cockade” and the company set off toward the sunrise. Of them all, only Davis marched with the sure conviction that when they returned he would not be of their number.

On this bright morning, under an unflinching leader, bent on a grim and portentous errand, Davis’s company set forth. The Acton Militia marched through Acton and took the road to Concord, which was slightly southeast.

Acton Minutemen, March to Concord, 1775, Painting
This painting by Arthur Fuller Davis depicts Captain Isaac Davis leading the Acton Minutemen on the march to Concord. Image Source: Acton Memorial Library.

The Acton Militia Arrive in Concord

The Acton Militia marched to a location somewhat to the rear of Colonel Barrett’s house where a halt was called for a short time to observe the movements of a detachment of the enemy which was searching the building and grounds for war supplies. 

Then, partly by a crossroad, and partly over the fields north of Barrett’s Mills, a straight course was taken to the Widow Brown’s Tavern.

Furthermore, Charles Handley stated in a deposition given in 1835 that at the time of the Concord Fight, he lived at the tavern kept by the Widow Brown, nearly a mile northwest of the North Bridge, and saw Davis’ men as they came from Acton. 

He asserts that, “While on the march they went in files of two abreast. I first saw them coming through the fields north of Barrett’s Mills, and they kept to the fields until they came to the road at Mrs. Brown’s tavern. They then took the north road leading to the bridge. They marched fast to the tune of a fife and drum. I remember the tune but am not quite sure of its name. I think it was called ‘The White Cockade.’”

AHC Note — The “White Cockade” is a traditional Scottish folk song that pays tribute to the 1745 Jacobite Uprising, an attempt to return the British throne to the Stuart line. According to historians, the first time anyone mentioned this song being played by Blanchard and Barker was in a deposition given by Charles Handley in 1835, when he was 73.

Over time, the legend of the Acton company playing the song has become part of the story of the Battles of Lexington and Concord. Whether it is true or not, will likely never be known.

Hear the “White Cockade,” as played by the United States Marine Corps Band.

The Acton Militia at the Battle of Concord

At this stage of the march the company was at approximately full strength. 

The official roll as recorded by Coburn on page 173 will be given below but it should be pointed out that it was taken from the Lexington Alarms, XII, 116, and contains one error and omits the names of three known to have been present, namely, Abner Hosmer, James Hayward, and James Fletcher, a boy of 16, who appeared with musket and ball and pled successfully to be allowed to accompany the enlisted men on the morning of April 19th. 

The error lies in the fact that Reuben Law appears as Reuben Low. With these corrections, the list of those who served at Concord Bridge under Isaac Davis is as follows:

  • Isaac Davis, Capt.
  • James Hayward, Succeeding Capt.
  • John Heald, Lt.
  • David Forbush, 2nd. Lt.
  • William Macksfield, Sgt.
  • Oliver Emerson, Sgt.
  • John Barker, Corp.
  • David Davis, Corp.
  • John Davis, Corp.
  • Joseph Barker
  • Ephraim Billings
  • Joseph Chaffin
  • Elijah Davis
  • Ezekiel Davis
  • James Davis
  • Reuben Davis
  • Thomas Darby
  • Ebenezer Edwards
  • James Fletcher
  • Abraham Hapgood
  • John Harris
  • Benjamin Hayward
  • Ebenezer Heald
  • Abner Hosmer
  • Jonas Hunt
  • Simon Hunt, Jr.
  • William Johnson
  • Reuben Law
  • Phillip Piper
  • Joseph Reed
  • John Robbins
  • Stephen Shepherd
  • Solomon Smith
  • Samuel Smith
  • Thomas Thorpe
  • Moses Wood
  • Abraham Young 
  • Francis Barker, Drummer
  • Luther Blanchard, Fifer

The other two Acton companies were:

Francis Faulkner’s company which as has been already mentioned was taken over by Captain Simon Hunt, of which there is no list.

Captain Joseph Robbins’ company concerning which we have only the following record :

  • Joseph Robbins, Capt. Thomas Noyes, Ensign
  • Isreal Heald, Officer Robert Chaffin, Officer

Thomas Thorp, a farmer, was the last survivor of Davis’ company. He died of old age on October 19, 1849, at the age of 94.

British Forces at Concord

As Acton’s three companies make their respective ways toward the rendezvous let us turn our attention to what was going on to produce the circumstances they encountered upon their arrival. 

Doolittle Engraving, April 19, March into Concord, Plate 2
This engraving by Amos Doolittle was made in 1775. It depicts the British marching into Concord while Colonel Francis Smith and Lieutenant John Pitcairn survey the Massachusetts militia forces gathering on the hills around the town. Image Source: New York Public Library Digital Collections.

According to the depositions of numerous persons, the British column reached Concord between seven and eight o’clock whereupon Lt. Colonel Smith immediately proceeded to carry out the plan of the expedition, namely the destruction of the military stores. 

Ensign Henry De Berniere acted as a guide since he had been one of the spies sent out for the express purpose of locating them some time previous. 

Captain Lawrence Parsons of the 10th Regiment, with 6 light companies, was dispatched to the North Bridge, distant three quarters of a mile. There he left Captain Walter Lawrie of the 43rd Regiment with three of the companies for guard duty, while he proceeded with the other three, guided by Ensign De Berniere , over the bridge and up the left bank of the Concord River and its northerly branch the Assabet River, to the home of Colonel James Barrett, almost two miles from the North Bridge.

Captain Mundy Pole of the 10th Regiment was sent with a force to the South Bridge for similar guard duty and the destruction of such military stores as might be uncovered.

Militia Forces Gather on Punkatasset Hill

In the meantime, large numbers of Americans were gathering on Punkatasset Hill to the northward beyond the river.

Some of these, particularly the companies of Captain Nathan Barret and Captain George Minot of Concord had gone out earlier in the morning to meet the British near Merriam’s Corner on the east side of the village but had wisely retired when the vastly superior British command came into sight. 

They did not wish to repeat the unfortunate episode at Lexington the fresh details of which had just been brought in by breathless and sweating couriers.

British Forces at the North Bridge

Captain Walter Lawrie, who had deployed his grenadiers to the west of the bridge for a limited reconnaissance, was by no means unmindful of the concourse of yeomanry in the vicinity and deemed it wise to concentrate his little command of three companies at the east end of the bridge. 

In this strategic position he could, if it became necessary, rip up a part of planking and thus make the crossing of the river exceedingly awkward for any appreciable force of his opponents that might seek to enter the town and interfere with the ransacking for stores which was then going on apace.

The First Formation of American Troops

Approximately a quarter of a mile beyond the bridge to the west there is a little hill which is some 40 feet higher than the river. 

At about 9:00 a.m., the Americans moved forward from Punkatasset to this little hill, under the command of Colonel James Barrett of Concord, and formed their lines under the direction of Adjutant Joseph Hosmer, with the Minutemen companies on the right and the militia on the left, facing the bridge.

As these details were going forward, and as the officers were assembling at the request of Col. Barrett, the Acton company under Davis arrived and took its place at the extreme left of the lines as had been arranged on muster days.

There were now assembled four companies from Concord commanded respectively by Captain David Brown, 52 men; Captain Charles Miles, 52 men; Captain George Minot, number unknown; and Captain Nathan Barrett, number unknown. 

From Acton, there were three companies, one under Captain Isaac Davis, 38 men; one under Captain Joseph Robbins, number unknown; and one under Captain Simon Hunt, number unknown.

There were two companies from Bedford, one being under Captain John Moore, 51 men, and one under Captain Jonathan Wilson, 28 men. 

The Lincoln Company under Captain William Smith had 62 men.

The First American Council of War

In the presence of these hardy and determined volunteers, friends, and acquaintances for the most part, but on this particular morning resolute and grim warriors with homes and principles at stake, Colonel James Barrett convened the first Council of War of the American Revolutionary War.

It was a momentous occasion which could never be repeated. Opinion was divided. It was agreed that the Americans now had sufficient manpower to repulse the small force under Captain Lawrie but once the bridge was forced it meant pursuing them into the town and engaging the whole command there under Lieutenant Colonel Francis Smith. 

Some advised awaiting more of the reinforcements, which were coming in steadily. 

Across the river stood the professional soldiers of Great Britain; men to whom war was a business; men who though small in number at the specific instant nevertheless were backed by the might of the British Empire. 

But also across the river lay Concord from which by now here arose the smoke of fires newly kindled; also across the river stood Lexington, at that moment mourning over the corpses slain on its common. 

The only possible decision to which the council could arrive was, “To march into the middle of the town for its defence, or die in the attempt”.

Colonel Barrett Gives the Order to March on the North Bridge

Colonel Barrett gave the order to Major John Buttrick to lead an advance over the bridge and into the village, instructing him as had Captain John Parker a few hours before — not to fire unless fired upon.

Major John Buttrick in Command

It was then between 9 and 10:00 a.m. 

Colonel Barrett retired to the rear on higher ground, and Major Buttrick hastened to execute the order. 

His choice for a company to lead was naturally one from Concord but the captain of the one designated replied that he would rather not.

Captain Isaac Davis and the Acton Militia Volunteer to Lead the American Column

In any event it is now a matter of inescapeable record that Major John Buttrick turned to Captain Isaac Davis and asked him if he was afraid to go, to which he responded promptly, “No, I am not; and I haven’t a man that is.”

American Forces March toward the North Bridge

He immediately gave the command to march, and the men of Acton wheeled from the left of the line to the right, and with Barker and Blanchard once more playing his favorite tune, he led his company down the hillside and along the causeway to the bridge.

Major John Buttrick of Concord led in person this little army down the slope toward the river but not until he had offered the command to a superior officer who happened to be present, namely Lieutentant Colonel John Robinson of Westford. 

Robinson lived in Westford and had responded to the alarm. This honor he did not accept but he did ask that he might march by Buttrick’s side, which request was graciously granted.

Then in column by twos came Captain Davis and his company, followed by the Concord company under Captain Charles Miles; then two more Concord companies under Captain David Brown and Captain Nathan Barrett. The Acton company commanded by Simon Hunt then fell in, followed by the companies from Bedford and Lincoln and the remaining company from Acton.

American Forces Reach the North Bridge

The causeway, which was low and always submerged at moderate flood waters, was wet in places. It formed an angle, the first side leading toward the south, the second turning eastward toward the bridge. 

Just as the head of the column rounded the vertex of the angle the British began to tear up the planking according to Captain Walter Lawrie’s previous design. 

Major John Buttrick shouted to them to desist, whereupon they left the bridge and hastily formed for action at the easterly approach. 

The Shot Heard ‘Round the World

The American advance continued with deliberation and when they were about ten rods from the west end of the bridge the first sound of a gun in the Battle of Concord was heard. 

A few desultory shots followed by a volley came from the British and Solomon Smith, a member of Captain Isaac Davis’ company saw where a ball struck the river on his right.

AHC Note — See Battle of Concord for more information.

Doolittle Engraving, April 19, Engagement at the North Bridge, Plate 3
This engraving by Amos Doolittle from 1775 depicts the engagement at the North Bridge in Concord. Image Source: New York Public Library Digital Collections.

Buttrick Orders the Americans to Return Fire

Without sign of a pause the march continued. 

At this stage of events Davis inquired as to whether the grenadiers were using ammunition. In reply Luther Blanchard indicated that he had been hit and remarked “If it had gone an inch further one way it would have killed me, and if an inch in the opposite direction it would not have hit me at all.” 

Realizing that first blood had been drawn and I that no longer was a peaceful entry into the town possible Major John Buttrick shouted, “Fire, For God’s sake fire!”

The order was promptly obeyed. 

Isaac Davis and Others Killed at the North Bridge

The British responded, killing Captain Isaac Davis by a shot through the heart just as he was taking aim. 

Abner Hosmer fell simultaneously with a bullet through the head.

Ezekiel Davis, the brother of Isaac Davis, was wounded as was also Joshua Brooks of Lincoln. 

The first American volley had killed one British private and wounded several others, including lieutenants Hull, Gould, Kelley, and Sutherland.

Captain Isaac Davis Stone, Acton Historical Society
According to legend, Captain Isaac Davis fell on this stone after he was shot and killed during the Concord Fight. The stone is now on display in Acton, Massachusetts. Image Source: Acton Historical Society.

The British Retreat from the North Bridge

The Americans continued across the bridge and the British gave way and retreated toward the center of Concord. When they were almost there they were met by reinforcements consisting of two or three companies under Lieutenant Colonel Francis Smith himself, who had come in response to a request for immediate assistance sent by Captain Walter Lawrie before a shot was fired at the bridge. 

AHC Notes — According to Phalen, the British withdrawal from the North Bridge cut off the contingent that was searching Colonel Barrett’s farm. There was confusion in the ranks on both sides, as no one had expected a significant action to take place that day, much less the start of a war that would change the course of world history.

Confusion in the Acton Militia

With the death of Captain Isaac Davis and the crossing of the bridge all semblance of military discipline likewise ceased among the Americans. 

Thomas Thorp of Davis’ company stated in a subsequent deposition that, “Our company and most of the others pursued but in great disorder” and Solomon Smith asserted that, “The loss of our captain was the cause of much confusion that followed.”

At this specific time the pursuit of the British continued only for a furlong or so. 

Due to military inexperience, the Americans halted on the east side of the road to the rear of the Elisha Jones House. Furthermore they paid no attention to the contingent in their rear. 

Presumably it was the idea that when the British were reinforced they would return to the attack and that the position behind the Jones house, with a good stone wall as a breastworks, was a decided advantage in such case. 

Lieutnant Colonel Francis Smith, however, likewise understood the situation and turned his troops back to the center of the village.

Bodies of Davis and Hosmer Removed from the Battlefield

Thereupon several of the Minutemen repaired to the North Bridge and carried the bodies of Isaac Davis and Abner Hosmer to the home of Major John Buttrick. Later in the day they were conveyed to Acton. 

Luther Blanchard had had his wound dressed at the home of Humphrey Barrett and had returned to the pursuit of the British.

British Forces Assemble for the March Back to Boston

Shortly after 10:00 a.m., Lieutnant Colonel Francis Smith had reassembled his entire command in Concord village. He was 17 miles from Boston with a force of weary soldiers, most of whom had had no sleep the previous night. They had been subjected to high mental tension, had seen their comrades wounded and killed, and must return under the attack of a constantly augmented and determined enemy.

At approximately noon, Lieutnant Colonel Smith gave the order to begin the return to Charlestown. 

At first all went well. 

American Forces Attack at Merriam’s Corner

The march along the Lexington road for a mile or more to Merriam’s Corner was uneventful, but at that point the struggle was renewed. 

The pursuers, who had been moving along parallel to the line of march but hidden from view by the long ridge to the north of the highway, came within easy musket range of the enemy. 

In addition some score or more of fresh American companies, too late for the engagements of the earlier part of the day but ready and willing to get into the fray at the first opportunity, came upon the scene at this point. 

These were the men from Billerica, Chelmsford, Framingham, Reading, Sudbury, Woburn, and Westford, 1,147 in all, who, had arrived as soon as humanly possible from their more remote locations.

Battle of Concord, British Retreat, Illustration
This illustration depicts the British retreat from Concord. Image Source: New York Public Library Digital Collections.

British Flanking Parties Defend the Main Column

Even before this serious addition to his misfortunes, Lieutenant Colonel Francis Smith had realized that his command was in for a grim retreat. In consequence he threw out strong flanking parties on either side of the line of march. 

It was due to this precaution, and the ignorance of the American soldiers, that most of the Provincial casualties of the day resulted. 

Time after time, as the yeomanry knelt behind ledges and walls, they were killed or wounded from the rear by these flankers, and because green troops were coming in by the score all along the line of march there were always those who had not been told of the dangerous technique of the enemy.

Fiske Hill and Parker’s Revenge

On the easterly slope of Fiske Hill, well inside the town line of Lexington, stood the farmhouse of Benjamin Fiske. 

As the British marched past the house they were exhausted and in ill humor. They had been severely mauled all the way up the long westerly approach to the summit and they could see gathering ahead of them the Minutemen of Lexington, grim from the events of the early morning, waiting on the equally long slope of Concord Hill. 

This they must climb in the dust and heat; and beyond lay Lexington Village. The prospect was dismal and the men were desperate.

AHC NotesCaptain John Parker assembled the Lexington Militia and took defensive positions on the west side of Lexington. They waited there until the British returned and opened fire on them. This skirmish on the Battle Road is known as Parker’s Revenge.

Death of James Hayward, the Acton Schoolmaster

The stragglers from the British column had entered the Fiske House for pillage. The entire family had fled. 

James Hayward, even though exempt because of his dismembered foot, had followed thus far and had stepped into the yard to obtain a drink at the well. 

One Briton, who had lingered longer than the rest, emerged from the house and, perceiving Hayward to be an enemy, raised his gun and exclaimed, “You are a dead man!”

“And so are you”, replied Hayward. 

Both men fired and both fell, the Britisher killed instantly and Hayward mortally wounded, the ball piercing his powder horn and carrying with it the splinters into his side. 

He lived 8 hours and was conscious to the last. 

His father, Deacon Samuel Hayward, had time to reach Lexington and comfort him with conversation and prayer. He warned his son that he would doubtless be a corpse by the morrow and desired to know if he were sorry that he had marched forth with the Minutemen in the morning. 

The reply has been handed down to us through the generations and the words are those of a soldier and a Christian:

“Father, hand me my powder horn and bullet pouch. I started with one pound of powder and forty balls, you see what is left, (he had used all but two or three,) you see what I have been about. I never did such a forenoon’s work before. Tell mother not to mourn too much for me for I am not sorry I turned out. I die willingly for my country. She will now, I doubt not, by the help of God, be free. And tell them I loved better than my mother, you know who I mean, that I am not sorry. I shall never see her again. May I meet her in heaven.”

Thus died the Acton schoolmaster, the crippled hero of the first battle of the Revolution, who walked 5 miles in the glow of the morning to be at Concord Bridge, and almost 6 miles more to receive his mortal wound in the heat of the afternoon

The Acton Militia and the Pursuit of the British to Boston

This ends the commonly recorded history of the Acton men in the day’s events. For the sake of completeness, however, it should be pointed out that the conflict was by no means over and most Acton men participated in it. This is certainly true of Blanchard and many others who went all the way to Cambridge.

The British straggled into Lexington, a beaten and demoralized mass of sweating and parched humanity where they were met by reinforcements under General Hugh Percy.

Legend has it that some of the men lay on their bellies in the road and drank from the puddles.

Percy pillaged and burned the town to a considerable degree and his soldiers, who had not been under fire thus far, were guilty of several needless killings of non-combatants. 

Eventually, the whole force set out for Boston convinced that the yokels had had enough, and were thoroughly cowed. They were shortly to discover, however, that from the point of view of bloodletting the worst was yet to come. 

The Battle of Menotomy

As they marched through Menotomy (now Arlington) they were set upon by some eighteen4 hundred fresh rebels at a place called “Foot-of-the Rocks” where they suffered the greatest casualties of the day.

AHC Notes — In Menotomy, the British ransacked houses and buildings. They went into the home of Hannah Adams and threatened her, before burning her house. They attacked and killed two men inside the Cooper Tavern. At the Jason Russell House, a violent fight took place that led to the deaths of several American and British soldiers.

British Forces Reach Safety at Bunker Hill

At about five o’clock Percy marched out of Arlington and at sunset was dragging his chastened command forward at about the location of Union Square, Somerville. He describes the gunfire as incessant. 

As they toiled up Bunker Hill they could look back in the gathering dusk to the top of Winter Hill a mile away and witness three hundred more Americans just arriving from Salem under Col. Timothy Pickering. 

As the sun went down that April evening it was never to rise again on Middlesex County under kingly rule.

AHC NoteGeorge Washington was serving in the Second Continental Congress when he learned about the Battles of Lexington and Concord. Washington was critical of Pickering for his late arrival. Had he arrived 30 minutes earlier, the British column might have been forced to surrender, which would have altered the course of events.

Limited Success of the British Expedition

Quite apart from the military debacle of the one day campaign of April 19th the primary objective, namely the destruction of stores of war, was successful to only a very limited degree. 

The cannon had been previously hidden in Stow and Groton and Acton and the diverse other supplies were distributed throughout these same and other neighboring towns to such an extent that the sum total found by the British was negligible. 

Moreover, of the portion they did not burn and tried to carry with them on the retreat, a considerable amount was abandoned during the latter part of the day as haste became paramount.

Funerals for the Acton Men Killed During the Battles of Lexington and Concord

The several towns that had been unfortunate enough to lose sons in the engagement attended within the next few days the funerals of their beloved dead. On the faces of the mourners the lines of grim determination were wet with the tears of resentment. 

Among the solemn corteges wending their ways over the highways of the county was that in Acton enroute to the three open graves in the old burying ground where the bodies of Davis, Hayward and Hosmer were laid among the bones of their fathers there to remain for three quarters of a century until carried in honor to a more noble and befitting resting place under the great granite shaft on the town common.

The American Colonies at War

Very naturally the news of the bloodshed of April 19th spread throughout the colonies like wildfire and the reaction of the populace was immediate. 

Broadsides such as the one shown herewith were struck off almost before the smoke had cleared away and were plastered on walls and buildings for unbelieveable distances. 

This particular broadside, which was written up in the Saturday Evening Post of June 15, 1929, was sixteen inches by twenty two inches. The forty black coffins that emblazoned the masthead were memorials to the dead and above each was printed the name of the one killed. 

Those dedicated to the men of Acton were the last three at the right end of the top row. In the haste to get out the broadside, however, the printers neglected to obtain the first name of Abner Hosmer and the name J. Howard appears in the place of James Hayward.

Battles of Lexington and Concord, 1775, Broadside, v2
The broadside announcing the “Bloody Butchery of the British.” Image Source: History of the Town of Acton by Harold Romain Phalen, 1954,

Appendix — Addition Content About Acton and the Battles of Lexington and Concord

The following passages were removed from the main narrative, but provide some interesting insight into beliefs and reputation of Captain Isaac Davis.

Isaac Davis and Omens of the Death Before the Concord Fight

The Reverend James T. Woodbury, who was predominantly influential in securing for Acton the imposing monument on the common, was a friend of Mrs. Davis during the latter part of her long life. He frequently talked with her concerning the events of the day of the Concord Fight and made reference to her remarks in his writings and speeches. 

Upon one occasion, several weeks before the events at Concord, while driving past the cemetery, Davis saw a white bird flying in circles above the family lot and told his wife immediately that it was an omen of death.

In his speech before the Massachusetts Legislature, Woodbury tells of a most singular occurrence that happened just a few days prior to April 19th. 

For some reason Captain Davis and his wife had been absent from home on an errand. They entered the house together and were confronted by a large owl sitting on the captain’s favorite gun as it hung on the hooks, even though several other samples of his surpassing workmanship were also in the room. 

The owl sat motionless for several days and by Davis’s specific order, was permitted to remain until such time as the ill omen sought to depart voluntarily. 

In consequence, as his company marched away on that fatal morning, this man, marked by destiny for all time, called a halt a few rods from the house, walked thoughtfully back to bid his wife one more fond farewell and say to her, “Take good care of the children.”

AHC Note — Many people in Massachusetts were Puritans and believed in things that would normally be associated with the occult and folklore. The two incidents described above indicate Captain Isaac Davis believed he was going to die when he left for Concord. The beliefs in the supernatural also contributed to the Salem Witch Trials.

The Tell-Tale Tomb

With Isaac Davis, Patriotism was an inner spiritual force. The Reverend Brooks Noyes, a native of Acton, published a short brochure entitled “The Tell-Tale Tomb” in 1925 in which he comments upon his interviews with the granddaughter of the great Patriot.

She made it clear in all her remarks that the cardinal trait in her ancestor was the mystical quality. In this connection, there is an interesting incident in point. 

Upon one occasion, the Reverend John Swift, who rarely had the temerity to preach the full time until the sand in the hourglass had run out, presented a masterly discourse upon the state of the colonies. 

At the conclusion, Davis’s sensibilities had been so deeply stirred that he applauded and boldly requested that the pastor turn the glass and repeat the sermon. 

Surely here was a unique personality of which there are today all too few.

Bravery of Isaac Davis

Apropos of this act, no paragraph can be more potent than that in the impassioned speech of Reverend Woodbury in his appeal before the Massachusetts legislature, without which the imposing monument on Acton Common would not exist. In that address he said:

“Davis’ case is without parallel and was considered by the Legislature and Congress when they granted aid to his widow. There never can be another. There can be but one man who headed the first column of attack on the King’s troops in the Revolutionary War, and Isaac Davis was that man. Others fell, but not exactly as he fell. Give them the marble. Vote them the monument, one that shall speak to all future generations and speak to the terror of kings and to the encouragement of all who will be free and who, when the bloody crisis comes to strike for it, “ are not afraid to go.”

AHC Note — In 1851, the Town of Acton and the Commonwealth of Massachusetts built a monument in the center of town to honor Isaac Davis, Abner Hosmer, and James Hayward. The bodies of these men were exhumed and reinterred in the monument.

Documenting April 18–19, 1775

The events that took place on April 18 and 19, 1775 include some of the most historic — and legendary — moments in American History. Many of the details about the events are found in the letters and depositions written at the time and have been used by many historians as the basis for articles and books about the Battles of Lexington and Concord.

However, what is often lost are interesting details that can be found in the histories of the towns that responded to the Midnight Riders and the Lexington Alarm. Militia forces from approximately 27 towns, including Acton, fought the British from Lexington to Concord, and then from Concord back to Boston. Many of those men stayed there and participated in the Siege of Boston.

Although these local histories are sometimes embellished and border on folklore, they still provide valuable insight into the pride towns felt over standing up against the British forces who fired on the King’s subjects at Lexington and Concord.

Citation Information

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

  • Article Title Acton and the Battles of Lexington and Concord
  • Date April 18–19, 1775
  • Author
  • Keywords Acton, Acton Militia, Battles of Lexington and Concord, Lexington Alarm, Concord Fight, Who led the Acton Militia at the Battle of Concord, What happened to Isaac Davis at the Battle of Concord, When did the Lexington Alarm reach Acton, Where is Acton located, Why did the Acton Militia lead the American column at the Battle of Concord, How many men from Acton died during the Battles of Lexington and Concord
  • Website Name American History Central
  • Access Date July 12, 2024
  • Publisher R.Squared Communications, LLC
  • Original Published Date
  • Date of Last Update May 3, 2024