Bedford and the Battles of Lexington and Concord

April 18–19, 1775

Bedford, Massachusetts was one of the towns that mobilized its militia forces in response to the Lexington Alarm. On April 19, the Bedford Minutemen marched to Concord, where they engaged with British forces at the Old North Bridge.

Lexington and Concord, Bedford Minutemen

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

Bedford Minutemen and the Battles of Lexington and Concord

The following account of the Bedford Minutemen and their role in the Battles of Lexington and Concord is taken from History of the Town of Bedford, Middlesex County, Massachusetts, written by Abram English (A.E.) Brown and published in 1891.

Brown’s history provides an overview of the events that led up to the battles, from Bedford’s point of view, including the Middlesex County Convention, the formation of the Massachusetts Provincial Congress, and the organization of the Minutemen.

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 Bedford Minutemen and the Battles of Lexington and Concord

  1. Bedford is slightly northeast of Concord. Today, it is roughly 5 miles from the center of Bedford to the center of Concord.
  2. In total, it is believed that 27 Minutemen from Bedford responded to the Lexington Alarm and participated in the Concord Fight (see the list at the end of this article).
  3. Bedford was warned by messengers from Lexington, who were sent by Nathan Munroe and Benjamin Tidd, at the request of Captain John Parker.
  4. Captain Jonathan Wilson was the commanding officer. Wilson was killed during the battle along the Bay Road, as the British returned to Boston.
  5. Nathaniel Page may have carried the “Bedford Flag” to Concord, which is believed to be the oldest flag in the United States.
  6. Following the Concord Fight, the Bedford Minutemen participated in the pursuit of the British along the Battle Road but likely went no further than the Noah Brooks House and Tavern.
  7. Thompson Maxwell fought at Concord, served during the Siege of Boston, and fought at Bunker Hill. He joined the Continental Army and fought at Trenton and Bennington. He also served during the French and Indian War, Pontiac’s Rebellion, and the War of 1812. He is also said to have participated in the Boston Tea Party.
  8. Hugh Maxwell, Thompson’s brother, marked the ground for the entrenchment on Breed’s Hill, and Thompson set the stakes. This played an important role in the American defenses during the Battle of Bunker Hill.
  9. The Maxwell brothers were positioned at the rail fence near the bottom of the hill during the Battle of Bunker Hill.
  10. Both Maxwells were involved in helping Massachusetts end Shays’ Rebellion.
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.

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

Townshend Acts and Non-Importation

In March 1768, the town voted “To concur with the vote of the town of Boston in October last, to encourage the produce and manufacture of the Province.” 

The women were not behind in expressions of loyalty. They carried on spinning and weaving at an increased rate. A bride from one of the first families of the town is known to have been led to the marriage altar dressed in a “gown” of her own manufacture, the fruit of her own loom. The town sent no representative to the General Court until the Revolutionary struggle was well under way. 

AHC Note — Massachusetts protested the Townshend Revenue Act by organizing a trade embargo against British goods. Although the Boston Non-Importantion Agreement did not go into effect until January 1, 1769, many people took action ahead of time by making their own clothes.

Committee of Correspondence

The “letter of Correspondence” sent out from a Boston town-meeting asking for “a free communication of sentiments,” was received and acted upon with a spirit of determination on March 1, 1773.

AHC Note — In November 1772, the Boston Committee of Correspondence sent copies of the “Boston Pamphlet” to the towns in Massachusetts and asked them to establish their own committees. See Committees of Correspondence for more information.

The Tea Act and the Boston Tea Party

In the following March the town voted “not to use any tea till the duty is taken off.” 

In the “Tea Party,” December 16, 1773, Bedford was represented by Thompson Maxwell, although not at that time a resident of the town. 

His journal reads thus: “In 1773, I went with my team to Boston, which was shut up (blockaded), with a load of provisions for the poor of the town. I had loaded at John Hancock’s warehouse and was about to leave town, when Mr. Hancock requested me to drive my team up into his yard, and ordered his servants to take care of it, and requested me to be at Long Wharf at two o’clock p.m., and informed me what was to be done. I went accordingly, joined the band under Captain Hewes. We mounted the ships and made tea in a trice. This done I took my team and went home as an honest man should.”

Thompson Maxwell and the Boston Tea Party

Fearing that this narrative and others that will follow might be regarded as too good to be credited, we have carefully studied the facts and have no doubt of the validity of the journal. 

John Hancock, the famous patriot and merchant of Boston, inherited the estate of his uncle, Thomas Hancock. The warehouse alluded to, was a portion, and had been in the family for many years; here the country farmers had exchanged their produce for other wares, the Maxwells among them, very naturally, as they must have become interested in the family through Ebenezer Hancock, brother of Thomas, who had taught the Bedford school and boarded with the family of Rev. Mr. Bowes, whose wife was his sister. The mutual acquaintance had led John Hancock to confide the secret of destroying the tea to a worthy friend whose warlike spirit was gratified in this daring act.

AHC Note — Thompson Maxwell’s involvement in the Boston Tea Party is very much open to debate. Historian J.L. Bell has speculated that “It seems most likely to me that Thompson Maxwell was in Boston on 16 Dec 1773 but was a spectator who picked up some inside gossip, not a participant in destroying the tea.”

Boston Port Act

When the “Boston Port Bill” went into operation, on June 1, 1774, the old bell pealed forth the sound of alarm over the hills of this town, and the already crumbling “Bell-House” lost its equilibrium, but not so the people. 

They met on the last day of June, “To know and determine what measures are Proper to be taken at this present time of Trouble and Distress,” etc. 

They unanimously voted to adopt the covenant of non-intercourse. 

They chose the Committee of Correspondence, which consisted of Deacon Stephen Davis, John Reed, Joseph Hartwell, John Webber, and John Moore.

AHC Note — The Boston Port Act was the first Intolerable Act enacted by Parliament in 1774. The Intolerable Acts were intended to punish Boston and Massachusetts for ongoing resistance to British taxation policies.

Middlesex County Convention

The town was represented by four delegates at the county convention held at Concord on August 30th and 31st. 

AHC Notes — 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.

Massachusetts Provincial Congress

On October 11 th the town was represented by Joseph Ballard and John Reed in the first Provincial Congress, which had met by adjournment from Salem on the 6th. 

John Hancock was chairman and Benjamin Lincoln clerk. 

After a session of three days the Congress adjourned to meet at Cambridge, and then continued from October 17th to December 10th.

Devotion to a noble cause prompted the Representatives from this town, as there was no offer of compensation from a depleted treasury, but in March 1775, the town voted “To allow Doct. Joseph Ballard four shillings per day, for twelve days at Cambridge, and four shillings for expenses at Concord.”

AHC Notes — Bedford voted to pay Ballard for representing the town at the Provincial Congress, and to cover some of his expenses.

Continental Association and Committee of Inspection

January 18, 1775, they at first voted not to send a delegate to the Provincial Congress of February, but on the 27th, in a second meeting, chose John Reed, and, agreeable to a recommendation of the Continental Congress, chose a “Committee of Inspection” consisting of Moses Abbott, Thomas Page, Ebenezer Page, John Reed, and Edward Stearns. 

AHC Note — See the Articles of Association and the Continental Association for more information.

Minutemen and Militia

At the Provincial Congress held at Concord and Cambridge, the plan was adopted for enrolling all the able-bodied men, and the order passed “that these companies should immediately assemble and elect their proper officers; that these officers, when elected, should assemble and elect field officers, and they enlist at least one-quarter of the men enrolled.”

These were the “minute-men.”

The people of Bedford gave hearty assent to the appointment of Henry Gardner, of Stow, as treasurer of the Province, and made payment to him rather than to the royal treasurer.

AHC Note — The Massachusetts Provincial Congress asked the towns to stop sending money to the Royal Government in Boston, and instead send it to Gardner.

Bedford Minutemen

In March 1775, the town voted “to pay twenty five minute-men one shilling per week until the first of May next. They to exercise four hours in a week, and two shillings to be allowed two officers, they to equip themselves according to the advice of the Congress.”

While John Reed was laboring in the interests of the town in the Second Congress, the minute-men were being faithfully drilled and the company of militia as well. 

The minute-men of Bedford were a fair specimen of those forces, so hastily prepared for war, of whom Lord Percy said: “We never saw anything equal to the intrepidity of the New England minute-men.” 

The officers of the minute-men had no commissions, as did those of the militia already in service; hence their authority came through the suffrage of their associates.

The Bedford minute-men organized by choosing Jonathan Wilson as captain and Moses Abbott as lieutenant; Cornet Nathaniel Page was standard-bearer.

AHC Note — The officers of the Bedford Minutemen were elected by the town, and did not have military commissions from the Massachusetts Provincial Congress, or any other legal body.

The Bedford Flag and the Page Family

The banner illustrated on this page was carried by Cornet Nathaniel Page in the company of minutemen from Bedford to Concord on April 19, 1775. It had, doubtless, been in the Page family in this town for nearly a century before the Revolution. 

Bedford Flag, Bedford Minuteman, Lexington and Concord
The Bedford Flag. Image Source: Wikimedia.

It was returned to the Page mansion after the opening scenes of the war, and there kept until the centennial celebration at Concord, on April 10, 1875, when it was carried with the Bedford delegation in the procession on that day. 

Ten years later, on October 19, 1885 (the one hundred and fourth anniversary of the surrender by Cornwallis to Washington), it was presented by Captain Cyrus Page to the town of Bedford.

It was thus brought to the attention of the Massachusetts Historical Society at their meeting in the following January when Mr. Appleton reported upon it as follows:

“It was originally designed in England, in 1660-70, for the three-county troops of Massachusetts, and became one of the accepted standards of the organized militia of this State, and as such it was used by the Bedford company.”

Mr. Appleton said that in his opinion, “This flag far exceeded in historic value the famed flag of Eutaw and Pulaski’s banner, and, in fact is the most precious memorial of its kind we have any knowledge of.”

AHC Note — The Bedford Flag is believed to be the oldest known flag in the United States, however, there is some debate over whether or not the flag was truly at the Battle of Concord.

The Three County Troops

The three-county troops, referred to above, originated thus: In May, 164.3, the whole Colony of Massachusetts Bay was divided into four shires — Middlesex, Essex, Suffolk and Norfolk, named from the English counties. 

In the same year, 1643, a new organization of the militia was determined upon, and the Colony forces were divided into three regiments. Middlesex had one, Suffolk one and Essex was joined with Norfolk in one. The valuable relic now owned by the town of Bedford is, without doubt, the banner carried by the Middlesex Regiment.

AHC Note — These “Three County Troops” were likely organized by Massachusetts as part of the New England Confederation (1643–1686).

The Bedford Flag and the Concord Hymn

“By the rude bridge that arched the flood, 
Their flag to April’s breeze unfurled, 
Here once the embattled farmers stood, 
And fired the shot heard round the world.”

— Emerson

Bedford’s Lexington Alarm List

The “Lexington Alarm List,” in the archives of the State, gives Bedford credit for twenty-six minutemen, but has no record of the captain, Jonathan Wilson, who was killed on April 19, 1775. 

This unfortunate omission is, doubtless, to be accounted for by his brief service (the sacrifice of life being made about mid-day) and the few miles of travel, making the demand against the Province too small to receive the attention of the bereaved family.

The same list is authority in regard to the number of men belonging to the Bedford company of militia of the Seventh Regiment, together with their time of service.

According to the sworn statements of the commanding officers of the Bedford companies, there were, from this town, engaged in that part of the opening scene of the Revolution that took place at Concord, seventy-seven men in organized command, besides undrilled citizens who joined the ranks on that morning. 

If, as a recent writer of Concord fight has recorded, the Provincial forces “numbered possibly three hundred and fifty men” at half-past nine o’clock, more than one-fifth of them were from Bedford.

AHC Note — The list of the Bedford Minutemen who responded to the Lexington Alarm and participated in the Concord Fight is listed below.

Thompson Maxwell’s Account of the Concord Fight

Thompson Maxwell (before mentioned) was with the minute-men of Bedford on April 19th. His journal of that date is as follows: 

“I again happened in Bedford with my team. I left Boston the 18th, and got to my native town that night, and put up with my brother, Wilson (who married my sister), and was Captain of the minute-men. 

Next morning early he had orders to march with his company to Concord. He requested me to go with him. I went, well armed, and joined in the fight. My brother, Wilson, was killed. 

Next day I hired a man to drive my team home.” 

His home was at Milford (then Amherst), N. H. He later adds in his journal, 

“I never went home until after the Battle of Bunker Hill.”

Bedford and the Lexington Alarm

It is not certain how early the news of the movement of the Regulars first reached Bedford on the night of April 18, 1775, but it is very probable that the town was warned among the first. 

Nathan Munroe and Benjamin Tidd, at Captain Parker’s request, went up to Bedford from Lexington, some time in the evening, and, according to the sworn statement of one of them, “notified the inhabitants.” 

The people had but little sleep that night, and were astir long before the break of day.

There is a tradition that Maxwell’s familiarity with war led him to be suspicious of certain movements that he saw in Boston, and that he and Wilson were sitting, late at night, discussing the condition of affairs, when the messenger reached the house. 

The minute-men rallied at the tavern in the village, kept by Jeremiah Fitch, Jr., and there had some hastily-prepared refreshments. 

The Captain gave the following encouraging command as the company left for Concord: “It is a cold breakfast, boys, but we’ll give the British a hot dinner; we’ll have every dog of them before night.”

The Bedford Militia at the Concord Fight

It is probable that the militia rallied at the home of their captain, on the Concord road, and were at the scene of action before Captain Wilson’s company reached there. 

On the arrival of the two companies at Concord they assisted in removing stores to places of greater safety. 

It is said that Cornet Page laid down his flag and went to work, and when returning to look for it “found the boys had got it and were playing soldiers with it.”

The Bedford men were on the ridge when they first saw the British, but, with all the Americans, soon turned and made haste to get to the other side of the bridge.

The Bedford companies met with no loss at the bridge, and were all in the pursuit of the retreating enemy. 

AHC Note — The Bedford Minutemen gathered on Punkatasset Hill outside of Concord with militia units from Concord, Lincoln, and Acton. See the Battle of Concord for more details on what is also known as the “Concord Fight.”

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.

The Bedford Minutemen on the Battle Road

They left the “Great Fields” at Merriam’s Corner, and engaged in the attack, then hastened in the pursuit, and were in the thickest of the fight near the “Brooks’ Tavern,” where Captain Wilson was killed and Job Lane wounded. 

It is not probable that they continued in pursuit of the retreating enemy, but, with saddened hearts, returned to their homes, bearing their dead and wounded. 

A British soldier said of them and others: “They fought like bears, and I would as soon storm hell as fight them again.”

Bedford homes were full of anxiety that day. 

The women were engaged in preparing food and sending it on to Concord. 

One good lady said, “All day long the bell was ringing and guns were firing; people were dashing back and forth on horseback, and saying there had been an awful fight.” 

She had doubtless seen the Reading and Wilmington companies and others as they passed through the town or halted to rest at Fitch’s Tavern.

Most Able Bodied Men from Bedford Responded to the Lexington Alarm

Admitting the militia roll, taken twenty-six days after the opening scene of the war, to have been substantially that of a month earlier, it appears that all of the able bodied men of this town, between sixteen and sixty years of age, with the exception of eleven, were on duty in the organized companies at Concord, on April 19, 1775. 

Had this spontaneous uprising of the people been a mad craze for war they would have rushed to Lexington; but it was rather the natural act of children hastening to the relief of a mother threatened by a common enemy.

They received no cheer from their minister. When the people were hastening to the scene of conflict, the pastor was comfortably ensconced by his fire-side, where he was found by a neighboring clergyman, who halted while on his way to Concord.

Both companies reported at Cambridge on the following day, and teams were soon on the road with supplies for the army. 

Lucy Bowes

No Bedford men were at Lexington on the 19th. It fosters a sort of patriotic pride, that one of the daughters, Lucy Bowes, the wife of Rev. Jonas Clark, was the entertainer of Hancock and Adams. 

AHC NoteJohn Hancock and Samuel Adams were staying at the home of Reverend Jonas Clarke in Lexington on the night of April 18.

Population of Bedford, Massachusetts in 1775

In 1775 the entire population of the town…was 482. Assuming that to have been the number one year earlier, it appears that one-seventh of the entire population participated in the opening scene of the Revolution. 

Bedford had credit for seventy-three men, on May 1, 1775, in the regiment under the command of Colonel Samuel Gerish.

The following is a letter from one of the selectmen

Coll Green.

Sir, — I have received a few lines from you, wherein you requested me to take a list of all that are liable to Bare arms, and in compliance to your request I have taken a list of all that are betwixt sixteen and sixty, that are liable to do duty. There is eighty-eight in the list, including officers.

Bedford, May the 15th, 1775

Bedford and the Siege of Boston

In addition to the other burdens, this town had twenty-nine of the poor of Boston to support, during the siege of that city. A Board of Overseers of the Poor, separate from the selectmen, was first chosen at that time.

Maxwell Brothers at the Siege of Boston

The Maxwell brothers were both in camp at Cambridge.

Thompson went with the Bedford men to camp on the day following his experience at Concord, and there joined his company under Captain Crosby, from Milford, New Hampshire, in Colonel Reed’s regiment. 

Hugh was senior captain in Colonel Prescott’s regiment. Their experience in the Battle of Bunker Hill is told in Thompson’s journal, and is to the honor of their native town:

Battle of Bunker Hill

On the 16th of June, Col. Reed was ordered to Charlestown neck. 

About twelve o’clock the same day a number of our officers passed us and went on to Bunker Hill. 

General Ward, with the rest, returned and went to Cambridge.

In the evening Colonel Prescott passed with his regiment. My brother Hugh stepped out and asked Colonel Reed and myself if we would come on to the hill that night. We did so; we went to Breed’s Hill. We found Colonel Putnam there, with Colonel Prescott’s command.

Colonel Prescott requested my brother Hugh to lay out the ground for the intrenchment. He did so. I set up the stakes after them. Colonel Prescott seemed to have the sole command. 

Colonel Reed and I returned to our command on the neck about eleven o’clock P.M. 

At day, in the morning, we again went to the hill, found Putnam and Prescott there. Prescott still appeared to have command; no other regiment was there but Prescott’s through the night. 

Captain Maxwell, after day, suggested, in my hearing, to Colonel Prescott the propriety of running an intrenchment from the northeast angle of the night’s work to a rail-fence leading to Mystic River. 

Colonel Prescott approved and it was done. 

I set up the stakes after my brother. 

About seven o’clock I saw Colonels Prescott and Putnam in conversation; immediately after, Putnam mounted his horse and went full speed towards Cambridge. 

Colonel Reed ordered his men to their commands; we returned and prepared for action. At eleven o’clock we received orders from Colonel Prescott to move on. We did so.

We formed by order of Prescott down to the rail-fence and part on the intrenchment. We got hay and wadded between the rails, after doubling the fence by post and rails from another place. We remained there during the battle.

Maxwell also gives a detailed account of the battle, which is substantially the same as given in general history, and we omit it here.

AHC Note — In 1818, a controversy took place between Henry Dearborn and Israel Putnam. Dearborn accused Putnam of failing to do his duty during the Battle of Bunker Hill. Thompson Maxwell’s account supports Dearborn’s accusations.

Declaration of Independence

In 1776 the town took action on the question of the Colonies declaring their independence, and voted thus: “That we, the said inhabitants, will solemnly engage, with our lives and fortunes, to support them in the measure.”

The Declaration of Independence was first read to the people by the minister from the pulpit of the old meeting-house, and is spread, in bold hand-writing, on the records of the town, “There to remain as a perpetual memorial,’” signed James Webber, town clerk.

Massachusetts Constitutional Convention

The town hesitated on the adoption of a Constitution and form of government, but in August, 1779, chose John Reed, Esq., as their representative, “for the sole purpose of forming a new constitution.” 

He served in this convention, which was held in the meeting house at Cambridge, for twenty-one days. In the following May the form of government was submitted to the people and received their approval in a meeting, three times adjourned, by a vote of twenty-five to one.

The Bedford Minutemen

  1. Captain Jonathan Willson
  2. 1st Lt. Moses Abbott
  3. 2nd Lt. Timothy Jones
  4. Sgt. Christopher Page
  5. Sgt. Seth Saultmarsh
  6. Sgt. Asa Fassett
  7. Sgt. Ebenezer Fitch
  8. Oliver Bacon, Drummer
  9. Jonas Welch, Fifer
  10. Joseph Meeds
  11. Reuben Bacon
  12. Jonas Gleason
  13. Jabez Russell
  14. Thomas Bacon
  15. Nathaniel Page
  16. Moses Fitch
  17. David Bacon
  18. Elijah Bacon
  19. Benjamin Bacon
  20. Timothy Johnson
  21. Ephraim Smith
  22. Obediah Johnson
  23. David Reed
  24. Nathan Bowman
  25. Asa Duren
  26. Benjamin Winship
  27. William Merriam

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 Bedford, fought the British from Lexington to Concord, and then from Concord back to Boston. Many of those men stayed 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 Bedford and the Battles of Lexington and Concord
  • Date April 18–19, 1775
  • Author
  • Keywords Bedford, Bedford Minutemen, Lexington Alarm, Concord Fight, Battles of Lexington and Concord
  • Website Name American History Central
  • Access Date April 18, 2024
  • Publisher R.Squared Communications, LLC
  • Original Published Date
  • Date of Last Update April 2, 2024

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