Cambridge and the Battles of Lexington and Concord

April 18–19, 1775

Cambridge Militia responded to the Lexington Alarm and participated in the pursuit of the British along the Battle Road and the Battle of Menotomy.

Lexington and Concord, 1775, Cambridge Militia

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

Cambridge Militia and the Battles of Lexington and Concord

The following account of the Cambridge Militia and their role in the Battles of Lexington and Concord is taken from A History of Cambridge, Massachusetts (1630–1913), written by Samuel Atkins Elliot and published in 1913.

Elliot’s detailed history provides a detailed look at the events from the American Revolution that led to the Battles of Lexington and Concord. He covers the Cambridge Militia — or “Trainband” — and their role in the Battle of Menotomy. Afterward, he provides a wealth of details about the Siege of Boston, General George Washington, Washington’s Generals, and the Continental Army.

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 Cambridge and the Battles of Lexington and Concord

  1. Cambridge is slightly northwest of Boston and a suburb of the Greater Boston Metropolitan Area.
  2. On September 1, 1774, British forces removed military supplies from the storehouse in Cambridge, triggering the Powder Alarm. This event escalated tension between the New England Colonies and British leaders.
  3. On April 18, the British expedition led by Lieutenant Colonel Francis Smith landed at Lechmere’s Point in East Cambridge and marched toward Concord.
  4. Elements of the Cambridge Militia trailed the British expedition, and joined the fight along the Battle Road, as the British returned to Boston.
  5. People living in Cambridge removed the planks from the “Great Bridge” to slow the advance of British reinforcements led by General Hugh Percy.
  6. Percy did not return to Boston via Cambridge. Instead, he turned toward Charlestown, which led him through Menotomy.
  7. The most intense fighting of the day took place in Menotomy and North Cambridge, including places like the Jason Rusell House and Cooper’s Tavern.
  8. The Cambridge Militia was led by Captain Samuel Thatcher, Lieutenant John Walton, and Lieutenant Jotham Walton.
  9. The “Old Men of Menotomy” captured British Percy’s supply wagons, which were trailing his column.
  10. John Hicks, Moses Richardson, and William Marcy were killed at Watson’s Corner. Hicks and Richardson were combatants, and Marcy was a bystander.
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.

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

The time had now come when Massachusetts was to cease to be either colony or province and to become a sovereign commonwealth. It was not a sudden change. The traditions and training of the New England people had long been preparing them for self-governing independency. 

They were of the same stock as the Englishmen who defied the royal power at Naseby and Marston Moor, who sent Charles Stuart to the block and drove his son James across the narrow seas. They were the sons of men and women who had bought at a great price the right to be free, and they were ready to complete the purchase. 

AHC Note — See the Glorious Revolution for more about Charles Stuart and his son, James.

In their churches these descendants of the Puritans had been taught the authority of conscience, the sovereignty of duty, the demands of justice and right. They had been trained to choose their own rulers in church and state, and the spirit of liberty had become a force which could not be resisted.

AHC Note — See Pilgrims in Colonial America and New England Colonies.

Causes of the American Revolution

Long before the outbreak of the Revolution, there was great and widespread discontent in America over the ways in which American affairs were managed by the British government and its representatives.

AHC Note — See Colonial America and American Revolution Timeline.

From his succession, in 1760, King George the Third, with all the intensity of a narrow mind, had striven to impose his personal will upon his ministers. The emphasis upon the prerogative of a dull and arbitrary king was reflected in all the departments of the government, but it particularly influenced the colonial policies. 

When America began to resist, the king’s temperamental obstinacy was aroused and the struggle with the colonies thus became a part of the struggle between popular and autocratic principles of government in England itself. 

The Grenville Acts

Three lines of policy were adopted by the Grenville ministry which grew to be the direct causes of the American Revolution. 

  1. The first was the rigid execution of that system of mediæval monopolies known as the Acts of Trade; 
  2. the second was the taxation of the colonies for the partial support of British garrisons; 
  3. the third was the permanent establishment of British troops in America.

AHC Note — See George Grenville, Sugar Act (1764), Stamp Act (1765), Pontiac’s Rebellion, and the Proclamation of 1763.

There is scarcely a proceeding in the preliminary struggles of the Revolution which is not illustrated by the votes of the Cambridge town meeting. It is true that the life of the town was not especially disturbed by the acts of the British Parliament however arbitrary, and that the local interests of Cambridge were not seriously impaired by the enforcement of the Navigation acts, but the attitude of the citizens of the town in opposition to the royal measures for raising revenue by taxing the colonies was bold and unyielding. 

AHC Note — See Mercantilism, Salutary Neglect, and the Navigation Acts.

The Stamp Act Crisis

In a town meeting in October 1765, they declared the Stamp Act to be an infraction of their rights, demanded its immediate repeal, and instructed their representatives to do nothing which should aid its operation.

The riotous outbreak in Boston, which resulted in the destruction of Lieutenant Governor Hutchinson’s house, did not, however, meet with any approval. The Cambridge people voted that they “abhorred and detested” such proceedings, and would use their utmost endeavors to protect the property of residents of Cambridge from such outrages.

Stamp Act in Boston, Illustration
This illustration depicts colonists in Boston reading the Stamp Act. Image Source: New York Public Library Digital Collections.

While they were thus outspoken in condemnation of the violence of the mob, it appears that they were not ready to have the loss charged to the province, and thriftily recommended that their representatives should vote against any such proceeding. 

From this opinion, after the repeal of the Stamp Act, they receded, and, at a town meeting a year later, instructed their representatives to favor compensation to those who had suffered at the hands of the mob.

AHC Note — See Thomas Hutchinson and the Stamp Act Congress.

The Townshend Acts

The change in the British government by which the Rockingham Ministry had succeeded the Grenville Ministry and the consequent repeal of the Stamp Act removed the immediate difficulty, but the principle of taxing the colonies was by no means abandoned. 

When Charles Townshend became the leading spirit of the Ministry he declared in the House of Commons — “I know a mode in which a revenue may be drawn from America without offence…England is undone if this taxation of America is given up.”

Accordingly in June 1767, a new Taxation Act was introduced, and rapidly passed through Parliament. In order to avoid the objections to “internal taxes,” it laid import duties on various articles especially on tea.

ACH Note — See Townshend Acts.

Secretary of State of the Colonies

The proceeds of the act were to be used to pay the salaries of the royal governors and judges in America. A few months afterwards — December 1767 — a colonial department was created, headed by a Secretary of State. 

The machinery of what might prove to be an exasperating control was thus provided for, and the principle of taxation, once admitted, might, of course, be carried farther. The actual amount of money involved was not a heavy burden on the colonies, but it was to be used in such a way as to make the governors and judges independent of the local assemblies.

AHC Note — See Board of Trade and William Legge, Lord Dartmouth.

Rejecting Tea in 1767

Public feeling in America ran high. At the Cambridge town meeting of November 20, 1767, the opposition of the town to the collection of the duty on tea was set forth as forcibly as possible. The claim of Parliament to tax the colonists was firmly denied. 

The sending of the tea, subject to the payment of duties, was a violent attack on the liberties of America. Every person who should aid, directly or indirectly, in unloading, receiving, or vending any tea subject to these duties, was declared to be an enemy of America. 

The factors appointed to receive the tea in Boston, who had been requested to resign this appointment, but who had refused to do so, had by this conduct forfeited all right to the respect of their fellow-countrymen. 

Finally, it was resolved “That the people of this town can no longer stand idle spectators, but are ready, on the shortest notice, to join with the town of Boston, and other towns, in any measures that may be thought proper, to deliver ourselves and posterity from slavery.”

British Troops Occupy Boston

The protest of the other towns and of the various colonial and provincial assemblies was equally positive, but the ministry proceeded to new repressive measures. It was proposed that American agitators be sent to England for trial and troops were sent to Boston. The regiments arrived in September 1768, and for nearly eight years Boston was a garrisoned town. 

AHC Note — In the aftermath of the Stamp Act Crisis, the Sons of Liberty formed in most of the colonies. They were responsible for coordinating resistance to British policies. The most significant groups were groups were located in Boston, New York, and Charleston.

Boston Massacre

There was constant friction between the troops and the people, which broke into a riot on March 5, 1770, in the affray known as the Boston Massacre.

AHC Note — See Quartering Act (1765), Battle of Golden Hill (1770), and Boston Massacre (1770) for more information on events leading up to March 5, 1770.

Massachusetts Committees of Correspondence

In November 1772, Committees of Correspondence were formed throughout Massachusetts, and later in the other colonies. 

The circular letter issued by the Boston Committee was duly read at a town meeting held in Cambridge, on December 14lth, and a committee was appointed on the part of Cambridge, which was instructed to acquaint the Boston committee that Cambridge would “heartily concur in all salutary, proper and constitutional measures for the redress of the intolerable grievances which threatened, and which, if continued, would overthrow the happy civil constitution of the province.” 

The committee was also instructed to take under consideration the infringements upon the rights of the people which were complained of, and to report at an adjournment of the meeting. After a recess of a few minutes this committee submitted a report, in which a long and carefully prepared review of the situation prefaced instructions to the Cambridge representative, Captain Thomas Gardner, to use his greatest influence at the next session of the General Court for a speedy redress of all grievances.

AHC Note — See Committees of Correspondence.

Boston Tea Party

A year later, on December 16, 1773, came the Boston Tea Party — the violent expression of the sentiments of the people against the tax. It made further conciliation practically impossible.

AHC Note — See Tea Act (1773) and Boston Tea Party (1773).

Boston Tea Party, Engraving
Destruction of the Tea by Paul Philippoteaux and Henri Théophile Hildibrand. Image Source: New York Public Library Digital Collections.

The Intolerable Acts

It was not in the temper of Englishmen and still less of their King, to withdraw or to change front in the face of such daring resistance. 

Five new bills were introduced and hastily pushed through Parliament. 

  1. Boston Port Act — The first enacted that no further commerce was to be permitted with the port of Boston till that town should make its submission. 
  2. Massachusetts Government Act — The second act abolished certain provisions of the charter granted by William III in 1692. Under the old charter, the members of the Governor’s Council were chosen in a convention consisting of the Council of the preceding year and the Assembly. Each councillor held office for a year, and was paid out of an appropriation made by the Assembly. Under the new act, the members of the Council were to be appointed by the governor on a royal writ of mandamus, and their salaries were to be paid by the Crown. The governor and his dependent Council could appoint sheriffs and all the judges and court officers, and they too were to be paid from the royal treasury and removed at the king’s pleasure. Worse than all, the town-meeting system of local self-government was practically destroyed. Town meetings could indeed be held twice a year for the election of town officers, but no other business could be transacted in them. “The effect of all these changes would, of course, be to concentrate all power in the hands of the governor, leaving no check whatever upon his arbitrary will It would, in short, transform Massachusetts into an absolute despotism, such as no Englishman had ever lived under in any age.” 
  3. Administration of Justice Act — The third act directed that “persons questioned for any Acts in Execution of the Law” should be sent to England for trial. 
  4. Quartering Act — The fourth act provided for the quartering of soldiers upon the inhabitants, and was intended to establish a military government in Massachusetts.
  5. Quebec Act — The fifth act provided for the government of the region ceded by France in 1763, and among other things it annexed to Canada the whole territory between the Ohio and Mississippi Rivers and the Great Lakes. The purpose was undoubtedly to remove the danger of disaffection or insurrection in Canada, but at the same time, the act extinguished all the titles of Connecticut, Massachusetts, and Virginia to the region west of Pennsylvania.

The news of these coercive measures was received in Massachusetts on May 10th. 

AHC Note — See Boston Port Act, Massachusetts Government Act, Administration of Justice Act, Quartering Act (1774), and Quebec Act for more information on the Intolerable Acts.

Thomas Gage Arrives in Boston

Soon after the new military governor, General Gage, appeared, and in a few weeks, the Boston Port Bill and the modifications of the charter began to be ruthlessly enforced. 

The committees of the Massachusetts towns promptly met, and adopted a circular letter, prepared by Samuel Adams, to be sent to all the other colonies, asking for their sympathy and cooperation. The response was prompt and emphatic. In the course of the summer, conventions were held in nearly all the colonies, declaring that Boston should be regarded as “suffering in the common cause.” The obnoxious acts of Parliament were printed on paper with deep black borders, and in some towns were publicly burned by the common hangman. 

AHC Note — See Thomas Gage.

Support for Boston

Droves of cattle and flocks of sheep, cartloads of wheat and maize, vegetables and fruit, barrels of sugar, quintals of dried fish, and provisions of every sort, were sent overland as gifts to the Boston people, even the distant rice swamps of South Carolina contributing their share. 

The 1st of June was kept in Virginia as a day of fasting and prayer. In Philadelphia bells were muffled and tolled in the principal churches, and ships put their flags at half-mast. 

Marblehead Replaces Boston as the Port of Entry

Marblehead, which was appointed to supersede Boston as the port of entry, immediately invited the merchants of Boston to use its wharves and warehouses free of charge in shipping and unshipping their goods.

The Virginia Convention

The time was at hand when men would be wanted more than money or provisions or votes of sympathy. This had become plain to at least one American. People were telling of the excellence of the oratory in the Virginia Convention, and enthusiastic Virginians had assured John Adams that Richard Henry Lee and Patrick Henry would respectively bear comparison with Cicero and with Demosthenes. 

George Washington

But a delegate from South Carolina, who on his way to the meeting of the Continental Congress had stopped to see what they were doing in the Old Dominion, gave it as his opinion that the most eloquent speech had been made by a certain Colonel Washington. “I will raise,” that officer had said, “one thousand men towards the relief of Boston, and subsist them at my own expense.”

The Powder Alarm

Another violent outbreak could not be long postponed, and this time Cambridge was the scene of action. The powder belonging to the Province had been stored in the magazine which is still standing in the Powder House Park in Somerville. This stock General Gage determined to secure. 

On the morning of the first of September, in the early daylight, detachments of troops in boats rowed up the Mystic, landed at the Temple’s Farm, seized the powder, and also secured two cannons belonging to General Brattle’s regiment, and carried them off down the harbor to the Castle. Rumors of violence and bloodshed spread rapidly through the country, and before nightfall, the New England militia forces were marching toward Boston.

The companies converged upon Cambridge, whence the Lieutenant Governor, Thomas Oliver, rode hastily to Boston, to implore Gage to send out no more troops. 

AHC Note — Refer to the Suffolk Resolves, Solemn League and Covenant, Powder Alarm (1774), and Mandamus Councillors.

Mandamus Councillors Resign

The militia paraded upon Cambridge Common and called for the newly appointed mandamus councillors. The two Cambridge members of the Council, Judge Danforth and Judge Lee, promised to resign at once and to be in no way concerned in the acts of the government. Each submitted a written promise attested by the clerk of the court. Then the high-sheriff of Middlesex, Colonel David Phips, was forced to promise to do nothing toward executing the new laws.

Benjamin Hallowell

Benjamin Hallowell, the Commissioner of Customs, had a narrow escape. Passing in his chaise by the crowds on the Common, he “spoke somewhat contemptuously of them.” Some mounted men promptly rode after him. On seeing them coming he stopped his chaise, unhitched his horse and mounted, and galloped to Boston Neck, where he found safety.

Andrew Oliver Resigns

After securing the withdrawal of Lee and Danforth, the people flocked up Brattle Street to the house of Lieutenant-Governor Oliver, who had returned from Boston, and demanded his resignation from the Council. 

This, after demurring, Oliver gave, “My house at Cambridge,” he wrote, “being surrounded by about four thousand people, in compliance with their command I sign my name, — Thomas Oliver.” 

Brattle Threatened

General Brattle, the colonel of the Middlesex regiment, was then sought for but had gone to Boston. Thence he wrote an explanatory and apologetic letter, in which he denounced the threatenings he had received and his practical banishment from his home.

Significance of the Powder Alarm

This was obviously one of the most exciting days in the history of Cambridge. The temper of the people was incapable of being misunderstood. There was no reasonable ground for objecting to the removal of the powder and guns which really belonged to the Province and there was no collision with the troops, but it is obvious that the 2d of September, 1774, just escaped the historic importance of the 19th of April of the succeeding year.

Massachusetts Provincial Congress

The Massachusetts Assembly met at Salem on October 11, 1774. The Cambridge delegates were Thomas Gardner and John Winthrop. After waiting two days for the Governor who never came, the members constituted themselves into a Congress, and adjourned first to Concord and later to the Cambridge Meeting House. 

The Assembly first took pains to define their constitutional position, and to defend it by adducing precedents and quoting charters, and then they went on to the more pressing business of the hour. They began by ordering “that all the matters that come before the Congress be kept secret, and be not disclosed to any but the members thereof until further order of this body.” 

Massachusetts Prepares for War

Then, on the 24th of October, they appointed a committee to consider the proper time for laying in warlike stores; and on the same day the committee reported that the proper time was now. 

Without delay they voted the purchase of twenty field pieces and four mortars; twenty tons of grape and round shot; five thousand muskets and bayonets, and seventy-five thousand flints. They made an agreement to pay no more taxes into the Royal Treasury, and arranged a system of assessment for the purpose of provincial defense.

They then proceeded to elect by ballot three generals:

  1. Jedediah Preble
  2. Artemas Ward
  3. Seth Pomeroy 

Massachusetts Committee of Safety

They appointed a Committee of Public Safety, of which John Hancock was the most notable and Joseph Warren the most active member. They invested that Committee with authority to call out the militia, every fourth man of whom was expected to hold himself ready to march at a minute’s notice; — a condition of service that suggested the name of Minutemen. 

Then they adjourned until the fourth Wednesday in November; by which time the Committee of Public Safety, disbursing their funds thriftily, had bought in addition to the prescribed amount of ordnance three hundred and fifty spades and pick-axes, a thousand wooden messbowls, and some pease and flour. 

“That,” said Sir George Trevelyan, “was their stock of material wherewith to fight the empire which recently, with hardly any sense of distress, had maintained a long war against France and Spain, and had left them humbled and half-ruined at the end of it.”

The irrevocable step was thus taken in the Cambridge Meeting House. That which for months, and perhaps years, had been a fact became now a visible and palpable finality. 

The action of the Assembly at Cambridge gave aim and purpose to the seething excitement of the Province. “Appointing a receiver-general,” wrote Dr. Reynolds, “it took possession of the purse; organizing a committee of safety, it seized the sword; through its committee of supplies it gathered the munitions of war; by its minute inquiries it may almost be said to have counted up every musket and fowling-piece, and weighed every ounce of powder, in the Province. It appointed commanders and commissaries; it established military laws and regulations; it collected in depots provisions, clothing, tents, and military supplies of all sorts; and it purchased powder, muskets, and cannon.” 

It is obvious that the Siege of Boston was really a much longer affair than the eleven months of actual investment. It began long before those April days when the farmers from all the New England states came hurrying to Cambridge, and with little or no plan of action, encamped upon the encircling hills, and with military instinct began to intrench themselves. It would be nearer the truth to say that the siege began on the day that General Gage landed, for never was he governor in Massachusetts one foot beyond the girdle of the bayonets of his soldiers. 

“No visible lines of intrenchment rose on the hills which surrounded Boston, but all the same the beleaguerment was there, ready at the first hostile movement to become manifest and impregnable. Like the fabled net of the magician, its meshes were so fine that the keenest eye could not see them; so strong that a giant’s struggles could not break them.”

The Battles of Lexington and Concord

The tumultuous events of the 19th of April, 1775, lie somewhat outside of the scope of this narrative, but both of the British columns that marched to Lexington on that momentous day trod our Cambridge soil. 

Concord Fight, 1775, Doolittle, Plate 2 Detail, Smith and Pitcairn, NYPL
This engraving by Amos Doolittle was made in 1775. It depicts the British marching into Concord while Lt. Col. Francis Smith and Major John Pitcairn survey the Massachusetts Militia gathering on the hills around the town. Image Source: New York Public Library Digital Collections.

The British Expedition

The first expedition was ferried over the river in the boats of the fleet, landed at Phips’ Farm or Lechmere’s Point, filed in the darkness along the causeway which crossed the marshes and so went on its way to destroy the stores at Concord

British Reinforcements

The supporting column under Lord Percy left Boston about nine in the morning and marched by the way of the highway over the neck. 

The Great Bridge

Before noon Lord Percy came to the “Great Bridge,” at the foot of what is now Boylston Street. The Cambridge folk had been warned of his coming. Hastily they tore up the planking of the Bridge, but frugally piled the planks on the Cambridge side of the river. 

The delay was therefore but slight for Percy’s vanguard crossed on the string pieces of the bridge and quickly put the planks again in place so that the infantry could march over them. The wagon train was delayed until the planks could be more firmly secured. The many tracks crossing Cambridge Common are said to have confused Lord Percy, and he was at no small trouble before he could find anyone to tell him which road would lead him to Menotomy and Lexington. 

Percy Meets Smith in Lexington

His column finally met the troops, returning from Concord, just east of Lexington, and history records that the relief came “just in time.” On his retreat from Lexington, Lord Percy did not pass through Harvard Square, for he realized that this time the “Great Bridge” would undoubtedly be so dismantled as to be impassable. 

Lexington and Concord, 1775, Doolittle, Plate 4 Detail, NYPL
This engraving by Amos Doolittle depicts Percy’s reinforcements joining Smith’s expedition in Lexington. Image Source: New York Public Library Digital Collections.

Percy Goes Toward Charlestown

He therefore directed his march to Charlestown Neck, and the running battle ebbed and flowed through Menotomy, which was still a part of Cambridge, and along the base of the Somerville hills to Charlestown. 

Militia at the Great Bridge

Percy was right, for the planking of the bridge had again been torn up and this time built into a strong redoubt on the Cambridge side, which was held by the militia arriving from the towns to the south and which would have completely blocked the progress of the British column.

Cambridge Militia

The Cambridge Trainband had been mustered before daybreak on that fateful day and apparently followed the first of the British detachments nearly all the way to Concord and then joined in the running battle home again. 

Thomas Gardner had succeeded General Brattle as the Colonel of the First Middlesex Regiment, and Samuel Thatcher had succeeded Gardner as the Captain of the Cambridge Company with John and Jotham Walton as his lieutenants. 

Seventy-seven men were enrolled in the company, Wyeths, Warlands, Reeds, Frosts, Prentices, Coxes, Hastings, Goddards, Boardmans, Bradishes, Moores, and Hancocks. 

There was another company in that part of the town which is now Arlington commanded by Captain Benjamin Locke, and it, too, was actively engaged all day. 

Old Men of Menotomy

It was in Menotomy that Percy’s wagon train, which had been detained at the Great Bridge, and which was hurrying to overtake the marching column, was set upon by the older men who remained in the village and captured with its guard. 

Lexington and Concord, Old Men of Menotomy, HMDB
This marker indicates where the Old Men of Menotomy attacked the British. Image Source: Historical Marker Database.

Battle of Menotomy

It was in Menotomy and North Cambridge that the hottest fighting of that sultry April day took place. More than half of those on both sides who fell in the fighting were killed within what were then the boundaries of Cambridge. All of the Cambridge men who fell were killed near Menotomy. 

Cooper’s Tavern

Jason Winship and Jabez Wyman were two of the band of veterans who at midday had waylaid and captured the British wagon train. They were caught by the returning British in Cooper’s Tavern at Menotomy Centre and killed. Benjamin and Rachel Cooper escaped into the cellar and hid till the troops had passed. 

AHC Note — See Deposition of Benjamin and Rachel Cooper.

Jason Russell House

Jason Russell, another old man and substantial farmer, lived just to the west of Menotomy Village The Danvers company came up just as the British approached and took post in Mr. Russell’s house. There a number of them were caught between the main column marching down the road and a flanking party that came across the fields. Nine of the Danvers company were killed in the house and Mr. Russell was shot as he stood in his own doorway.

Battle of Menotomy, Jason Russell House, HMDB
This marker indicates the location of the Jason Russell House in present-day Arlington, Massachusetts. It reads, “Built by Martha, widow of William Russell, about 1680. Occupied until 1890 by her descendants, of whom Jason Russell lost his life in the conflict of April 19, 1775.” Image Source: Historical Marker Database.

Three Men from Cambridge

Three of the men from Cambridge were killed on Massachusetts Avenue just north of Spruce Street. 

John Hicks was one of an old Cambridge family and lived at the comer of Dunster and Winthrop Streets. He had been an active patriot, and tradition says that he was one of the Boston Tea Party. 

Moses Richardson was a carpenter who lived where the Law School (Austin Hall) now stands. His military spirit was reborn in his great-grandson, James P. Richardson, who organized and led the first company that enlisted for the Civil War. 

Both Hicks and Richardson were beyond the age of military service, so they had not marched with the younger men of the trainband, but they had taken their guns and followed. 

The third victim, William Marcy, was killed at the same time and place. He was apparently sitting on the fence looking on when he was shot. 

Hicks’ son, a boy of fourteen, found the three bodies in the evening, and, procuring a wagon, brought them to the village graveyard for burial at the place where the monument to their honor now stands.

The Siege of Boston Begins

There was no sleep in Cambridge or anywhere else in Massachusetts that night. North, west, and south the messengers rode furiously spreading the news. Every village green saw the muster of the trainbands. Seizing their muskets and their powder horns the minutemen, without waiting for anything else, started for Cambridge. 

The Legendary Ride of Israel Putnam

When the alarm reached Connecticut old Israel Putnam left his plow in the furrow and rode on one horse one hundred miles in eighteen hours.

AHC Note — The story of Putnam in his field, dropping everything, and riding off to Boston is one of the most famous legends of the American Revolutionary War. Putnam was a veteran of the French and Indian War and served in Roger’s Rangers with Robert Rogers.

The New Hampshire Milita Arrives

The New Hampshire companies were crossing the Merrimac on the evening of the twentieth, having run rather than marched for twenty-seven miles. They halted at Andover only long enough for a bit of bread and cheese, and, having traversed fifty-seven miles in less than twenty hours, at sunrise on the twenty-first they paraded on Cambridge Common. Within two days ten thousand men came pouring into Cambridge, and for weeks afterwards the numbers were augmented. 

AHC Note — The New Hampshire men were led by Colonel John Stark. Like Putnam, Stark was a veteran of the French and Indian War and Rogers’ Rangers.

General William Heath

General William Heath, who had been conspicuous among the leaders on the 19th, directed them where to go, and made a general disposition of this loosely organized and primitive army. On the morning after the battle, it was his foresight that provided for the needs of the men who came rushing in from every Massachusetts town and hamlet. 

Later he wrote in his Memoirs, “All the eatables in the town of Cambridge which could be spared, were collected for breakfast and the college kitchen and utensils procured for cooking. Some carcasses of beef, and pork, prepared for the Boston market, were obtained and a large quantity of ship bread, said to belong to the British navy, was taken.” 

The college buildings were at once occupied as barracks, and the college kitchen continued to be the center of the rude commissariat. The towns hastened to send ample supplies after their men, and there was never a time when this hastily improvised New England army was not abundantly fed. 

The flight of the Cambridge Tories made their houses and estates available for quarters. General Putnam got as near to the enemies’ lines as he could by living at the Inman House. John Stark made a headquarters for the New Hampshire men at the Royall House in Medford. John Glover and his Essex Regiment occupied the Vassall House and grounds. 

The Committee of Safety and the Senior of the Massachusetts Major Generals, Artemas Ward, accepted the hospitality of the Hastings House. With extraordinary rapidity, the beleaguering lines were drawn about Boston. It was fifteen months after Concord and Lexington before a British army again took the open field.

Fate of Cambridge Loyalists

Sad was the fate that thus overtook with appalling suddenness the Loyalist families of Cambridge. The booming of the guns at Lexington meant for them the signal to fly from their pleasant homes and seek safety behind the Boston lines. 

Christ Church

Practically the entire congregation of Christ Church departed, and, save for a few lay services held while Mrs. Washington was in Cambridge, the sound of prayer and praise was unheard within its walls for fifteen years. For a time it served as a barracks and then for years it stood deserted, its doors shattered and its windows broken, exposed to wind and rain and every sort of depredation. 

The Brattle Family

Most of the Tory magnates never saw their homes again. The Brattle House became the quarters of Major Thomas Mifflin, afterwards the President of Congress, while General Brattle accompanied the British Army when they sailed away and died a broken-hearted old man at Halifax in the fall of 1776. His son, Thomas Brattle, was in Europe when the war broke out and was proscribed as an absentee. Later he returned to America, and in 1784 was finally permitted to come back to Cambridge and rehabilitate the old estate. He made the place the most beautiful for miles around and lived a quiet life among his flowers and his friends. He died unmarried in 1801, and with him ended the Brattle line.

Thomas Oliver

Thomas Oliver, the one-time Lieutenant Governor, left Cambridge immediately after the uprising which had forced his resignation on September 2d, 1774, and never returned. He had never, indeed, been an active opponent of the patriotic sentiment, for he was of mild and inoffensive temperament, but all his social connections were with the Tories. He went to England and died there in 1815. His beautiful house at Elmwood was first occupied by Benedict Arnold and a Connecticut company, and later became a hospital for the besieging army, and the wounded were brought there from Bunker Hill. Those who died were buried across the road opposite the house. 

David Phips

Colonel David Phips also went to England and died there in 1811. His estate was confiscated and his house later became the residence of Professor John Winthrop. 

John Borland

John Borland went into Boston as soon as the troubles began and was killed by accident there on the 5th of June, 1775. One of his sons entered the British army. His house, the “Bishop’s Palace,” was later used as a residence for General Burgoyne when he came as a prisoner to Cambridge and was then for many years the homestead of Dr. Plympton.

Danforth and Lee

Judge Danforth and Judge Lee, the two Mandamus Councillors who resigned at the behest of the people on September 2, 1774, were, like Oliver, Tories by social connection rather than by conviction. Judge Danforth was an old and respected citizen who had been a member of the Council by the choice of the Provincial Assembly for thirty-six years, and who made no greater mistake than to continue in his office when appointed by the King instead of elected by the representatives of the people. He stayed in his house on the eastern side of Dimster Street, and, though understood to have royalist sympathies, was undisturbed. Judge Lee went with his neighbors to Boston during the siege, but afterwards retired and took up his residence again in the old house on Brattle Street which is still known by his name.

Ralph Inman

Ralph Inman also came back to his place after the evacuation of Boston and was unmolested, though both of his sons went to England and his daughter married Captain Linzee, who had commanded the frigate Falcon on the day of Bunker Hill. 

The Lechmere-Sewall estate and both the Vassall estates were confiscated after the hurried flight of their owners. Colonel John Vassall had no choice but to cross the seas with his friends, and his mansion-house became the headquarters of the American army. Mrs. Henry Vassall went to Antigua, where the family still possessed considerable property, but returned to die in Boston in 1800. Even her father, Isaac Royall, to whom hospitality was a passion, and who had won the affection of all around him, did not escape banishment and proscription. 

The Committee of Safety provided for the care and occupation of the confiscated estates, though not always without difficulty, for “the honest man’s scythe refused to cut Tory grass, and his oxen to turn a Tory furrow.” 

Isaac Royall’s cherished wish was to be buried in Massachusetts; but even that boon was denied him. He died in England before the war was over, bequeathing two thousand acres of his neglected soil to endow a Chair of Law at Harvard.

American Forces at Cambridge

The besieging force which made its center at Cambridge was a heterogeneous gathering. The militia of the various provinces served under their own officers, but the different commanders speedily agreed to subordinate themselves to General Artemas Ward, as the head of the largest body of troops. He, however, had no organized staff and very inadequate means of communicating orders and receiving reports. If Gage had attacked he could have been opposed only by scattered regiments, and not by a united force.

New England Army of Observation

The size of the army was variable and uncertain. On paper there were more than twenty thousand men; as a matter of fact, there can seldom have been more than three-quarters of that number. It was, further, an army of volunteers where every man owned his musket and cartridge box, clothed himself, and considered himself still, to a large extent, his own master. 

The men, who sprang to arms on the 19th of April, had not prepared themselves for a long campaign. They had left home on the run and in the next few days, many of these men went back for the necessary arrangement of their affairs and for more clothing. 

The larger number of them returned to camp immediately, but others stayed away for a considerable time. Even those who joined the army after more preparation often had business that called them home, in which case they considered it a hardship to be denied, “especially when that business was haying.”

Nearly two months went by without any more active fighting than occasional skirmishes as foraging parties met, or when American detachments successfully carried off the sheep and stock from the islands in the harbor.

AHC Note — See New England Army of Observation.

Battle of Bunker Hill

By the 16th of June, the time had come for an aggressive move. The Committee of Safety, consulting with the more prominent officers, decided to occupy the heights of Charlestown. Ward issued the necessary orders and in the dusk of evening fifteen hundred men under command of Colonel William Prescott paraded opposite the western door of the Hastings House. 

From the door, in his academic gown, came President Langdon of the college, and the prayer he offered stirred the hearts of all who listened. 

What Prescott and his men did that night and the next day on Bunker Hill is written large in American history. Nathanael Greene was right when he said that the colonists were ready to sell King George another hill at the same price. To Cambridge, the chief event of that momentous day was the loss of its military chief and first patriot citizen, Colonel Thomas Gardner.

AHC Note — See Battle of Bunker Hill (June 17, 1775).

Colonel Thomas Gardner

This able, zealous, and courageous man had been the leader of the sentiment of the community throughout the years that foretokened the Revolution. He lived on the southern side of the river in what is now Allston. From 1769 until his death, he was both selectman and the representative of Cambridge in the General Court and in the Provincial Congress. He served on both the local Committee of Correspondence and on the Provincial Committee of Safety. He had been the captain of the Cambridge Company and was promoted to be Colonel when General Brattle adhered to the loyalist side. His high character, his popularity, the military skill which he had already displayed, his patriotic ardor, all promised for him a most distinguished career. It is probable that, had he lived, he would have ranked among the most conspicuous of the patriot soldiers of the Revolution. He led his regiment to Bunker Hill and was just entering the engagement when he fell mortally wounded. He was borne back to Cambridge, where he lingered for two weeks and died on the 3d of July, just as Washington was crossing the Common to take command of the army.

George Washington, Commander-in-Chief

The selection by the Continental Congress of a general-in-chief was an epoch-making act. John Hancock, the President of the Congress, was ambitious to secure this difficult and dangerous post, but John Adams was keen enough to perceive that the New England Army could be knit together and its jealousies appeased only by the appointment of a general from another section. In military experience and ability, in strength and purity of character, there was no American then living to be compared with George Washington of Virginia.

While others had been discussing and hesitating, Washington had long ago made up his mind that the quarrel with the king must come to violent disruption. At the second Continental Congress to which he was a delegate, it was noticed that he attended the sittings in his uniform of a Virginia colonel. Though he took no part in the debates, he made himself felt, and his colleague, Patrick Henry, said of him: “If you speak of solid information and sound judgment, Colonel Washington is, unquestionably the greatest man on the floor.” 

Continental Army Established

Debate ran high, but finally, the Congress adopted the militia at Cambridge as a “Continental Army,” appointed four Major Generals: Charles Lee, Philip Schuyler, Artemas Ward, and Israel Putnam, and eight brigadiers; and on the 15th of June, two days before the Bunker Hill battle, chose Washington to be the commander-in-chief.

AHC Note — See Second Continental Congress, and Invasion of Quebec (1775–1776) for more information on the formation of the Continental Army.

Washington Accepts His Commission

Washington himself knew better than any man the consequences of the momentous step. On the 16th of June, he accepted his commission but added: “Lest some unlucky event should happen, unfavorable to my reputation, I beg it to be remembered by every gentleman in the room, that I, this day, declare with the utmost sincerity, I do not think myself equal to the command I am honored with. As to pay. Sir, I beg leave to assure the Congress, that, as no pecuniary consideration could have tempted me to accept this arduous employment, at the expense of my domestic ease and happiness, I do not wish to make any profit from it. I will keep an exact account of my expenses. These, I doubt not, they will discharge; and that is all I desire.”

Washington Arrives in Cambridge

On the 3d of July, a year and a day before the Declaration of Independence, Washington reached Cambridge and under the great elm still standing by the common, he took command of the army. He made his headquarters at first in the house of the president of the college (Wadsworth House), but after a few weeks took possession of the beautiful mansion of Colonel Vassall. That house had always been the home of generous and gracious hospitality, an association which it has never lost. 

Washington brought with him to Cambridge the Virginia traditions of ample living. He was himself a plain soldier, and a man, besides, of remarkable self-restraint. His moderation was seen in his early and regular hours and in his simple diet, which was sometimes nothing, we are told, but baked apples or berries with milk. 

It was, however, his habit to gather about him, at his headquarters, the officers of the army, and the prominent visitors who for public or personal reasons made their way to the Cambridge camp. In December he was joined by Mrs. Washington and the two had here their last experience of home life for many long years. They maintained at the Vassall House a style of living which comported with the General’s position.

Charles Lee

Almost all of the leaders of the Revolution who later won renown or shame were in Cambridge during the siege and constant visitors at headquarters. Hither from his vagrant wanderings over half the earth came Charles Lee, the second in command of the army. He was grotesque in appearance, satirical of speech, and repulsive of countenance, but the people believed in his ability and sincerity until he had proved both his incompetency and treachery. 

He came to Cambridge heralded as a military prodigy and though his insubordination brought his boastful career to an end long before the war was over, the blackness of his treason was not known until after he and those he had tried to betray had long been dead. 

General Charles Lee, Illustration
Charles Lee. Image Source: New York Public Library Digital Collections.

Benedict Arnold

That other conspicuous traitor, Benedict Arnold, was daily at the Vassall House before he started on his Quebec expedition. His ability and reckless courage commended him to Washington. Had he only been so fortunate as to fall in his desperate charge at Stillwater he would have ranked among the most valorous of our patriot heroes. 

Horatio Gates

Horatio Gates, the vain, weak man who later tried to push Washington from his command, was the Adjutant General of the army at Cambridge, and in constant contact with his chief. The laurels he wore, but did not win, at Saratoga, faded at Camden, and he passed out of our history into deserved obscurity.

How marked was the contrast between these vainglorious but treacherous soldiers and the honest virtues of comrades in arms like Heath and Thomas of Massachusetts, Sullivan and Stark of New Hampshire, Richard Gridly and Rufus Putnam, the engineers.

General Horatio Gates, Portrait, Stuart
Horatio Gates. Image Source: Wikipedia.

Nathanael Greene

At the Vassall House, Washington first met those tried and true companions of all his after career, Nathanael Greene, Henry Knox, and Benjamin Lincoln. Greene led the Rhode Island troops. He was Quaker-bred, thoughtful, resourceful, and judicious. He had none of the meretricious brilliancy of men like Lee and Arnold, but he was able, loyal, and reliable, and became his chief’s right arm. 

General Nathanael Greene, Portrait, Illustration
Nathanael Greene. Image Source: New York Public Library Digital Collections.

Henry Knox

Henry Knox was a Boston bookseller who made himself an expert artillerist and was later Washington’s first Secretary of War. It was Knox who, with dauntless perseverance, in the depth of the New England winter, dragged to Cambridge the cannon captured at Ticonderoga, and so made possible the occupation of Dorchester Heights and the consequent evacuation of Boston. Two of those cannons now stand on Cambridge Common in front of the Soldiers’ Monument. 

Henry Knox, Secretary of War, Portrait
Henry Knox. Image Source: MFA Boston.

Benjamin Lincoln

Benjamin Lincoln had been the Secretary of the Massachusetts Provincial Congress He was sound in judgment, industrious, and faithful. To him at Charleston it was given to win one of the noblest of achievements, the preservation in defeat of the respect and confidence of all good men. Twenty years later, when Washington was asked to describe the characteristics of the then living officers who might be considered for commander-in-chief in case of war, it was to Lincoln that he gave the highest praise, saying that he was “sensible, brave, and honest.”

General Benjamin Lincoln, Illustration
Benjamin Lincoln. Image Source: New York Public Library Digital Collections.

Israel Putnam

There were not lacking picturesque figures among the guests at headquarters. Israel Putnam was a better Indian fighter than he was disciplinarian, but his bluff, hearty ways and his resistless enthusiasm appealed to his men and he was easily the most popular leader in Cambridge. His manners and his vehement speech may not have always approved themselves at the General’s table, but Washington knew a man when he saw him and gave to the veteran his respect and confidence. 

Israel Putnam, General
Israel Putnam. Image Source: Library of Congress.

Daniel Morgan

Daniel Morgan, the stalwart Virginia wagoner, and his riflemen clad in fringed hunting shirts, lent a dramatic aspect to the camp.

John Glover

Colonel John Glover and his Marblehead fishermen had been at home at the Vassall House before it became the headquarters. Those same fishermen a few months later ferried the army over the East River after the disastrous battle on Long Island, and it was they who rowed and pushed through the floating ice in the Delaware the boats that bore Washington and his freezing regiments to the victory of Trenton.

Visits from Massachusetts Leaders

But it was not only the soldiers who walked the broad pathway to the door of the Vassall House. Hither, too, came the public men of the Colony, the members of the Committee of Safety, and of the Provincial Congress sitting hard by in Watertown. 

Franklin, Lynch, and Harrison

The most noted company, however, that sat at Washington’s table was when in October a committee of Congress, consisting of Benjamin Franklin, Thomas Lynch of Carolina, and Colonel Benjamin Harrison of Virginia, arrived to confer with the generals and with the New England leaders. 

We have a glimpse of a dinner party given to them, afforded by Dr. Belknap, who was a guest, and who wrote: “Lynch, Harrison, and Wales wished to see Boston in flames, but Lee told them it was impossible to burn it unless they sent men in with bundles of straw on their backs to do it.”

Dr. Franklin, apparently, took no part in the debate, but we can imagine that no visitor would attract more attention than this renowned man, who sat and listened to whether his native town should be destroyed. He was sixty-nine years old at this time, twenty-six years older than the commanding general, and he was the most distinguished American then living. 

He had foreseen the impending conflict years before, and was able now to write to his friend Priestly in England, “Enough has happened, one would think, to convince your ministers that the Americans will fight, and that this is a harder nut to crack than they imagined.”

Discipline in the Continental Army

There was plenty of work to do inside and outside of headquarters. The raw militiamen were to be made into efficient soldiers. In the very face of the enemy, an army had to be created and supplied, fortifications built, and discipline enforced. “There is great overturning in camp,” wrote the Reverend William Emerson. “New lords, new laws. The Generals Washington and Lee are upon the lines every day. New orders from his Excellency are read to the respective regiments every morning after prayers. The strictest government is taking place, and great distinction is made between officers and soldiers. Every one is made to know his place, and keep in it… Thousands are at work every day from four till eleven o’clock in the morning.”

Placement of the Continental Army Around Boston

The lines of the beleaguering forts were carefully planned. 

The right wing of the army under General Ward, with General Spencer, and the best of the Massachusetts brigadiers, John Thomas, blocked the neck of the Boston peninsula and held the Roxbury forts. The lines stretched from Brookline to Dorchester. 

The left wing under General Lee was intrenched on the Somerville hills and along the Mystic with its outposts far out to the east. His two brigades were led by Greene and Sullivan. 

The center at Cambridge was commanded by General Putnam with his own brigade, consisting of the regiments of Colonels Glover, Frye, Bridge, Sargeant, and Woodbridge, and General Heath’s brigade, consisting of his own regiment and those of Colonels Prescott, Patterson, Scammon, Gerrish, and Phinney. 

AHC Note — See General John Thomas and Colonel William Prescott.

American Defensive Works and Troop Strength

The intrenchments began at the River at the foot of Putnam Avenue, or about where the Riverside Press now stands, and ran along the brow of Dana Hill until they connected with the redoubts on Prospect Hill in Somerville. Fort No. 1 was at the southern end of this line. Fort No. 2 was at what is now the corner of Putnam Avenue and Franklin Street. Fort No. 3 was at Union Square in Somerville.

Roughly estimated, there were some 4,000 men on the Roxbury lines, 7,000 more on Prospect, Winter, Plowed, and Cobble Hills and north of the Mystic, and about 6,000 on the Cambridge lines. 

American Camps in Cambridge

Of these, a thousand or more found what must have been very close quarters in the college buildings. Many were in rude shelters on the Common or along the line of the intrenchments, and the rest found shelter in the houses and bams of the village or in tents in the pastures between the college and the low crest of Dana Hill. Two small batteries, one at Captain’s Island and one at the next angle of the river commanded the approach to Cambridge by water. The latter of these was long preserved by the Dana family, and in 1858 it was restored at the joint expense of the City and the State and named Fort Washington. It stands as an interesting memorial of the siege and a curious reminder of the time when the Charles River was navigable by war vessels.

Powder was fearfully scarce in the Cambridge camps. Very little of it was made in the colonies, and none at all in the neighborhood of Boston. More than once the army had but nine rounds to a man. On the twenty-fourth of August Washington wrote: “We have been in a terrible situation, occasioned by a mistake in a return: we reckoned upon three hundred quarter casks, and had but thirty-two barrels.” 

Good muskets, too, were hard to get. The gunsmiths of Philadelphia, who had been expected speedily to equip the army, were not able to supply guns with any rapidity, and Washington had to pick them up, good, bad, or indifferent, wherever he could.

Progress of the Siege of Boston

The progress of the Siege of Boston was thus evidently predetermined by other causes than the courage of the soldiers or the skill of the opposing generals. 

British Commanders Hesitate to Take Action

General Gage did not dare make an aggressive campaign and General Washington could not. General Howe, on assuming the command of the troops in Boston early in October, wrote to the Earl of Dartmouth: “The opening of a campaign from this quarter would be attended with great hazard, as well from the strength of the country as from the intrenched position which the rebels have taken, and from which they could not be forced without considerable loss on our part; and from the difficulty of access farther into the country they would have every advantage in the defence of it on their side, being indefatigable in raising field-works, which they judiciously suppose must wear us down by repeated onsets, whereas they are so numerous in this part of the country that they would not feel the loss they might sustain.” 

These were very different views from those expressed in a letter written by a British officer eight months before: “What you hear about the rebels taking up arms is merely bullying. Whenever it comes to blows, he that runs the fastest will think himself best off. Believe me, any two regiments here ought to be decimated if they did not beat the whole force of Massachusetts Province.” 

Hard experience had taught the British commanders the conviction that offensive operations in Massachusetts were hopeless. This alone accounts for the fact that ten thousand British soldiers, admirably equipped and led, permitted fifteen thousand raw militia, without artillery or sufficient ammunition, to draw a net of intrenchments around them without making an effort to break through the toils.

The Americans Continue the Siege While Building an Army

On the other hand, it was impossible for Washington to make any assault. His soldiers were intelligent and full of faith in their cause; but they were not so much soldiers as the material out of which soldiers should be made. The term of enlistment was so brief that the army was perpetually changing, and was never all ready at one time. 

As Washington declared, never before had a siege like this been maintained, when one army had been disbanded and another recruited within musket-shot of the enemy. 

Knox Returns with Artillery

As for cannon, not until Knox, with incredible labor, had dragged them from the shores of Lake George, and Captain Manly had captured the transport Nancy, filled with the guns and ammunition which the Americans needed, could there be said to be any proper train of artillery.

AHC Note — See Capture of Fort Ticonderoga (1775), Ethan Allen, and Seth Warner.

Criticism of General Washington

Meanwhile, impatient patriots all over the country were wondering and complaining that Boston was not stormed or the commanding points about the town occupied. Criticism of the commander-in-chief was severe in Congress and in the newspapers. 

“I cannot stand justified,” wrote Washington, “without exposing my own weakness, and injuring the cause by exposing my wants. If I did not consult the public good more than my own tranquillity, I should long ere this have put everything on the cast of a die.” 

Twice during the siege, he proposed to a council of generals, to attempt to take the town by assault — once in September by boats, and once in February over the ice — but his own better judgment must have agreed with his officers that the feat was impossible. So, with the whole country full of great expectations, with his own impetuous nature chafing at the delay, Washington had to wait and patiently plan how to expel the enemy by less heroic means.

Benjamin Church Exposed as a Spy

The chief event of the early winter was the discovery of the treason of Dr. Benjamin Church, formerly a leader of the Boston Patriots and now the chief medical officer of the army, with his quarters at the Henry Vassall House. 

From Newport, there was brought by an American Patriot to whom it had been given by a woman from Cambridge, a letter which he had been requested to deliver to some officer of a British man-of-war stationed in Narragansett Bay. 

The American had opened the letter, and found it to be in cipher. This was suspicious, and so he brought the letter to General Putnam who caused the woman to be arrested, and mounting her behind him on his horse, carried her to headquarters, where she named Dr. Church as the writer. The letter, when deciphered, proved to give information about the numbers and disposition of the American forces.

The army and country, as Washington wrote, were “exceedingly irritated” at this revelation of treachery in a trusted leader. Abigail Adams was probably right when she wrote, “If he is set at liberty, even after he has received a severe punishment, I do not think he will be safe.” 

Church was brought before the Massachusetts Provincial Congress and allowed to defend himself. He did not deny the authorship of the letter, but insisted that he was writing to his brother, and that he meant no harm. He was not believed, and was expelled from the Congress and the army. Later the Continental Congress ordered him to be imprisoned. Released later, on account of his health, he was allowed to sail for the West Indies, and his vessel was never again heard from.

Occupation of Dorchester Heights

As the winter passed, the pressing needs of the army were gradually supplied. “Officers.” wrote the historian of the siege, “were slowly learning their duty; discipline was growing more finn and steady, and the whole anny was settling down into the habits of military life. Every hill and projecting point from the Mystic River to Dorchester Neck had been made impregnable, stretching around Boston in a vast semicircle of redoubts and breastworks of fifteen or twenty miles in length, until at last — Knox’s precious convoy of cannon and mortar arrived, the almost priceless stores of Manly’s fortunate capture transported to camp, and a moderate supply of powder gathered up — the decisive move was made.” 

The first step was to plant a battery on Lechmere’s Point (East Cambridge). This was accomplished by General Heath under a heavy cannonade. Guns were planted which not only commanded the shipping in the river, but which threw their shells into Boston. “Then one moonlight, hazy night in March, while all along the line the artillery thundered to drown the noise of the movement, three thousand men, and three hundred ox-carts laden with bales of pressed hay, quietly stole across Dorchester Neck, and climbed the heights. All night, while the enemy slept, the men labored. General Howe woke to find the town, the harbor, the fleet, commanded by his adversary’s guns.” 

Evacuation Day, March 17

A few futile plans of attack, a few days of uncertainty, and then the hurried embarkation of the British and the siege was over. On the 17th of March, the Americans marched in over the Neck, and others, crossing by boats from Cambridge, landed at the foot of the Common.

AHC Note — The British departure from Boston is observed as Evacuation Day in Suffolk County, Massachusetts, and some surrounding areas.

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 Cambridge, 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 Cambridge and the Battles of Lexington and Concord
  • Date April 18–19, 1775
  • Author
  • Keywords Cambridge, Cambridge Militia, Cambridge Trainband, Lexington Alarm, Concord Fight, Battles of Lexington and Concord
  • Website Name American History Central
  • Access Date May 30, 2024
  • Publisher R.Squared Communications, LLC
  • Original Published Date
  • Date of Last Update April 24, 2024

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