Chelmsford and the Battles of Lexington and Concord

April 18–19, 1775

Chelmsford, Massachusetts was one of the towns that mobilized its militia forces in response to the Lexington Alarm. Two Militia Companies from Chelmsford marched to Concord, fought at the North Bridge, Meriam’s Corner, and pursued the British back to Boston.

Lexington and Concord, 1775, Chelmsford Militia

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

Chelmsford Militia and the Battles of Lexington and Concord

The following account of the Chelmsford Militia and their role in the Battles of Lexington and Concord is taken from The History of Chelmsford, Massachusetts, written by Wilson Waters and Henry S. Perham and published in 1917.

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 Chelmsford and the Battles of Lexington and Concord

  1. Chelmsford is almost directly north of Concord, Massachusetts. Today, it is approximately a 12-mile walk from the center of Chelmsford to the center of Concord.
  2. Captain Joseph Warren fired the Alarm Gun to notify the Minutemen and Militia to muster.
  3. The Chelmsford Militia Companies were led by Captain Oliver Barren and Captain Moses Parker.
  4. The Chelmsford Militia Companies were on their way to Concord before the Lexington Alarm arrived.
  5. The Lexington Alarm arrived in Chelmsford around 8:00 a.m. on April 19. It was delivered by a rider from Billerica.
  6. 14-year-old Joseph Fletcher cried because he was too young to go with the Chelmsford Militia to Concord.
  7. One young man, who was not enlisted, begged to go in place of his elderly employer, and ran to Concord by the side of Sergeant John Ford’s horse, holding on to the stirrup strap.
  8. The Chelmsford Militia Companies were with the American forces in the Muster Field.
  9. The Chelmsford Militia Companies fought the British at the North Bridge, Meriam’s Corner, and along the Battle Road, back to Boston.
  10. Captain Oliver Barron and Deacon Aaron Chamberlain of Chelmsford were wounded during the Battles of Lexington and Concord.
Concord Fight, 1775, Doolittle, Plate 3 Detail, North Bridge, NYPL
This engraving by Amos Doolittle was made in 1775 and depicts the Concord Fight at the North Bridge. Image Source: New York Public Library Digital Collections.

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

Massachusetts Militia

In the early days of Massachusetts people lived on the alert. Both men and boys were skilled in the use of firearms; and this of necessity. Much of their food roamed wild in the forest. The wolf, the bear, and the Indian were wily enemies. The Indian wars were schools of military training. 

In 1645, the General Court ordered that all youths between the ages of ten and sixteen years should be instructed by competent soldiers in the exercise of arms, such as small guns, half-pikes, and bows and arrows, provided their parents were willing. And thirty men out of every hundred of the militia were to be ready for any service “at halfe an howers warning.” The French and Indian War prepared many of the officers of the Revolution for their arduous work.

AHC Note — See Pequot War (1634—1638) and New England Confederation.

Massachusetts Provincial Congress

The people of Massachusetts proceeded to organize a provincial government of their own with the intention of repudiating the sovereignty of Great Britain. The legislature, which had been dissolved by the governor, assembled at Salem upon its own authority and organized itself into a Provincial Congress under the presidency of John Hancock.

At Cambridge, on October 26, 1774, the first Provincial Congress provided for the appointment of a Committee of Safety, with Dr. Joseph Warren at its head; who, when they judged occasion to require, should have power to alarm, muster, and cause to be assembled with the utmost expedition, such and so many of the militia as they might deem necessary.

AHC Note — The Massachusetts Provincial Congress was organized after General Thomas Gage refused to meet with the Massachusetts General Assembly at Salem.

Massachusetts Minutemen

The Field Officers of the regiments were directed to endeavor “to enlist one quarter at the least of the Number of the respective Companies “to be ready on the shortest notice to march to the place of rendezvous.”

These were called “Minutemen,” and were organized under the resolve of the Provincial Congress above mentioned, which “accounts for the promptness with which they assembled in response to the alarm of the 19th of April, 1775.”

Massachusetts Army

On April 23, the Provincial Congress then sitting at Watertown resolved that an army of 30,000 men must be immediately raised, and “That 13,000 Men be raised immediately by this Province.” 

All Minutemen were required by the Committee of Safety to enlist in the Army, and orders were sent to the neighboring towns, requiring that one-half the militia be sent immediately to Roxbury and Cambridge and that the remainder hold themselves in readiness to march at a minute’s warning.

AHC Note — The Massachusetts Army quickly transitioned into the New England Army. Following the Battles of Lexington and Concord, it became the Army of Observation. By June 1775, it was organized into the Continental Army by the First Continental Congress, with George Washington as its Commander-in-Chief.

Massachusetts Army Oath of Loyalty

The following oath was to be administered to the officers and private soldiers of the army: 

“I, ____, swear, I will truly & faithfully serve in the Massachusetts army, to which I belong, for the defence and security of the estates, lives and liberties of the good people of this and the sister Colonies in America, in opposition to ministerial tyranny by which they are or may be oppressed, and to all other enemies & opposers whatsoever;”

Military Supplies in Concord

The Congress had provided that cannon, small arms, ammunition, and ordnance stores to cost £20,837, be purchased and deposited in such places as the Committee of Safety should direct. Concord was named as one place of storage.

British Expedition to Concord

The British General Gage had fortified Boston Neck to defend the only approach to the city. On April 15, he learned that Samuel Adams and John Hancock, the two chief arch-conspirators, were in Lexington, and eight hundred troops were sent to arrest these patriot leaders, and then proceed to Concord and seize the military supplies collected there by the “rebels.” 

AHC Note — On January 27, 1775, Lord Dartmouth sent a letter to General Gage and instructed him to take action against the “open Rebellion” in Massachusetts, however, he did not give him specific instructions on how to deal with the situation and left it up to Gage. 

Gage received the orders on April 14 and started to put a plan in motion to seize and destroy the military supplies at Concord. However, his orders to Lieutenant Colonel Francis Smith did not instruct him to arrest Adams and Hancock.

Midnight Riders

The signal lanterns having been displayed in the belfry of old Christ Church, Paul Revere, on his famous ride, informed the citizens of the approach of the regulars.

Midnight Ride of Paul Revere, 1775, Painting, Wyeth
This painting by N.C. Wyeth depicts Paul Revere warning people during his Midnight Ride. Image Source: American Antiquarian Society.

AHC Note — On April 16, Warren sent Paul Revere to warn Hancock and Adams about suspicious movements of British troops in Boston. Revere delivered the message and returned to Boston. However, he stopped in Charlestown, where he met with Colonial William Conant. Together, they decided on a signal system Revere would use to warn Conant if the British marched to Concord. The system was simple. If the British marched out of Boston over Boston Neck, Revere would hang one lantern in the tower of the North Church. If the British troops moved over the water, across the harbor, Revere would hang two lanterns in the tower.

Sometime after 10:00 p.m. on April 18, the Patriot Spy Network in Boston notified Joseph Warren the British expedition was assembling. Warren sent for Revere and William Dawes and told them to ride to Lexington to warn Adams and Hancock and then ride to Concord and warn the town.

Battles of Lexington and Concord

Early on April 19, Major Pitcaim, with several companies of infantry, met the Minutemen at Lexington, seven of whom were killed and ten wounded; and proceeded to Concord, (whence the stores had been removed to a place of safety). Here, at the bridge, took place the renowned engagement with the “embattled farmers,” who harassed the British on their retreat all the way to Boston

AHC Note — See Battle of Lexington and Captain John Parker.

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.

American Forces Gather on Punkatasset Hill

It has been said that Concord supplied the scene of action on that memorable day, but that Chelmsford, Acton, and other towns furnished the men who did the work. They came from all the neighboring towns. 

On the approach of the King’s troops, about one hundred and fifty Concord, Acton, and Lincoln men retired from Concord over the North Bridge about a mile to Punkatasset Hill. Here the reinforcements met them, being directed to the rendezvous by men stationed along the roads for that purpose. They came by the roads or through the woods and across the fields.

“To the hill there came from Bedford,
And Littleton, and Carlisle, And Lincoln, Chelmsford, Westford,
More men through each defile.”

— Raymond

The following quotations give the facts.

“They thereupon proceeded over the North Bridge, and marched, not yet over one hundred and fifty in all, to Punkatasset Hill, about a mile north of the meeting-house. Men were stationed on the several roads leading to Concord, to direct the reinforcements to the rendezvous, and volunteers hastened forward. Minutemen and Militia…arrived from Bedford. Numbers came in from Chelmsford, Carlisle, Littleton, Westford, Billerica, Stow and elsewhere. Some came by the woods and some across the fields. Thus strengthened, this devoted band marched down from Punkatasset” 

— from The Story of Concord as told by Concord Writers.

“The British troops had been in Concord about two hours. During this time the minute-men from the neighboring towns had been constantly arriving on the high grounds, a short distance from the North Bridge, until they numbered about four hundred and fifty. They were formed in line by Joseph Hosmer, who acted as adjutant. It is difficult, if not impossible, to ascertain certainly what companies were present thus early in the day. They came from Carlisle, from Chelmsford, from Westford, from Littleton, and Acton…It was nearly ten o’clock in the morning when the provincials, about three hundred in number arrived near the river,” on their way to dislodge the British guard at the North Bridge. 

— from Siege of Boston by Richard Frothingham.

“The yeomen of town and village had not come together at the command of a commander-in-chief through adjutant, herald, or advertisement. They came unbidden, at an alarm from the bell on their Meeting House, or from a post rider, or from the telegrams transmitted by tongue and ear. And they came for what they were, and as they were, with their light summer clothing, with what was left from their last meals in their pantries packed with a few ‘notions’ in sack or pillow-case; and with the ducking guns, fowling-pieces, or shaky muskets used in old times against the vermin and game in the woods and the Indian skulking in the thicket. And for the most part, they were as free to go away as they had been to come. They were enlisted after a fashion, some prime conditions of which were their own convenience or pleasure.”

— from History of the Battle of Bunker Hill by George Edward Ellis

Lexington Alarm

It was towards eight o’clock on the morning of April 19th, a day unusually warm for the time of year, when the good people of Chelmsford, twenty-three miles northwest of Boston and about nine north of Concord, were roused by the alarm of the British advance. 

A mounted messenger from Billerica dashed into the village proclaiming the news that the Redcoats were marching from Boston towards Concord. Alarm bells, drum beats, and signal guns warned the people, as prearranged messengers spread the news.

“Now Concord’s bell, resounding many a mile. 
Is heard by Lincoln, Lincoln’s by Carlisle, 
Carlisle’s by Chelmsford, and from Chelmsford’s swell 
Peals the loud clangor of the alarum bell, 
Till it o’er Bedford, Acton, Westford spreads,
Startling the morning dreamers from their beds.”

So run the lines by Pierpont.

The reference to “morning dreamers” must be regarded as poetic license, for practically all able-bodied people were up and at work when the word reached Chelmsford. The men composing the Chelmsford companies were scattered throughout the town, from Concord on the south to the Merrimack River and Dunstable on the north.

It is stated by C.C. Chase (Vol. IV, Old Residents’ Contributions) that when the messenger reached Chelmsford, the Minutemen were already on their way to Concord. Those who lived nearest had, no doubt, started. The news had wings and more heralds than one. 

Evacuating Chelmsford

On the day of the Concord Fight, some people living on the southerly borders of the town removed their families to what they deemed a safe distance, carrying with them provisions for an extended absence, in case the British soldiers should overrun that part of the Province of Massachusetts. A family of Proctors went over to the vicinity of Virginia Meadow and built a place to live for a time. The news of the repulse of the Redcoats encouraged most of these people to return to their homes, and thanksgivings for their unexpected deliverance were on every tongue; yet some hardly dared whisper opposition to the Mother Country.

John Ford

John Ford, Sergeant in Captain Barron’s Company, was one of the first in his locality to have the news. He immediately left his mill at Pawtucket Falls and set out to notify the men in his part of the town, along the Merrimack. He hastily ate a bowl of bread and milk in his kitchen, and rode his horse to death; so tradition says.

Simeon Spaulding

Lieutenant Colonel Simeon Spaulding, after hasty refreshment, mounted his restless horse, and as he had some difficulty in securing his gun, his wife stood on the large boulder which may still be seen in front of his house, and, giving him the weapon, waved her hand for a farewell.

Benjamin Pierce

Benjamin Pierce, the father of President Franklin Pierce, was plowing in his field near the present Powell and B Streets in Lowell when he heard the alarm; he chained his steers to a tree, and “the plow was in mid-furrow stayed.” Taking his uncle’s gun and equipment he hastened away on foot. 

Militiamen from Lowell

Some of the others from that locality were Robert Pierce, Samuel Marshall, Benjamin Parker and his son Benjamin, and Henry Fletcher who was killed later in the war. 

Samuel Perham, Jr.

Samuel Perham, Jr., was hoeing in the “lower field,” still a part of the Perham estate when he heard the alarm gun in the center village nearby, and sticking his hoe in the ground, started to join his company, of which Moses Parker was in command.

Samuel Parkhurst

Samuel Parkhurst, a lad of sixteen, living on the west side of Robin’s Hill, called out, “Mother, I hear the shoots; I’m going;” and away he went. His descendants treasure a sword that he took from a British officer at Ticonderoga.

Joseph Warren and the Chelmsford Alarm Gun

The place of rendezvous was near the memorial boulder in the little park where all the streets convene at the center village. From a rock a few feet north of this spot the minute guns were fired by Joseph Warren. Thither the men hastened from the farms and workshops. This boulder was placed by the Molly Vamum Chapter, Daughters of the American Revolution, on June 17, 1899.

AHC Note — The Alarm Gun was fired by Captain Joseph Warren, a Chelmsford Selectman, not Dr. Joseph Warren of Boston.

Chelmsford Militia Companies Depart for Concord

Parson Bridge was on the ground and requested the men to go into the Meeting House and have prayers before they went; but the impetuous Sergeant Ford, his Patriotism getting the better of his piety, replied that they had more urgent business on hand, and hastened on with his men. 

Soon over one hundred men were on their way to the scene of conflict. Captain Oliver Barron’s company numbered sixty-one, and Lieutenant Colonel Moses Parker’s, forty-three. These men did not march in regular order, but hurried off in squads, on horseback, or on foot, as fast as they received the summons. 

As the foremost of them neared Concord about half past nine o’clock, they perhaps being thus directed, followed the road leading over Punkatasset Hill on the west side of the river, and took some refreshments at a farmhouse. This road has been reduced in grade in front of the Rev. Dr. Hutchins’s residence, from which point a splendid view is obtained of the river and valley. 

The Muster Field

Here the Chelmsford men met the Americans who had retired from the village on the approach of the 800 British troops, with others from Westford, Bedford, Lincoln, and neighboring towns, and descended to Buttrick’s Hill just above the bridge, and there was a hurried debate. 

AHC Note — In Concord, British regulars set fire to the supplies they had found. The smoke rose above the rooftops where it was easily seen by the militia on the west side of the North Bridge. Believing the British were burning the town, Lieutenant Joseph Hosmer questioned his commanding officers by saying, “Will you let them burn the town down?”

North Bridge, Meriam’s Corner, and Pursuit

Finally, Colonel Barrett gave the order to march to the bridge and pass the same, but not to fire on the King’s troops, unless they were fired upon. Then about ten o’clock took place the famous fight, which cannot be here described, and as the British retreated through the village towards Merriam’s corner, other Chelmsford men came up, and with their comrades, crossing over the great meadows, met them at the corner, where a sharp engagement was fought. It was a race for life with the British, who were chased by the Americans all the way to Charlestown Neck.

Colonel Ebenezer Bridge, of Chelmsford, with a few men from Bedford, was also at Merriam’s Corner. Bridge was later a General in the Continental Army.

Lexington and Concord, 1775, Meriam's Corner, NYPL
This postcard from the early 1900s shows Meriam’s Corner, where the Massachusetts militia attacked the British. Image Source: New York Public Library Digital Collections.

Brooks Hill

At Hardy’s Hill, they harassed them, and Sergeant Ford showed conspicuous activity. He had learned to handle a rifle in the French and Indian wars, and on this day he killed five of the British. 

AHC Note — Hardy’s Hill was also known as Brooks Hill.

William Fletcher

William Fletcher of Parker’s company wrote out, late in life, an account of his experience. Evidently, he was one of the Chelmsford men who arrived later on the scene than others, as the retreat of the British had already begun. He says: “We followed the enemy and came up with them somewhere in Lexington. Our company behaved as well as could be expected, all things considered. I was four times that day where the arrows of death flew thick. We followed the enemy more than half way over Charlestown Neck…the enemy was then in plain view, rising Bunker’s Hill.” He was 19 years of age when he enlisted.

Prisoners Taken to Chelmsford

James Reed of Burlington made a deposition in 1825 regarding some of the British who were taken prisoners on their retreat from Concord on the afternoon of the 19th, in which he says: “Towards evening it was thought best to remove them from my house. I, with the assistance of some others, marched them to one Johnson’s, in Wobum Precinct, and there kept a guard over them during the night. The next morning we marched them to Billerica; but the people were so alarmed, and not willing to have them left there, we then took them to Chelmsford, and there the people were much frightened; but the Committee of Safety consented to have them left, provided that we would leave a guard. Accordingly, some of our men agreed to stay.”

Diary of Parson Bridge

April 10 — Capt. Eben. Symmes came from Boston to secure a place of retreat &c in ye present troublesome season in Boston. 

April 13 — One load of the Captain’s goods arrived. The next day some members of his family came. His two sisters, Betty and Sally, and boy.

April 18 — Still hurry and confusion, in my own affairs, and on account of public news.

April 19 — The Civil War was begun at Concord this morning! The Lord direct all things for his glory, the good of his Church and people, and ye preservation of ye British Colonies, and to ye Shame and Confusion of our Oppressors.

April 20 — In a terrible state, by reason of ye news from our Army. The onset ye British forces made was begun at Lexington, & was carried on to Concord, where were some killed on both sides. They ingloriously retreated soon and were followed by our men down to Cambridge, before night. Heard of ye Welfare of my Sons in ye Army, & of my people there.

Five captives carried through this town for Amherst. A constant marching of soldiers from ye towns above toward ye army as there was yesterday from this town and ye neighboring towns. We are now involved in a Warr which the Lord only knows what will be ye issue of, but I will hope in His Mercy and wait to see His salvation.

Lexington and Concord, 1775, British Retreat
This illustration by Charles Stanley Reinhart depicts the Massachusetts militia ambushing the British on the march back to Boston. Image Source: Scribner’s Popular History of the United States, 1896.

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 Chelmsford, 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 Chelmsford and the Battles of Lexington and Concord
  • Date April 18–19, 1775
  • Author
  • Keywords Chelmsford, Chelmsford Militia, 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 21, 2024

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