Watertown and the Battles of Lexington and Concord

April 18–19, 1775

Watertown, Massachusetts was one of the towns that mobilized its militia forces in response to the Lexington Alarm. The Watertown Militia and Minutemen responded to the Lexington Alarm, and joined the fight near Lexington, during the British retreat.

Lexington and Concord, 1775, Watertown Militia

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

Watertown Militia and the Battles of Lexington and Concord

The following account of the Watertown Militia and their role in the Battles of Lexington and Concord is taken from Historical Sketches of Watertown, Massachusetts, written by Solon Franklin Whitney and published in 1893.

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 Watertown and the Battles of Lexington and Concord

  1. Watertown is southeast of Lexington, Massachusetts. Today, it is about seven miles on foot from the center of Watertown to the center of Lexington.
  2. Military supplies were stored at the Bird Tavern in Watertown, including 16 cannons. However, by the time the American Revolutionary War started, they were in poor condition and useless.
  3. In September 1774, Watertown ordered its Militia Companies to start training and inspecting its military supplies.
  4. On January 2, 1775, Watertown voted to organize a Minuteman Company, led by  Captain Samuel Barnard.
  5. Paul Revere raised the alarm in Watertown, on his way to Lexington.
  6. Various Militia Companies gathered at the  Watertown Meeting House and debated their course of action. Michael Jackson of Newton gave a passionate speech and encouraged them to take the fight to the British.
  7. The Watertown Militia and Newton Militia first engaged the British near Lexington after British reinforcements arrived, led by General Hugh Percy.
  8. The Watertown Militia pursued the British to Charlestown.
  9. Joseph Coolidge was the only Watertown resident killed during the Battles of Lexington and Concord.
  10. Watertown’s Nathaniel Bemis fought a British soldier and took his sword.
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.

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

Massachusetts Provincial Congress, Taxes, and Cannons

Watertown stood second to none in her independent spirit during the early days of the Colonists. In 1774, when a Provincial Congress was formed, Watertown sent Jonathan Brown, its town clerk and treasurer, as its representative. At that meeting, October 3d, it was voted that “the collector of taxes should not pay any more money into the province treasury at present.” On the 17th of the same month, the town voted to mount and equip two pieces of cannon. At this time the inhabitants were thoroughly awake to the dangers that menaced the country.

Boston Port Act

The port of Boston was closed, and many of the citizens had removed into the country, Watertown receiving a large share of them. They had resisted the tea tax and submitted to many personal discomforts to maintain their principles. The women had been counseled to forego the joy of their Bohea, and we read that a number of patriotic gentlemen in this town “who used to regale themselves with the best of liquors have determined to drink only cyder and small beer for the future.”

AHC Note — See Intolerable Acts (1774).

Military Supplies in Watertown

At the junction of what is now Belmont and Mount Auburn Streets, stands an old house whose aspect speaks of ancient days; it is known as the Bird Tavern. This same house, in the Revolutionary days, was occupied and used as an inn by Edward Richardson. Here, under guard, were deposited arms and military stores; but for many years there had been little use for them, and the sixteen pieces of cannon belonging to the Colony proved to be quite useless when the call was made for action.

Watertown Military Precincts

Feeble attempts towards a military organization had been in operation since the time when the quota of men from Watertown was four — in the war against the Pequots — till the years 1691–92, when the town was divided into three military precincts, under the command of Captain William Bond, of Watertown, for the First Precinct; of Lieutenant Garfield, for the Second Precinct (now Waltham); of Lieutenant Josiah Jones, for the Third Precinct (or the Farmers, now Weston), till the present call to arms.

The fires of Patriotism were not quenched, they only slumbered on the hearthstones of the people to be kindled at need. The rusty matchlock and powder horn had long hung unused upon the rafters, and the fertile fields and pleasant homes bore witness that they had beaten their swords into plowshares and their spears into pruning hooks.

Watertown Militia

Early in September 1774, the town ordered that its militia should be exercised two hours every week for the three autumn months and that its stock of arms and ammunition should be inspected.

Continental Association

November 21, 1774, a committee of nine was appointed to carry into effect the association and resolves of the General Congress held at Philadelphia, and likewise those of the Provincial Congress; the latter had been presided over by the Honorable John Hancock, but he had been chosen delegate to Philadelphia, and Dr. Joseph Warren, of Boston, was elected to succeed him.

AHC Note — See First Continental Congress, Articles of Association, and Continental Association.

Watertown Minuteman Company

Town and country were now thoroughly awake, and the call to arms was felt to be imperative, at least the call to be in readiness, and January 2, 1775, it was voted in a Town Meeting “that a minute company should be formed for military exercises, each man being allowed for his attendance once a week four coppers (for refreshment).”

Its officers were: Captain, Samuel Barnard; First Lieutenant, John Stratton; Second Lieutenant, Phineas Stearns; Ensign, Edward Harrington, Jr.; Sergeants, Samuel Sanger, Abner Craft, Christopher Grant, Jr., Josiah Capen, Jr., Stephen Whitney; Corporals, Moses Stone, Jr., Isaac Sanderson, Jr., and Nathaniel Bright.

Boston Tea Party

Two of these officers had already shown their patriotism by assisting at the Boston Tea Party, December 16, 1773 —

Captain Samuel Barnard, son of Samuel Barnard and Susanna Harrington, who was baptized on June 19, 1737, and married Elizabeth Bond, daughter of Daniel Bond and Hannah Coolidge. He afterwards received the rank of major and died August 8, 1782.

Boston Tea Party, 1773, Lantern Slide, DCMNY
This illustration depicts the Boston Tea Party. Image Source: Digital Culture of Metropolitan New York.

Second Lieutenant Phineas Stearns, a farmer and blacksmith, son of Josiah Stearns and Susanna Ball, was born February 5, 1735–36. He became a Captain in the Continental Army and led his company at Dorchester Heights, and served at Lake George in 1756. He was offered a colonel’s commission, but declined it on account of family cares, and after the evacuation of Boston he discontinued in the public service. He married Hannah Bemis, the eldest child of Captain Jonathan and Huldah (Livermore) Bemis. Second, he married Esther Sanderson, a cousin of his first wife. He died on March 27, 1798.

Another Watertown citizen assisted in the Destruction of the Tea — John Randall, son of John and Love (Blanchard) Randall. He was born on October 2, 1750. He married Sarah Barnard, daughter of Jonas and Abigail (Viles) Barnard. He also served in New York for one year.

AHC Note — See Boston Tea Party History and Boston Tea Party Facts.

Lexington Alarm

On the morning of the memorable 19th of April, 1775, the Middlesex Regiment under Colonel Thomas Gardner assembled at the Watertown Meeting House. Rumors had reached the town, through the messenger Paul Revere, of the advance of the British, and they were in debate when Michael Jackson, who commanded the Newton Company that day, arrived in hot haste, having just heard, through the messenger William Dawes, who rode through Roxbury, Brookline, and Brighton, of the need of immediate action. Obtaining the floor, he told them “that the time for talking had passed, and the time for fighting had come; that if they meant to oppose the march of the British, they must immediately take up their march for Lexington, and that he intended that his company should take the shortest route to get a shot at the British.”

AHC Note — See Joseph Warren, Paul Revere’s Midnight Ride, William Dawes, and Samuel Prescott.

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.

Watertown Militia Engages the British Near Lexington

His blunt, vigorous speech broke up the council, each company being left to take its own course, and the Watertown Company, under the command of Captain (afterwards Major) Samuel Barnard, left for Lexington; near that town, they joined the Newton company, where they encountered Lord Percy’s retreating column.

The most they could do now was to harass the English. This they did from every point possible. The retreating army at the close of the day found themselves at Charlestown, where they crossed the river under cover of the guns of the ships of war, having lost that day, in killed, wounded and missing, 273; the Americans, 93. 

Lexington and Concord, 1775, Doolittle, Plate 4 Detail, NYPL
This engraving by Amos Doolittle was made in 1775 and depicts General Percy’s reinforcements joining Lieutenant Colonel Smith and his men at Lexington. Image Source: New York Public Library Digital Collections.

Watertown Casualties and Legends

The Watertown company only lost one man, Joseph Coolidge. A monument has been erected to his memory at the old graveyard by his descendants.

The records inform us, through bills paid by the town to Widow Dorothy Coolidge, who kept a tavern, and to Mr. John Draper, a baker, that rum and bread were served to the troops on that day.

Leonard Bond, at the age of twenty years, was the first in this town to take up arms in 1775, in defense of liberty.

There are in the possession of descendants of Nathaniel Bemis a sword and a gun marked with the name of his father, David Bemis, and the date, January 1775. With this gun, Nathaniel, then nineteen, started for Lexington on the 19th of April, 1775. He did not arrive there in season to take part in the fight but came upon the British soldiers on their retreat. The tradition is that he fired upon them and secured the sword — that of an officer whom he shot.

As these two names are not found on the militia roll for that day, we may conclude that in the excitement of the occasion, many unpaid volunteers took part in the skirmish.

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 Watertown, 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 Watertown and the Battles of Lexington and Concord
  • Date April 18–19, 1775
  • Author
  • Keywords Watertown, Watertown Militia, Watertown Minutemen, 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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