Wilmington and the Battles of Lexington and Concord

April 18–19, 1775

Wilmington, Massachusetts was one of the towns that mobilized its militia forces in response to the Lexington Alarm. The Wilmington Minutemen responded to the Lexington Alarm and attacked the British at Merriam’s Corner, starting the running fight to Boston along the Battle Road.

Lexington and Concord, 1775, Wilmington Militia

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

Wilmington Militia and the Battles of Lexington and Concord

The following account of the Wilmington Militia and their role in the Battles of Lexington and Concord is taken from 250th Anniversary, Wilmington Massachusetts, 1730–1980, written by Adele C. Passmore and published in 1981. It has been supplemented with additional information from Wilmington, Massachusetts: Its Growth and Progress, 1730–1930, written by Harry Deming and Mildred Holt and published in 1930.

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 Wilmington and the Battles of Lexington and Concord

  1. Wilmington is northeast of Concord. Today, it is roughly 15 miles from the center of Wilmington to the center of Concord.
  2. The Wilmington Militia was part of the Second Middlesex County Militia Regiment of Foot.
  3. In September 1774, following the Powder Alarm, Wilmington started to collect gunpowder and musket balls. They were stored in the attic of the town’s Meeting House.
  4. On March 9, 1775, Wilmington formed a Minuteman Company that included 24 men. 
  5. Cadwallader Ford Jr. was elected by the Minutemen as their Captain.
  6. The Lexington Alarm arrived early on April 19. The news was delivered by an unnamed rider on horseback.
  7. The Wilmington Minutemen marched for Lexington and were joined by the Reading Militia and Woburn Militia. On the way, they were told the British had left and were headed to Concord, so they changed direction. During this portion of the march, they were joined by the Stoneham Militia and Billerica Militia.
  8. Colonel Ebenezer Bridge took command of the militia forces, and positioned them at Merriam’s Corner, about one mile to the east of Concord.
  9. The Wilmington Militia attacked the British at Merriam’s Corner and the Bloody Angle and pursued the British back to Boston.
  10. The Wilmington Militia became part of the New England Army of Observation and then the Continental Army.
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.

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

Wilmington and the American Revolution

The year 1773 opened with the mutterings of the approaching Revolution. A town meeting pledged the town to join with Boston, “yea, with the whole continent,” for the security of the civil rights and the recovery of those that had been taken from the colony by force. A year later the town began to take action about building up its stock of powder and ball — which were stored in the attic of the Meeting House. In that Meeting House, September 7, 1774, the town voted to accept the declaration of the Middlesex County Convention of August 30 and 31, at Concord, calling in ringing words for resistance unto death in defense of freedom.

Wilmington Organizes a Minuteman Company

On March 6, 1775, about a month before the Concord Fight, Wilmington voted to call on every able-bodied man from 16 to 60 to report with “arms and ammunition.” Three days later, the town voted to enlist 24 men as a Minuteman Company. However, when the Revolutionary War broke out, two hundred and sixty men, nearly every man in Wilmington did his “turn” fighting for colonial independence.

Origins of the Massachusetts Militia

While Massachusetts was a colony under the British Crown, much trouble was caused by Indian tribes raiding outlying settlements. In defense, the Colonials formed bands of armed men called Militia.

Every male from 15 to 60 years of age was expected to bear arms and train in units to help repel attacks. The Militia Units were called together by a firing of a cannon or by an alarm bell and there was monthly participation in musters and drills.

Wilmington and the French and Indian War

Diligent searchers of the archives have long since established that from the beginning men of Wilmington have given a good account of themselves in the armed conflicts that have ‘made and preserved us a nation.” 

In the French and Indian Wars, they fought as subjects of the Crown, in the Provincial forces. The character of that fighting may be judged from the fact that 14 of our Wilmington citizens, with their gallant Captain, Ebeneezer Jones (who built the original house on the Stanley Farm) were buried in one grave following the battle of “Half-way Brook,” in 1768. 

The Reverend Isaac Morrill, for more than half a century the minister of the Wilmington congregation, took the field with his neighbors, and as a “fighting parson” gave evidence of the sturdy qualities that caused him long to be regarded as the outstanding national figure in the history of our town. Again, like a true soldier of the Lord, he drew his sword in the Revolution. His is the chimney-like tomb in the southwestern angle of the New Cemetery, close by the Town Hall, and on the slate slab on top, among his and other names, is cut that of “Capt. Cadwalla(n)der Ford.” The Fords and the Morrills were related through marriage.

AHC Note — See French and Indian War, Jeffrey Amherst, and James Wolfe.

Wilmington Militia

The Militia Unit in the Wilmington area was called the Second Middlesex County Militia Regiment of Foot. It was made up of Companies from Wilmington, Billerica, Stoneham, Dracut, Chelmsford, Reading, and Woburn and was commanded by Colonel Ebenezer Bridge of Billerica.

Massachusetts Minuteman Companies

It soon became apparent that the Militia system left a lot to be desired. Because of its unwieldy organization, it was decided that a separate group of militiamen, volunteers who could answer any alarm in 30 minutes, should be formed. 

Called the “Minute Men” this group consisted of one-third of the complement of each Militia Company in each township. The Minute Men received 10 half days of training in addition to their regular Militia time. They were trained to pursue the enemy and detain him in combat until the Militia Companies could attempt to destroy the enemy force.

Minute Men were issued a flint-lock musket with a steel ram-rod, a carry-all or knapsack, a tomahawk, a cartridge box, a powder horn, a blanket, and 36 rounds of lead ball.

Captain Cadwallader Ford

The elite volunteers of the Wilmington Seventh Company of Militia formed into the Wilmington Company of Minute Men on March 9, 1775, trained their required 10 half days and elected Cadwallader Ford, Junior, as their Captain.

AHC Note — According to our second source, there were two more Minuteman Companies from Wilmington. One was led by Captain Timothy Walker and responded to the Lexington Alarm. The second mustered later in the morning and was led by Captain John Harnden. All three Wilmington Minuteman Companies participated in the Battles of Lexington and Concord and the Battle of Bunker Hill.

False Alarms Before April 18

Due to problems that developed between the British Administration and the Colonials in the Massachusetts Bay Colony, Regulars were sent out on several occasions into the countryside to enforce British demands. Alarms were sounded on these marches but the British Regulars always withdrew into Boston avoiding confrontation.

The Lexington Alarm

On April 19, 1775, however, an unknown rider came through Wilmington early in the morning with the news that the Regulars were marching toward Lexington, the hotbed of the Colonial Cause. 

AHC Note — See Battle of Lexington (April 19, 1775).

Midnight Ride of Paul Revere, 1775, Painting, Kendrick
This 1900 painting by Charles Kendrick depicts Paul Revere warning people during his Midnight Ride. Image Source: American Antiquarian Society.

March to Lexington

An alarm was sounded and the Wilmington Minute Men assembled in their training field on the north corner of Federal Street where it intersects Middlesex Avenue. Equipped with their weapons Captain Ford, along with 26 Minute Men, including Lieutenant John Harnden, Sergeant William Blanchard, and Sergeant David Beard, three Water Bearers and 20 Musket Men marched off to aid the Minute Men at Lexington.

March to Concord and More Minutemen Companies

Along the route, they were joined by the Reading and Woburn Companies, and marched “to grand musik of fifes and drums.” Somewhere near Bedford an out-rider informed the Officers that the British Regulars had fired live ammunition in a fight at Lexington and were now headed for Concord. The route of March was immediately changed to bring the Minute Men Companies into Concord. Companies from Stoneham and Billerica met the marching units and soon Colonel Ebenezer Bridge himself arrived to take command.

Concord Fight, 1775, North Bridge, NYPL
This illustration depicts the Concord Fight at the North Bridge. Image Source: New York Public Library Digital Collections.

Merriam’s Corner

Before noon the Minute Men reached Merriam’s Corner, about one mile from Concord Center. This spot was named after the Merriam family who lived in a house that still stands nearby.

Colonel Ebenezer Bridge formed the Wilmington Company behind a stone wall that surrounded the house some sixty yards from the road. The other Companys formed in and behind trees along the road, covering a small bridge that spanned Mothers Brook at the intersection.

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.

Shortly after noon, the British Regulars came marching down the road, in good order, three abreast, followed at a distance by the various Minute Men Companies that had fought at the Concord Bridge. The British had positioned flanking companies on either side of the road to act as protection for the marching Main Column, but as they all converged at the bridge to cross Mothers Brook a jam occurred and it was into this closely packed group of troops that the Wilmington Company and others fired. 

The British, taken completely by surprise, answered with a few shots, but when another well aimed volley of lead ball was delivered by the concealed Minute Men, the British started to run. Merriam’s Corner was the turning point and from that spot, the orderly British withdrawal took on aspects of a route.

The Bloody Angle

The Wilmington Company ran alongside the road, bypassing the other Minute Men waiting in ambush. They came to a very sharp bend in the road and fired point-blank into the Regulars as they rounded the bend. The spot, today, is known as the “Bloody Angle.”

By now the Regulars were racing pell-mell toward Lexington and running into ambush after ambush. Many threw away their weapons in order to be less encumbered and run faster. 

British Reinforcements at Lexington

Reaching Lexington, the Regulars were ready to surrender when they were saved by a relief column that had been sent out from Boston. The two columns met near the site of the present Lexington Junior High School. 

Wilmington men occupied a ridge overlooking the road and commenced firing into the combined British units. The British immediately brought up artillery and bombarded the hill. 

Americans Chase the British Back to Boston

But, finally, the Regulars withdrew along present-day Route 2A through Arlington, Somerville, and Charlestown to encamp on Bunkers Hill. By this time there were over 4,000 Minute Men and Militia Companies attacking them. Sometime during the early morning hours, the battered Regulars withdrew into Boston proper and Colonel Bridge’s Regiment occupied the hill.

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.

Militia Units Transition to the Continental Army

From this point on the Minute Men organization became entangled with the Continental Army and for all practical purposes ceased to exist. Some returned home, some enlisted in the Regular Army, and some stayed on and fought as Militia in the Battle of Bunker’s Hill, two months later in June 1775.

Daniel Gowing and the Legend of Wilmington’s Lexington Elm

Records of the Gowing Family, proudly cherished by the Gowing Family Association, which meets yearly in Wilmington to keep alive the traditions of the line, bear out the above story of the march to Lexington. 

Daniel Gowing, the original member of the family to settle here, lived on the old Gowing place situated on what is now Park Street, not far from the North Reading line. He was a member of the Wilmington Train Band and in response to the Lexington Alarm, he hastened to report at Wilmington — doubtless at the Meeting House — the morning of the 19th, to Captain Cadwallader Ford. 

He rode his horse to the rendezvous, and, thinking there was a need for haste he reached for a switch, seizing a sapling that grew beside the road. We can see him bending from the saddle, grasping it with the grip of a sturdy farmer, and aided by the motion of his horse tugging it loose, roots and all. It may be that he left his horse at the Centre when he set out in the ranks of Captain Ford’s company. 

When he returned home after the epic events of the day he found the sapling still on his saddle. It proved to be an elm seedling and he planted it in front of his house. As if marked by destiny to serve as a monument, it took root and grew and was long known as the Lexington Elm. It was cut down about the time of the World War.

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 Wilmington, 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

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  • Article Title Wilmington and the Battles of Lexington and Concord
  • Date April 18–19, 1775
  • Author
  • Keywords Wilmington, Wilmington Militia, Wilmington 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 16, 2024