Biography of William Heath
William Heath was an officer in the Massachusetts Militia and Continental Army during the American Revolutionary War. He was from Roxbury and steadily rose in the ranks of the militia until he was commissioned as a Brigadier General by the Massachusetts Provincial Congress in December 1774. He was also a member of that same Provincial Congress. On April 19, 1775, he commanded the Massachusetts militia forces during the latter part of the British retreat from the Battle of Concord. Afterward, he helped train troops during the Siege of Boston. He was then commissioned as a Brigadier General in the Continental Army by Congress. After the Siege of Boston ended, he went to New York to help defend the city. He participated in the Battle of Long Island, Battle of Harlem Heights, and the Battle of White Plains. In 1776, he was promoted to Major General by Congress, even though General George Washington had concerns about his health. In 1777, Washington ordered Heath to attack Fort Independence. Heath failed and Washington never put him in command of troops after that. After the war, Heath was an original member of the Society of Cincinnati. In 1788, he participated in the Massachusetts Ratification Convention, which approved the United States Constitution. He was elected to the Massachusetts Senate and served as a judge. In 1806, he was elected as Lieutenant Governor but declined to serve.
This 1775 engraving depicts the British passing through Lexington as they returned to Boston. Heath arrived in Lexington around the same time. Image Source: New York Public Library Digital Collections.
5 Things to Know About William Heath
- William Heath was born on March 2, 1737, in Roxbury, Massachusetts, and died there on January 24, 1814. He was born and died on the same farm that had been settled by his ancestors in 1636.
- In 1765, he was elected to the Ancient and Honorable Company of Massachusetts. In 1768, he was elected as the company’s Lieutenant, and then as Captain in 1770.
- On April 19, 1775, as the British marched back to Boston, they passed through Lexington. Heath and Joseph Warren arrived in Lexington around 3:30 in the afternoon. When Heath arrived, he was considered the officer in charge, due to his rank. He commanded the militia that chased the British back to Boston.
- Heath was a writer. In 1770, he published essays in a Boston newspaper about the importance of skilled use of weapons and military discipline. In 1798, he published “Memoirs of Major-General William Heath, containing Anecdotes, Details of Skirmishes, Battles, etc., during the American War.”
- At the time of his death in 1814, he was the last surviving Major General of the Continental Army.
William Heath is important to the history of the United States for his service in the Massachusetts Militia and the Continental Army during the American Revolutionary War.