Harold Murdock’s “The Nineteenth Of April 1775”


Let us recall the witnesses for a hasty examination. Nearly fifty men of Parker’s company subscribed to two blanket depositions. They declared, in effect, that the company which was gathering dispersed on the approach of the troops. “Whilst our backs were turned on the troops, we were fired on by them … not a gun was fired by any person in our company on the regulars to our knowledge, before they fired on us.” This final clause, intimating that at some stage of the affair Lexington men did fire, should be especially noted, as the same hint is contained in nearly all the depositions. Captain Parker testified that, upon the sudden approach of the troops, he ordered his men “to disperse and not to fire. Immediately said troops made their appearance, and rushing furiously, fired upon and killed eight of our party without receiving any provocation therefor from us.” Smith , a spectator, “saw the regular troops fire on the Lexington company,” which was “then dispersing.” There is no hint from the foregoing group of witnesses of any verbal preliminaries to the firing of the troops, or any suggestion as to whether this firing was spontaneous or the result of orders. Tidd and Abbott were spectators. They saw the body of troops “marching up to the Lexington company which was then dispersing; soon after, the regulars fired, first a few guns, which we took to be pistols from some of the regulars who were mounted on horses; and then the said regulars fired a volley or two.” Mead and Harrington also state that pistol-shots from the officers prefaced the British volleys. Robbins says nothing of pistol-shots, but has a good ear for speech. They came “on a quick pace towards us with three officers in their front on horseback, and on full gallop towards us, the foremost of which cried, ‘Throw down your arms , ye villains, ye rebels,’ upon which said company dispersing, the foremost of the three officers ordered their men saying, ‘Fire, by God, fire,’ at which moment we received a very heavy and close fire from them.” Winship, … a prisoner in the midst of the troops, observed an officer at the head of the troops, “flourishing his sword and with a loud voice giving the word Fire!” He says nothing of the command to disperse. William Draper avers that Captain Parker’s company were turned from the troops, “making their escape by dispersing,” when the regular troops made an huzza and rushed on. “After the huzza was made the commanding officer of said troops … gave the command to the troops, ‘Fire, fire, damn you, fire.’ ” Fessenden testified that, being in a pasture near by, he viewed the whole proceeding from a distance of eighteen or twenty rods. He saw the three officers on horseback, and heard one of them cry out, “Disperse, you rebels, immediately,” at the same time brandishing his sword three times over his head. The company immediately dispersed, while a second officer more to the rear fired a pistol. The regulars kept huzzaing till the leading officer finished brandishing his sword. He then pointed his sword toward the the militia and immediately the troops fired. Elijah Sanderson heard an officer say, ” ‘Damn them, we will have them’ and immediately the regulars shouted aloud, ran and fired upon the Lexington company.” Finally, I quote Willard, who viewed the event from a window in the Harrington house, and who in some respects is the most satisfactory witness of the day: “The commanding officer said something, what I know not, but upon that the regulars ran till they came within about eight or nine rods of about an hundred of the militia of Lexington, … at which time the militia dispersed; then the officers made an huzza, and the private soldiers succeeded them; directly after this, an officer rode before the regulars to the other side of the body, and hollowed after the Militia, … and said, ‘Lay down your arms, damn you, why don’t you lay down your arms,’ and that there was not a gun fired till the militia of Lexington were dispersed.”