Trivia Minute April 19, 2016

Lexington and Concord: The Start of Independence

by Marcus Michelson
An engraving of the Battle of Lexington (Image via Wikimedia Commons)
An engraving of the Battle of Lexington (Image via Wikimedia Commons)

On this date in 1775, the American Revolutionary War began with the battles of Lexington and Concord.

Here are some things you may not have known about the start of the war and the battles themselves.

Following the French and Indian War in 1763, the British government found itself deep in debt. Parliament passed several measures meant to increase tax revenues from the American colonies. The Stamp Act of 1765 and the Townshend Acts of 1767 are examples. Many colonists argued that Parliament was taking taxes without the consent of representatives, counter to the British Constitution.

In 1773, Parliament passed the Tea Act, which allowed the British East India Company to sell tea directly to the colonies. The act also added a tax on tea. This, being another example of taxation without representation, led to the Boston Tea Party of December 16, 1773, when a group of colonists destroyed several tons of tea by pitching it overboard.

Parliament responded to the Boston Tea Party by passing the Coercive Acts, which were known as the Intolerable Acts in the colonies. The first of the acts closed the port of Boston until the East India Company had been repaid for its tea and the king felt order had been restored. The second brought control of the local government under the supervision of the king. The third allowed all trials for royal officials to be held in Great Britain. The fourth allowed British troops to be housed in private buildings if other quarters were not provided.

Instead of the desired effect of stamping out the radical element among the colonists, it had exactly the opposite effect. The acts were so punitive that it was difficult to find anyone to defend Parliament. It also caused other American colonies to sympathize with Massachusetts and led to the formation of the First Continental Congress. This led to a boycott of British goods and a mutual assistance pact between the colonies.

The crown had little control of the colony outside of Boston, where its troops were garrisoned. This allowed the colonists to form an illegal government and train local militias. By February 1775, the British government declared Massachusetts to be in a state of rebellion.

The British sent about 700 soldiers to find and destroy military supplies held by the Massachusetts Militia in Concord. On April 18, 1775, Paul Revere began his midnight ride to warn the towns of Lexington and Concord. The next day the British entered Lexington, where the first shots were fired. The militia was outmanned and quickly retreated. The British continued on to Concord. There, at the North Bridge, the first real exchange of gunfire happened. The Americans capitalized on their larger numbers and the lack of effective leadership on the part of the British to force them to retreat to Boston. As the British retreated, colonists continued to fire on the British, who were rescued by troops under General Hugh Percy.

The British reached Boston, followed closely by the Americans who cut off land access to the peninsula. This eventually led to the Siege of Boston and the British evacuation of the city.

During the battles of Lexington and Concord, a total of 73 British troops were killed and 174 were wounded. 49 Americans died and 39 were wounded.

Paul Revere’s ride made famous the phrase “one if by land, two if by sea.” Our question: Which signal was given that night?

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