A post discussing committees of safety will have to wait because I found something absolutely fascinating! April 19th marked the anniversary of the Battle of Lexington. The troops which Paul Revere and William Dawes had warned of arrived in Lexington. A standoff between the British troops and local militia took place, and in what is often referred to as “the shot heard round the world,” the American Revolution began. It was critical that notice of the battle reach key people and militia groups which had formed throughout the Colonies, but how would the news be spread? The answer was through communications between the committees of correspondence which I discussed in the previous post.
The initial letter about the Battle of Lexington has become known as the “Lexington Alarm.” It was authored by a member of the Massachusetts Committee of Safety named Joseph Palmer. The letter ended with Palmer’s signature. The attached image is a copy created by the Committee of Correspondence of Worchester. By the time it reached Worchester, it had already been reviewed by 10 other committees of correspondence.
The Lexington Alarm was carried more than 350 miles during a 5 day journey by one or more express riders. The route passed from Massachusetts through Connecticut, New York, New Jersey, and ended in Philadelphia. The Lexington Alarm may have been solely carried by a 23 year old East Windsor, Connecticut resident named Israel Bissell who was actually named in the document. His name may have been included in the original letter in order to increase its validity. Other copies refer to him as Isaac Bissell. Bissell rushed so quickly to carry the news that his horse died when he reached Worchester.
Read for yourself the news that spread from Massachusetts about the Battle of Lexington:
“PHILADELPHIA, April 24, 1775.
An express arrived at 5 o’clock this evening, by which we have the following advices, viz.
WATERTOWN, Wednesday morning, near 10 o’clock
To all FRIENDS of AMERICAN LIBERTY,
Be it known, that this morning, before break of day, a brigade, consisting of about 1000 or 1200 men, landed at Phipps farm, at Cambridge, and marched to Lexington, where they found a company of our colony militia in arms, upon whom they fired, without any provocation, and killed six men, and wounded four others. By an express from Boston, we find another brigade is now on its march from Boston supposed to be about 1,000. The Bearer, Israel Bissell, is charged to alarm the country, quite to Connecticut; and all persons are desired¬¬ to furnish him with fresh horses, as they may be needed. I have spoken with several, who have seen the dead and wounded. Pray let the Delegates from this colony to Connecticut see this; they know Col. Foster, one of the Delegates.
J. Palmer, one of the committee of safety
A true copy from the original, by order of the committee of correspondence of Worchester, April 1775.
Attended and forwarded by the committees of Brookline, Norwich, New London, Lyme, Saybrook, Killingsworth, E. Guilford, Fuilford, Brandford, Newhaven.”
What happened next? The letter was copied, commented upon, and endorsed by the members of the other committees of correspondence who reviewed it. The following is another copy of the Lexington Alarm as copied by Eb. Williams. It also bore a reference to Colonel Obadiah Johnson. Both of whom appear to reside in Canturbury. Note the similarity to the above listed document, but this letter ends with information about what occurred while the British troops were in Concord:
“PHILADELPHIA, April 24, 1775.
A express arrived at 5 o’clock this evening, by which we have the following advices.
Watertown, Wednesday Morning, near 10 o’clock
To all FRIENDS of AMERICAN LIBERTY.
Be it known that this morning before break of day a brigade consisting of about 1000 to 1200 men landed at Phipp’s Farm and Cambridge and marched to Lexington, where they found a company of our Colony militia in arms, upon whom they fired without any provocation, and killed six men and wounded four others.
The regulars, when in Concord, burned the Court House, took two pieces of cannon, which they rendered useless, and began to take up Concord bridge, on which Capt. Davis (who, with many on both sides, were soon killed), made an attack on the King’s troops, on which they retreated to Lexington.”
I found another reference to Williams’ copy which had an additional paragraph. “I am this moment informed by express from Woodstock taken from the mouth of the express that arrived there 2 of the clock afternoon, that the contest between the first brigade that marched to Concord was still continuing this morning at the town of Lexington to which said brigade had retreated. That another brigade said to be the second mentioned in the letter of this morning had landed with a quantity of artillery at the place where they first did. Provincials were determined to prevent the two brigades from joining their strength if possible and remain in great need of Succour.” No doubt the additional paragraph was added to different copy of Williams’ letter from the one which I reviewed.
Other endorsements and copies of the Lexington Alarm include instructions to gather troops and comments regarding conditions of the roads or crossings. It is clear that the rider(s) traveled with little or no rest. The copy endorsed by the committee in Saybrook was done so at 4:00 a.m.. It is unknown how many people were notified directly or indirectly about the events on April 19th via the Lexington Alarm, but the news spread like wildfire. In Connecticut alone, more than 3600 men from 48 different towns responded to the call to action in the letter.
The Lexington Alarm reached Philadelphia on April 24, 1775 at 5:00 p.m. More than 8000 Philadelphians heard the news from Lexington after being summoned by the state house bell. The final endorsement of the letter ended with “Account of the battle of Lexington sent by express from town to town. This is the paper sent to Philadelphia and delivered to me by one of the committee. Eben Hazard.” The Lexington Alarm was the rallying cry that led thousands of men to take up arms and move toward Boston. The Second Continental Congress met in May, 1775. At that time, they appointed George Washington as the commander of the Continental Army.
The Massachusetts Provincial Congress later reimbursed Israel Bissell two pounds one shilling for his service in spreading the Lexington Alarm. While it is unclear if he was the only rider who carried this history changing news, he appears to be the only rider who received payment for his work.
Please take a moment to reflect upon What IS Right With America!
Susan C. Rempel, Ph.D.