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Friday, December 26, 2014

IT'S ALL IN THE NAME

Despite popular belief, Lexington’s militia was not known in 1775 as the “Lexington Minute Men”.  Available research suggests a formal minute company had yet to be established by April, 1775.  This is not to say that the town made no effort to establish a minute company.  On December 28, 1774, the town voted “to provide bayonets at the town’s cost for one third of the training soldiers.”[1]  However, other period accounts, including the correspondence from the Reverend William Gordon, suggest the Lexington militia was only divided into two bodies:  The Training Band and Alarm List.  A minute company simply did not exist in Lexington. 

The Lexington Alarm List would have been composed of men over the age of sixty and served as a reserve to the Training Band.  Period documents from the town support the proposition that its militia was officially known as “Training Band” and its soldiers were called “training soldiers”.   For example, In November of 1774, the selectmen of the town voted to tax itself “forty pounds for the purpose of mounting cannon, ammunition, for a pair of drums for the use of the Training Band in the town and for carriage and harness for burying the dead.”[2] 

However, depositions from some of the Lexington militiamen in the aftermath of the Battle of Lexington informally referred to their town militia not as the Lexington Training Band, but as “Captain Parker’s Company”.  On April 25, 1775, Simon Winship stated the British troops “marched on till they came within a few Rods of Captain Parkers Company.”[3]  A day earlier, John Robbins asserted “that on the Nineteenth Instant, the Company under the Command of Captain John Parker, being drawn up (sometime before sun Rise) on the Green or Common.”[4]  William Draper stated “I, William Draper, of lawful Age, and an Inhabitant of Colrain, in the County of Hampshire, and Colony of Massachusetts Bay, in New England, do testify and Declare, that, being on the Parade of said Lexington, April 19th Instant, about half an hour before sunrise, the King's Regular Troops appeared at the meeting House of Lexington. Captain Parkers Company, who were drawn up back of said meeting house on the Parade, turned from said Troops, making their escape, by dispersing; in the meantime, the Regular Troops made an huzza, and ran towards Captain Parkers Company.”[5]   

Surprisingly, a third name, “Lexington Company”, was also utilized by the town’s militiamen.  In other depositions immediately following the Battle of Lexington, no less than five Lexington men refer to their unit as “The Lexington Company”.  “I, Elijah Saunderson, above named, do further testifie and declare, that I was on Lexington Common, the Morning of the Nineteenth of April, aforesaid, having been dismissed by the Officers above mentioned, and saw a Large Body of Regular Troops advancing toward Lexington Company.”[6]  According to Benjamin Tidd, “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 before any guns were fired by the Lexington Company.”[7]  Finally, Timothy Smith recalled “I saw a large body of regular troops marching up towards the Lexington company, then dispersing, and likewise saw the regular troops fire on the Lexington company, before the latter fired a gun; I immediately ran, and a volley was discharged at me, which put me in imminent danger of losing my life; I soon returned to the Common, and saw eight of the Lexington men who were killed, and lay bleeding at a considerable distance from each other; and several were wounded: And further saith not.”[8]
           
            Thus, confusion still remains as to the official title of the Lexington militia that fought at the Battle of Lexington.  Town records refer to the company as “The Training Band.  That said, it was not outside the realm of possibility that many members of the organization commonly referred to themselves informally as “The Lexington Company” or “Captain Parker’s Company”.  As a result, all three names are proper references to the militia unit that fought at the Battle of Lexington.   



[1] Declarations and Resolves, Town of Lexington, December 28, 1774.
[2] Lexington Town Records, November 10 - December 27, 1774, Lexington Town Hall.
[3] Deposition of Simon Wisnship, April 25, 1775.
[4] Deposition of John Robbins, April 24, 1775.
[5] Deposition of William Draper, April 25, 1775.
[6] Deposition of Elijah Sanderson, April 25, 1775.
[7] Deposition of Benjamin Tidd, April 25, 1775.
[8] Deposition of Timothy Smith, April 25, 1775.

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