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Tuesday, April 11, 2017

"This is My Little Girl That I Was So Afraid the Red Coats Would Get" - The Civilian Evacuation of Lexington

In our last post, we discussed an interpretive program that McAlpin's Corps of American Volunteers would be undertaking this Saturday at Minute Man National Historic Park. The program will bring attention to the April 19, 1775 civilian evacuation of the homes along the Battle Road.

In order to give the event proper context, we at Historical Nerdery would like to share additional accounts of Lexington civilians fleeing from the British column. Keep in mind the civilians of Lexington evacuated the town twice. Once before the Battle of Lexington and once afterwards.


During the initial evacuation, it appears that many non-combatants left their homes between midnight and two o'clock in the morning. Understandably, many were anxious as to what the day would bring. Anna Munroe, wife of tavern-keeper William Munroe, would later admit, “I mixed my bread last night with tears coming, for I feared I should have no husband when the next mixing came."

Most Lexington women and children escaped to the safety of nearby woods and fields. Abigail Harrington, took her younger children “down a lane back of the house across a meadow to the old place on Smock Farm.” Anna Munroe fled Munroe Tavern with her three children and hid on a hill behind the establishment.
Of course, others traveled to nearby towns. As news of the fighting spread, the Mead women fled to Burlington. Likewise, at the Reverend Clarke parsonage, the family bundled the children and also fled to Burlington.

The Rev. William Gordon of Roxbury recounted “the inhabitants had quitted their houses in the general area upon the road, leaving almost everything behind them, and thinking themselves well off in escaping with their lives.” Some escaped with a few select belongings. Others quickly hid or buried valuables before leaving. One 19th century Lexington account suggests many residents "hid their silver and mirrors and many other things in Russell’s swamp beyond Munroe’s brook." The Reverend Clarke's family hid “money, watches, and anything down in the potatoes.”


For some women, the flight was particularly difficult. Four women (Sarah Marrett, Amity Pierce, Sarah Reed and Betty White) were likely still in bed after recently giving birth over the past month. Three others (Dorcus Parker, Elizabeth Estabrook and Lydia Harrington) were within a few weeks of delivering. In fact, Sarah Reed and her newborn child had to be carried out her home on a mattress by her husband and parents.

Francis Brown’s widow recalled that the Lexington roads were clogged with “women and children weeping."

Unfortunately, some families waited until the last moment to escape and came in direct contact with the British army. Anna Munroe, daughter of William and Anna, was five years old when the Battles of Lexington and Concord took place. After returning to Munroe Tavern following the first evacuation, the family was forced to flee again. According to her 19th Century account, Anna “...could remember seeing the men in red coats coming toward the house and how frightened her mother was when they ran from the house. That was all she could remember, but her mother told her of her very unhappy afternoon. She held Anna by the hand, brother William by her side and baby Sally in her arms . . . She could hear the cannon firing over her head on the hill. She could smell the smoke of the three buildings which the British burned between here and the center of Lexington. And she did not know what was happening to her husband, who was fighting, or what was happening within her house. . . Anna’s mother used to talk to her of what happened on April 19th and she remembered that her mother used to take her on her lap and say: ‘This is my little girl that I was so afraid the Red coats would get.’”

In our next posting Historical Nerdery will discuss the aftermath of the British Retreat through Lexington.


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