Sunday, November 14, 2021

"To Put Themselves in a Position of Defense Against Their Enemies" - Lexington Prepares for War

247 years ago this month, Massachusetts Bay Colony started its preparation for war with England. The launch of the war-time effort began after the Massachusetts Provincial Congress correctly surmised war with England was inevitable and the peoples of Massachusetts had to “consider what is necessary to be done for the defence and safety of the province.” As a result, the rogue legislative body passed a series of resolutions ordering the creation of minuteman companies, recommending proper drill exercises and the collection of military supplies.

One of the first towns to start their wartime preparations was Lexington. 

Four days after the Massachusetts Provincial Congress call for military readiness, Lexington held an emergency town meeting to plan “military discipline and to put themselves in a position of defense against their Enemies.” A week later, on November 10, 1774, the residents again gathered to discuss expanding the town’s stock of ammunition and powder. At the conclusion of the meeting, the men of Lexington resolved “Voted. That two half barrells of powdere be addede to the Town stocke. Also Voted that a sufficiency of ball for sd powdere be provided. Votede. That there be a suitable quantity of Flints provided for the Towne if there be found a deficency. . . That the Towne provide a pair of Drums for the use of the Military Company in Towne.”

Around the same time as Lexington was discussing the expansion of its military supplies, it also started to explore how to acquire cannons. In his critically acclaimed book, “The Road to Concord: How Four Stolen Cannon Ignited the Revolutionary War”, Mr. J. L. Bell discusses how Massachusetts residents were scrambling in late 1774 to obtain artillery pieces. Some of the guns, mostly iron cannons, were taken from coastal defenses around Boston and sent to Watertown.

According to research conducted by historian Joel Bohy and shared with the Nerds, several of the guns caught the attention of Lexington, Waltham, Concord and Lincoln. Its residents quickly pressed the selectmen to acquire a block of the cannons for the respective towns as part of a “bulk purchase”.

In early November, Lexington selectmen relented and announced the issue would be addressed at the next town meeting. Specifically, “Upon a request of a numbre of Inhabitants to see if the Town will fetch two small pieces of cannon from Watertown, offered by said Town for the use of the Company in this Towne.” A week later, the town approved the purchase of two guns. “Voted. . . to bring the two pieces of Cannon (mentioned in the warrant) from Watertown & mount them, at the at the Town charge.”

After approving the purchase of two cannons, in true Yankee fashion, the residents of Lexington voted to create a committee to explore the cheapest methods of mounting of the guns on carriages and building of ammunition boxes. “That a Comtee of three persons go to Watertown & see what the cost of mounting sd pieces will be & whether the carriages cannot be made by work men in this town”

It should be noted that the committee included Jonas Parker, an experienced woodworker and carpenter. Parker was later killed at the Battle of Lexington.

By the end of the month, Lexington acquired the two guns of the two cannons. On November 28, the twon “Voted . . . that the Selectmen receive the two pieces of cannon with their beds [from] the Towne of Watertowne and give receipts for the same on behalf of the Towne.”

As an aside, by late February 1775, it appears the guns were mounted on carriages but were rendered useless due to a lack of proper ammunition for the weapons.

In addition to stockpiling arms and ammunition, the town’s training band also assembled on the town common throughout November to drill and practice the evolutions of the 1764 Crown Manual. According to Reverend Jonas Clarke, the Lexington militia was continuously “training” and “showing arms” throughout the Fall of 1774. The 19th Century deposition by Lieutenant William Tidd asserted“that said company frequently met for exercise, the better to be prepared for defense.” Finally, Corporal John Munroe recalled “the company was frequently called out for exercise, and desired to furnish ourselves with arms and ammunition, and to be in constant readiness for action.”

Of course, Lexington did not simply conclude its wartime efforts as winter set in. In a future post, the Nerds will examine how the town expanded its wartime preparation efforts in December 1774, including documentary hints that the town took measures to create a minute company.