Resistance which the Laws of God and Nature Justified – Part I

British Retreat from Lexington and Concord, Amos Doolittle 1775

in about Warren

Date: mid-to-late 1775 and showing the 1776 date.

An Account of the Commencement of Hostilities between Great Britain and America, in the province of Massachusetts Bay, by the Rev. Mr. William Gordon, of Roxbury, in a letter to a gentleman in England.

This colony, judging itself justified of the undoubted right to the chartered priveleges which had been granted by our glorious deliverer King William III, and finding that the continent was roused by the measures and principles of administration, was determined upon providing the necessary requisites for self-defence, in case there should be an attempt to support the late unconstitutional acts by the point of the sword, and upon making that resistance which the laws of God and nature justified, and the circumstances of the would admit, and so to have it with the righteous Judge of the world to settle the dispute. Accordingly the Provincial Congress, substituted by the inhabitants in lieu of the General Assembly, which could not convene but by the call of the Governor, prepared a quantity of stores for the service of an army, whenever the same might be brought into the field. These stores were deposited in various places; many of them at Concord, about twenty miles from Charlestown, which lies on the other side of the river, opposite Boston, answering to Southwark, but without the advantage of a bridge. It was apprehended by numbers, from the attempt made to forprise some cannon at Salem on Feb. 26, that there would be something of the like kind in other places, and many were uneasy, after the resolutions of the parliament were known, that any quantity of stores was within so small a distance to Boston, while there was no regular force established for the defence of them. Several were desirous of raising an army instantly upon hearing what had been determined at home, but it was judged upon the whole not to do it, as that step might be immediately construed to the disadvantage of the colony by the enemies of it, and might not meet with the unanimous approbation of the Continental Congress.

Here I must break off for a few minutes, to inform you, by way of episode, that on the 30th of March the Governor ordered out about 1100 men to parade it for the distance of about five miles to Jamaica Plains, and so round by the way of Dorchester back again; in performing which military exploit, they did considerable damage to the stone fences, which occasioned a Committee’s being formed, and waiting upon the Provincial Congress, then at Concord, on the point of adjourning, which prevented their adjournment, and lengthened out the session until the news of what Parliament had done reached them on April 2d, by a vessel from Falmouth, which brought the account before the Governor had received his dispatches, so that obnoxious persons took the advantage of withdrawing from Boston, or keeping away, that they might not be caught by the General, were orders for that given him from home, as there is much reason to suppose was the case, from a hint in an intercepted letter Mr. Mauduit’s to Commissioner Hallowell, and from subsequent intelligence.

The tories had been for a long while filling the officers and soldiers with the idea, that the Yankees would not fight, but would certainly run for it, whenever there was the appearance of hostilities on the part of the regulars. They had repeated the story so often, that they themselves really believed it, and the military were persuaded to think the same, in general, so that they held the country people in the utmost contempt. The officers had discovered, especially since their warlike feat of tarring and feathering, a disposition to quarrel, and to provoke the people to begin, that they might have some colour for hostilities: This cast of mind was much increased upon the news of what Parliament had resolved upon; the people however bore insults patiently, being determined that they would not be the aggressors.

At length the General was fixed upon sending a detachment to Concord to destroy the stores, having been, I apprehend, worried into it by the native tories that were about him, and confirmed in his design by the opinion of his officers, about then of whom, on the 18th of April, passed over Charlestown-ferry, and by the neck through Roxbury, armed with swords and pistols, and placed themselves on different parts of the road in the night, to prevent all intelligence, and the country’s being alarmed; they stopped various persons, threatened to blow their brains out, ordering them to dismount, &c. The grenadier and light infantry companies had been taken off duty some days, under pretence of learning a new exercise, which made the Bostonians jealous; one and another were confirmed in their suspicions by what they saw and heard on the 18th. so that expresses were forwarded to alarm the countryside, some of whom were secured by officers on the road; the last had not got out of town more than about five minutes, ere the order arrived to stop all persons from leaving the town.

An alarm was spread to many places (to some the number of officers on the road to Concord proved an alarm) however, as there had been repeated false ones, the country was at a loss what to judge. On the first of the night, when it was very dark, the detachment, consisting of all the grenadiers and light infantry, the flower of the army to the amount of 800 or better, officers included, the companies having been fitted up, and several of the inimical torified natives, repaired to the boats, and got into them just as the moon rose, crossed the water, landed on Cambridge side, took through a private way to avoid discovery, and therefore had to go through some places up to their thighs in water. They made a quick march of it to Lexington, about 13 miles from Charlestown, and got there by half an hour after four.

Here I must pause again, to acquaint you that in the morning of the nineteenth before we had breakfasted, between eight and nine, the whole neighborhood was in alarm; the minute men {so called from their having agreed to turn out at a minute’s warning} were collecting together; we had an account that the regulars had killed six of our men at Lexington; the country was in an uproar; another detachment was coming out of Boston / and I was desired to take care of myself and partner. I concluded that the brigade was intended to support the grenadiers and light infantry, and to cover their retreat, in which I was not mistaken. The brigade took out two cannon, the detachment had none. The brigade under Lord Percy marched out, playing, by way of contempt, Yankee Doodle; they were afterwards told, they had been made to dance to it.

Soon after the affair, knowing what untruths are propagated by each party in matters of this nature, I concluded that I would ride to Concord, enquirer for myself, and not rest upon the depositions that might be taken by others; accordingly I went. [To be continued next week]

Source: Gordon, William: “An Account of the Commencement in: Stearns, Samuel, The North American Almanack, And Gentleman’s and Lady’s Diary, For the Year of our Lord Christ 1776, I. Thomas in Worcester [MA]; B. Edes, in Watertown [MA], and S[amuel]. and E[benezer]. Hall in Cambridge [MA], pages 5-15 . The text and commentary appears in Murdock, Howard. 1927. “Letter of Reverend William Gordon, 1776.”  Proceedings of the Massachusetts Historical Society LX:360-366. See also Commanger, Henry Steel, and Richard B. Morris. 1968. The Spirit of Seventy-Six – The Story of the American Revolution as Told by Participants. New York: Harper and Row. Extracted pp. 78-79. I have divided William Gordon’s account into two parts, the better to appeal to we modern readers possessing Twitter-like attention spans.

Commentary: This almanac was probably printed early in the Siege of Boston. By recounting a detailed account of the April 19, 1775 Battles of Lexington and Concord, but nothing of the June 17th action on Bunker Hill, one might assert that this account was composed in late spring, prior to the summer and autumn of 1775. The latest chronological internal reference is to General Gage’s Circumstantial Account, which became available in New England by early May 1775. Dating it on the cover to the following year, the time of a celestial almanac’s intended use, would have been typical of printing and sales practices of the time.

Similar accounts by William Gordon, differing in notable respects, appeared in colonial newspapers outside New England during 1775. In the next posting I shall parse those differences and extend the analysis and inferences offered by Todd Andrlik, our favorite authority on Colonial American newspapers, in the on-line Journal of the American Revolution.

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