Skip to Main Content

American Revolution in Massachusetts

An overview of Massachusetts' history during America's Revolutionary Era.

April 19, 1775: Lexington, Concord, and Beyond

The first day of the war began with a lopsided battle on Lexington Green in response to a British expedition to seize colonial arms. It ended with British-occupied Boston being surrounded by thousands of colonial militiamen. While it is the Battles of Lexington and Concord that are most remembered, more men were killed or wounded during the British retreat from Concord to Boston than in the battles themselves.

American: 49 killed, 39 injured, 5 missing
British: 73 killed, 174 injured, 26 missing

American strategic victory

The British expedition was largely a failure, as they had not managed to seize a significant amount of the colonists’ weapons. News of the battles spread quickly and the action on that day was portrayed by leading Patriots as a violent attack by the British upon the colonists. The war had begun, and the colonists had proved that they were capable of taking on the military forces of the British.

Plaque commemorating ride of William Dawes at Dawes island in Cambridge, MA

After being warned by Paul Revere, William Dawes, and other riders that a contingent of 700 British Army regulars were marching towards Concord to seize colonial weapons, 77 Lexington militiamen gathered on Lexington Green early in the morning in an effort to halt their advance.

It is not known who fired the first shot of the battle, or what side they were on. The outnumbered militiamen were soon forced to retreat while the British continued towards Concord. Several militiamen died, while the British had only one soldier injured.

After arriving at Concord a contingent of 100 British troops were sent to guard North Bridge while other companies searched the town for weapons. The militiamen, now 400 strong, advanced towards North Bridge where the British fired on them to start the second round of fighting.

After returning fire the militiamen were able to force the now outnumbered British soldiers to retreat and re-join the rest of their cohort in Concord. More and more militiamen poured into the area as the British began marching back to Boston.

The return to Boston was a long and bloody trek, with numerous skirmishes breaking out along the way. An ever-growing number of militiamen and other colonists continually fired upon retreating British forces that would occasionally outflank and fire their canons on the now openly-rebellious people of Massachusetts.

The British soldiers finally reached the relative safety of Charlestown at around midnight, and the militiamen were ordered to withdraw into Cambridge. By morning nearly 15,000 militiamen from all over New England had arrived and formed a line extending from Chelsea to  Roxbury. Boston was effectively surrounded: the Siege of Boston had begun.

Map showing British retreat to Boston on April 19, 1775 (National Park Service)

Old North Bridge and the Daniel Chester French monument, Concord, MA
Photographs in the Carol M. Highsmith Archive, Library of Congress, Prints and Photographs Division.

Patriots’ Day was made a state holiday in Massachusetts in 1894, to commemorate the anniversary of the battles. It was celebrated on April 19 every year until 1969 when it was moved to the third Monday in April. It is also a state holiday in Maine, Wisconsin, and Connecticut.

Numerous ceremonies and reenactments of various events surrounding the battles are held every year in Eastern Massachusetts, including reenactments of the midnight rides of William Dawes, Samuel Prescott, and Paul Revere. The battles on Lexington Green and at Old North Bridge in Concord are also reenacted.

Paul Revere was made famous in the stirring, yet inaccurate, poem Paul Revere’s Ride by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow. William Dawes’ own midnight ride is commemorated by a traffic island named in his honor at the intersection of Garden Street and Massachusetts Avenue in Harvard Square.

Two minuteman statues were erected to commemorate the battles in Lexington and Concord. The Lexington statue is a representation of John Parker, a captain in the local militia. The Concord statue depicts a typical minuteman.