Bloody News: Battles of Lexington & Concord Begin April 1775

Stirring front page news – as gripping as a breaking news bulletin on television today

Bloody News – This town has been in a continual alarm since Mid-day… the attack began at Lexington (about 12 miles from Boston) by the regular troops, the 18th Inft., before sunrise… From thence they proceeded to Concord where they made a general attack…

article about the Battles of Lexington and Concord, New Hampshire Gazette and Historical Chronicle newspaper article 21 April 1775

New Hampshire Gazette and Historical Chronicle (Portsmouth, New Hampshire), 21 April 1775, page 1

The British had attacked: the Battles of Lexington and Concord began the fighting between Great Britain and its 13 American colonies that led to the Revolutionary War and the founding of a new nation.

article about the Battles of Lexington and Concord, New Hampshire Gazette and Historical Chronicle newspaper article 21 April 1775

New Hampshire Gazette and Historical Chronicle (Portsmouth, New Hampshire), 21 April 1775, page 1

The reports continued to be published in Colonial newspapers up and down the coast. The newspapers printed them all – and the New Hampshire Gazette and Historical Chronicle added: “The foregoing is the different accounts we have receiv’d, but how far and what part is authentic, presume not to determine.”

This reads like any breaking news story today – when the reporters read every detail as the “raw news” comes in over the satellite feeds.

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The British had attacked and the committees of safety from colony to colony were responding and getting the word out – through the newspapers – that it was time to act.

Thanks to GenealogyBank’s Historical Newspaper Archives we can read the same newspapers our American colonial ancestors read and feel the impact of the news as they lived it. No other site has the depth of coverage found on GenealogyBank – spanning the news from 1690 to today.

Illustration: “The Midnight Ride of Paul Revere"

Illustration: “The Midnight Ride of Paul Revere.” Credit: National Archives’ Pictures of the Revolutionary War — Beginnings in New England, 1775-76; Wikimedia Commons.

In his long-famous poem, Henry Wadsworth Longfellow wrote of that day:

The Midnight Ride of Paul Revere
by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

Listen my children and you shall hear
Of the midnight ride of Paul Revere,
On the eighteenth of April, in Seventy-five;
Hardly a man is now alive
Who remembers that famous day and year.

He said to his friend, “If the British march
By land or sea from the town to-night,
Hang a lantern aloft in the belfry arch
Of the North Church tower as a signal light,
One if by land, and two if by sea;
And I on the opposite shore will be,
Ready to ride and spread the alarm
Through every Middlesex village and farm,
For the country folk to be up and to arm.”

Then he said “Good-night!” and with muffled oar
Silently rowed to the Charlestown shore,
Just as the moon rose over the bay,
Where swinging wide at her moorings lay
The Somerset, British man-of-war;
A phantom ship, with each mast and spar
Across the moon like a prison bar,
And a huge black hulk, that was magnified
By its own reflection in the tide.

Meanwhile, his friend through alley and street
Wanders and watches, with eager ears,
Till in the silence around him he hears
The muster of men at the barrack door,
The sound of arms, and the tramp of feet,
And the measured tread of the grenadiers,
Marching down to their boats on the shore.

Then he climbed the tower of the Old North Church,
By the wooden stairs, with stealthy tread,
To the belfry chamber overhead,
And startled the pigeons from their perch
On the sombre rafters, that round him made
Masses and moving shapes of shade,–
By the trembling ladder, steep and tall,
To the highest window in the wall,
Where he paused to listen and look down
A moment on the roofs of the town
And the moonlight flowing over all.

Beneath, in the churchyard, lay the dead,
In their night encampment on the hill,
Wrapped in silence so deep and still
That he could hear, like a sentinel’s tread,
The watchful night-wind, as it went
Creeping along from tent to tent,
And seeming to whisper, “All is well!”
A moment only he feels the spell
Of the place and the hour, and the secret dread
Of the lonely belfry and the dead;
For suddenly all his thoughts are bent
On a shadowy something far away,
Where the river widens to meet the bay,–
A line of black that bends and floats
On the rising tide like a bridge of boats.

Meanwhile, impatient to mount and ride,
Booted and spurred, with a heavy stride
On the opposite shore walked Paul Revere.
Now he patted his horse’s side,
Now he gazed at the landscape far and near,
Then, impetuous, stamped the earth,
And turned and tightened his saddle girth;
But mostly he watched with eager search
The belfry tower of the Old North Church,
As it rose above the graves on the hill,
Lonely and spectral and sombre and still.
And lo! as he looks, on the belfry’s height
A glimmer, and then a gleam of light!
He springs to the saddle, the bridle he turns,
But lingers and gazes, till full on his sight
A second lamp in the belfry burns.

A hurry of hoofs in a village street,
A shape in the moonlight, a bulk in the dark,
And beneath, from the pebbles, in passing, a spark
Struck out by a steed flying fearless and fleet;
That was all! And yet, through the gloom and the light,
The fate of a nation was riding that night;
And the spark struck out by that steed, in his flight,
Kindled the land into flame with its heat.
He has left the village and mounted the steep,
And beneath him, tranquil and broad and deep,
Is the Mystic, meeting the ocean tides;
And under the alders that skirt its edge,
Now soft on the sand, now loud on the ledge,
Is heard the tramp of his steed as he rides.

It was twelve by the village clock
When he crossed the bridge into Medford town.
He heard the crowing of the cock,
And the barking of the farmer’s dog,
And felt the damp of the river fog,
That rises after the sun goes down.

It was one by the village clock,
When he galloped into Lexington.
He saw the gilded weathercock
Swim in the moonlight as he passed,
And the meeting-house windows, black and bare,
Gaze at him with a spectral glare,
As if they already stood aghast
At the bloody work they would look upon.

It was two by the village clock,
When he came to the bridge in Concord town.
He heard the bleating of the flock,
And the twitter of birds among the trees,
And felt the breath of the morning breeze
Blowing over the meadow brown.
And one was safe and asleep in his bed
Who at the bridge would be first to fall,
Who that day would be lying dead,
Pierced by a British musket ball.

You know the rest. In the books you have read
How the British Regulars fired and fled,
How the farmers gave them ball for ball,
From behind each fence and farmyard wall,
Chasing the redcoats down the lane,
Then crossing the fields to emerge again
Under the trees at the turn of the road,
And only pausing to fire and load.

So through the night rode Paul Revere;
And so through the night went his cry of alarm
To every Middlesex village and farm,
A cry of defiance, and not of fear,
A voice in the darkness, a knock at the door,
And a word that shall echo for evermore!
For, borne on the night-wind of the Past,
Through all our history, to the last,
In the hour of darkness and peril and need,
The people will waken and listen to hear
The hurrying hoof-beats of that steed,
And the midnight message of Paul Revere.

April is National Poetry Month. Did you know GenealogyBank’s newspaper collection has a special search category for Poems & Songs? Come take a look today and see what poetic gems you can find.

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This Day in History, 10 September 1813: U.S. Wins Battle of Lake Erie

“We have met the enemy and they are ours.”—O.H. Perry

A collection of old newspapers, like GenealogyBank’s Historical Newspaper Archives, is an essential resource for genealogists trying to find their family stories and capture the details of their ancestors’ lives. Old newspapers also help us better understand the times our ancestors lived in, and the events they were probably thinking about and discussing with their family and friends.

On this day in history, 10 September 1813: the tiny U.S. Navy defeated the mighty British Navy in a hard-fought battle on the waters of Lake Erie. Right after the fighting ended, American Commodore Oliver Perry wrote on the back of an old envelope his famous message to General William Harrison: “We have met the enemy and they are ours.”

article about the U.S. winning the Battle of Lake Erie over the British during the War of 1812, American and Commercial Daily Advertiser newspaper 23 September 1813

American and Commercial Daily Advertiser (Baltimore, Maryland), 23 September 1813, page 2

During the 19th century the powerful British Royal Navy ruled the waves. However, during the War of 1812 one of the key clashes, the Battle of Lake Erie off the coast of Ohio, was a naval engagement in which the fledgling U.S. Navy completely defeated its British counterpart. On 10 September 1813 American Commodore Perry’s nine warships with 54 guns captured the entire British squadron of six warships with 61 guns led by Commodore Robert Barclay.

The nearly 3½ hour battle was hard-fought with similar casualties on both sides: the British lost 134 killed and wounded, the Americans 123. The battle did not start off well for the Americans, as Perry’s flagship Lawrence was badly damaged and most of its crew killed. He and his personal flag were rowed a half mile, while guns were roaring all around them, to take over the other large U.S. vessel, the Niagara. Perry dispatched the Niagara’s captain, Jesse Elliot, to command the smaller gunboats while he carried on the fight from the Niagara’s deck. Through sheer tenacity the Americans outfought the British, capturing all six ships and 306 men.

The American press quickly realized the significance of the morale-boosting victory.

Commodore Perry, American and Commercial Daily Advertiser newspaper article 25 September 1813

American and Commercial Daily Advertiser (Baltimore, Maryland), 25 September 1813, page 3

The British had controlled Lake Erie since the outset of the war, and used this advantage to capture Detroit. However, after the Battle of Lake Erie the U.S. controlled the lake for the rest of the war, enabling them to recapture Detroit and prevail at the crucial Battle of the Thames.

Were any of your ancestors or relatives involved in the Battle of Lake Erie 200 years ago? If so, please share with us in the comments.

Revolutionary War Recollections in Newspapers: Remembering General Putnam

Don’t fire until you see “the color of their eyes”—Colonial General Israel Putnam.

Isaac Basset fought with General Putnam at the Battle of Bunker Hill near Boston on 17 June 1775, an early battle in the American Revolutionary War. Although technically a British victory, they suffered more than twice as many casualties as the Colonial forces—who proved by their fierce fighting throughout the battle that they were willing and able to stand up to the experienced British troops.

Isaac Basset remembered the fighting well, and the stirring command of General Putnam that the Colonial troops not “fire on the enemy till they could see the color of their eyes, and then for every man to make sure of his mark.”

Years later, Basset and other soldiers who fought to gain America’s independence gave their recollections of their experiences in the Revolutionary War.

Revolutionary War recollections about General Putnam, Boston Centinel newspaper article 5 August 1818

Boston Centinel (Boston, Massachusetts), 5 August 1818, page 1

General Putnam was one of the true heroes of the Revolutionary War, and was even briefly in command of all the American forces before George Washington took over. He is honored to this day: parks, towns and taverns are named for him.

illustration of Revolutionary War hero General Putnam escaping the British at Greenwich, Connecticut

Image: General Putnam Escaping the British at Greenwich, Connecticut. Credit: Wiki Commons, Israel Putnam, Project Gutenberg eText 17049.

Get more recollections about General Putnam and other famous Revolutionary War heroes in historical newspaper articles at GenealogyBank.

Last Revolutionary War Widow Receives Final Pension—in 1906!

Introduction: Mary Harrell-Sesniak is a genealogist, author and editor with a strong technology background. In this guest blog post, Mary writes about the last Revolutionary War pension being paid in 1906—131 years after armed conflict began between Great Britain and its American colonies.

It seems hard to believe, but the last Revolutionary War pension was paid in 1906—131 years after the Battles of Lexington and Concord began the American Revolutionary War in 1775. That link to our country’s birth ended with the death of Esther (Sumner) Damon, the widow of Noah Damon and the last widow of the Revolutionary War to receive a pension.

Esther died 106 years ago (in 1906), having married her spouse 6 September 1835 when he was 75, and she, 21.

Death of Widow of Veteran of 1776, Duluth News-Tribune newspaper article, 12 November 1906

Obituary for Esther (Sumner) Damon, Duluth News-Tribune (Duluth, Minnesota), 12 November 1906, page 5

Noah served as a private with the Massachusetts troops, and applied for a war pension 13 November 1848 as a resident of Plainfield, New Hampshire. He died five years later, as shown in this death notice found in a historical newspaper.

Death notice for Noah Damon, New Hampshire Patriot newspaper article, 24 August 1853

Death notice for Noah Damon, New Hampshire Patriot (Concord, New Hampshire), 24 August 1853, page 3

The first pension Act was in 1776, so why didn’t Noah receive a war pension until 1848?

One might assume he wasn’t eligible for the government pension benefits, failing to meet one of the many requirements imposed by the legislature, such as disablement, rank or length of service.

“In CONGRESS August 26, 1776.

…Resolved, That every commissioned officer, who shall lose a limb in any engagement, or be so disabled in the service of the United States of America as to render him incapable, afterwards, of getting a livelihood, shall receive during his life, or the continuance of such disability, the one half of his monthly pay, from and after the time that his pay as an officer, or soldier, ceases; to be paid by the Committee as hereafter mentioned…”

Damon’s pension application stated he might have applied earlier, but had been a resident of Canada and “ignorant of his right.” He wrote that he

 “received a bayonet and wound in his right thigh, from the effect of which he has since suffered much pain and inconvenience the scar of which is very apparent to the present day.”

So how many pension acts were there?

Numerous—with each pension designed to accommodate the needs of soldiers and/or survivors.

Over time, the ranks of the public dole swelled—up to 1878, when Congress passed the final act (which also included the War of 1812).

It was an amazingly generous pension act, allowing a pension for just a minimum 14-day service for honorably discharged veterans, and imposing a short time period for the application process.

You could read about these pension acts for war veterans and their survivors in various historical sources, or you can delve into them yourself in GenealogyBank’s historical newspaper archives to see how these acts were presented to the public at the time they were enacted.

As an example, here is an old newspaper article describing the important pension act of 1780—the first to address the provision of war pensions to widows and orphans.

newspaper article about the 1780 pension act, Pennsylvania Packet newspaper, 19 September 1780

Article about the 1780 pension act, Pennsylvania Packet (Philadelphia, Pennsylvania), 19 September 1780, page 3

To help you with your Revolutionary War and War of 1812 pension research on your ancestors, here is a list of the dates for each pension act of Congress:

Pension Acts and Amendments

  • August 26, 1776
  • May 15, 1778
  • September 29, 1789
  • March 18, 1818
  • May 15, 1823
  • June 7, 1832
  • August 24, 1780
  • August 26, 1776
  • May 15, 1778
  • August 24, 1780 (first to address pay for widows and orphans)
  • October 21, 1780
  • March 22, 1783
  • September 29, 1789
  • March 23, 1792
  • April 10, 1806
  • March 18, 1818 (first to grant pensions for service only)
  • May 1, 1820
  • March 1, 1823
  • May 15, 1828
  • June 7, 1832
  • July 4, 1836
  • July 7, 1838
  • July 29, 1848 (widow marriage requirement prior to January 2, 1800)
  • March 9, 1878

Today in History: 200th Anniversary of the War of 1812

In September 1783 the newly-formed United States of America and Great Britain signed the Treaty of Paris, formally ending the American Revolutionary War. Less than 29 years later, however, the two countries were fighting once again when the U.S. declared war on Great Britain on June 18, 1812, beginning the three-year conflict known as the War of 1812.

Despite a much-smaller regular army and navy, the U.S. once again defeated the world’s superpower—aided by the fact that Great Britain was busily fighting the French during the Napoleonic Wars at that time. Having twice asserted its independence, the United States in the decades following the War of 1812 built itself up into one of the richest and most powerful nations in the world.

On this day in history that marks the War of 1812 bicentennial, we remember the brave American soldiers that have served our country throughout its history, fighting to protect our liberty. Historical newspapers are a terrific resource for finding information on your military ancestors and other ancestors who lived in times of war. You can not only find specific details about their individual lives, you can also read about the times they lived in and what wars and other current events were affecting their thoughts and actions.

If your ancestors were living in America on June 19, 1812, then they may well have picked up their local newspaper and read the following article about the U.S. declaration of war against Great Britain—no doubt with keen interest, and perhaps a mixture of excitement and apprehension:

article from the Alexandria Gazette newspaper, 19 June 1812, about the U.S. declaring war on Great Britain: War of 1812

Alexandria Gazette (Alexandria, Virginia), 19 June 1812, page 3

GenealogyBank’s online historical newspaper archives contain more than 6,100 newspapers from all 50 states, from 1690 to the present: over one billion articles to help with your family history research!

Search these historical newspaper archives and see what you can discover about your ancestors—and the times they lived in.