Friday, April 18, 2014

Eyewitness to the Battle of Lexington, 19 April 1775

The Munroe Tavern, Lexington, Massachusetts

This is the deposition of William Munroe made 7 March 1825, on the occasion of the 50th anniversary of the Battles of Lexington and Concord.  He was a second cousin to my ancestor, Andrew Munroe.   There were nine Munroe men present at the Battle of Lexington, and two of the eight men killed at the village green were Munroes.   The Jonas Parker mentioned in this deposition was married to Andrew Munroe’s younger sister, Lucy.   William Munroe (1742 – 1827) was the sergeant of the Lexington militia and an innkeeper.  He died on 30 October 1827, just two years after making his statement:

“I, William Munroe, of Lexington, on oath do testify, that I acted as orderly sergeant in the company commanded by Captain Parker, on the 19th of April, 1775; that early in the evening of the 18th of the same April, I was informed by Solomon Brown, who had just returned from Boston, that he had seen nine British officers on the road, traveling leisurely, sometimes before and sometimes behind him; that he had discovered, by the occasional blowing aside of their top coats that they were armed. On learning this, I supposed they had some design upon Hancock and Adams, who were then at the house of the Reverend Mr. Clarke, and immediately assembled a guard of eight men, with their arms to guard the house. About midnight, Colonel Paul Revere rode up the road and requested admittance. I told him that the family had just retired, and had requested, that they might not be disturbed by any noise about the house. "Noise!" said he, "you'll have noise enough before long. The regulars are coming out." We then permitted him to pass. Soon after, Mr. Lincoln came. These gentlemen came different routes, Revere came over the ferry to Charlestown, and Lincoln over the neck through Roxbury; and both brought letters from Dr. Warren in Boston to Hancock and Adams, stating that a large body of British troops had left Boston, and were on their march to Lexington. On this, it was thought advisable, that Hancock and Adams should withdraw to some distant part of the town. To this Hancock consented with great reluctance, and said, as he went off. "If I had my musket, I would never turn my back upon these troops." I however conducted them to the north part of town, and then returned to the meeting-house, where I arrived at about two o'clock on the morning of the 19th. On the arrival of Colonel Paul Revere, the alarm had been given, and, on my return, I found Captain Parker and his militia company paraded on the common, a little in the rear of the meeting-house. About this time, one of our messengers, who had been sent toward Cambridge to get information of the movement of the regulars, returned and reported, that he could not learn, that there were any troops on the road from Boston to Lexington, which raised some doubt as to their coming, and Captain Parker dismissed his company, with orders to assemble again at the beat of the drum. Between day-light and sun-rise Captain Thaddeus Bowman rode up and informed, that the regulars were near. The drum was then ordered to be beat, and I was commanded by Captain Parker to parade the company, which I accordingly did, in two ranks, a few rods northerly of the meeting-house.

When the British troops had arrived within about a hundred rods of the meeting-house, as I was afterwards told by a prisoner, which we took, "they heard our drum, and supposing it to be a challenge, they were ordered to load their muskets, and to move at double quick time." They came up almost upon a run. Colonel Smith and Major Pitcairn rode up some rods in advance of their troops, and within a few rods of our company, and exclaimed, "Lay down your arms, you rebels, and disperse!" and immediately fired his pistol. Pitcairn then advanced with his troops, and finding we did not disperse, they being within four rods of us, he brought his sword down with great force, and said to his men, "Fire, damn you, fire!" The front platoon, consisting of eight or nine, then fired, without killing or wounding any of our men. They immediately gave a second fire, when our company began to retreat, and as I left that field, I saw a person firing at the British troops from Buckman's back door, which was near our left, where I was parading the men when I retreated. I was afterward told, of the truth of which I have no doubt, that same person after firing from the back door, went to the front of Buckman's house, and fired there. How many of our company fired before they retreated, I can not say; but I am confident some of them did. When the British troops came up, I saw Jonas Parker standing in the ranks, with his balls and flints in his hat, on the ground, between his feet, and heard him declare, that he would never run. He was shot down at the second fire of the British, and, when I left, I saw him struggling on the ground, attempting to load his gun, which I have no doubt he had once discharged at the British. As he lay on the ground, they ran him through with the bayonet. In the course of the day, I was on the ground where the British troops were when they first heard our drum beat, which was one hundred rods below the meeting-house, and saw the ends of a large number, I should judge two hundred, of cartridges which they had dropped, when they charged their pieces. About noon I was at the north part of the town, at the house Mr. Simmonds, where I saw the late Colonel Baldwin, who informed me, that he had the custody of some prisoners, that had been put under his charge, and requested to know of me what should be done with them. I gave my opinion, that they should be sent to that part of Woburn, now Burlington, or to Chelmsford. On the return of the British troops from Concord, they stopped at my tavern house in Lexington, and dressed their wounds. I had left my house in care of a lame man, by the name of Raymond, who supplied them with whatever the house afforded, and afterwards, when he was leaving the house, he was shot by the regulars, and found dead within a few rods of the house.”

(signed) William Munroe

Here is William Munroe's obituary 15 November 1827 in the Pittsfield Sun, Pittsfield, Massachusetts 

"Death of another Revolutionary Hero

Died, at Lexington, on Monday the 29th ult [i.e., of last month], Col. WILLIAM MUNROE, aged 86 — Col. M. was orderly sergeant in the battle of Lexington, April 19, 1775, the commencement of the revolutionary war.—

On the night of the 18th previous, when several British officers were seen proceeding on horseback towards the town, with the supposed intention of arresting John Hancock and Samuel Adams, Col. M. commanded the sergeant’s guard, stationed for their protection at the house where those proscribed patriots were residents in Lexington. On the receipt of intelligence that 800 British troops were secretly marching the same route, Messrs. Hancock and Adams were persuaded to retire to Woburn, and Col. M. with his party joined the Lexington company, who were immediately after attacked, before sunrise of the 19th, by the whole British force, and about 20 of the Lexington militia killed or wounded.—

The company were ordered by their commander to disperse; and the British troops proceeded to Concord, where they destroyed the provincial stores. Their triumph, however, was of short continuance; the British guard of 100 men, stationed about a mile beyond Concord village, at the North Bridge, were attacked by the militia of Concord and the neighboring towns, and forced to retire upon their main body, leaving two killed, and the same number wounded. About two hours afterward, when the British commenced their return march to Boston, they were again assaulted by the militia until they arrived at Lexington, where they were waylaid and harassed by the Lexington company, and would probably soon have been forced to surrender, had they not been reinforced by Lord Percy’s brigade of 1500 men.—

They were, however, beaten back to Boston. Col. M. participated with his company in the events of the day, leaving the care of his public house [shown above] in the superintendance of a neighbor, whom the British killed on their retreat.

Till within a year or two past, like Cincinnatus, Col. M. labored on his farm.—On the occasion of the visit of Lafayette to Lexington, three years since, arm in arm these aged veterans reconnoitered the field of battle, previous to the delivery of the address to Lafayette from the Lexington committee; and he assisted at the laying the foundation stone of the Bunker Hill Monument on the 17th June 1825.

Col. M. has been ever esteemed by his fellow townsmen as well as by strangers, for his urbanity of manners and hospitality. As a member of the legislature and in municipal stations, he was respected for information, judgement and rectitude; and as a military officer, from a subaltern to a colonel, to which grade he rose, he was distinguished as an able tactician.

It is productive of a melancholy and heartfelt sensation, to follow to the grave “the house appointed for all the living,” one after another, those vast vestiges of “the times that tried men’s souls.” It seems like tearing from us our “household gods;” like removing the “ancient landmarks” of our nation’s birth; the objects of all that is venerable and sacred, till scarcely one is left to tell the tale of revolutionary prowess. But the consolation is, that they are gathered “like a shock of corn fully ripe,” blessed with the grateful recollections of their enfranchised countrymen, full of honors and good works, to a better and happier state of existence.

His funeral was attended by a large concourse of relations and friends."

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