Historical Overview

The Lexington Alarm

On April 18, 1775, British General Thomas Gage, then serving as Royal Governor of Massachusetts, dispatched approximately 700 British soldiers to the town of Concord to seize and destroy a large supply of weapons, ammunition and other warlike stores collected there by the Colonists for the purpose of “raising and supporting a rebellion against His Majesty…” King George III.

As the British soldiers set off on their 18 mile journey to Concord, alarm riders, like the celebrated Paul Revere, rode throughout the Massachusetts countryside raising the alarm that the “regulars” were on the march. Immediately, towns began mobilizing their militia and minute man  companies to march out and meet the regulars.

Following the opening skirmishes as Lexington and Concord, the British then had to make their return march to Boston through swarms of angry and highly motivated minute men and militia from as many as 27 surrounding towns. Casualties were high, especially for the British regulars who suffered 273 killed, wounded and missing out of 1700 engaged. The Colonists suffered 95 casualties all told, out of approximately 4000 engaged.

The fighting on April 19, 1775 between British Regulars and Colonial militiamen marked the beginning of the American Revolutionary War. The 4000 minute and militiamen who were engaged in battle that day were just the first of many more to come. By April 21st, nearly 20,000 militiamen were mobilized and marching towards Boston to besiege the British Army, now trapped in the town.

In the following months, the Massachusetts Provincial Congress wrestling with the logistics of such a large and rapid military mobilization, requested that all company commanders who led a company during the Lexington Alarm, to submit a muster roll, a list of names, of the men who served with their respective companies during this event. This was so the men could be paid for their service, mileage, days in camp, etc.

These muster rolls are now kept in the Massachusetts State Archives. In 1912, Historian Frank W. Coburn studied and transcribed the muster rolls of the 27 towns whose militiamen actually saw combat on April 19, 1775, and published his work. This remains a valuable resource for those researching the history of that famous event.