The opening shots of the American Revolution were fired on this day 235 years ago, on the town square in Lexington, Mass.
The result was hardly surprising given that just a few dozen patriots were facing several hundred regular British soldiers; eight colonists were killed and many others injured, while just a single British infantryman was wounded.
Yet from that beginning, the Thirteen Colonies eventually outworked, outmaneuvered and outlasted the British – the greatest military power of the time – and earned their independence.
On the morning of April 19, 1775, the British found themselves in Lexington, en route to Concord with secret orders to capture and destroy military supplies that were reportedly stored in that community by the Massachusetts militia.
As the advance guard of the British troops entered Lexington at sunrise, 77 Lexington militiamen emerged from a local tavern and stood in ranks on the village common watching them. Another 40 to 100 spectators watched from along the side of the road.
In large part, the militia effort was a family affair: Of the colonists who lined up, nine had the surname Harrington, seven Munroe, four Parker, three Tidd, three Locke and three Reed; fully one quarter of them were related to Captain John Parker in some way.
Parker was aware that his forces couldn’t match up to the British and it is said that he was not prepared to risk his forces. However, he was later supposed to have made a statement, “Stand your ground; don’t fire unless fired upon, but if they mean to have a war, let it begin here.”
To this day, no one knows for certain who fired the first shot. Some speculate that it came from someone away from the field of action while others have proposed that there may actually have been multiple near-simultaneous shots from both sides.
Witnesses at the scene described several intermittent shots fired from both sides before the lines of regulars began to fire volleys without receiving orders to do so. When the colonists realized they were heavily outgunned, they tried to scamper away. The British regulars then charged forward with bayonets.
The eight colonists killed were John Brown, Samuel Hadley, Caleb Harrington, Jonathon Harrington, Robert Munroe, Isaac Muzzey, Asahel Porter and Jonas Parker. Harrington, fatally wounded by a British musket ball, managed to crawl back to his home, where he died on his own doorstep.
As the militia fell back, the regulars proceeded on to Concord, where they searched for the supplies. But at the North Bridge in Concord, several hundred militiamen fought and defeated three companies of the King’s troops.
More militiamen arrived soon thereafter and inflicted heavy damage on the regulars as they marched back towards Boston.
In all, the colonists suffered about 50 killed on April 19, 1775, while the British lost about 80 men.
It was a stunning start to an event that would ultimately culminate in the creation of the United States of America.