The column of British soldiers moved out from Boston late on the 18th, their mission to confiscate the American arsenal at Concord and to capture the Patriot leaders Sam Adams and John Hancock, known to be hiding in Lexington.
Boston Patriot leaders had been preparing for such an event. Sexton Robert John Newman and Captain John Pulling carried two lanterns to the steeple of the Old North church, signaling that the Regulars were crossing the Charles River to Cambridge. Dr. Joseph Warren ordered Paul Revere and Samuel Dawes to ride out and warn surrounding villages and towns, the two soon joined by a third rider, Samuel Prescott. It was Prescott alone who would make it as far as Concord, though hundreds of riders would fan out across the countryside, before the night was through.
The column entered Lexington at sunrise on April 19, bayonets gleaming in the early morning light. Armed with a sorry assortment of weapons, colonial militia was waiting, pouring out of Buckman Tavern and fanning out across the town square. Some weapons were hand made by village gunsmiths and blacksmiths, some decades old, but all were in good working order. Taking positions across the village green to block the soldiers’ line of march, 80 “minutemen” turned and faced 700 of the most powerful military, on the planet.
Words were exchanged and no one knows who fired the first shot. When it was over, eight Lexington men lay dead or dying, another ten wounded. One British soldier was wounded.
Vastly outnumbered, the militia soon gave way, as word spread and militia gathered from Concord to Cambridge. The King’s Regulars never did find the weapons for which they had come, nor did they find Adams or Hancock. There had been too much warning for that.
Regulars would clash with colonial subjects two more times that day, first at Concord Bridge and then in a running fight at a point in the road called “The Bloody Angle”. Finally, hearing that militia was coming from as far away as Worcester, the column turned to the east and began their return march to Boston.
Some British soldiers marched 35 miles over those two days, the final retreat coming under increasing attack from militia members firing from behind stone walls, buildings and trees.
One taking up such a firing position was Samuel Whittemore of Menotomy Village, now Arlington Massachusetts. At 80, Whittemore was the oldest known combatant of the Revolution.
Whittemore took a position by the road, armed with his ancient musket, two dueling pistols and the old cutlass captured years earlier from a French officer whom he explained had “died suddenly”.
Waiting until the last possible moment, Whittemore rose and fired his musket at the oncoming Redcoats: one shot, one kill. Several charged him from only feet away as he drew his pistols. Two more shots, one dead and one mortally wounded. He had barely drawn his sword when the Regulars were on him, a .69 caliber ball fired almost point blank tearing part of his face off, as the butt of a rifle smashed down on his head. Whittemore tried to fend off the bayonet strokes with his sword but he didn’t have a chance. He was run through thirteen times, before he lay still. One for each colony.
The people who came out of their homes to clean up the mess afterward found Whittemore, up on one knee, trying to reload his old musket.
Doctor Nathaniel Tufts treated the old man’s wounds as best he could, but there was nothing he could do. Sam Whittemore was taken home to die in the company of loved ones, which he did. Eighteen years later, at the age of ninety-eight.