On the afternoon of April 19, 1775 as Lieutenant Colonel Smith’s force of Regulars reached Lexington common where they had killed eight men and wounded ten others earlier that morning, things were not going in their favor. Minute and militia companies from all over the countryside swarmed the column on their return back to Boston, shooting at them from behind walls, barns, houses, and trees. The Regulars were low on ammunition and had lost a number of men killed and wounded.
Then Lord Percy arrived with his fresh relief force, a brigade of around one thousand men. As Reverend William Gordon described “But a little on this side Lexington Meeting-House where they were met by the Brigade, with cannon, under Lord Percy, the scene changed. The inhabitants had quitted their houses in general upon the road, leaving almost everything behind them, and thinking themselves well off in escaping with their lives. The soldiers burnt in Lexington three houses, one barn, and two shops, one of which joined to the house and a mill-house adjoining to the barn; other houses and buildings were attempted to be burnt, and narrowly escaped.” Things would get worse as both sides took out years of frustration on each other.
Primary sources record that the Regulars began shooting at doors and windows of every home along the route back to Boston. This was aimed at stopping the Provincials from inflicting casualties on the retreating army. In some cases the British set fire to homes along the way. At Buckman’s Tavern in Lexington, Smith’s forces began to meet up with Percy’s, and at least one musket shot struck the building. On March 13, 2020, we were able to examine the original front door displayed in the tavern just feet away from where it was originally hung. While this was part of a larger study that will be assembled and published at a later date, the anniversary of the event is a good chance to share a small piece of the much broader study.
The door was first inspected to verify its age and authenticity. It fits all of the construction methods for a door of the third quarter of the 18th century. The bullet hole is located close to the bottom edge of the door and measures approximately .70 in diameter. The exterior side of the door shows a fairly round entrance hole and an open path through the door at a very noticeable horizontal angle, but a fairly level vertical angle. The exit side is typical of others that we have documented in that as it passed through the door it blew out wood fragments from the inside panel leaving a splintered surface around the exit hole. Following the trajectory of the ball we could see where it would have likely impacted interior architectural elements but interior wall paneling in that location has been replaced since April 19, 1775, thus no secondary impact evidence could be located.
Using a ballistics rod and a compass, we were able to determine approximately where outside the tavern the shooter was standing when he fired. The tavern sits upon a noticeable rise that slopes towards Massachusetts Avenue. Looking at the grade changes outside the structure and combining that with the low impact point on the door and the nearly horizontal patch the bullet traveled through the door, we can surmise that it was likely fired fairly close to the tavern at the bottom of the slope in front. The trajectory matches what a soldier firing a musket from the natural firing position at this lower ground elevation could accomplish. This would more than likely make this strike from the Regulars return to Boston and Percy’s arrival and not earlier in the day. From this point on, the fighting would get heavier and more destructive to property as well as human life.
There are many other ball strikes from April 19 to be shared along with all of the data, but that will be saved for the much larger study. Stay tuned!
-Joel Bohy and Christopher Fox
As businesses and communities close their doors due to COVID-19, a major movement has taken place to create digital content that can be enjoyed in the comfort of your own home. This topic is constantly being covered in news articles as well as an online course regarding museum leadership in which I’m currently enrolled. Museums and historical sites have been forced to rethink the ways we interpret our collections, archives, and historic sites. Lexington Historical Society staff has been hard at work since we closed our offices in March creating ways to share our wonderful collections and knowledge with our community and those around the world. One aspect of our digital content had already been started over a year and a half ago when I began working with Scott and Siobhan Loftus-Reid of Mass 3D Spaces.
I first met with Scott and Siobhan after a suggestion by a board member to partner with Mass 3D Spaces, a local company that “specializes in creating immersive 3D interactive tours (powered by Matterport)." LHS Executive Director Erica McAvoy and I sat down with Scott and Siobhan to discuss how the Matterport technology they use for virtual real estate tours might assist in making Lexington’s history more accessible to a nationwide audience. After chatting with Siobhan and Scott about the technology and the passion they shared with Lexington Historical Society for sharing Lexington’s unique history, the decision was made to move forward and work together on this project.
With the assistance of a collection of reenactors and volunteers, Historical Society staff along with Siobhan and Scott have been meeting at our three historic houses and filming inside each location. During each photo shoot, we have been able to stage actors in our historic rooms to represent the historic people, periods, and aspects of each house’s unique history. We’ve been able to capture the panic of Aunt Lydia and Dorothy Quincy as they prepare to flee from the Hancock-Clarke House, the calm moments spent by Lexington’s militia in Buckman Tavern as they await the arrival of the British Regulars, and the chaotic scene at Munroe Tavern when British Regulars occupied the building for a portion of the afternoon on April 19, 1775. Once the three historic sites were photographed, I’ve been able to work with Siobhan to highlight artifacts and embed audio and video clips which will allow visitors to gain a better understanding of what happened at each location.
The original goal of the project was to allow schools nationwide who are unable to make the pilgrimage to Lexington to experience what it would be like to walk through these historic houses. It was also to allow visitors with physical limitations the ability to access the second floors of our historic homes and enjoy content discussed during that portion of the tours. I had envisioned the entire project being launched in May (peak field trip season). However due to the current situation, the decision was made for us to release the tours earlier. Now everyone who would normally be coming to visit can access the historic houses from the comfort of their own homes. So far, the Buckman Tavern and Hancock-Clarke House tours are available (for free!) with the tour of Munroe Tavern set to be released in the coming weeks.
I don’t think I will ever be able to thank Scott and Siobhan enough for their work on this project. Siobhan has been a huge help as I worked my way through selecting artifact images, audio clips, and video clips. She has been ever-patient and quick to reply as text and formatting edits are sent to her almost daily (I’m sure she’s getting tired of seeing my name pop up in her inbox, haha). I’d also like to thank Siobhan’s daughter, Saoirse, for working so patiently with two amateurs during the video shoot for the introductory video she filmed, edited, and created for the project. See below for an introduction video from myself and Siobhan.
I’d also be remiss if I didn’t thank my co-workers and Society volunteers for helping select artifacts and suggesting edits of the tours - your fresh eyes on the project were a huge help!
Finally, thank you to our visitors for their curiosity and passion for learning about Lexington and the history that Lexington Historical Society has to share. Without your curiosity and passion for interacting with our history, this project would never have been undertaken.
-Chris Kauffman, Education and Interpretation Manager
Featuring the voices of Lexington Historical Society permanent staff and occasional guest authors.