LEXINGTON, 1775. - When the second Continental Congress met (May 10, 1775), the mother country and her colonies had come to blows.

The people of Massachusetts, fearing that this might happen, had begun to collect and hide arms, cannon, and powder. General Gage, the royal governor of Massachusetts and commander of the British troops in Boston, was told that military supplies were concealed at Concord, a town some twenty miles from Boston (map, p. 168). Now it happened that in April, 1775, two active patriots, Samuel Adams [1] and John Hancock, were at Lexington, a town on the road from Boston to Concord. Gage determined to strike a double blow at the patriots by sending troops to arrest Adams and Hancock and destroy the military stores. On the evening of April 18, accordingly, eight hundred regulars left Boston as quietly as possible. Gage hoped to keep the expedition a secret, but the patriots in Boston, suspecting where the troops were going, sent off Paul Revere [2] and William Dawes to ride by different routes to Lexington, rousing the countryside as they went. As the British advanced, alarm bells, signal guns, and lights in the villages gave proof that their secret was out.

The sun was rising as the first of the British, under Major Pitcairn, entered Lexington and saw drawn up across the village green some fifty minutemen [3] under Captain John Parker. "Disperse, ye villains," cried Pitcairn; "ye rebels, disperse!" Not a man moved, whereupon the order to fire was given; the troops hesitated to obey; Pitcairn fired his pistol, and a moment later a volley from the British killed or wounded sixteen minutemen. [4] Parker then gave the order to retire.

THE CONCORD FIGHT. - From Lexington the British went on to Concord, set the courthouse on fire, spiked some cannon, cut down the liberty pole, and destroyed some flour. Meantime the minutemen, having assembled beyond the village, came toward the North Bridge, and the British who were guarding it fell back. Shots were exchanged, and six minutemen were killed. [5] But the Americans crossed the bridge, drove back the British, and then dispersed.

About noon the British started for Boston, with hundreds of minutemen, who had come from all quarters, hanging on their flanks and rear, pouring in a galling fire from behind trees and stone fences and every bit of rising ground. The retreat became a flight, and the flight would have become a rout had not reinforcements met them near Lexington. Protected by this force, the defeated British entered Boston by sundown. By morning the hills from Charlestown to Roxbury were black with minutemen, and Boston was in a state of siege.

When the Green Mountain Boys heard of the fight, they took arms, and under Ethan Allen [6] surprised and captured Fort Ticonderoga on Lake Champlain (map, p. 168).

THE SECOND CONTINENTAL CONGRESS. - On the day that Fort Ticonderoga was captured (May 10, 1775), the Continental Congress met at Philadelphia. It had been created, not to govern the colonies, nor to conduct a war, but merely to consult concerning the public welfare, and advise what the colonies should do. But war had begun, Congress was forced to become a governing body, and after a month's delay it adopted the band of patriots gathered about Boston, made it the Continental army, and appointed George Washington (then a delegate to Congress from Virginia) commander in chief.

Washington accepted the trust, and left Philadelphia June 21, but had not gone twenty miles when he was met by news of the battle of Bunker Hill.

BUNKER HILL, JUNE 17,1775. - Since the fight at Lexington and Concord in April, troops under General Howe, Sir Henry Clinton, and General Burgoyne had arrived at Boston and raised the number there to ten thousand. Gage now felt strong enough to seize the hills near Boston, lest the Americans should occupy them and command the town. Learning of this, the patriots determined to forestall him, and on the night of June 16 twelve hundred men under Prescott were sent to fortify Bunker Hill in Charlestown. Prescott thought best to go beyond Bunker Hill, and during the night threw up a rude intrenchment on Breeds Hill instead.

To allow batteries to be planted there would never do, so Gage dispatched Howe with nearly three thousand regulars to drive away the Americans and hold the hill. Coming over from Boston in boats, the British landed and marched up the hill till thirty yards from the works, when a deadly volley mowed down the front rank and sent the rest down the hill in disorder.

A little time elapsed before the regulars were seen again ascending, only to be met by a series of volleys at short range. The British fought stubbornly, but were once more forced to retreat, leaving the hillside covered with dead and wounded. Their loss was dreadful, but Howe could not bear to give up the fight, and a third time the British were led up the hill. The powder of the Americans was spent, and the fight was hand to hand with stones, butts of muskets, anything that would serve as a weapon, till the bayonet charges of the British forced the Americans to retreat. [7]

WASHINGTON IN COMMAND. - Two weeks later Washington reached Cambridge and took formal command of the army. For eight months he kept the British shut up in Boston, while he gathered guns, powder, and cannon, and trained the men.

To the Continental army mean time came troops from Virginia, Maryland, Pennsylvania, and of course from the four New England colonies, commanded by men who were destined to rise to high positions during the war. There was Daniel Morgan of Virginia, with a splendid band of sharpshooters, and Israel Putnam of Connecticut, John Stark and John Sullivan of New Hampshire, Nathanael Greene of Rhode Island, Henry Knox of Boston, Horatio Gates of Virginia, and Benedict Arnold and Charles Lee who later turned traitors.

THE HESSIANS. - When King George III heard of the fight at Bunker Hill, he issued a proclamation declaring the colonists rebels, closed their ports to trade and commerce, [8] and sought to hire troops from Russia and Holland. Both refused, whereupon he turned to some petty German states and hired many thousand soldiers who in our country were called Hessians. [9]

CANADA INVADED. - Now that the war was really under way, Congress turned its attention to Canada. It was feared that the British governor there might take Ticonderoga, enter New York, and perhaps induce the Indians to harry the New England frontier as they did in the old French wars. In the summer of 1775, therefore, two expeditions were sent against Canada. One under Richard Montgomery went down Lake Champlain from Ticonderoga and captured Montreal. Another under Benedict Arnold sailed from Massachusetts to the mouth of the Kennebec River, arid forced its way through the dense woods of Maine to Quebec. There Montgomery joined Arnold, and on the night of December 31, 1775, the American army in a blinding snowstorm assaulted the town. Montgomery fell dead while leading the attack on one side of Quebec, Arnold was wounded during the attack on the other side, and Morgan, who took Arnold's place and led his men far into the town, was cut off and captured. Though the attack on Quebec failed, the Americans besieged the place till spring, when they were forced to leave Canada and find shelter at Crown Point.

BOSTON EVACUATED. - During the winter of 1775-76, some heavy guns were dragged over the snow on sledges from Ticonderoga to Boston. A captured British vessel provided powder, and in March, 1776, Washington seized Dorchester Heights, fortified them, and by so doing forced Howe, who had succeeded Gage in command, to evacuate Boston, March 17.

WHIGS AND TORIES. - During the excitement over the Stamp Act, the Townshend Acts, and the tea tax, the people were divided into three parties. Those who resisted and - finally rebelled were called Whigs, or Patriots, or "Sons of Liberty." Those who supported king and Parliament were called Tories or Loyalists. [10] Between these two extremes were the great mass of the population who cared little which way the struggle ended. In New York, Pennsylvania, and the Carolinas the Tories were numerous and active, and when the war opened, they raised regiments and fought for the king.

FIGHTING IN THE CAROLINAS. - In January, 1776, Sir Henry Clinton sailed from Boston to attack North Carolina, and a force of sixteen hundred Tories marched toward the coast to aid. But North Carolina had its minutemen as well as Massachusetts. A body of them under Colonel Caswell met and beat the Tories at Moores Creek (February 27) and so large a force of patriots had assembled when Clinton arrived that he did not make the attack.

The next attempt was against South Carolina. Late in June, Clinton with his fleet appeared before Charleston, and while the fleet opened fire on Fort Moultrie (mol'try) from the water, Clinton marched to attack it by land. But the land attack failed, the fleet was badly damaged by shot from the fort, and the expedition sailed away to New York. [11]

INDEPENDENCE NECESSARY. - Prior to 1776 many of the colonies denied any desire for independence, [12] but the events of this year caused a change. After the battle of Moores Creek, North Carolina bade her delegates in Congress vote for independence. Virginia, in May, ordered her delegates to propose that the United Colonies be declared free and independent. South Carolina and Georgia instructed their delegates to assent to any measure for the good of America. Rhode Island dropped the king's name from state documents and sheriffs' writs, and town after town in Massachusetts voted to uphold Congress in a declaration of independence.

Thus encouraged, Congress, in May, resolved that royal authority must be suppressed, and advised all the colonies to establish independent governments. Some had already done so; the rest one by one framed written constitutions of government, and became states. [13]

INDEPENDENCE DECLARED. - To pretend allegiance to the king any longer was a farce. Congress, therefore, appointed Thomas Jefferson, Benjamin Franklin, John Adams, Roger Sherman, and Robert R. Livingston to write a declaration of independence, and on July 2, 1776, resolved: "That these United Colonies are, and of right ought to be, free and independent States, that they are absolved from all allegiance to the British Crown, and that all political connection between them and the state of Great Britain is, and ought to be, totally dissolved." [14] This is the Declaration of Independence. The document we call the Declaration contains the reasons why independence was declared. It was written by Jefferson, and after some changes by Congress was adopted on July 4, 1776, [15] and copied were ordered to be sent to the states.


1. Governor Gage, hearing that the people of Massachusetts were gathering military stores, sent troops to destroy the stores.

2. The battles at Lexington and Concord followed, and Boston was besieged.

3. The militia from the neighboring colonies gathered about Boston. They were formed into a Continental army by Congress, and Washington was appointed commander in chief.

4. The battle of Bunker Hill, meantime, took place (June, 1775).

5. King George III now declared the colonists rebels, shut their ports, and sent troops from Germany to subdue them.

6. An expedition of the patriots for the conquest of Canada failed (1775- 76).

7. But the British were forced to leave Boston (March, 1776).

8. British attacks on North Carolina and South Carolina came to naught.

9. July 4, 1776, the Declaration of Independence was adopted.


[1] Samuel Adams was born in Boston in 1722, graduated from Harvard College, and took so active a part in town politics that he has been called "the Man of the Town Meeting." From 1765 to 1774 he was a member of the Massachusetts Assembly, and for some years its clerk. He was a member of the committee sent to demand the removal of the soldiers after the massacre of 1770, and of that sent to demand the resignations of the men appointed to receive the tea, and presided over the town meeting that demanded the return of the tea ships to England. He was a member of the Continental Congress, and signed the Declaration of Independence. After the Revolution he was lieutenant governor and then governor of Massachusetts, and died in 1803.

[2] Revere went by way of Charlestown (map, p. 160), first crossing the river from Boston in a rowboat. As there was danger that his boat might be stopped by the British warships, two lanterns were shown from the belfry of the North Church as a signal to his friends in Charlestown; and when he landed there at midnight, he found the patriots astir, ready to give the alarm if he had not appeared. Read "Paul Revere's Ride" in Longfellow's Tales of a Wayside Inn.

[3] In 1774 the Provincial Congress of Massachusetts ordered one quarter of all the militiamen to be enlisted for emergency service. They came to be known as minutemen, and in 1775 the Continental Congress recommended "that one fourth part of the militia in every colony, be selected for minutemen ... to be ready on the shortest notice, to march to any place where their assistance may be required."

[4] Just before the fight began Adams and Hancock left Lexington and set out to attend the Congress at Philadelphia.

[5] Read Emerson's Concord Hymn; also Cooper's admirable description of the day's fighting in Lionel Lincoln.

[6] Ethan Allen was born in Connecticut in 1737, and went to Vermont about 1769. Vermont was then claimed by New York and New Hampshire, and when New York tried to enforce her authority, the settlers in "New Hampshire Grants" resisted, and organized as the "Green Mountain Boys" with Allen as leader. At Fort Ticonderoga Allen found the garrison asleep. The British commandant, awakened by the noise at his door, came out and was ordered to surrender the fort. "By what authority?" he asked. "In the name of the Great Jehovah and the Continental Congress," said Allen.

[7] Read Fiske's American Revolution, Vol. I, pp. 136-146, and Holmes's Grandmother's Story of Bunker Hill. The British lost 1054 and the Americans 449. Among the British dead was Pitcairn, who began the war at Lexington. Among the American dead was Dr. Warren, an able leader of the Boston patriots. While the battle was raging, Charlestown was shelled and set on fire and four hundred houses burned. Later, in October, a British fleet entered the harbor of Falmouth (now Portland in Maine), and burned three fourths of the houses. January 1, 1776, Lord Dunmore, royal governor of Virginia, set fire to Norfolk, the chief city of Virginia. The fire raged for three days and reduced the place to ashes. These acts are charged against the king in the Declaration of Independence: "He has plundered our seas, ravaged our coasts, burnt our towns, and destroyed the lives of our people."

[8] This is made a charge against the king in the Declaration: "He has abdicated government here by declaring us out of his protection, and waging war against us." And again, "For cutting off our trade with all parts of the world."

[9] The Duke of Brunswick, the landgrave of Hesse-Cassel, and four other princes furnished the men. Their generals were Riedesel (ree'de-zel), Knyp-hausen (knip'hou-zen), Von Heister, and Donop. The employment of these troops furnishes another charge against the king in the Declaration: "He is, at this time, transporting large armies of foreign mercenaries to complete the works of death, desolation, and tyranny." The first detachment of German troops landed on Staten Island in New York Bay on August 15, 1776. Before the war ended, the six petty German princes furnished 29,867, of whom 12,550 never returned. Some 5000 of these deserted.

[10] Before fighting began, the Tories were denounced and held up as enemies to their country; later their leaders were mobbed, and if they held office, were forced to resign. After the battle of Bunker Hill, laws of great severity were enacted against them. They were disarmed, forced to take an oath of allegiance, proclaimed traitors, driven into exile, and their estates and property were confiscated. At the close of the war, fearing the anger of the Whigs, thousands of Tories fled from our country to Jamaica, Bermuda, Halifax in Nova Scotia, and Canada. Some 30,000 went from New York city in 1782-83, and upward of 60,000 left our country during and after the war.

[11] While the battle was hottest, a shot carried away the flagstaff of Fort Moultrie. The staff and flag fell outside the fort. Instantly Sergeant William Jasper leaped down, fastened the flag to the ramrod of a cannon, climbed back, and planted this new staff firmly on the fort. A fine monument now commemorates his bravery.

[12] However, many leaders in New England, as Samuel Adams, John Adams, and Elbridge Gerry; in Pennsylvania, as Benjamin Rush and Benjamin Franklin; in Delaware, as Thomas McKean; as Chase of Maryland; Lee, Henry, Jefferson, Washington, of Virginia; and Gadsden of South Carolina, favored independence. In this state of affairs Thomas Paine, in January, 1776, wrote a pamphlet called Common Sense, in which independence was strongly urged. The effect was wonderful. Edition after edition was printed in many places. "Common Sense," says one writer, "is read to all ranks; and as many as read, so many become converted."

[13] Rhode Island and Connecticut did not abandon their charters, for in these colonies the people had always elected their governors and had always been practically independent of the king. Connecticut did not make a constitution till 1818, and Rhode Island not till 1842.

[14] This resolution had been introduced in Congress, in June, by Richard Henry Lee of Virginia. For a fine description of the debate on independence read Webster's Oration on Adams and Jefferson. Why did John Dickinson oppose a declaration of independence? Read Fiske's American Revolution, Vol. I, pp. 190-192.

[15] A few copies signed by Hancock, president of Congress, and Thomson, the secretary, were made public on July 5; and on July 8 one of these was read to a crowd of people in the Statehouse yard at Philadelphia. The common idea that the Declaration was signed at one time is erroneous. The signing did not begin till August 2. Of those who signed then and afterward, seven were not members of Congress on July 4, 1776. Of those signers who were members on July 4, it is known that five were absent on that day. Seven men who were members of Congress on July 4 were not members on August 2, and never signed.