The serious question arose, Who fired first at Lexington, the British or the Provincials? Upon the true solution of that question depended, in a degree, the justification or condemnation of the belligerent parties, for the American had resolved not to be the aggressors. So late as May the next year, a London journal said: "It is whispered that the ministry are endeavoring to fix a certainty which party fired first at Lexington, before hostilities commenced, as the Congress declare, if it can be proved that American blood was first shed, it will go a great way toward effecting a reconciliation on the most honorable terms." The testimony of contemporaries seems to prove, beyond a doubt, that the British fired first. Stiles, in his MS. Diary, cited by Mr. Frothingham in his History of the Siege of Boston, under date of August 19, 1775, wrote:
"Major Pitcairn, who was a good man in a bad cause, insisted upon it to the day of his death, that the colonists fired first; and that he commanded not to fire, and endeavored to stop the firing after it began; but then he told this with such circumstances as convince me that he was deceived, though on the spot. He does not say that he saw the colonists fire first. Had he said it, I would have believed him, being a man of integrity and honor. He expressly says he did not see who fired first; and yet he believed the peasants began. His account is this: That riding up to them, he ordered them to disperse, which they not doing instantly, he turned about to order his troops to draw out so as to surround and disarm them. As he turned, he saw a gun in a peasant's hand, from behind a wall, flash in the pan, without going off; and instantly, or very soon, two or three guns went off, by which he found his horse wounded, and also a man near him wounded. These guns he did not see; but believing they could not come from his own people, doubted not, and so asserted, that they came from our people, and that thus they began the attack. The impetuosity of the king's troops was such that a promiscuous, uncommanded but general fire took place, which Pitcairn could not prevent; though he struck his staff or sword downward with all earnestness, as a signal to forbear or cease firing."
In a counter manifesto to a proclamation of General Gage, prepared a few weeks after the event, it is asserted that the British, "in a most barbarous and infamous manner, fired upon a small number of the inhabitants, and cruelly murdered eight men. The fire was returned by some of the survivors, but their number was too inconsiderable to annoy the regular troops, who proceeded on their errand to Concord. One of the many depositions taken at the time, to settle the question, Who fired first? is the following: "About five o'clock in the morning we attended the beat of our drum, and were formed on the parade. We were faced toward the regulars, then marching up to us, and some of our company were coming to the parade with their backs toward the troops; and others on the parade began to disperse, when the regulars fired on the company before a gun was fired by any of our company on them." Clarke says, "So far from firing first upon the king's troops, upon the most careful inquiry it appears that but very few of our people fired at all, and even they did not fire until, after being fired upon by the troops, they were wounded themselves."
On the Green, at Lexington, stands a monument, which was erected to the memory of the patriots who fell on or near that spot, which bears the following inscription:
"Sacred to the Liberty and the Rights of Mankind!!! The Freedom and Independence of America--sealed and defended with the blood of her sons--This Monument is erected by the inhabitants of Lexington, under the patronage and at the expense of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, to the memory of their Fellow-citizens, Ensign Robert Monroe, Messrs. Jonas Parker, Samuel Hadley, Jonathan Harrington, Jr., Isaac Muzzy, Caleb Harrington, and John Brown, of Lexington, and Asahel Porter, of Woburn, who fell on this Field, the first victims of the Sword of British Tyranny and Oppression, on the morning of the ever-memorable Nineteenth of April, An. Domini 1775. The Die was cast!!! The blood of these martyrs in the Cause of God and their Country was the cement of the Union of these States, then colonies, and gave the Spring to the Spirit, Firmness, and Resolution of their Fellow-citizens. They rose as one man to revenge their Brethren's blood, and at the point of the sword to assert and defend their native Rights. They nobly dared to be Free!!!. The contest was long, bloody, and affecting. Righteous Heaven approved the Solemn Appeal; Victory crowned their Arms, and the Peace, Liberty, and Independence of the United States of America was their glorious rewards. Built in the year 1799."
Return to Our Country, Vol II