It’s April 19th! The first day of the American Revolution was April 19, 1775. And it started in Arlington, Massachusetts.
Of course, it was known as Menotomy back then. Lexington and Concord? They were a sideshow.
Here’s the story. Menotomy, the northwest precinct of the town of Cambridge, was about midway between Boston and Concord, where the Provincial Congress had fled when outlawed in Boston. The Committee of Safety, run by Samuel Adams, was camped out at the Black Horse tavern in Menotomy, watching for movement of British soldiers on the main road from Boston to Concord (called Concord Way back then, and known as Massachusetts Avenue today).
An advance party of British soldiers came through Menotomy, alerting the Committee, which sent word back to Boston to keep an eye out for the go signal there. By the time the full British force marched through Menotomy, at about 3 AM on April 19, everyone in the village knew what was happening.
So the British get to Lexington, they get to Concord. That part of the story is well-known, simply because the first shots were fired there. But the fighting took place in Menotomy.
As the British retreated through Lexington, they were harried by sniper fire and did no damage to the town. But at the border of Lexington and Menotomy, they were met by reinforcements, and basically decided to do their worst. In Menotomy, and only there, they burned and pillaged houses on the main road.
Word of this reached militia men who were in Menotomy on their way to join the battle at Concord. Realizing the action was now in Menotomy, they hunkered down around the large farmhouse of Jason Russell. Facing the main road, waiting for the soldiers to appear, they were unaware that the British sent flankers around the back. They were encircled and trapped at Jason Russell’s house.
Russell went out to parlay with the British leader, Lord Percy. But he was killed pretty much on the spot. Then the fighting began, and more people were killed at Russell’s house in Menotomy that day than in Lexington, Concord, and the retreat combined. Eleven Americans and two Britons lost their lives, and British casualties were 120. In comparison, total British casualties in L&C and the retreat were 34.
When the British returned at last to Boston, it was the fighting at Menotomy that convinced them this was a war and not an isolated incident.
So why don’t we know the name Menotomy like we know Lexington and Concord?
Well, Menotomy changed its name a few times, to West Cambridge and then to Arlington. And even in colonial days, Menotomy was a spelling challenge. Some British soldiers recorded the hot fighting at “Anatomy.” And after all, Lexington and Concord were the sites of the first fighting, and history loves firsts.
But take a moment today to pay tribute to Jason Russell and the eleven men who died with him on the first day of the Revolution.