The American Revolution: A History in Documents

By Steven C. Bullock | Go to book overview
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Chapter Two
Breaking
the Bonds
War and Independence

Amos Doolittle's depiction of the first
shots of the Revolution portrays the
Patriot view of the event. Doolittle
shows a British officer commanding
his troops to fire on the militiamen.
But it is more likely that a stray
shot began the attack
.

In April 1775, fighting broke out between American Patriots and Great Britain at Lexington and Concord, Massachusetts. Amos Doolittle was one of the thousands of volunteer soldiers, members of the part-time local military organizations known as militias, who hurried to support the Americans. His Connecticut company arrived outside of Boston by April 29, ten days after the battles of Lexington and Concord. Doolittle, an engraver, remained with his company in Cambridge for some three or four weeks, expecting the hostilities to continue. He took advantage of the time to visit the battle sites. Soon afterward he issued a series of four engravings based on his visits.

Doolittle's first print depicts the encounter on Lexington's green, where the first shots of the Revolution were fired. Warned by Paul Revere that the British troops were on their way to confiscate Patriot military supplies, the American militia had assembled there after midnight. The British finally arrived around dawn and things quickly got out of hand. A shot or shots were fired—each side later blamed the other. The British soldiers began to attack. After the officers regained control, the British troops left for Concord after three cheers and a victory volley from their guns. Eight Americans were wounded; nine were dead. Doolittle's engraving exaggerates the orderliness of the attack, suggesting that the British were solely to blame for the deaths and starting the war.

By April 1775, many Americans believed the British were attacking American liberties. A smaller number, like Doolittle, also believed that they needed to resist these actions—with violence if necessary. Far fewer desired full independence from Great Britain. A year after the

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