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The Lexington Alarm Letter


Late on April 18, 1775, British soldiers marched from Boston, toward Concord, to seize munitions that were stockpiled there. Around dawn on April 19, they were met by 77 militiamen on Lexington Common. A shot rang out, and the British opened fire. Eight patriots were dead and nine wounded.

At around 10 a.m. on the morning of April 19, 1775, just hours after the battle on the Lexington green, Joseph Palmer, a member of the Committee of Safety in Watertown, Massachusetts, composed a letter describing the events of that morning. Palmer then gave his letter to the Committee's messenger, Israel Bissel (sometimes spelled Bissell), who galloped out of Watertown on horseback and rode to Worcester. In Worcester, the text was then transcribed by Nathan Balding. Balding's copy of Palmer's letter was given to Bissel, who carried the letter on to Brooklyn, Connecticut, where he arrived on April 20.

The alarm letter seen here, which is in our collection, was copied out in Brooklyn, Connecticut during the late morning of April 20, by Daniel Tyler, Jr., son-in-law to General Israel Putnam. Tyler copied the text from the letter Bissel had brought from Worcester, and sent this letter on to Norwich, Connecticut where Bissel and the letter arrived around 4 o'clock in the afternoon of the 20th.

Bissel delivered the letter to Christopher Leffingwell, who was the proprietor of a tavern in Norwich and a row of shops known as "Leffingwell Row," all located in the center of town. Governor Jonathan Trumbull was in Norwich on the day that Bissel and the alarm letter arrived; historians have speculated that it's likely that Trumbull got news of the Lexington alarm while he was in Norwich. 

Bissel carried subsequent copies of the Lexington Alarm letter on to New York. Other riders took the message down further down the East Coast; by mid-May, news had reached as far as Charleston, S.C. - about 1,000 miles away.

Below is a transcription of our Lexington Alarm letter. The verso of the letter (not shown here) reads: "To Christopher Leffingwell Esq. or either the Committee of Correspondence Norwich." 

Watertown Wednesday Morning near 10 o'Clock

To all the Friends of American Liberty, be it known that this Morning before breake of Day a Brigade consisting of about 1000 or 1200 Men landed at Phip’s Farm at Cambridge & marched to Lexington where they found a Company of our Colony Militia in Arms, upon Whom they fired without any Provocation and killed 6 Men and Wounded 4 others. By an Express from Boston this Moment, we find another Brigade are now upon their march from Boston supposed to be about 1000. The Bearer Mr. Israel Bissel is charged to alarm the Country quite to Connecticut and all Persons are desired to furnish him with Fresh Horses as they may be needed. I have spoken with Several Persons who have seen the Dead & Wounded. Pray let the Delegates from this Colony to Connecticut see this they know.

J. Palmer, one of the
Committee of S-----y [i.e. Safety].

Col. Foster of Brookfield one of the Delegates. A True Coppy taken from the original p[er] order of Committee of Correspondence for Worcester. Attest. Nathan Balding T[own] Clerk
Worcester April 19th 1775.

Brooklyne Thursday 11 o'Clock - The above is a true Coppy as rec[eived] here p[er] Express forwarded from Worcester - [at]Test. Daniel Tyler, Jr.

The Lexington Alarm letter will be on view in the lobby of the National Heritage Museum from April 18-26, as part of the festivities surrounding Patriots Day, a Massachusetts holiday that commemorates the Battles of Lexington and Concord.

If you're interested in the full story of the Lexington Alarm and exactly how the news spread after the letter above arrived in Norwich, Connecticut, we recommend the following article, which is available in our library:

John H. Scheide. "The Lexington Alarm." Proceedings of the American Antiquarian Society. Volume 50, Part 1 (1940) pp. 49-79.

Another great resource for learning more about the events surrounding April 19, 1775, as well as a great explanation about the establishment of the "alarm" network employed by the colonies can be found in:

David Hackett Fischer. Paul Revere's Ride. New York: Oxford University Press, 1994.
Call number:F69 .R43 F57 1994

Next week: More about Israel Bissel - including a map of his ride from Massachusetts to New York.


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