Battle of Lexington

Experience Some of Patriots' Day Online

Lexington alarm letterThis year marks the 245th anniversary of the Battle of Lexington. During any other year, you can usually visit us in person at the Scottish Rite Masonic Museum & Library around Patriots’ Day, when we normally exhibit one of the highlights from our collection: an original copy of the Lexington Alarm letter. Our letter is one of several created by colonists to inform other colonies about the Battle of Lexington and the outbreak of war with England. It is as close as contemporary viewers can get to the beginning of the American Revolution. While all of the Patriots' Day activities and events around Lexington and the rest of Massachusetts have been canceled this year, we wanted to remind you that you can still get an up close look at the Lexington Alarm letter through the high resolution images of it that are available to everyone through our Digital Collections website

The original alarm letter was written by Joseph Palmer just hours after the Battle of Lexington which took place around daybreak on April 19, 1775. Palmer, a member of the Committee of Safety in Watertown, Massachusetts, a town near Lexington, had his letter copied by recipients along the Committee of Safety's network so that the message was distributed far and wide. While the original alarm letter written by Palmer is thought to be lost, the Museum & Library has in its collection this copy of his famous warning, which was written the day after the Battle of Lexington by Daniel Tyler, Jr., of Connecticut.

If you want to do a little more armchair traveling, be sure to check out a blog post we published over a decade ago, which traces the route that the alarm letter took from Watertown, Massachusetts down to New York City.

And we hope to see you in person in April of next year for the 246th anniversary of the Battle of Lexington, when you can once again see this exciting piece of American history in person.

Caption:
Lexington Alarm Letter, [April 20, 1775], Daniel Tyler, Jr. (about 1750–1832), copyist, Brooklyn, Connecticut, Museum purchase, A1995/011/1.


The Lexington Alarm letter - on view and online

Alarm letterEach year during the celebration of Patriots’ Day, a Massachusetts state holiday, the Scottish Rite Masonic Museum & Library proudly displays an original copy of the Lexington Alarm letter—one of several letters created by the colonists to inform other colonies about the Battle of Lexington and the outbreak of war with England. It is as close as contemporary viewers can get to the beginning of the American Revolution.

The original alarm letter was written by Joseph Palmer just hours after the Battle of Lexington. Palmer, a member of the Committee of Safety in Watertown, Massachusetts, a town near Lexington, had his letter copied by recipients along the Committee of Safety's network so that the message was distributed far and wide. While the original alarm letter written by Palmer is thought to be lost, the Museum & Library has in its collection this copy of his famous warning, which was written the day after the Battle of Lexington by Daniel Tyler, Jr., of Connecticut.

In 2016, the Library & Archives digitized the Lexington Alarm letter and made high resolution images of it available to everyone through our Digital Collections website. If you're in Lexington during April, and would like to see this exciting piece of American history in person, please be sure to visit the Museum & Library. Or if you're reading this post and would like to get a close-up look at this document, be sure to visit our Digital Collections website at this link.

Caption:
Lexington Alarm Letter, [April 20, 1775], Daniel Tyler, Jr. (about 1750–1832), copyist, Brooklyn, Connecticut, Museum purchase, A1995/011/1.


Lecture: What Map Was Used by the British Officer Who Led the Retreat from Lexington and Concord?

Map of the Most Inhabited Parts of New England JeffreysIt's spring of 1775, and the Province of Massachusetts Bay is rebelliously defying the laws Parliament has passed to coerce the local Assembly to obey His Majesty, King George III. Instead of offering reimbusement for the tea destroyed in Boston Harbor back in late 1773, the country people outside of Boston have formed an illegal assembly which is turning the once-loyal town militias into an army of insurrection! What is a Regular Army officer to do? Imagine yourself in the position of Brigadier General Percy, commander of the 5th Regiment of Foot, stationed in Boston in 1774 to keep the King's peace. How can you make a strategic, tactical or even logistical assessment of the surrounding landscape? Are there maps available that provide the level of detailed information about the countryside required by your duties?

Join Matthew Edney, Osher Professor in the History of Cartography at the University of Southern Maine, as he explores these fascinating questions in a free lecture at the Scottish Rite Masonic Museum and Library. On Saturday, March 15 at 2 pm, his topic will be: General Hugh, Earl Percy's Use of the Map of New England During the American Revolution. Edney delves into the evidence provided by the revealing annotations made on a personal copy of this map by Hugh, Earl Percy, a distinguished career officer in the British Army and commander of its 5th Regiment of Foot. (Our image is of the Museum & Library's print of this map; the print annotated by Percy is held by the Osher Map Library at the University of Southern Maine.) Percy led the relief column that saved the retreating British forces at the Battle of Lexington and Concord on April 19, 1775. This presentation will be a particular treat, as our museum is located just yards down the road from Lexington's Munroe Tavern, where Percy set up a temporary field headquarters on April 19th. A variety of other maps available in the period outline the distinct kinds of geographical knowledge possessed by the British military in Boston in 1774-1775 and will be also be examined in the lecture. This program is free to the public once again thanks to the generous sponsorship of the Ruby W. and LaVon P. Linn Foundation.

Matthew_edneyMatthew Edney studied for a B.Sc. in geography at University College London before moving to the U.S.A. for graduate work in geography, cartography, and the history of cartography at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. He taught at the State University of New York at Binghamton for five years before moving to USM in 1995, at which time he declared himself a willing refugee from GIS and digital mapping. USM has allowed him to focus on his specific interests in map history, which have steadily expanded from the history of surveying technologies and their role in nineteenth-century European state formation and imperialism to encompass the wider practices and performances of map making in Europe after 1600, and more particularly in the British Atlantic World, 1650-1800.

On the same Saturday, March 15, we've planned a 12 noon gallery tour of "Journeys and Discoveries: The Stories Maps Tell" in anticipation of Matthew Edney’s lecture at 2 PM. Polly Kienle, Public Programs Coordinator, will focus the tour on some of the Revolutionary War-era maps from the Museum’s collection. While London mapmakers published views of the American colonies and towns where British soldiers and colonists fought for territory, other maps of North America reflected power struggles between European nations as well as Native American nations’ lessening influence on the continent. Click here to read a related past post from our blog.

Melinda Kashuba of Shasta College will join us on Saturday, April 12, at 2 p.m. for the series' second talk. Her topic will be: Organizing Wonder: Using Maps in Family History Research. After the lecture, the presenter will offer an informal discussion with interested audience members.

For our final spring map lecture, we will welcome David Bosse, Librarian and Curator of Maps, Historic Deerfield, to the Museum & Library on Saturday, June 7. His 2 p.m. presentation will be on: Map and Chart Publishing in Boston in the 18th Century.

For further information, contact the Museum at (781) 861-6559 or check our website: www.monh.org.

Image credits:

“A Map of the Most Inhabited Part of New England…,” 1755. Cartography by Bradock Mead, alias John Green, (ca. 1688-1757). Published by Thomas Jefferys (c. 1719-1771), London, England. Van Gorden-Williams Library and Archives, 055-1755

Courtesy of Matthew Edney


Speaking of Maps: An Exploration of Cartography and History - Our New Lecture Series

A Plan of the Action at Bunkers Hill 1775We are pleased to announce the Museum's new lecture series: “Speaking of Maps: An Exploration of Cartography and History.” In the Spring and Fall of 2014, we will offer a series of programs related to the Scottish Rite Masonic Museum and Library’s collection of historic maps. Click here to see the most up-to-date topics, speakers, and dates. All programs are free to the public once again thanks to the generous sponsorship of the Ruby W. and LaVon P. Linn Foundation.

Maps were among the first objects that the Museum collected after its founding in 1975. Our collection holds maps dating from the 17th century to the present. Using this collection as a touchstone, the series reflects current research that helps us grasp the value of historical cartography. In addition, we don't want to miss the oppportunty to explore the new digital technologies that are changing the nature of maps and enhancing our ability to create them. We hope you are as eager as we are to delve into the past worlds historic maps describe and forge paths to the new ones that digital mapping promises to chart.

Here are the first four programs in the series. Three focus on the use and production of maps in the 1700s, when North America was a theatre where conflict between great European powers played out and colonists suddenly stepped onto the stage to change the course of history. Our image above shows a strikingly detailed map of the British "intrenchments" during the siege of Boston (April 1775-March 1776). This map will be on view in the "Journeys and Discoveries: The Stories Maps Tell" gallery through April 5 - don't miss your chance to see it and many more fascinating witnesses to history. The second half of our maps lecture series will commence in September, 2014 - stay tuned!

On Saturday, March 15, at 2 p.m., Matthew Edney, Osher Professor, History of Cartography, Univ. of Southern Maine will present a talk entitled: General Hugh, Earl Percy's Use of the Map of New England during the American Revolution. How did British officers know the landscape of New England at the start of the revolution, whether strategically, tactically, or logistically? This lecture considers the evidence provided by the annotations made on Hugh, Earl Percy's personal copy of the standard map of New England, together with the variety of maps available in the period, to outline the distinct kinds of geographical knowledge possessed by the British military in Boston in 1774-1775.

On the same Saturday, March 15, we've planned a 12 noon gallery tour of "Journeys and Discoveries: The Stories Maps Tell" in anticipation of Matthew Edney’s lecture at 2 PM. Polly Kienle, Public Programs Coordinator, will focus the tour on some of the Revolutionary War-era maps from the Museum’s collection. While London mapmakers published views of the American colonies and towns where British soldiers and colonists fought for territory, other maps of North America reflected power struggles between European nations as well as Native American nations’ lessening influence on the continent.

Melinda Kashuba of Shasta College will join us on Saturday, April 12, at 2 p.m. for the series' second talk. Her topic will be: Organizing Wonder: Using Maps in Family History Research. From sixteenth century maps depicting the location of Irish clans to maps of DNA test results showing ancient migration patterns, family historians use maps in many ways to tell the story of their ancestries. No longer content to use maps for reference, modern genealogists create maps using a variety of software products and social media to research and share their ancestries. Join Melinda Kashuba and explore the wide range of maps family historians employ to research and document their families’ story. You may be inspired to start mapping your own family's journey. After the lecture, the presenter will offer an informal discussion with interested audience members.

For our final spring map lecture, we will welcome David Bosse, Librarian and Curator of Maps, Historic Deerfield, to the Museum & Library on Saturday, June 7. His 2 p.m. presentation will be on: Map and Chart Publishing in Boston in the 18th Century. For much of the 18th century, map publishing in America was a financially precarious undertaking. The same held true in Boston, where individuals from many walks of life ventured into commercial map-making.  This lecture explores the work of several Boston mapmakers during this period of ad-hoc publishing.

For further information, contact the Museum at (781) 861-6559 or check our website: www.monh.org.

Image credit:

A Plan of the Town of Boston with the Intrenchments & c..., 1777. Surveyed by Thomas Hyde Page (1746-1821). Printed by William Faden (1749-1836). Van Gorden-Williams Library and Archives, 073-86.  Photograph by David Bohl.


Programs for Students - Come Explore History!

Group Programs for Students 13_08_p2'Colonial Kids' fits very well with the social studies curriculum. The kids liked it a lot. They had never seen a 'horn book' before nor a 'block' of tea. The program brought to life what we studied for months.

3rd grade teacher, Lexington, MA

As summer segues into autumn, teachers are preparing for the classroom. To  support educators in their wish to enrich classroom learning with engaging history field trips, we offer three fantastic, hands-on programs that bring history to life. Each offers a through grounding in solid historical research and interactive structure. All programs are aligned to the Massachusetts Department of Education's history and social science curriculum framework. We also enjoy working with groups from independent schools, homeschool groups, and scouts. Our programs are conducted by professional staff, who know how to engage and inspire students through developmentally appropriate interpretive techniques.

Colonial Kids allows participants to explore how the children of Lexington's Brown family experienced daily life in 1773. Visiting third-graders discover that Lexington's residents had their own "tea party," days before the famous Boston Tea Party of December, 1773. They engage in critical thinking about what the concept of "protest" meant to families of the era, as well as considering how aspects of daily life - clothing, dairy production, and schooling - in the 1770s compare to their own. Kindergartners through second-graders participating in the program explore the everyday life of the Brown family, real people who lived in Lexington at the time of the American Revolution. From how they helped in the house and on the farm to what school was like, the Brown children are brought to life through an engaging narrative and plenty of objects to handle and consider. You can read about the third-grade version of the Colonial Kids program here. Here is more information about the Lexington tea-burning protest - and here, as well.

The Archeology Lab helps 4th- to 8th-graders walk in the footsteps of archeologists who study New England's colonial past. Participants clean, identify, and interpret artifacts from a fictitious Massachusetts town, discovering archeological methods as they work. Students work together to assemble clues about how the artifacts were used in the 1700s and about the people who left them behind. We have posted supplementary material to our archeology program here.

From Union Jack to Old Glory is a flexible program that introduces first through fifth-graders to the history and meaning of the Stars and Stripes. Featuring the Museum's rare and enormous 15-star flag as its centerpiece, the program employs a variety of hands-on activities, games, and challenges. Participants consider how we handle and display our national flag, as well as discover the fascinating course the development of its physical appearance and use has taken since the first years of the American Revolution to the present.

We appreciate your willingness to meet our needs. You are wonderful!

5th grade teacher, Newton, MA

We are glad to accommodare a visiting group's interests and needs. To learn more about the programs described here, our fees for student groups, and how to inquire about booking a program, refer to our Groups and Tours webpage. We are always happy to share information about these programs - drop us a line at groups@monh.org or call at 781-457-4121.

Our monthly newsletter will help keep you in touch with programs, exhibitions, and special events. You can sign up to receive it by clicking on the "Join Our E-Mailing List" icon at the museum's website.

 


Visit Us on Patriots' Day!

Join Us for Patriots' Day Activites!

DSCF7856There is always plenty to do in Lexington when April vacation rolls around. The town and neighboring communities have many traditional events that commemorate the beginning of the American Revolution in 1775 and celebrate the community spirit of today. While you and your family are out, plan on dropping by the Museum for some fun programs. We've scheduled them conveniently so that they fall before or after the main reenactments and parades. Please note that the Museum will be open on Patriots' Day, Monday, April 16.

Farmer-soliderSaturday, April 14
11 a.m. & 2 p.m.
Gallery Talks: “Sowing the Seeds of Liberty: Lexington and the American Revolution”
Get the inside scoop on the tendencies and tensions in Lexington before the British marched into town on April 19, 1775. Join Museum staff for this free gallery tour.

Monday, April 16
10:30 a.m. to 1:30 p.m.
Patriots’ Day Activities
Celebrate Patriots’ Day with arts and crafts activities exploring life in 1775. While you are here, take the opportunity to view "Sowing the Seeds of Liberty:  Lexington and the American Revolution." $5/family (members); $7/family (non-members).

You'll also find the Lexington Alarm Letter on display in the Museum's lobby.

Revere ladleVisitors will be interested in exploring our exhibition "Curators' Choice: Favorites from the Collection." There, you'll find two objects related to the most famous midnight rider, Paul Revere. One is a wonderfully crafted silver ladle that showcases Revere's great talent as an silversmith. It's no wonder his works were coveted in their day. The other is much more recent - it dates to 2009. It's an ice cream carton. Brigham’s, a local ice cream company, created a special edition flavor called “Paul Revere’s Rocky Ride.” The name was the contest-winning suggestion by a couple from Charlestown, Massachusetts, where Paul Revere began his ride late at night on April 18, 1775. Come see what else you can discover in Curators' Choice.

For more information about visiting the Museum, call 781-861-6559 or see our website, www.nationalheritagemuseum.org.

Photo Credits

Farmer, 2007. Joe Farnham, National Heritage Museum.

Ladle, ca. 1765, Paul Revere, Jr. (1734–1818). Boston, Massachusetts. Loaned by the Grand Lodge of Masons in Massachusetts, GL2004.2088.


The Lexington Alarm Letter on View at the Museum!

LexingtonAlarm_A95_011_1T1_croppedEach year around the time of the Patriots' Day holiday, the Museum is proud to display the Lexington Alarm Letter. Our document is a copy, made at Brooklyn, Connecticut on the morning of April 20th, of the original letter, written on the morning of April 19, 1775. The Connecticut copy was made by Brooklyn town officials from the original, now lost, which was sent by post rider to notify the colonies south of Massachusetts that war had begun. Visitors will have the opportunity to see the letter during its annual appearance between Wednesday, April 10 and Saturday, April 21. Please note that the Museum will be open on Patriots' Day, Monday April 16.

What makes this hand-written document such an exciting piece of American history is the urgency with which it was written. As we read the text, we can sense the shock and concern of its author, Joseph Palmer, a member of the Committee of Safety in Watertown, a near neighbor to Lexington:

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 [David] 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. [...]

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.

Why does Palmer emphasize the events in Lexington, failing to mention the confrontation in Concord? Perhaps he wanted to spread news that portrayed the colonists as victims in order to garner sympathy for the cause of rebellion? Certainly this was popular strategy of the patriotic colonial press, perfected in broadsheets such as "A List of the Names of the Provincials who were Killed and Wounded in the late Engagement with His Majesty's Troops at Concord, &c." 

Or perhaps there is a simpler explanation. The letter was written at 10 o'clock, only one half-hour after the skirmish at Concord's North Bridge. Not enough time had passed for witnesses of the second phase of the Battle of Lexington and Concord to reach Watertown. The encounter between Lexington's militia under Capt. John Parker and the force of 700 or so Regular Army soldiers sent out from Boston was much earlier, at around 4:30 a.m. Palmer has spoken to witnesses of the destruction at Lexington and fears that more unprovoked attacks are to come from the second brigade he has learned is on its way from Boston. His letter spreads the news of unfolding events, the outcome of which he does not yet know.

When you visit the Museum to view the Lexington Alarm letter, don't miss "Sowing the Seeds of Liberty: Lexington and the American Revolution." In the exhibition, you'll find a map that traces how a group of riders spread the alarm throughout eastern Massachusetts. The adventures of some of these riders, such as Paul Revere, William Dawes, and Samuel Prescott, are the stuff of legend. However, countless men rode through the night of April 18 and into the morning of April 19, 1775, to let the countryside know of the unfolding events. Colonial leaders who opposed the Crown, anticipating a move by the British Army, had set a communication network in place. Towns had prepared systems using bells, drums and gunshots to call militia units to gather at specified locations. Throughout April 19th, militias from 23 Massachusetts towns fought in the battles, and many more towns were alerted.

Those curious about how the people of Lexington experienced the beginning of the American Revolution, mark your calendars and and join us for our "Sowing the Seeds of Liberty" gallery talks. We'll be offering two this year, both on Saturday, April 14. Join us at 11 a.m. and 2 p.m. for these free programs that explore of life in this small community where ordinary people took extraordinary actions and shaped history as a result.

For more information about visiting the Museum, call 781-861-6559 or see our website, www.nationalheritagemuseum.org.

Photo credits

Lexington Alarm Letter, 1775. Daniel Tyler. Brooklyn, Connecticut, Scottish Rite Masonic Museum & Library, # A95/011/1.

 


Patriots' Day Lasts All Week at the Museum!

Doolittle Battle 87-49-2a Patriots' Day is a long-standing Massachusetts holiday celebrated each year on the third Monday of April. The day is set aside to commemorate the Battles of Lexington and Concord, the first military engagements of the American Revolution. If you live in the area, however, "Patriots' Day" stretches into "Patriots' Day Week." Public schools enjoy a week-long spring vacation and families take day-trips to the many local events related to the holiday.

If you have a bit of free time during this special week, the National Heritage Museum offers programs and exhibitions that will help you celebrate.

Farmer-solider Join us on Saturday, April 16, at 2:00 PM for a gallery talk featuring "Sowing the Seeds of Liberty: Lexington and the American Revolution," our keystone exhibition that explores life in this small farming community where ordinary people made extraordinary choices that shaped history. Museum staff will give you the inside scoop on Lexington before British soldiers marched into town on April 19, 1775. The gallery talk is free.  

Meeting Billy On Patriots’ Day itself, Monday, April 18, the Museum will be open to the public from 10 AM to 4:30 PM. After attending the reenactment of the Battle of Lexington at the crack of dawn and breakfasting on pancakes prepared by one of the town's civic organizations, come to the Museum. From 10:30 AM to 1:30 PM, visiting families are invited to drop in to celebrate Patriots’ Day with arts and crafts activities exploring life in 1775. The admissions charge for the craft activities is $5/family (members); $7/family (non-members). While you are here, take the opportunity to explore “Sowing the Seeds of Liberty: Lexington and the American Revolution.” Families with young children who visit the exhibition can look forward to meeting and reading about Billy the Patriot Mouse.

LexingtonAlarmLetter An exciting piece of American history will make its annual appearance at the Museum during the holiday week. You won't want to miss seeing the Lexington Alarm Letter, on view from Saturday, April 16 through Saturday, April 23. This document was written on the morning of April 19, 1775, and was used to alert the colonies that war with England had begun. Previous posts to our blog include: a transcription of the letter's text; details on the important role it played in the 24 hours after the Battle; and a reconstruction of the route the letter took to New York City.

If you are interested in learning more about Patriots' Day and the Battle of Lexington, take a look at related posts to our blog. In exploring the following links, you'll learn some incredible facts about the beginnings of the American Revolution in Lexington and see some fascinating objects from our collection:

Finally, if you are an educator or a student of the Revolutionary era, check out the following posts:

We look forward to seeing you at the Museum. If you have questions about our April programming or about our exhibitions, please call the Museum at 781-861-6559. Please refer to our website for opening hours and directions.

Photo credits:

The Battle of Lexington,” 1775. Amos Doolittle (1754-1832), New Haven, Connecticut. Courtesy of the Connecticut Historical Society, Hartford, Connecticut

Farmer, 2007. Joe Farnham, National Heritage Museum

Meeting Billy, 2007. Sheli Peterson, National Heritage Museum

Lexington Alarm Letter, 1775. Daniel Tyler, Brooklyn, Connecticut. Scottish Rite Masonic Museum and Library, A95/011/1


The Lexington Alarm Letter - on the web and on exhibit!

Lexington_Alarm_letter_scan_March_23_2009_web Once a year, to celebrate Patriot's Day, the Museum is proud to display the Lexington Alarm letter, written the morning of April 19, 1775 to alert the colonies that war with the British had begun. The Lexington Alarm letter will be on view in the lobby of the National Heritage Museum from April 17-25, as part of the festivities surrounding Patriots Day, a Massachusetts holiday that commemorates the Battles of Lexington and Concord each year on April 19th. Be sure to stop by the museum and check out this exciting piece of American history. And, of course, you'll want to view our long-term exhibition, Sowing the Seeds of Liberty: Lexington and the American Revolution to learn more about Lexington's role in the American Revolution.

Whether you're able to stop by the Museum or not, be sure to check out our two blog posts from last April about the Lexington Alarm letter. The first post explains more about what the letter is and the role that it played during the 24 hours after the Battle of Lexington. The second post - "Quite to Connecticut": (Google)mapping the Journey of the Lexington Alarm - follows the ride of Israel Bissel (using Google Maps!) on April 19-20, 1775 as he spread the news of the Battles of Lexington and Concord.

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.

 

Image caption:

Lexington Alarm’d Letter, 1775
Daniel Tyler
Brooklyn, Connecticut
Ink on paper
Scottish Rite Masonic Museum and Library, A95/011/1


Does This Building Ring a Bell?

91_037_2aDP1 Did you know that the Old Belfry is the only site in Lexington, Massachusetts, to ever appear on an official United States coin?  In 1925, the United States Mint issued over 162,000 Lexington-Concord Sesquicentennial Half Dollars to mark the 150th anniversary of the opening battles in the American Revolution.  Each silver half dollar bore the image of the Old Belfry on the reverse or back side, along with Daniel Chester French’s (1850-1931) Minute Man statue from Concord, Massachusetts, on the obverse or front.  The National Heritage Museum owns two of these coins, which it received in 1991, along with their original presentation boxes.

The town of Lexington originally built the Old Belfry in 1762 on land owned by Jonas Munroe. Six years later, the Belfry was moved to the town common, where it stood during the Battle of Lexington. On the night of April 19, 1775, the Belfry’s bell sounded the alarm that the British regulars were coming.  While the original Belfry was destroyed in 1909, the Lexington Historical Society built an exact replica in 1910 on its original Belfry Hill location. 91_037_2aDP2

During the months leading up to the anniversary celebration, the United States Lexington-Concord Sesquicentennial Commission came up with the idea for the commemorative half dollar, and created a preliminary design for the coin.  Next, the Commission, which was primarily composed of residents of the two towns, hired noted sculptor Chester Beach (1881-1956) to turn their blueprint into a metallic reality.  While Beach is most famous for his marble and bronze statues and busts, including The Unveiling of Dawn (1913) and Fountain of the Waters (1927), he also designed the Monroe Doctrine Centennial Half Dollar (1923), and produced the models for the Hawaii Sesquicentennial Half Dollar (1928).

91_037_2bDP1 Although Beach had his own ideas of how the coin should look, the Commission insisted that he follow their predetermined design.  In the end, he reluctantly created models for the coin that met the Commission’s exact specifications, but refused to sign the design as he had done for his previous half dollars.  Each coin came in a pine presentation box, with the Concord Minute Man and the Belfry, respectively, printed on the lid and the bottom of the box.  While Beach may not have been satisfied with the final product, fairgoers in Lexington and Concord liked the coins enough to buy 60,000 of them between April 18 and 20, 1925.  An unseasonable snowfall impacted the turnout for the fair, which featured a reenactment of the battle at the North Bridge in Concord, and an elaborate military parade afterward.  Collectors in New England bought most of the leftover coins.  

While the Massachusetts State Quarter, issued in 2000, showed a figure resembling the renowned Minute Man statue in Concord, the Lexington-Concord Sesquicentennial Half Dollar remains the only legally issued American coin to depict a Lexington landmark.  Will the Mint recognize Lexington again in 2025, for the 250th anniversary of the Battles of Lexington and Concord?  We hope so!

References:

"1775 Battle Acted at Concord Bridge: Great Crowds See a Pageant in Which Minute Men Again Face British Regulars. Throngs at Lexington Dawes and Pershing Take Part In Series of Exercises Beginning With Paul Revere's Ride." New York Times (1857-Current file), April 21, 1925, www.proquest.com (accessed January 11, 2010).

Murphy, Ian. “Lexington Belfry Has Storied History.” The Concord Journal, April 11, 2007, http://www.wickedlocal.com/concord/fun/entertainment/arts/x1605763781 (accessed January 21, 2010).

Numismatic Guaranty Corporation. “1925 Lexington-Concord Sesquicentennial Half Dollar.” Numismatic Guaranty Corporation, http://www.ngccoin.com/CoinDetail.aspx?ContentID=161 (accessed January 8, 2010).

Opitz, Glenn B., ed. Dictionary of American Sculptors: 18th Century to the Present. Poughkeepsie, NY: Apollo, 1984.

Tour Lexington, Massachusetts. “Historic Sites and Museums.” The Liberty Ride, http://www.libertyride.us/historic.html (accessed January 11, 2010).

Yeoman, R.S. A Guide Book of United States Coins, 2010 (63rd Edition): The Official Red Book. Edited by Kenneth Bressett. Atlanta: Whitman Publishing, 2009.

Lexington-Concord Sesquicentennial Half Dollar and Box, 1925, U.S. Mint, Washington, D.C., National Heritage Museum collection, gift of Dorothy L. and Stephen W. Smith, 91.037.2a-c.  Photograph by David Bohl.