Lexington Alarm

The Lexington Alarm letter - on view and online in 2023!

A1995_011_DS1_webEach 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 gives contemporary viewers a close-up look at the beginning of the American Revolution.

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, near Lexington, had his letter copied by recipients along the Committee of Safety's network. Using this system, 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 version of his famous description of what happened, which was copied the day after the Battle of Lexington by Daniel Tyler, Jr., of Connecticut.

The letter will be on view at the Museum from April 10 - 21, 2023. (Check the museum's website for specific days and times that we're open.)

In addition to seeing the letter in person, you can also view our online exhibition, “'To all the Friends of American Liberty': The 1775 Lexington Alarm Letter,” which is available on the Van Gorden-Williams Library & Archives Digital Collections website. This exhibition takes a close look at the Lexington Alarm letter that is in the Museum & Library's collection.

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


Heavy Impact: British Cannonball Fired in Lexington on April 19, 1775

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Cannonball (fired in retreat from Lexington), ca. 1775. Gift of Harvey B. Leggee, 75.34a.

Its surface is pitted and its usefulness long gone, but this six-pound iron ball tells an intriguing story of the first military battle of the Revolutionary War and its effect on the town of Lexington, Massachusetts.

According to an accompanying plaque, this cannonball was “fired in 1775 by ‘British regulars’ under command of Captain Earl Perry [sic] during their retreat from Lexington Green.” On April 19th of that year, the first battle of the Revolutionary War was fought in Lexington, now the home of the Scottish Rite Masonic Museum & Library.

Tensions had been high between Massachusetts citizens and the British government–represented by its royal troops–since the soldiers had landed in Boston in 1769. This friction had already led to such events as the 1769 Lexington Spinning Protest, the 1770 Boston Massacre, and the 1773 Lexington Tea Burning and Boston Tea Party.

These tensions and other events led to an armed conflict between Lexington’s Training Band and British troops on April 19, 1775. A contingent of British soldiers headquartered in Boston were deployed on an overnight mission to retrieve stolen cannon and ammunition hidden in Concord. After a short engagement at dawn in which eight Lexington men were killed and ten wounded, the British troops continued to Concord where they found themselves in a pitched battle at the Old North Bridge with militia members from Concord and surrounding towns. Eventually, the order to retreat was given and the British soldiers began a long and harrowing march back to Boston.

Local militias reengaged British troops many times along the route back–now called “Battle Road"–but the fighting took a different tone as the troops marched back through Lexington. By this time, relief troops from Boston had positioned two six-pound cannon at a rise east of the town center to provide covering fire for the soldiers on foot.

This bombardment led to cannonballs smashing through both the Lexington meetinghouse on the Green and one of the houses west of the Green on Harrington Road. According to SRMML’s records, the museum's cannonball was excavated in 1956–181 years after the battle–by local Mason Harold L. Worth (1909-1993) from the “south side of Merriam Hill.” This ball was found within the range of the British cannon that day. The location of the find supports the message on the cannonball’s plaque–that it was fired by British soldiers.

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Cannonball (fired in retreat from Lexington), ca. 1775. Gift of Harvey B. Leggee, 75.34a.

To confirm this information, SRMML staff measured the cannonball. The British were using six-pound field pieces that day and a six-pound cannonball is usually around 3.58 inches in diameter. As you can see on the right, this cannonball is 3.52 inches, which is within the expected range for historical examples. Using historical accounts, maps, and munitions specifications, we feel confident that this cannonball was fired during the conflict between Massachusetts citizens and British soldiers.

The cannon and troops are long gone, but the town of Lexington is still deeply tied to the events of April 19, 1775. Its landscape and people were profoundly marked by the attack. Evidence of that impact remains in the military detritus left behind. It is also on display in the reenactments and commemorations of the battle held annually in Lexington. See the links below for more Revolutionary War items in the museum’s collection!

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More Revolutionary War items at SRMML:


The Lexington Alarm letter - on view and online in 2022!

A1995_011_DS1_webEach 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 gives contemporary viewers a close-up look at the beginning of the American Revolution.

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, near Lexington, had his letter copied by recipients along the Committee of Safety's network. Using this system, 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 version of his famous description of what happened, which was copied the day after the Battle of Lexington by Daniel Tyler, Jr., of Connecticut.

In addition to seeing the letter in person, you can also view our online exhibition, “'To all the Friends of American Liberty': The 1775 Lexington Alarm Letter,” which is now available on the Van Gorden-Williams Library & Archives Digital Collections website. This exhibition takes a close look at the Lexington Alarm letter that is in the Museum & Library's collection.

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


Celebrate Patriots' Day With Our New Online Exhibition

Lexington Alarm letter exhibition imagePatriots' Day, a holiday well-known in Massachusetts and celebrated in other U.S. states as well, commemorates the Battles of Lexington and Concord on April 19, 1775. This year's holiday marks the 246th anniversary of the events that signaled the beginning of the American Revolution.

The Scottish Rite Masonic Museum & Library invites you to explore our new online exhibition, “'To all the Friends of American Liberty': The 1775 Lexington Alarm Letter” now available on the Van Gorden-Williams Library & Archives Digital Collections website. This exhibition takes a close look at an original copy of the Lexington Alarm letter that is in the Museum & Library's collection. Written on April 20, 1775, the letter's urgent news that war had broken out brings today's viewers to the beginning of the American Revolution.

The Museum's copy of the letter, written in the late morning of April 20, 1775, is one of several created by colonists to inform distant communities and colonies about the Battle of Lexington and the outbreak of war with England.

Interested in more online exhibitions? You can check out all of the Library & Archives online exhibitions here. Also be sure to check out the seven online exhibitions that are available at the Museum's online exhibitions website.


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.


Family Programs during February Vacation

We have some engaging family programming coming up during February vacation. Get out your calendar - we hope to see you at the Museum!

Game of the StatesBring family and friends to see how fascinating maps can be in our next school vacation family program. “Mapping Our World” will be held Wednesday, February 19 from 2:00-3:30 pm. Start with an exploration of the “Journeys and Discoveries: The Stories Maps Tell” gallery and see how maps are made and what they tell us. Then, participants will work together on some hands-on mapping activities. Get ready for something different – you may be surprised at what maps can do!

The program is appropriate for ages 8 through adult. This approximately 1.5 hour program wil cost $6/family (members); $9/family (non-members). No registration is necessary.

Don’t forget this annual favorite! NTRAK Model Train Show on Saturday, Feb. 15 (10 AM – 4:30 PM) and Sunday, Feb. 16 (Noon – 4 PM). Admission: $5/individual; $5/family (members of either organization); $7/family (non-members). See our previous post for more information.

Since spring is just around the corner (though it may seem hard to believe at the moment), we'd like to let you know about the two family programs we have planned for April vacation:

Get to Know Our Flag on Wednesday, April 23, 2014, 1:00 PM & 2:30 PM

This family program explores the origins, history, legends and myths of the American flag. With the Museum’s historically significant 15-star flag as a backdrop, participants will enjoy hands-on activities. Bring family and friends to discover some surprising April flag history. $5/family (members); $7/family (non-members). No registration necessary for this approximately one-hour program.

The Lexington Alarm on Thursday, April 24, 2014, 2 PM

Each year at this time, the Museum displays an exciting piece of American history, the Lexington Alarm Letter. Written on April 19, 1775 by a citizen of Watertown to notify the American colonies near and far that war had begun, the letter still conveys the urgency of the shocking news. Families are invited to work together on hands-on, minds-on activities that explore the moment and the world in which this document was set down. Appropriate for ages 8 through adult. $6/family (members); $9/family (non-members). No registration necessary for this approximately 1.5 hour program.

Photo credit:

Game of the States, ca. 1960.  Manufactured by the Milton Bradley Company, Springfield, Massachusetts. Gift of Mrs. John Willey, 2006.026.2. Photograph by David Bohl.


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.