While nearly all my college students had heard of Lexington and Concord and the first battle of our Revolutionary War, only rarely did any of them know why the British were marching on the small Massachusetts towns.
During the summer of 1774, Gen. Thomas Gage, supported by a squadron of the Royal Navy and five regiments of soldiers, was appointed governor and captain-general of Massachusetts, and the Massachusetts legislature was dissolved.
But Americans were ornery and independent back then, and resistance was immediate and widespread. The colonists even elected another legislature, which was declared illegal by Gage. Nonetheless, the legislature, led by John Hancock and Sam Adams, met in Concord and openly defied the British general. By October, Massachusetts, outside of Boston, was virtually independent.
Through the fall and winter and into the spring of 1775, the rebel government in Concord collected arms and ammunition, and throughout Massachusetts militia drilled. Most militiamen were farmers, but there were also hunters and trappers, craftsmen, mechanics, teamsters, sailors, and shopkeepers.
Early in April 1775, Gage dispatched several spies to gather intelligence, including Ensign Henry DeBerniere and Sergeant John Howe. Howe’s “Journal” was published in Massachusetts a half-century after his spying mission,...