Letter to Arthur Lee

John Dickinson

April 29, 1775

Dear Sir, — The ’immedicabile vulnus’ is at length struck. The rescript to our petition is written in blood. The impious war of tyranny against innocence, has commenced in the neighbourhood of Boston.

We have not yet received any authentic accounts, but I will briefly mention the most material parts of the relations that have reached us.

Gen. Gage having lately received despatches from England, gave orders on Saturday the 15th of this month, that the grenadiers and light-infantry should be excused from duty until further orders. Some of the inhabitants of the town being alarmed by this circumstance, observed between 10 and 11 o’clock on Tuesday night following, those bodies to be moving with great silence towards that water which is usually crossed in going to Cambridge. Notice of this movement was immediately conveyed into the country. The troops mentioned embarded in boats, and landed at Cambridge about four or five miles from Boston. From thence they marched on Wednesday the 19th in the morning, to Lexington, about twelve miles from Boston. At this place they found some provincials exercising. The commander of the party ordered them to disperse. They did not. One of them said he was on his own ground; that they injured no person, and could not hurt any one, for they had no ammunition with them. The word was given, and the brave Britons, emulated no doubt the glorious achievements of their ancestors, gallantly gave fire upon those who were exercising, killed some, and put the rest to flight. This victory was gained by the grenadiers and light infantry, without the assistance of any other corps, though their numbers it is said did not exceed a thousand, and the provincials amounted to at least, as it is reported, twenty-five or thirty men!

From Lexington the victoros pursued their march to Concord, about twenty miles from Boston, where they destroyed a small magazine, and set fire to the court house. By this time two or three hundred of the inhabitants were collected, and an engagement began. The troops soon retreated, and lost two pieces of cannon which they had seized.

General Gage receiving intelligence of this engagement, or of the murder at Lexington, between eight and nine o’clock on Wednesday morning sent out a brigade under the command of Lord Percy, consisting of the marines, the Welsh fusiliers, the 4th, 38th, and 47th regiments, with two fieldpieces. The grenadiers and light infantry, still retreating, met his lordship advancing to their relief; but the place of meeting is uncertain, supposed to be about five or six miles from Boston. The numbers of the country people being also now increased, a very warm contest ensued. The provincials fought as desperate men. The regulars bore the attack awhile, still retreating, but at length broke, and retired in the utmost confusion to a hill called Bunker’s hill, not far from Charlestown, which place is situated opposite Boston, on the other side of the Charles River. About a mile from the hill, one vessel of war, if not more, was stationed to cover the retreat into Charlestown down to the water side, in order to pass over to Boston. In the retreat of this one mile, it is said the regulars lost twelve officers and 200 privates. The provincials, afraid of the shipping’s firing on Charlestown, and of hurting the town’s people, stopped the pursuit.

On the whole, the accounts say, the regulars had about 500 men killed, and many are wounded and prisoners. The advices by several expresses are positive that Lord Percy is killed, which gives great and general grief here, and also General Haldimand, the two first in command; that a wagon loaded with powder and ball, another with provisions, and the field pieces attending the reinforcement are taken. It is added that a party of 300 sent out to Marshfield, are cut off and taken to a man. Several letters from Boston mention that the officers returned there, several of whom are wounded, declare they never were in hotter service. The whole of the fight lasted about seven hours. Part of it was seen from the hill in Boston.

I cannot say I am convinced of the truth of all the particulars about mentioned, though some of them are supported by many probabilities. But these facts I believe you may depend on,—That this most unnatural and inexpressibly cruel war began with the butchery of the unarmed Americans at Lexington; that the provincials, incredible as it may be at St. James or St. Stephens, fought bravely; that the regulars have been defeated with considerable slaughter, though they behaved resolutely; that a tory dare not open his mouth against the cause of America, even at New York; that the continent is preparing most assiduously for a vigorous resistance; and that freedom or an honourable death are the only objects on which their souls are at present employed.

What human policy can divine the prudence of precipatating us into these shocking scenes? Why have we rashly been declared rebels? Why have directions been sent to disarm us? Why orders to commence hostilities? Why was not Gen. Gage at least restrained from hostilities until the sense of another congress could be collected? It was the determined resolution of some, already appointed delegates for it, to have strained every nerve at that meeting to attempt bringing the unhappy dispute to terms of accommodation, safe for the colonies, and honourable and advantageous for our mother country, in whose prosperity and glory our hearts take as large a share as any minister’s of state, and from as just and as generous motives, to say no more of them.

But what topics of reconciliation are now left for men who think as I do, to address our countrymen? To recommend reverence for the monarch, or affection for the mother country? Will the distinctions between the prince and the ministers, between the people and their representatives, wipe out the stain of blood? Or have we the slightest reason to hope that those ministers and representatives will not be supported throughout the tragedy, as they have been through the first act? No. While we revere and love our mother country, her sword is opening our veins. The same delusions will still prevail, till France and Spain, if not other powers, long jealous of Britain’s force and fame, will fall upon her, embarrassed with an exhausting civil war, and crush, or at least depress her, then turn their arms on these provinces, which must submit to wear their chains or wade through seas of blood to a dear bought and at best a frequently convulsed and precarious independence.

All the ministerial intelligence concerning us is false. We are a united, resolved people, are, or quickly shall be, well armed and disciplined; our smith’s and powder-mills are at work day and night; our supplies from foreign parts continually arriving. Good officers, that is, well-experienced ones, we shall soon have, and the navy of Great Britain cannot stop our whole trade. our towns are but brick and stone, and mortar and wood. They, perhaps, may be destroyed. They are only the hairs of our heads. If sheared evere so close, they will grow again. We compare them not with our rights and liberties. We worship as our fathers worshipped, not idols which our hands have made.

I am, dear sir, your sincerely affectionate friend,

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