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April 19, 1775, is a cornerstone date in United States military history. The "Shot Heard Round the World" has had a huge impact on the world and settled forever that a free people have the right to govern themselves. At the personal level, a huge number of lives were changed forever. Many of those were the men who stood with Captain Parker on Lexington Green or harassed the redcoats on their march back to Boston.

On the Crown side, Gen. Thomas Gage, Lt. Col. Smith, Major Pitcairn and the names of many other officers now grace the American historian's lexicon. However, little is still generally known about the British redcoats themselves. The non-commissioned officers and men of the British regiments do not appear to have been of concern to contemporary authors and continue to this day to evade illumination by most historians.

The men of the Grenadier Company of 18th (Royal Irish) Regiment of Foot was one such group of men whose lives were also dramatically changed on April 19, 1775. The 18th Regiment's Grenadier Company had last seen traditional active combat in 1727 when a detachment of the regiment from Minorca was involved in the relief of the Spanish siege of Gibraltar. The men who had fought at Minorca were long since gone from the regiment in 1775. The vast majority of the company hadn't ever seen combat. None of the company's three officers had ever been on active service, although, like most of the men, all had served with the regiment while they had been stationed on the Illinois frontier at Ft. Chartres and Cahokia from 1768 until returning to Philadelphia in late 1772. While in Illinois, tensions were high between the British and the Indians and the regiment had been prepared to fight in the woods in order to be prepared to attack the Spanish during the Falklands Crisis of 1770. One grenadier was lost in Illinois to marauding Native Americans. Three men in the company had been transferred from the 9th Foot on its return from the Caribbean in 1769, where that regiment had seen active service against the Red Carribs. For the majority of the company, as well as for the majority of the entire redcoated column, the events of April 19, 1775, were new experiences. Although many of the regiments involved in the events of April 19, 1775, had proud and distinguished histories, few of the redcoats on that march had experienced the trials of combat. Only the 43rd Foot had served in America during the French & Indian War. The 5th Foot and 23rd Foot had seen active service in Europe during the Seven Years War, but most of the veterans of those campaigns had since vanished from the rolls of those regiments.

Pvt. Samuel Lee

A classic case of dramatic change due to the events of April 19, 1775, is the story of Private Samuel Lee. Originally from London, Lee was a career soldier who came to America with the Royal Irish in July 1767 disembarking at Philadelphia. When he enlisted is unclear. Lee was stationed with his company at Philadelphia until the spring of 1768 when a large portion of the regiment including the Grenadier Company was ordered to Fort Chartres on the Mississippi River in the Illinois Country. The regiment marched through Pennsylvania to Ft. Pitt where the five companies bound for Illinois embarked upon flatboats for the journey down the Ohio and up the Mississippi. The detachment arrived in Illinois in September 1768. The Grenadier Company, including Lee, was assigned at Cahokia, Illinois for at least some time during 1771. The majority of the regiment, including Lee's company, returned to Philadelphia via Ft. Pitt in November 1772. Lee remained in Philadelphia until 1774, when the regiment assumed postings in New Jersey as other regiments were being consolidated at Boston after the Tea Party. Lee appears to have been a stable soldier in the regiment having become the regiment's "master taylor" by March 1773. Lee's trade, as well as his being deaf or hard of hearing, are articulated in the court-martial of John Green, another of the regiment's tailors in 1773. Lee testified as a witness for the Crown against Green in the May 1774 court-martial at Amboy, New Jersey. In a company that had more than its share of courts-martial, Samuel Lee's name is never included among those punished. Lee appears to have been a solid, obedient soldier; albeit one without good, or possibly even fair, hearing. In October 1774, the Grenadier Company along with two of the 18th Foot's battalion companies were ordered to Boston. Samuel Lee was among those arriving in Boston on October 23, 1774. Beginning on December 1, 1774, the detachment's orderly book shows the men being ordered to fire live rounds. Training that shows evidence of the serious nature of the tensions between the British government and her American colonies. Such firing with ball continued through the spring of 1775.

The 18th Foot's Grenadier Company was ordered to march to Concord as part of Lt. Colonel Smith's column. The 18th Grenadier Company appears to have been involved in the search of Concord for military stores. The activities of neither the company nor any of the officers are mentioned in contemporary reports, excepting those enumerating losses of men or material. While that searching was conducted, Cpt. John Shee or one of his subalterns appears to have posted sentries around the search area. One of those sentries was Private Samuel Lee.

Captured

Posting a deaf, or hard of hearing, sentry doesn't appear to have been a stellar idea. One Sylvanus Wood, a Minuteman from Woburn, Massachusetts, claimed to have taken advantage of the situation. In his pension declaration, Wood snuck up on Lee (not a particularly tough task to sneak up on a deaf man) and relieved him of his weapon. Wood then marched Lee back to Lexington following the British column. In Wood's own account, Lee was standing sentinel in Concord when captured. Lee was carrying a musket and bayonet along with a "cutlash and Brass fender" and two cartridge pouches. One over the shoulder with 22 rounds and one "box round the waist with 18 rounds."

Secondary accounts place the capture at Fiske Hill outside of Concord where Lee was to have left the rear of the column and sat down, having determined his soldiering days were over. If it was there where Wood came upon Lee, Lee may have readily handed his musket over to Wood. Wood would serve three enlistments with the Massachusetts state troops in Continental service. He would serve as a sergeant and was later promoted to ensign and finally to lieutenant before retiring from the service. At the end of the war, Wood returned to his trade as a cobbler.7

The exact facts of whether Wood captured the first prisoner of the war, as he claimed, or simply came upon the first wartime deserter may never be conclusively known. However, in 1775, the British Army was unclear as to Lee's disposition as well. He was still listed as missing since April 19 in the 18th Grenadier Company's muster roll on October 7, 1775. Both published regimental histories of the 18th (Royal Irish) Regiment of Foot list Lee among the dead. By December 1775 when the men of the 18th Foot were drafted at Boston, Lee appears to have been believed to be a "prisoner with the rebels" and neither dead or deserted.. Lee was among the draughts assigned to the 10th Regiment of Foot. He was assigned to Major John Vattas's Company. He continued to be listed as a prisoner of war in the returns of the 10th Regiment until that regiment was drafted in September 1778. At that time, the British Commander in Chief in America ordered Lee taken off the strength of the 10th Regiment of Foot. It is at that time the British Army appears to have given up on regaining Lee's services.

However, Lee was not dead. He had a valuable trade and set himself up as a tailor in Concord. His exact reasons for deserting or remaining with the rebellious colonists may never be known. One secondary account states that he bribed the Lexington jailer to release him. Another account lists him as being wounded, which might explain his falling out of the ranks on the return from Concord and the ease of his capture. Regardless of how or why, Lee ended up setting up shop as a tailor in Concord. He appears to have improved his standing among the townspeople by trying to pass himself off as a British officer.

Another version of the story has Lee being left behind by his fellow soldiers, who determined there "wasn't enough life left in you [him]" to justify continuing to carry Lee on the retreat. In this version of the story, he was wounded by a Yankee ball while passing the Concord Meeting House and was left at the house of a Dr. Minot. Minot then tended to him, but the ministrations of the doctor's female assistant, Mary Piper, are what actually led Lee back from the precipice of death.

Whatever his rationale, Lee appears to have become a successful member of Concord society. Lee married Mary Piper on July 11, 1776, in Concord. Samuel and Mary Lee had five children, three boys, and two girls. The first, a girl named Polly, was born in January 1777. The 1790 census lists Lee as the head of a household in Concord with three free white males under 16 in his household and four free white females. These were likely his wife and five children and another female relative or servant girl.

Lee died on August 6, 1790, in Concord. He was listed as 45 years old at his death. If that age was accurate, Lee was approximately 30 years old when captured. Lee became prosperous enough in his new county to leave a will. It appears that the United States treated its first prisoner of war extremely well.

 

Tom Woodie is a writer at federal job resume writing service and cultural history researcher. His main purpose is to identify difficult periods in cultural activities. He also likes to share his information with others, the main points to which attention should be paid he is trying to convey to the modern generation through blogs and articles.