(Detroit Publishing Company)

Just about everyone knows about the Battles of Lexington and Concord. It was from this stage that "the shot heard `round the world" echoed out and it was here that Paul Revere made his famous midnight ride. But do you know why the British were coming to Lexington and Concord? The answer to that question may surprise you.


In 1775, tensions between British forces and the colonists in Massachusetts were on the rise. Disputes over taxation without representation and payment for tea destroyed in 1773's Boston Tea Party had led colonists to begin stockpiling weapons. The British figured that by capturing some of the colonists' leaders, Samuel Adams and John Hancock among them, they could put the potential insurgency down.

The Minute Man, a statue by Daniel Chester French erected in 1875 in Concord, Massachusetts, depicts a common member of the militia.

(National Park Service photo)

The troops also had another set of orders, though: confiscate colonial arms and disarm the insurgents. Prior to Lexington and Concord, General Thomas Gage's troops had carried out at least one similar operation, seizing over 250 half-barrels of gunpowder. That didn't go over well with the colonists, who protested the seizure.

In quick response, colonists developed intelligence networks to warn of future raids. As a result, many disarming efforts were thwarted because arms and supplies were hidden ahead of time. However, in April, 1775, Gage discovered the location of a major supply depot for the colonists in Concord, Massachusetts. Gage ordered about 700 troops to raid this stash.

After a brief skirmish on Lexington Green, British troops arrived in Concord. There, things went badly for them.

(Amos Doolittle and Ralph Earl)

The rest, as you know, is history. After the Battle of Lexington, where a small detachment of colonial militiamen were brushed aside by the British, and a somewhat successful operation in Concord (some cannons were disabled), British troops exchanged fire with colonists at the North Bridge in Concord. That sparked a running battle, during which the militia used guerrilla tactics to inflict serious casualties on the British.

Afterwards, the British were bottled up in Boston by colonists. It was the start of a long war that, eventually, resulted in the United States of America becoming an independent nation. A war that was started by an attempt to disarm the American colonists.