Colonial militias in the Boston area had grown stronger and more vehemently opposed to the British rule ever since the Intolerable Acts had been imposed following the Boston Tea Party. General Thomas Gage, the military governor of Massachusetts and commander of about 3,000 British troops stationed in Boston, received special orders from William Legge, Earl of Dartmouth, the American colonial secretary of state: Gage was to remove the rebels' stored weapons housed in Concord, and capture local leaders Samuel Adams and John Hancock.
Gage dispatched Lieutenant Colonel Francis Smith with a force of about 700 regulars to proceed to Concord. Gage, however, did not order the arrest of Adams or Hancock and warned Smith to
"seize and destroy... all Military stores... But you will take care that the soldiers do not plunder the inhabitants or hurt private property."
Gage hoped to avoid armed conflict, and he decided against the arrests of Adams and Hancock because it "might spark an uprising." When the British arrived at Lexington, a tiny force of militia awaited them under Captain John Parker. Although Parker ordered his men to disperse, a shot was fired, and the British eventually charged, killing eight militiamen. The war was on.