In what way and to what purpose were reports of the events of April 19th manipulated for public consumption, especially as related in David Hackett Fischer's book Paul Revere's Ride?

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booboosmoosh | High School Teacher | (Level 3) Educator Emeritus

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In David Hackett Fischer's book, Paul Revere's Ride, April 19th refers to the Battles at Lexington and Concord. The "skirmish" at Lexington was the most controversial because it is considered by many to have started the Revolutionary War. The manipulation of the events of this confrontation would serve to describe one side as the antagonist and the other as a group of innocent victims.

When the colonials gathered at Lexington, it was clear that they were outnumbered. The leader of the militiamen was Captain John Parker. Because he was ill, his voice could not be heard clearly, so there was some confusion among his men when he gave orders during the confrontation with the regulars. The regulars (the Redcoats) were careful not to do anything that might be misconstrued as an act of aggression.

At Lexington, there were only about 80 militiamen (though one member of the regular forces reported 200-300). The British army was made up of much larger numbers. Parker instructed his men not to start anything with the Regular Troops unless they "molested" the colonial soldiers. When the regulars attacked quite suddenly, Parker reported that he tried to warn his men... disperse and not fire:—Immediately said Troops made their appearance and rushed furiously, fired upon, and killed eight of our Party without receiving any Provocation therefor from us.

The colonists were already resentful of King George's treatment of "his colonial subjects" and equally so because of the presence of His Majesty's military forces. The detriment the regulars suffered in being to blame for this unnecessary attack simply intensified the hatred the British colonials had for the King and his soldiers.

From the British leader, either Pitcairn or William Sutherland, an order may have been given to...

...lay down your arms, you damned rebels!

Parker did order his men to disperse and go home, but in the confusion—with Parker's poor voice—his orders were not clearly heard by all—none of his men laid down the guns. While Parker and Pitcairn both gave the order to "hold your fire," someone (no one knows for sure) did fire. One of Parker's militia reported that no one in their ranks had fired. Witnesses standing with the regulars reported a shot from a colonial "onlooker." Others reported the shot came from "a mounted British officer." However, both sides agreed that the shot did not come from the forces that were facing each other on the ground at the Lexington green.

Blaming the British discredited them, impugning the "sense of honor" they insisted that they followed in all things. Blaming the colonists really did not cause them much worry: the British monarchy and soldiers already believed the New Englanders to be a collection of stubborn, disorganized and weak "rabble" (troublemakers). Their staunch resistance was a credit to all of them, especially in that the English military was unprepared and was forced to contend with these amazing men upon reaching Concord.

In sympathy with their fellow colonials, placing the blame for "the shot heard round the world" encouraged other colonists to join the forces fighting against the Crown. This would have further united them and galvanized them into immediate action to protect their homes, families and possessions (farm lands, supplies, money, etc.). Manipulation of this news (by word-of-mouth or publication) would have inspired further support of the colonials and less cooperation with the King's representatives.