Major John Buttrick, Commander at the Battle of Concord

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About Major John Buttrick, Commander at the Battle of Concord

A Patriot of the American Revolution for MASSACHUSETTS with the rank of LIEUTENANT COLONEL. DAR Ancestor #: A017837

Major John Buttrick commanded Colonial forces at the first battle of the American Revolution. Some time after the Battle of Concord John Buttrick was promoted to the rank of colonel. Some references to Buttrick accord him this rank, but most writers apparently prefer to think of him as having the rank he held on April 19, 1775, during that historic event.

One account:

The night before April 19, 1775, British Regulars (infantrymen) were reported to be advancing toward the town of Concord, Massachusetts. Major John Buttrick was the senior officer of Concord's militia company. He mustered his men to some ground on the Concord side of North Bridge, the route the British troops must take to reach Concord. Just before the British arrived, Lt. Col. John Robinson (1735-1805) (or Col. James Barrett — accounts differ) arrived with Minutemen from Westford, Massachusetts. Although Robinson/Barrett was the technically the ranking officer among the assembled American militia and minutemen, he honorably deferred command of the companies to Major Buttrick. The men assembled in a column, militia to the left, minutemen to the right. Buttrick and Robinson led from the front, side by side, the two officers guiding the Americans down to the bridge. The first volley from the Royal Regulars splashed through the Concord River beneath the bridge as a warning to the advancing swell. The second British volley, more direct in intention than the first, propelled a musketball through Robinson's coat just under one arm, to severely wound a volunteer from Acton, Massachusetts, who was marching directly behind Robinson. A hundred years later Ralph Waldo Emerson famously referred to the first bullet fired in the colonials' response as "the shot heard 'round the world." At first the Americans' guns made the British Regular forces hesitate, and then sent them into full retreat.

Sources: David Hackett Fischer, Paul Revere's Ride, Oxford, page 146. George E. Downey, A History of the First Parish of Westford, Town of Westford, 1975, page 27. Allen French, Historic Concord, Cambria, 1942, pages 66 and 68. Major John Pitcairn – Battles of Lexington and Concord. The Henderson Island Website: Minute Man National Historical Park. National Park Service website:

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A second, differing account of the Battle of Concord:

Historic Buttrick Facts Reviewed and Revised

By D. Michael Ryan, company Historian with the Concord Minute Men, an 18th Century interpreter with the National Park Service and Associate Dean of Students at Boston College.

History is not always as simple and factual as it often appears. Such is the case of North Bridge hero John Buttrick and his epochal role on 19 April 1775.

By October 1774, the Provincial Congress ordained that militias reorganize as an Army of Observation and to defend against sorties out of Boston by the British Regulars. Each town was to place a quarter of its militia into minute companies — volunteers only, ready for immediate response to an alarm of danger. These men would elect their own officers. On 17 January 1775, Concord mustered its first such company and selected Charles Miles captain.

Contrary to popular historians (Shattuck and Ripley through the present), when Concord's second minute company formed on 30 January, it did not elect David Brown captain. The original muster document shows that by unanimous vote, John Buttrick was chosen for that honor and his senior lieutenant was Brown.

Military preparations continued through February/March with counties grouping minute and militia companies into similar regiments and selecting field officers. In the Concord area, the militia regiment was commanded by Col. James Barrett; the minute regiment by Col. Abijah Pierce (Lincoln). The latter unit chose John Buttrick as its Major and thus his company received a new captain — David Brown — who would lead it at the Concord fight.

Hearing the alarm on the morning of 19 April, John Buttrick was one of the first arrivals at the Green and as senior officer set about organizing the mustering companies. As his outnumbered force withdrew to Punkatasset Hill to await reenforcements, Col. Barrett chose Buttrick to be his ground commander. The quick promotion and sudden thrust into leadership would bring hazard and fame to the Major, for instead of being with the 2nd unit in the line of march to the Bridge, he would be in the forefront.

As the ranks grew to some 400 men, the colonials moved closer to the Bridge for ease of observation. While anxiously awaiting events to unfold, smoke was seen rising from Concord center and it was thought the town was being burned. Barrett gave the order to march and Buttrick, alongside Capt. Isaac Davis, Acton (the lead company) and Lieut. Col. John Robinson, Westford (arrived with no men; declined command but not a position of honor) advanced to destiny.

At the Bridge, several warning shots were fired by the Regulars followed by a volley which killed Davis and Abner Hosmer. The American command to fire has historically been attributed to Buttrick who according to tradition leaped from the ground, partly turned to his men, shouted "Fire fellow soldiers, for God's sake, fire!", then discharged his musket. But can these words and actions be substantiated or are they as some believe embellishments or 19th Century revisionist, romantic history?

Rev. Ripley (1827) states that Tilly Buttrick (at the front of Brown's company, second in line) stood near the Major and was positive that he distinctly heard the words and saw the motions. Shattuck (1835) relates similar events. Eyewitness, timely accounts in support do not exist. Participant depositions (1775 Capt. Barrett and 15 men; 1825 Amos Barrett, Concord; 1835 Thomas Thorp, Acton) only note the command to fire being given with no named source. However, in July 1835, Acton minuteman Solomon Smith stated in a deposition, "Major Buttrick exclaimed "Fire, for God's sake, fire!"" While close to the action in the lead company, was his remembrance valid or was it based on historic suggestion and/or on a memory clouded after 60 years?

In an interesting aside, Miss Olive Ann Prescott, Col. Robinson's great great granddaughter, in her 1896 memoirs wrote that her ancestor marched with Buttrick and Davis. When the latter was killed, family tradition says that Robinson shouted, "Fire! In the name of God, fire!" It has been suggested that in the heat of battle both the Buttrick and Robinson stories could be correct.

Perhaps it will never be completely substantiated what manner of command was given and by whom. But is such of import? Buttrick led the march, the order to fire was given and followed, resulting in the killing and wounding of the King's soldiers leading to a revolution. Is embellishment - heroic or romantic - harmful to the deeds and ideals which were displayed at the Bridge?

Buttrick's 1791 epitaph reads in part, "Having with patriotic firmness, shared the danger which led to American Independence...". Thus history is corrected, words debated but the spirit and memory of John Buttrick, 19 April hero, continues to live on in Concord.


This web page cites sources: "The Day of Concord and Lexington" by Allen French, 1925. "History of the Fight at Concord" by Rev. Ezra Ripley, 1827 "Memoirs" by Olive Ann Prescott, 1896 (Westford Library) Special Collections, Concord Free Public Library, 1775 Muster Document, Second Minute Company. "We Were There" by Vincent J-R Kehoe, 1974 (depositons). "Buttrick in the U.S.A. 1635-1978" by Richard Butrick, 1979. river's edge flowers

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A third account:

On April 19, The militia had marched for about a mile or so before they saw the Regulars coming. They halted and held position until the British were within 100 rods and then they turned around and marched ahead of the British back toward Concord.

At 7:00 A.M., Col. James Barrett and Maj. John Buttrick, Barrett's second-in-command, kept the Concord militia just out of reach, moving from ridge to ridge before the British. They withdrew through the town to another ridge and held a council-of-war. They decided to withdraw across the North Bridge.

Barrett and his militia watched from the west side of the river as the British entered Concord. Lt. Col. Francis Smith, the commander of the British expedition, assigned the task of securing the town to the grenadiers. He sent 1 company of light infantry to secure the South Bridge and 7 companies to the North Bridge. He chose to remain with the grenadiers in the town and kept Pitcairn, his second-in-command, with him.

The grenadiers peacefully went about searching for the supplies accumulated by the Massachusetts Provincial Congress for the provincial army. However, in their impatience, they did a poor job of destroying the supplies. They threw barrels of flour and musket balls into the pond where both were easily recovered by the locals the next day. Aside from 3 24-lb. cannon that were found and destroyed, the townspeople had 3 days to remove much of the supplies to other towns.

At the North Bridge, Parson was in command of 7 companies of light infantry, a total of 196 soldiers. There were about 400 provincial militia on the nearby ridge. He left 1 company on the west side of the bridge. Two more companies were placed about a 1/4 mile away, commanded by Capt. Walter Laurie. He then took the other 4 companies and marched to Barrett's Farm to seize ammunition and supplies as ordered by Smith.

When the militia began to see smoke rising from town as the grenadiers burned captured supplies, they worried that the British were going to burn the town. They decided to move into action. They held a council-of-war and decided to march back across the bridge into town to prevent its destruction. Barrett ordered the militia to not fire until fired upon by the British Regulars, then "to fire as fast as we could." The militia began to to approach the lone company at the bridge. After a conference between the junior officers, now left in command of the situation at the North Bridge, the other 2 companies moved back to join the third at the bridge.

The militia closed to within 300 yards of the North Bridge and the 3 companies of British light infantry. A messenger was sent into town to inform Smith of the situation. He returned with word that Smith was sending some reinforcements. With the militia continuing to close in, the British retreated back across the bridge to the east side. They did not have time to properly form lines of defense.

The militia that was bearing down on them was commanded by Barrett. It was made up of 6 companies: 2 from Concord, and 1 each from Bedford, Lincoln, Acton and Carlisle. Individual minutemen also came from Westford, Chelmsford and Littleton. As they closed in, the British could not completely form up and then the firing started, most likely from the British. The militia returned fire. The British returned with scattered fire and began an undisciplined retreat back to Concord.

Halfway back to Concord, they met Smith, leading a company of grenadiers. He was too late, so they wheeled around and marched back into Concord. The militia remained by the bridge, lining a stone wall along the road. When Parsons and his 4 light infantry companies returned from Barrett's farm, they were unmolested by the militia and were startled by the sight of the dead and wounded still left at the bridge.

Smith remained in Concord for another 2 hours. Unaware of the events back in Concord, Parsons had taken his time returning from Barrett's Farm. The provincials did nothing except to find themselves something to eat. Barrett did not even call his officers together for consultation. Smith probably delayed in Concord in hopes of having the reinforcements that he had requested hours before reach him before he had to begin the march back.

Around noon, Smith and the British made final preparations for a return march. The wounded were taken to local doctors, since there wasn't any army surgeons that had accompanied the expedition. The walking wounded lined up in the middle of the columns and some 4 hours after they entered the town, they set out from Concord. The militia that had been at the North Bridge as well as another hundred that had turned out from nearby towns had congregated at Meriam's Corner where the Lexington and Bedford roads forked. They fired upon the British column as it crossed a narrow bridge nearby. This began an incessant fire on the British force that continued along the entire route.

As they neared Lexington, the British were running out of ammunition and just plain running in some instances. Morale and discipline were all but gone. Then a cannonball crashed into the Lexington meetinghouse. Lord Percy was on the Boston side of the Common with the reinforcements. Through a set of staff errors, the reinforcements had not left Boston until after 9:00 A.M., even though Lt. Gen. Thomas Gage had issued the orders at 4:00 A.M.

It was about 2:30 P.M. when Percy's relief force made contact with Smith's expedition at Lexington Common, where hostilities had begun 8 hours earlier.. Percy used his field artillery to keep the militia at a distance while the wounded were tended to and Smith's men were given a rest. At approximately 3:45 P.M., the entire British force was ready to get under way.

Maj. Gen. William Heath had arrived to assume command of the provincial forces. Dr. Joseph Warren, the Boston local that had sent William Dawes and Paul Revere to warn the countryside the night before, also arrived with Heath to join the militia at Lexington. Warren had received word of firing at Lexington Common 8 hours before. He had followed Percy's force to Menotomy where he joined the Committee of Public Safety.

Flanking parties and occassional cannon fire by the British Regulars were sometimes effective in reducing the militia firing. Four hours after leaving Lexington, Percy's force reached Charlestown at 8:00 P.M., having enduried the militia firing upon them nearly the entire route. Once in Charlestown, they were protected by the ships anchored in Boston Harbor. While the British reached the safety of Boston that evening, they would not leave again until they evacuated the city a year later. A ring of nearly 6,000 militia and American minutemen began to turn out to encircle the city and the Siege of Boston had begun.

On April 20, Warren set up a headquarters in Cambridge and took control of the political aspects of the events of the previous day. Gen. Artemas Ward took military command of the militia companies surrounding Boston.

The colonists were stunned by their success. No one had actually believed each side would shoot and kill each other. Some advanced; many more retreated; and some went home to see to the safety of their homes and families. Colonel Barrett eventually began to recover control and chose to divide his forces. He moved the militia back to the hilltop 300 yards away and sent Major Buttrick with the Minutemen across the bridge to a defensive position on a hill behind a stone wall.

Smith, leader of the British expedition, heard the exchange of fire from his position in the town moments after he had received a request for reinforcements from Laurie. Smith assembled two companies of grenadiers to lead towards the North Bridge himself. As these troops marched, they met the shattered remnants of the three light infantry companies running towards them. Smith was concerned about the four companies which had been at Barrett's. Their route to return safely was now gone. Then he saw the Minutemen in the distance behind their wall, and he halted his two companies and moved forward with only his officers to take a closer look.

In the written words of a Minuteman behind that wall: "If we had fired, I believe we could have killed all most every officer there was in the front, but we had no orders to fire and there wasn't a gun fired." During this tense standoff of about 10 minutes, a mentally ill local man wandered through both sides selling hard cider. Smith returned his grenadiers to the town and hoped for the best for the remaining four companies.

These men, unaware of what had happened, marched back from their fruitless search of Barrett's farm. They passed unharmed by Barrett's militia on the muster field and through the tiny battlefield, saw dead and wounded comrades lying on the bridge, including one who looked to them as if he had been scalped, which angered and shocked the British soldiers. They then passed sullenly over the bridge, unharmed by Buttrick's Minutemen. The regulars all returned to the town by 10:30 a.m. Even after a small skirmish, and with superior forces, the British colonists still did not fire yet unless fired upon, and this time the regulars did nothing to provoke them. The British Army continued to destroy colonial military supplies in the town, ate lunch, reassembled for marching, then left Concord after noon.

American Forces: Strength: 3,763 Killed: 49 Wounded: 39 Missing/Captured: 5

British Forces: Strength: 1,800 Killed: 73 Wounded: 174 Missing/Captured: 26

Source: The Battle of Concord. The American Revolutionary War website:

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He was ultimately promoted to a colonel and the inscription on the headstone reads:

"In memory of Colonel John Buttrick who commanded the Militia Companies which made the first attack upon the British Troops, at Concord North Bridge, on 19th of April 1775. Having, with patriotic firmness, shared in the dangers which led to American Independence, he lived to enjoy the blessings of it, and died May 16th, 1791, aged 60 years. Having laid down the sword with honor, he resumed the plough with industry, by the latter to maintain what the former had won. The virtues of the parent, citizen, christian, adorned his life, and his worth was acknowledged by the grief and respect of all ranks at his death."

The cemetery is located in the center of Concord, right off of the rotary. As you enter from the sidewalk, there is a very newish stone displaying the names of 6 to 8 prominent Concordians who are buried there, Major John Buttrick among them. (It is on your left as you proceed up the small path.) To locate John Buttrick's headstone, proceed up the small path. It goes up pretty steeply, and bears right as it does so. As you approach the top of the hill you will come to a small brick structure. It looks like an oversized out-house. If you pass this structure on the "downhill side" (ie: it will be on your left) and proceed straight to the far edge of the cemetery, you'll find a number of Buttrick stones, one of which is the Colonel's. (Note that you will have turned a full 90-degrees to your right -- relative the way you were facing when you entered at street-level -- by the time you pass the brick structure.) John Buttrick's stone is about 1 1/2 to 2 inches thick and stands 4 to 5 feet high, by 2 to 2 1/2 feet wide. It is a grey/black slate.



Although one could hardly say that "the first shot fired in the Revolutionary war" was at Concord, as earlier in the same day an encounter had taken place at Lexington, where eight men were killed, and nine wounded on the American side, and several of the British soldiers were wounded, to Major John Buttrick belongs the honor of giving to his troops the first order ever given to American rebels to fire upon the soldiers of their king. The bronze statue of the Minute Man by Daniel C. French, dedicated by the town on the centennial anniversary of the fight, stands on the spot where this "all irrevocable order" was given, the site having been given by Stedman Buttrick, a lineal descendant of the emigrant William, from whom he had received the land through the generations. The house is still standing in which Major John lived during the Revolution. It is said to have been built in 1712 by his ancestor, Jonathan Buttrick. At the east of it is the lawn where the militia and minute men were formed, preparatory to their march to the bridge; near by a stone in the wall, within a little enclosure marks the grave of the two British soldiers who fell and were buried by the side of the road, and in the burying-ground on the hill is a stone setting forth the estimable character and distinguished services of Major John Buttrick. He was born July 20, 1731, married June 24, 1760 Abigail Jones and d May 16, 1791. In "The Story of Concord, as told by Concord writers," edited by Josephine L. Swayne, and pub. in Boston, 1906, by the K. F. Worcester Press is a letter written to his grandson in 1825 by Amos Barrett, who, a youth of 23 yrs. fought as a private in Capt. David Brown's company.

Although too long to be re-published in its entirety, it gives a most graphic description of the encounter. "We at Concord heard that they (the British troops) was acoming. The bell rong at three o'clock for alarum. As I was then a Minit man, I was soon in town and found my Capt. and the rest of my Company at the post. It wasn't Long before thair was other minit Companeys. One Company I believe, of Minnit men was Raised in a most every town to stand at a minit's warning. Before Sunrise thair was, I believe, ISO of us and more of all that was thair." (It may not be known to all the readers of the magazine that the word "Minute man" is said to have been coined in Concord and used first Jan. 9, 177S when the town voted to pay each minute man a certain rate per diem for ten months. The officers of the Minute men were Abijah Pierce of Lincoln, Col., John Buttrick, of Concord, Major David Brown and Charles Niles of Concord and Isaac Davis of Acton, Captains, etc. Joseph Hosmer, acting as adjutant, formed the soldiers as they arrived singly or in squads on the field near Major Buttrick's residence — the minute companies on the right and the militia on the left, facing the town.)

"We thought we wood go and meet the British. We marched Down towards Lexington about a mild or a mild half and we see them acomming. We halted and Staid until they got within about 100 rods, then we was ordered to the about fall and marched before them with our Droms and fifes agoing, and all so the British. We had grand Mustek." (The White Cockade, an old Jacobite tune, intensely disliked by the Hanoverian soldiers, was the tunc played.) "When we was on the hill by the Bridge thair was about 80 or 90 British come to the Bridge and there made a halt—after awhile they began to tair the plank of the Bridge. Major Buttrick said if we wair all of his mind he wood drive them away from the Bridge, they should not tair that up. We all said we wood go. We then wasn't Loded. We wair all ordered to Load and had Stricked orders not to fire till they fired first, then to fire as fast as we could. We then marched on, Capt. Davis' minit Company marched first, then Capt. Allen's minit Company. The wone that I was in next. We marched 2 Deep . . . Capt. Davis had got, I Believe, within 15 Rods of the British when they fired 3 guns, one after the other. I see the balls strike in the River on the Right of me. As soon as they fired them, they fired on us. Their balls whistled well. We then was all ordered to fire that could fire and not Kill our own men. It is Stringe that their wasn't no more killed, But they fired to high. Capt. Davis was killed and Mr. Osmore [Hosmer] and a number wounded. We Soon Drove them from the Bridge. When I got over their was 2 Lay Dead and another allmost Dead. We did not follow them. Their was 8 or 10 that was wounded, and a Running and Hobbling aBout, Lucking back to see if we was after them."

Ezra Ripley in his History of the Fight states that John Buttrick Jr. and Luther Blanchard were the fifers who led the "grand Musick." He says: When the Americans arrived within ten or fifteen rods of the bridge, and were rapidly moving forward, one of the regulars, a sharp-shooter, stepped from the ranks and discharged his musket, manifestly aimed at Major Buttrick or Col. Robinson. . . . This gun was immediately followed by a volley which killed Capt. Isaac Davis and Private Abner Hosmer of Acton. Major Buttrick instantly jumped from the ground and partly turning to his men exclaimed: "Fire, fellow soldiers, for God's sake, Fire!" Major Buttrick's order ran along the line of militia and minute men, the word "Fire, Fire," came from a hundred lips and a general discharge instantly followed from the Americans. They fired as they stood and over each other's heads.

In honor of April 19, 177S, the artillery of Concord were presented with two cannon captured from the British, on which was placed the following inscription: "The legislature of Massachusetts consecrate the name of Major John Buttrick and Capt. Isaac Davis, whose valor and example excited their fellow citizens to a successful resistance of a superior number of British troops at Concord Bridge the 19th. of April, 1775, which was the beginning of a contest in arms that ended in American Independence."—Gen. Ed.

Source: Daughters of the American Revolution magazine, Volume 49, November 1916, published by Daughters of the American Revolution, pp. 351-352.


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Colonel John Buttrick, son of Jonathan Buttrick (3), was born at Concord, July 20, 1731, died May 16, 1791, aged sixty. He was a prominent citizen in town and military affairs before the Revolution and held the rank of major, when the Revolution began. He was in command of the American forces at Concord, April 19, 1775. Shattuck, the historian of Concord, says: "His name will be handed down to posterity with distinguished honor for the noble stand he took, and the bravery he manifested in leading a gallant band of militiamen on to meet the invading enemy at North Bridge and for beginning the first forcible resistance to British arms. He then returned the fire, saying, 'Fire, Fellow soldiers, for God's sake, fire,' and discharged his own gun the same instant." The inscription on his monument reads : "In memory of Colonel John Buttrick, who commanded the militia companies which made the first attack upon the British Troops at Concord, North Bridge, on the nineteenth of April, 1775, having with patriotic firmness shared in the damages which led to American Independence, he lived to enjoy the blessings of it and died May 16, 1791, aged sixty years."

"Having laid down his sword with honor, he resumed the plough with industry; by the latter he maintained what the former had won. The virtues of the parent, citizen and Christian adorned his life and his worth was acknowledged by the grief and respect of all ranks at his death." During the summer of 1775 he was major in the regiment of Colonel John Nixon at the siege of Boston. He was commissioned lieutenant-colonel of Colonel John Robinson's regiment, August 1, 1775. He was colonel of Volunteers, acting as captain of a volunteer company in Colonel Reed's regiment at the taking of Burgoyne, serving from September 28, 1777, to November 7, following, and his company was detached from Colonel Brooks's regiment to reinforce General Gates to the northward. He was in the Rhode Island campaign in 1778, when his regiment was detached to reinforce the Continental army.

His house was on the hill west of Flint's Bridge; occupied lately by Captain Francis Jarvis. His gun is still in the possession of the family and his tobacco box is at Antiquarian Hall, Concord. He married, June 24, 1760, Abigail Jones. Children/ all born at Concord: 1. Colonel John, born October 8, 1761, mentioned below. 2. Levi, born October 11, 1762. 3. Jonas, born November 17, 1764. 4. Abigail, born December 8, 1766. 5. Esther, born August 8, 1768. 6. Anna, born September 19, 1770. 7. Stephen, born August 25, 1772. 8. Phebe, born October 17, 1774. 9. Horatio Gates, born March 4, 1778. 10. Silas, born May 15, 1780.

Source: Historic homes and places and genealogical and personal memoirs relating to the families of Middlesex County, Massachusetts, Volume 2, edited by William Richard Cutter, Lewis historical Publishing Company, 1908, page 451. Downloaded 2011 from

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Major John Buttrick, Commander at the Battle of Concord's Timeline

July 20, 1731
Concord, Middlesex, Massachusetts
October 8, 1761
Age 30
Concord, Middlesex, Massachusetts
October 11, 1762
Age 31
November 17, 1764
Age 33
Concord, Middlesex, Massachusetts
December 8, 1766
Age 35
August 8, 1768
Age 37
Concord, Middlesex, Massachusetts
September 19, 1770
Age 39
August 25, 1772
Age 41
October 17, 1774
Age 43
Concord, MA, USA