Boston merchant John Rowe knew everyone involved in the run-up to the American Revolution, and he quickly learned about the Battles of Lexington and Concord. Fortunately for historians, John Rowe kept a diary for more than 10 years during that tumultuous time.
Rowe famously owned one of the tea ships, the Eleanor, involved in the Boston Tea Party.
Born in England in 1715, he emigrated to Boston as a young man and lived the rest of his life there. He made a fortune as a smuggler, a slave trader and a land developer. He owned vast swaths of property, and today his name remains a Boston landmark. The wharf he owned to this day bears the name Rowes Wharf.
He managed to walk a middle path during the American Revolution. Rowe belonged to the Loyal Nine, forerunners of the Sons of Liberty. Royal Gov. Thomas Hutchinson accused him of inciting the mob that destroyed his house.
But he had friends among loyalists, and unlike many patriots he didn’t leave the city during the Siege of Boston. Somehow he managed to stay neutral during the Revolution and he did not favor war with Great Britain. That makes his account of the Battles of Lexington and Concord especially interesting.
Lexington and Concord
His account of what happened at the Battles of Lexington and Concord on April 19, 1775 goes as follows.
19 Aprill Wednesday Last night the Grenadirs of Light Companies belonging to the Severall Regiments in this Town were Ferryd over Charles River & Landed on Phipps Farm in Cambridge from whence they Proceeded on their Way to Concord, where they arrivd Early this day. On their march they had a Skirmish with Some Country People at Lexington. The First Brigade commanded by Lord Percy with Two pieces of Artillery set off from this Town this morning abt Ten of Clock as a Reinforcement which with the Grenadiers & Light Infantry made about Eighteen hundred Men. The People in the Country had Notice of this movement Early in the Night.
Alarm Guns were fird thro the Country & Expresly sent off to the Different Towns so that very Early this morning Large Numbers from all Parts of the Country — were Assembled. A Generall Battle Ensued which from what I can Learn was Supported with Great Spirit on both Sides and continued untill the Kings Troops got back to Charlstown which was near Sunset. Numbers — are Killd & Wounded on Both Sides. Capt Linzee & Capt Collins in two Small Armd Vessells were indeed up Charles River to Bring off the Troops to Boston but Lord Percy & Generall Smith thought Proper to Encamp on Bunkers Hill this Night. — this Unhappy — affair is a Shocking Introduction to all the Miseries of a Civil Warr.
I dind at home with the Revd Mr Parker Mr Linzee Mrs Rowe & Geo Inman, & spent the Evening at home with Mr Inman Mr Linzie Mrs Rowe Geo Inman & Jack.
John Rowe died in 1787.
This story about John Rowe’s account of the Battles of Lexington and Concord was updated in 2021.