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John Parker: July 13, 1729–September 17, 1775


John Parker aka Captain John Parker was a NewEngland colonial farmer, ironsmith, soldier and Revolutionary War colonial militia officer who commanded the Lexington Patriot, colonial militia at the Battle of Lexington on April 19, 1775.

John Parker was born on July 13, 1729 in Lexington, Massachusetts, to Josiah Parker and Anna Stone. He lived his entire life in the Massachusetts colony. He and his wife Lydia Moore Parker had seven children together.

Parker got his first military experience with the British in the French and Indian War at two of the most important battles of the war, the Siege of Louisburg in 1758 and the Battle of the Plains of Abraham in 1759. After the war, he returned to Massachusetts. His experience during the French and Indian War contributed to his election as the militia captain for the town of Lexington.

On April 19, 1775, the British commander in Boston Thomas Gage dispatched an expedition of approximately 700 army regulars under Lieutenant Colonel Francis Smith to search the town of Concord for hidden rebel supplies and weapons caches. Lexington lay directly on the road that Smith’s men took to reach Concord.

When reports of the approaching British force reached Lexington overnight, men from the town and the surrounding area began to rally on the Common. Parker’s Lexington company were not minutemen, as sometimes stated, but from the main body of Massachusetts Militia. Parker was initially uncertain as to exactly what was happening. Conflicting stories arrived through intelligence. The British regular soldiers had spent much of the winter engaged in harmless route marches through the Massachusetts countryside, so their exact intentions in marching towards Concord were not exactly known.

Word arrived in Lexington that the British were marching from Boston to seize and or destroy Patriot military supplies at Concord. At this point, John Parker was forty-six years old, suffering from tuberculosis and on his death bed. On the morning of the April 19, he mustered his strength and walked two miles to Lexington Green to take command of the seventy or so militiamen awaiting the British regulars. Here, Parker is said to have told his men, “Stand your ground. Don’t fire unless fired upon, but if they mean to have a war, let it begin here.”

Nobody knows who fired the first shot of the American Revolution, but in the brief skirmish on Lexington Green, eight of Parker’s men died (including his cousin Josiah) and another ten men fell wounded. The British column continued their march to Concord, did not find the supplies, and started marching back to Boston on the same road. The Lexington militia under Parker regrouped along the road, hiding behind rocks and trees, ready to ambush the British column. The Lexington militia fired in a single group of attacks along the road that would inflict heavy casualties on the British as they retreated.

When Smith became aware that the countryside had been alarmed and that resistance might be encountered, he sent a detachment of light infantry under Major John Pitcairn ahead of the main column. Pitcairn’s advance guard reached Lexington first and drew up on the Common opposite Parker’s men. Parker ordered his men to disperse to avoid a confrontation, but they either failed to hear him or ignored his instructions. Shortly afterwards firing broke out despite the fact that both sides had orders not to shoot. In the following fight eight militia were killed and ten wounded while one British soldier was wounded. The lopsided casualty list led to initial reports of a massacre, stories of which spread rapidly around the colony further inflaming the situation. There still remains considerable doubt as to exactly what occurred during the fight at Lexington, and a variety of different accounts emerged as to what had taken place and who had fired first. By the time Smith arrived with his main body of troops ten minutes later, he had trouble restoring order amongst his troops, who had chased fleeing militiamen into the fields around the town. Smith then decided, in spite of the fighting, to continue the march to Concord.

During the skirmish, Parker witnessed his cousin Jonas Parker killed during a British bayonet charge. Later that day he rallied his men to attack the regulars returning to Boston in an ambush known as “Parker’s Revenge.”

Parker and his men participated in the subsequent Siege of Boston, but due to the poor condition of his health, he was unable to serve at the Battle of Bunker Hill.

Parker and his wife, Lydia (Moore) Parker had seven children: Lydia, Anna, John, Isaac, Ruth, Rebecca and Robert. The Parker homestead formerly stood on Spring Street in Lexington. A tablet marks the spot as the birthplace of a grandson, Theodore Parker, a Unitarian minister, transcendentalist and abolitionist who also donated two of Captain Parker’s muskets to the state of Massachusetts. One was the light fowling-piece which he carried at Quebec and Lexington and another which he captured. Both muskets hung in the Senate Chamber of the Massachusetts State House until a 2018 renovation.

Parker died of tuberculosis on September 17, 1775 at age 46. He is interred at the Old Burying Ground in Lexington, Massachusetts.

The statue known as The Lexington Minuteman (1900) was modeled after Parker and was originally meant to represent the common Minuteman, but has now commonly become accepted as symbolizing Parker. It is by sculptor Henry Hudson Kitson and stands at the town green of Lexington, Massachusetts. No known portraits or likenesses of Parker from his time are known to survive today. One description of Parker was “a stout, large framed man, of medium height, somewhat like his illustrious grandson, Theodore Parker, in personal appearance, but had a much longer face.”

The United States Army Reserve (USAR), which consists primarily of part-time duty personnel, adopted John Parker as a symbol of their motto, “Twice the Citizen.” Though no image of Parker exists, the only official logo of the United States Army Reserve is referred to as “The John Parker.”

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