Lt. Col. John Robinson
– June 13
) was a colonial militia and Continental Army
officer from Westford, Massachusetts
during the war of the American Revolution
. He was the highest ranking colonial militia officer to participate in the battle at North Bridge
in Concord, Massachusetts
on April 19th, 1775. He would later fight at the Battle of Bunker Hill
, serve under General George Washington
during the Siege of Boston
and, in 1786, along with Job Shattuck
of Groton, Massachusetts
would be complicit in the agrarian insurrection which became known to history as Shays' Rebellion
Robinson was born in Topsfield, Massachusetts in 1735. At the age of 29 he would marry Miss Huldah Perley of Boxford, Massachusetts, the niece of famed French and Indian War Major General Israel Putnam of Pomfret, Connecticut.
Toting the pedigree of such influential relations, Robinson was perhaps provided a more direct path to leadership than the average citizen. Not long after migrating from Topsfield to Westford in search of open farmland, Robinson was appointed to the rank of Lt. Col. in the local minuteman regiment under the command of Col. William Prescott of Pepperell, Ma. His regimental rank was second in command to the man whom would later lead the rebel defense at the Battle of Bunker Hill.
Concord and Lexington
The exact manner in which Robinson was alarmed on the early morning of April 19th, 1775 has been lost to history. Accounts vary, although it is almost certain that Col. Robinson was notified in person of the advance of British Regulars. Most documents relay the story of an unknown, lone alarm rider rousing the officer and his family in the dead of night. However, professor David Hackett Fisher of Brandeis University asserts that the township as a whole was alerted by the firing of an alarm signal from the nearby village of Carlisle, a Northern precinct of Concord, thereby creating a more general internal alarm throughout the vicinity. Regardless, once roused it seems apparent that Robinson moved in great haste to join his fellow Minutemen. Robinson, Rev. Joseph Thaxter
(carrying his now legendary brace of flintlock pistols) and a handful of earnest Westford Minutemen undertook the nine mile march in the dead of night to Concord's North Bridge. They arrived in time to participate in and bear witness to the first reciprical battle of the American Revolution. Although being the highest standing senior officer in rank amongst the assembled groups of militia and minutemen from the surrounding towns and villages, Robinson honorably deferred his command to Major John Buttrick
of Concord whose militia company was already present and fully mustered. When the time for action was required, the companies were assembled in line, militia to the left, minutemen to the right. Buttrick and Robinson led from the front, side by side, the two officers guiding the entire column of men 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 the arm and severely wounded an Acton volunteer marching directly behind Robinson. The colonial response, eternally commemorated by Ralph Waldo Emerson
one hundred years later as "the shot heard 'round the world" at first withered, then fully repulsed the British Regular forces, sending them into full retreat.
Battle of Bunker Hill
Robinson fought from the redoubt on Breed's Hill under the command of Col. William Prescott
of Pepperell, Massachusetts
. His bravery and valor in outflanking a charge of British regulars along a low fence on Breed's Hill was noted by Prescott in an August 25, 1775 letter to Continental Congressman John Adams
. "I commanded my Lieut Coll. Robinson...with a detachment to flank the enemy" Prescott related, "who I have reason to think behaved with prudence and courage."
Service at Cambridge
Col. Robinson commanded a regiment of over 400 militiamen at Cambridge under the authority of General George Washington
during the Siege of Boston
from late 1775 to March 23, 1776. His official tenure ended soon after Henry Knox
's famous display of captured Fort Ticonderoga
artillery brought to a close the British occupation of Boston and forced the wholesale evacuation of Royal forces from the colony. However, the mirth of the Royal retreat was short lived for the Robinson family. The appallingly unsanitary conditions of Cambridge camp life created a scourge of diseases which were quickly spread throughout New England by the returning soldiers. These diseases were to have devastating affect on both soldier and citizen alike. In a period of less than two weeks time, between the days of August, 30 and September 9, 1775, three of John Robinson's daughters, all under the age of ten, would perish from camp fever.
In 1786, Robinson took up arms against the Massachusetts Courts in the post-war farmer's revolt later known as Shays' Rebellion
. Little is known of his actual role in the rebellion, his great-Granddaughter Olive Ann Prescott, describing his action as "an honest mistake" yet noting that he always had fought "with an innate hatred of injustice wherever found". It is known that he acted in concert with Job Shattuck
of neighboring Groton, MA
, a notable leader in the uprising whom Robinson had commanded in Prescott's militia and at the Regimental camp at Cambridge. On September 12, the day on which the Middlesex County Court in Concord was forced to adjourn by an armed mob of Shaysites, "The number at 11 o’clock was about seventy, but increased in the afternoon to about two hundred and fifty, by the arrival of others from Worcester county; and from other towns in Middlesex, among whom Col. Robinson of Westford was conspicuous."
The John Robinson elemetary school in Westford, Massachusetts
is named in his honor.
- Http://www.westford1775.org - Website of Westford Historical Society President Daniel Lacroix
- William Diamond's Drum (later republished as Lexington & Concord), Arthur B. Tourtellot, Norton, 1959
- Concord and the Dawn of Revolution, D. Michael Ryan, History Press, 2007
- The Minutemen, John R. Galvin, Potomac Books, 1989
- The Minutemen and their World, Robert A. Gross, Hill and Wang, 1976
- The Day the American Revolution Began, William H. Hallahan, Perennial, 2000
- Fusiliers, Mark Urban, Walter & Company, 2007
- The Battle for Bunker Hill, Richard M. Ketchum, Doubleday, 1962
- Revolutionary Boston, Lexington and Concord, Joseph L. Andrews, Jr, Commonwealth, 1998
- Shays's Rebellion, Leonard L. Richards, Penn, 2002
- Paul Revere & the World He Lived In, Esther Forbes, Houghton Mifflin, 1942
- Lexington to Concord, Mary L. Martin & E. Ashley Rooney, Schiffer, 2007
- Traces of the Past, A Guide to Minuteman National Historic Park, Various, Eastern National, 2002
- Heroes of the Battle Road, Frank W. C. Hersey, Lincoln Historical Society, reprinted 1983
- The Battle Road, Charles H. Bradford, Eastern National, 1975