Richard DerbyCONCORD AND LEXINGTONJohn Derby
" The shot heard round the world "
The some had not cleared from the battlefields of Lexington and Concord
before a dispute arose as to which side had fired the first shot. The Patriots vehemently
asserted that the British were the aggressors, and that they in turn were equally positive
that the rebels had begun the fight.
To us, at this present day, the point in dispute seems of very lime consequence, but at that time, it was naturally considered a matter of vital importance. Not on account of its effect on America. but the leaders feared that their cause would greatly suffer, if it were to be believed that the Patriots fired first. It may be said that the question is still in doubt, the latest writer, Mr. Justin Winsor, inclining to the opinion that the accidental discharge of a musket of one of the Americans preceded the British fire. As it was certain that General Gage would take the earliest opportunity to send to England his version of the affair, the necessity of instant action, if anything was to be done to counteract the evil influence of his account, was apparent to all. Accordingly, three days after the battle, the Provincial Congress of Massachusetts, which was then sitting at Watertown, appointed a committee to go to Lexington and Concord, ' to take depositions, from which a full account of the transactions of the troops under General Gage may be collected to be sent to England by the first ship from Salem.
The next business was to find a ship and a trusty messenger. For neither of them did they have to look too far or long. The Staunch Patriot, the rich Salem merchant, Captain Richard Derby, on hearing what was needed, offered to furnish a vessel and send his son John of bearer of the despatches. This offer was greatly accepted, and his schooner "Quero" of sixty-two tons burden was immediately prepared for the trip, and a crew enlisted. An absolute secrecy was enjoined in respect to the voyage, the sailors were not informed of the destination of the vessel. From a word dropped in one of the accounts however, it seems probable that they were led to believe that the vessel was going to Lisbon. It took three days to hear and record the stories of the eye witnesses to the two skirmishes; and before the committee returned to Watertown, word came that Lieutenant Nunn bearing the report of Lieutenant-Colonel Smith, the Commander of the British troops in the fights, had sailed for England on the twenty-fourth on the ship "Sulky'. Though chagrined that General Gage should have gotten the start of them, The Patriot leaders did not give up their plan, An address to the people of Great Britain was written in which, while grievances of the Colonists were plainly set forth, their devotion to their King is no less clearly asserted. " We profess ", it said, " to be loyal and dutiful subjects, so hardly dealt with us as we have been are still ready with our lives and fortunes to defend his person, family, crown and dignity. Nevertheless to the persecution and tyranny of his cruel ministry, we will not tamely submit. Appealing to Heaven for the justice of our cause, we determine to die to be free. " A letter to the Colonial Agent in London was also written in which he was urged to cause the depositions and the address, 'to be immediately printed and dispersed through every town in England and especially to be communicated to the Lord Mayor, Alderman and Councilman in the City of London, that they might take such an order as they might think proper. On the twenty-seventh, the Committee of Safety passed the following: ' Resolved that Captain Derby be directed and is hereby directed to make for Dublin or any other good port in Ireland, and from hence across to Scotland or England, and hasten to London. This direction was given so that he may escape all enemies that may be in the chops of the Channel, to stop the communication of the Provincial intelligence to the Agent. He will, thenceforth deliver his papers to the Agent on reaching London. J. Warren chairperson P.S. You are to keep order a profound secret, from every person on earth.
On the following day, all preparations having been made, the 'Quero" sailed. Captain Derby carried with him besides letters and documents, several copies of the Salem Gazette, which contained detailed accounts of the 19th of April. The British frigate "Lively" was blocking the Marblehead Harbor at the time, but the little schooner fortunately escaped her notice at got safely to sea. It was not until she reached the banks of Newfoundland that the sailors knew that they were sailing for Great Britain.
On nearing the Irish coast, Captain Derby was in great doubt as for which port he should steer. His instructions were indeed very explicit, but he reasoned that much valuable time would be lost in going to Dublin and he was already being Gages messenger. This thought probably determined him and the order was given to steer for the English Channel.
Here again the plucky sailor was fortunate in eluding the British Cruisers, and on Saturday afternoon, May 27th, the "Quero' cast anchor off the Isle of Wright, twenty-nine days from Salem, a very good passage for that time. The Captain with his dispatches was immediately set ashore, first having directed the mate to take the schooner to Falmouth, off the Cornish coast, and wait for him there. Naturally, his first question at landing at Southampton would be, " Have you heard of the Lexington fight?" No. Nothing was heard of it here! Was it possible that he had beaten the "Sulkey" after all? This exalt hope only added wings top his impatience to be in London, as soon as practicable, he was on his way. All the next day he rode, his Puritan conscience doubtless suffering somewhat from the foot that it was Sunday.
The people from whom post-chaise brought to their doors, as it dashed through towns and villages on the Post Road, little dreamed that a Yankee seaman in it was the bearer of tidings of the birth of a great nation.
It was nearly nightfall before the ride of the nearly eighty miles was over, and London was reached. Derby went directly to the house of the Colonial Agent, expecting to find Dr. Benjamin Franklin to whom his letters were addressed, but Franklin had just returned to America and Arthur Lee had taken his place. As he met the agent, the question leaped to his lips " Have you heard any news of the Battle of Lexington?"
The answer was "No". Derby had beaten in the race. Hastily, he told his story and gave his letters and documents to Mr. Lee, who, appreciating the importance of the tidings, made instant preparations for the printing and distribution of the Address, as directed by the Congress of Massachusetts. This done, he apparently took Captain Derby, or sent him to Lord North with whom he was closeted with for two hours.
The next afternoon, London was startled by the report that there had been a conflict between British troops and the Provincials, and that blood had been shed. The excitement was intense, the more so as, only four weeks before, on May 3rd as Gov. Hutchinson tells it in his Diary, one of those strange and unaccountable rumors spread through the city that there had been a battle and that, "Gage had lost a thousand men"
Runners were posting the address on every street corner, and the popular indignation against the Government waxed deep and strong. In vain, did the Ministers protest that they had received no information, and that the Yankee Captains story was not to be believed? They even caused a card officially to be printed. Immediately, however there appeared another card signed by Arthur Lee, in which, on referring to the doubt cast on Captain Derby's veracity, he informed, " All those who wish to see the original affidavits which affirm the account are deposited in the Mansion House with the Right Lord Honorable Mayor for their inspection. Thither, according, a vast throng went out. Captain Derby was sent for and examined by the Privy Council, before whom he bore himself with great dignity and Independence, but it said that he positively refused to see Lord Dartmouth, the Minister most hated by the Americans.
A meeting was held in the City at which 1 000 pounds was subscribed for the families of the Patriots who had fallen in the fight. So intense was the feeling that Mr. Rogers, the father of the Poet, put on mourning when he heard the news and never took it off until the day he died. And to the vast chagrin of the Ministry, especially to Lord Dartmouth, the "Sulkey" with Lt. Nunn did not arrive.
Our sailor, however felt, that his task was only half done; he must hasten home again to tell his anxious countrymen how deeply their brothers in England sympathized with them. A Post Chaise was hired and he is on the road again to the south coast. He stopped at Portsmouth only long enough to learn that the schooner had left, and he continued his journey to Falmouth where he found the vessel waiting for him. His preparations for the voyage were soon made, and he is on board. The anchor is hoisted and the sails are spread and the " Quero " is merrily ploughing the blue waters of the Channel, homeward bound and still the " Sulkey " has not arrived. Gallant John Derby reached Salem on i8 July, but without stopping to go home, he went directly to the camp at Cambridge to tell General Washington how the news of the Battle of Concord and Lexington had been received in England and to learn from him the story of Bunker Hill. A week later, he is at home, possibly with his father and brother, Elias Haskett, wrote out a bill. The trip cost I43-9-2 pounds and was duly paid for on August 1 1775. Derby charged 5-0-8 pounds for his expenses in England but also included this entry:
To my time in executing the voyage from hence to London and back ------- Nothing a 0
Adapted from Salem in the Eighteenth Century By James Duncan Phillips Riverside Press 1937 Cambridge Mass
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