the Concord MagazineJune/July '99

Doolittle Engraves April 19th
for Posterity

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

"THIS DAY PUBLISHED, and to be SOLD at the STORE of Mr. JAMES LOCKWOOD, near the College, in New-Haven, Four different views of the BATTLES of LEXINGTON, CONCORD, etc. on the 19th of April 1775" "Connecticut Journal" December 13, 1775

Thus was advertised the only pictorial record by a contemporary American of the events of 19 April. While historians have noted minor inaccuracies, the general consensus has been that the four prints are a correct, detailed representation of the fights with a real claim to authenticity. But how did they come to be and why is so little known of them and their artists?



Amos Doolittle (1754-1832), a New Haven silversmith, had by 1775 also become a copper engraver and member of the Governor's Second Company of Guards (Capt. Benedict Arnold, commanding). Receiving word of the fighting on 19 April, 40 volunteers of this company marched to Cambridge, MA, arriving on 29 April. Among the ranks were Doolittle and a portrait painter named Ralph Earl (1751-1801). Camp life being dull, the two received permission to journey to Lexington and Concord in order to investigate sites of the recent conflict and in some manner preserve the events.

In early May, the adventurers traveled for several days, Doolittle interviewing fight participants and Earl sketching landscapes at four locations. Amos instructed the painter as to what activities were to be depicted in each scene and even posed with musket when needed. Only a solitary person - Levi Harrington, Lexington - reported the visit thusly, "...a stranger from Connecticut came here to take a sketch of the village as it appeared on the 19th of April 1775... and he afterwards published a series of copper plate engravings".

By late May, Doolittle and Earl had returned to home where the four paintings ("... taken on the spot") were completed and transformed into copper "neatly engraved" plates used to make a set of prints "plain ones or coloured". Being maiden efforts by both artists, neither placed their name on the advertisement.

The Concord plates (II and III) depicted "A View of the Town of Concord with the Ministerial Troops destroying the Stores" and "The Battle at the North Bridge in Concord"; Lexington plates, "The Battle of Lexington" (I) and "The South Part of Lexington where the first Detachment were joined by Lord Percy" (IV).



Lost in obscurity, these prints surfaced in the late 1800s/early 1900s to critical acclaim and were carefully studied. Though crude and rustic in craft, they were rich in detail and accurate as to events. Criticism centered on whether Earl - a banished Tory by 1777 - had marched to Cambridge or painted scenes harmful to the British Army. There were claims that Doolittle used the water colors of a 14 year old for his engravings but those paintings were accomplished in 1777-78 and probably from Amos's 1775 prints. In 1831, Doolittle credited Earl as his cohort in conversations with historian J. W. Barber and the friendship of the two was verified in June 1800 when the noted artist Earl displayed his work at the home of Doolittle.

Other criticism centered on the fact that no British soldiers had been interviewed and thus the prints were biased and propaganda for the colonials. Small detail errors were pointed out - uniforms and equipment wrong, formations and troop dispositions incorrect. Lexington was upset that its militia was not shown returning fire on the Redcoats. To the complaint that too many activities were depicted at once, Doolittle answered that his intent was to condense time at each location and show as many events as possible in each scene.



Unanswered were questions as to how many original prints were published, how many complete or partial sets remain and what happened to the original engraved plates and paintings. Over the years, numerous re-engravings and reprints have been done but searches for the Earl paintings have produced but one possible success - "View of the Town of Concord" currently in the Concord Museum. Yet this too is shrouded in controversy with some engravings it to be original (passed Minots to Brooks to Merricks to Buttricks) while others believe it to have been painted by a Concord man, copied from the Earl version.

Centuries after his first major effort at engraving, Amos Doolittle is receiving the recognition he deserves. Concordians may view the two local scenes from the same vantage points as Earl (Burying Hill looking to Mill Dam; Manse field looking to North Bridge) and see familiar landmarks. Two fascinating artists with different political views came together to provide contemporary views of significant events for America and Concord. In doing so, they provided a window to our Town for 1775, 1998 and the future.


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Sources

"In Freedom's Cause" by Walter Muir Whitehall, 1975

"The Doolittle Engravings..." by Ian M.G. Quimby, Winterthur Portfolio 4, 1968

"History & Antiquities of New Haven" by John W. Barber, 1831/1856

"Ralph Earl's Historical Painting, A View of the Town of Concord" by William Sawitzky, Antiques, September 1935

"Lexington and Concord - The Earliest Illustrations of April 19, 1775" by Rev. Edward G. Porter, Lexington, 1883



Art: Topaz Designs



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