When the “shot heard ’round the world” started the American Revolution at the Battle of Lexington and Concord on April 19, 1775, one brave Massachusetts farmer, Samuel Whittemore, ran to the sound of the guns and killed three British soldiers. 

When Whittemore tried to raise his sword, the British troops shot him in the face, bayonetted him six times, and clubbed him with rifle butts, leaving him for dead. Whittemore, then at a ripe old age of 78, not only survived but lived for another 18 years, dying at 96.

Samuel Whittemore, the Revolution's Oldest Lion
Monument dedicated to Samuel Whittemore where he fought the British during the Battle of Lexington and Concord. The monument erroneously has his age at 80 at the time of the battle.

An Experienced Soldier Who Fought for the British in Two Wars

Samuel Whittemore was born on July 27, 1696, in Charlestown, Massachusetts. After the death of his first wife, he married Mrs. Esther Prentice, fathering three sons and five daughters. Whittemore owned a farm in Menotomy, which still stands today in Arlington.

He was first mentioned in local newspapers in 1738 when he spoke “in a loud voice” stating that recently elected Selectman John Vassall was “unfit for said trust and was no more fit… than the horse that he, Samuel, rode on.”

In the days before the American Revolution, the British colonists fought often with the French, who owned Canada, and their Indian allies. Whittemore, nearly 50 years old, enlisted as a private in the Third Massachusetts Regiment.

He took part in what was known as King George’s War from 1744-1748 and was involved in the capture of Louisburg in 1745. A pair of dueling pistols and an ornate sword captured from a French officer were his prizes.

Later, during the French and Indian War, he became a captain of the Dragoons at the age of 64. He once again took part in the capture of Louisburg and a later operation against Chief Pontiac. 

The Political Career of Samuel Whittemore

As King George and the British Parliament imposed more and more taxes and laws against the colonies, Whittemore was called to represent his fellow citizens. After the repeal of the hated Stamp Act in 1766, he served as a committeeman for the Town of Cambridge. He was elected as a delegate to the Massachusetts Committee of Convention in 1768 and served on the Cambridge Committee of Correspondence.

In 1768, the Governor of Massachusetts Francis Bernard dissolved the General Court of Massachusetts after it refused to rescind a circular letter sent to parliament protesting the Townsend Acts as imposing unconstitutional duties and taxes upon the colonists. He invited the other colonists’ legislatures to join Massachusetts. Whittemore served as the town moderator. 

Whittemore became increasingly agitated at the British government’s unlawful treatment of the colonists. Soon afterward, the committees of Cambridge, Brookline, Roxbury, and Dorchester met for a joint conference on resisting the Tea Act. Whittemore represented Cambridge and served alongside such well-known patriots as Samuel Adams, Dr. Joseph Warren, and Josiah Quincy, Jr.

Although he had fought for the Crown in two different wars, he was, in his old age, fed up with the unfair treatment the colonists, especially in Massachusetts, were receiving. So, when he heard of the fighting at Lexington and Concord he decided that the time for action had arrived. 

Against All Odds

Samuel Whittemore, the Revolution's Oldest Lion
Whittemore’s gravestone in Massachusetts. (Associated Press)

As the British forces were retreating from Concord, a British relief force was approaching. Samuel Whittemore left his fields and loaded a musket and grabbed his two dueling pistols the sword he had taken from the French officer. When the British troops approached his farm, he crouched behind his stonewall. 

The skirmishers on the flanks soon came within range. He raised his musket and killed a British soldier. Then, drawing his pistols, he killed another soldier while mortally wounding a third. Whittemore then tried to produce his sword, but the British troops were on him quickly. One soldier shot him in the face, while others bayonetted him half a dozen times and clubbed him with rifle butts. They left the old farmer in a pool of blood. 

After the British moved off, colonial Minutemen found Whittemore trying to reload his weapons. His family rushed him to the Cooper Tavern. There Dr. Nathaniel Tufts, of nearby Medford, who attended to him said he wouldn’t survive his wounds.

But Samuel Whittemore proved everyone wrong.

In 2005 the famously tardy Massachusetts state government finally recognized Whittemore as a Hero of the American Revolution.