Concord's History

Founded only 15 years after the Pilgrims landed at Plymouth Rock, Concord has lived through great events during its four centuries of history.

Main Street, Concord, leading to Monument Square
  • 1635 – Concord founded at the Pennacook settlement of Musketaquid, first New England town beyond tidewater
  • 1775 – Provincial Congresses held in Concord. First colonial victory in the Revolutionary War
  • 1834 – Ralph Waldo Emerson moves to Concord
  • 1840 – The Alcott family moves to Concord
  • 1842 – Nathaniel & Sophia Hawthorne move to Concord
  • 1845 – Henry David Thoreau builds a small cabin at Walden Pond and moves there to live
  • 1860s – Concord serves as a station on the Underground Railway guiding escaped enslaved people to freedom in Canada
  • 1875 – President Ulysses S Grant attends centennial commemoration ceremonies for the 1775 battle at Old North Bridge; Ralph Waldo Emerson reads his Concord Hymn, which is inscribed on the plinth of Daniel Chester French‘s statue, The Minuteman

Musketaquid & Nashawtuck

Egg Rock, Nashawtuck, Concord MA
Insription on Egg Rock at Nashawtuck, where the rivers meet, Musketaquid (Concord MA)

“On the hill Nashawtuck
at the meeting of the rivers and along the banks
lived the Indian owners of
Musketaquid before the white men came.”

Pennacook-Algonquian peoples lived here for thousands of years before the arrival of European explorers in the late 1500s and early 1600s. Some of these people chose a rocky outcrop at the confluence of two rivers for their settlement. They called the place Nashawtuck, “meeting of the rivers” in the area known as Musketaquid, “grassy plain.” The Concord River Valley was home to hundreds of families.

Through the centuries they differentiated the more fruitful, sunny patches of the thin, sandy, rocky soil in which to grow their crops of corn, beans, pumpkins and squash, fertilizing the seedings with fish leftovers. They hunted abundant game. According to early European settlers, they were larger and healthier than the Europeans of the time, with a more nutritious diet and a formidable array of natural cures for illness and injury.

But they had no immunity from the smallpox, bubonic plague, syphilis and other deadly diseases that Europeans brought to this new continent. During the first three decades of the 17th century, up to 90 percent of the indigenous population was wiped out.

 

English Colonists

Jethro's Tree historical marker, Concord MA
Historical marker at the beginning of Main Street at Monument Square.

Reverend Peter Bulkeley (1583-1659), a minister of the Church of England, was in trouble with Archbishop Laud over doctrinal matters and knew he would be removed from his congregation in Odell, England. He resolved to move to the colony of Massachusetts Bay to continue preaching in his own way. 

In September, 1635, the General Court  granted to Rev. Bulkeley, Major Simon Willard and others, “six miles of land square” at Musketaquid for their settlement, which was named Concord. Some of these twelve families moved to the area along Lexington Road between today’s Monument Square and Meriam’s Corner (around where the Alcotts’ Orchard House and The Wayside now stand) and built temporary lean-to dwellings into the hillside.

The following year (1636), the colonists built their first meetinghouse (church building) on the ridge to the north of Lexington Road, and established the Old Hill Burying Ground next to it.

In 1697, the South Burying Place was established (on Main Street at Keyes Road).

In the early 1700s, the town built a new meetinghouse on the site of the present First Parish in Concord meetinghouse (church building). In 1774 and 1775, delegates to the First and Second Provincial Congresses convened  in the Concord meetinghouse, well away from the British colonial government in Boston.

Revolutionary Concord

Old North Bridge, Concord MA
Minutemen march across Old North Bridge

Early on the morning of April 19, 1775, colonial militia in Concord and neighboring towns received word that a force of 700 “Regulars” (British soldiers) were on their way to search and destroy military supplies which British spies had reported being gathered at Concord.

Word of the bloody battle on Lexington Green was rushed to Concord where the Minutemen, now numbering about 250, retreated across the North Bridge over the Concord River in the face of the superior British force.

The British commander established his headquarters in the Wright Tavern  and set his troops on the search for arms. Seven companies (about 100 men) were sent to cross Concord’s North Bridge and proceed to Barrett’s Farm, where British intelligence had determined that military equipment was hidden. A small force of about 95 soldiers under an inexperienced commander, Captain Walter Laurie, was ordered to secure the bridge.

"Will You Let Them Burn the Town Down?"

Redcoats fire muskets on Patriots Day
Redcoats fire toward the advancing Minutemen at Old North Bridge

The Concord Minutemen took up positions atop Punkatasset Hill, only 300 yards (274 meters) northwest of the bridge, as reinforcements of Minutemen and other militia from surrounding towns—Acton, Bedford, Lincoln and Sudbury —continued to arrive, augmenting their force to about 400 men.

As the redcoats in the center of Concord pursued their mission, they discovered and burned some wooden gun carriages (cannon mounts). The fire spread to the meetinghouse, and the smoke rising from the town, easily visible from Punkatasset Hill, convinced the Minutemen that the British were burning their homes.

“Will you let them burn the town down?” Adjutant Joseph Hosmer cried as a call to action.

First Revolutionary Victory

Minutemen fire on the British at Old North Bridge, Concord MA
Minutemen return British fire at Old North Bridge

The Minutemen advanced down the hill under orders to fire only if fired upon. The British force holding the bridge retreated across the bridge. A redcoat officer began to remove planks from the bridge in order to slow the Americans’ advance, which only angered the Minutemen.

When the two forces were only about 50 yards (46 meters) apart, a shot rang out—most probably from an exhausted, inexperienced, frightened British soldier. Hearing it, other British soldiers began to fire as well, and the Minutemen responded.

The battle lasted only a few minutes, but when the musket smoke cleared, half of the British officers were wounded, and a dozen of their troops were dead or wounded. They retreated toward the town seeking reinforcements.

Patriots Day

"The Minuteman," by Daniel Chester French
"The Minuteman," by Daniel Chester French

The shot heard ’round the world was fired from the Minutemen’s muskets at Concord North Bridge, where this band of farmers held off professional soldiers. 

But this first victorious battle of the American revolution was truly won by the colonial militias as the British retreated toward Boston. Sniping from behind trees and stone walls along the road back to Boston, Minutemen brought the British casualty count up to 200, a grievous and embarrassing loss for the powerful, well-equipped forces of the Crown.

News of the events in Lexington and Concord spread like wildfire through the British colonies in America, forcing every American to choose sides: would one be loyal to the Crown, or committed to the revolutionary cause? There was no middle ground.

Each year, on the Monday closest to April 19th, Patriots Day (a holiday in Massachusetts), the battles of Lexington and Concord are re-enacted to commemorate the beginnings of the American Revolutionary War.

Literary Concord

Stone Marker for Authors Ridge
Marker for Authors Ridge in Sleepy Hollow Cemetery

Until the 1830s and ’40s, Americans looked to Great Britain and Europe for literary and philosophical guidance, but in those years American thinkers and writers began to form a distinctly American literature.

Ralph Waldo Emerson moved to Concord in 1834 to live in his grandfather’s house, the Old Manse right next to Old North Bridge. In 1840, Bronson Alcott brought his family, including young Louisa May Alcott, to Concord to live at The Wayside, and later Orchard House. In 1842, newly-married Nathaniel Hawthorne and his bride Sophia rented the Old Manse from Emerson to be their first home.

In 1845, native Concordian and Harvard graduate Henry David Thoreau built a small cabin near the shore of Walden Pond, and left his family home to live, observe nature, and write in the cabin for two years, two months and two days.

All of these literary lights and others lived, wrote, and enjoyed one another’s company in mid-century Concord. Their works, and their fame, spread throughout the world and continues to spread today.

Concord is still a “writers’ town,” with an annual Festival of Concord Authors featuring such literary lights as historian Doris Kearns GoodwinWicked author Gregory Maguire, MIT professor Alan Lightman, and many more.

Also in the 1800s, Concord amateur botanist Ephraim Wales Bull developed the Concord grape which became the foundation of a nationwide taste for Concord grape jelly and sweet wine promoted by the Welch’s company.

Beach at Walden Pond, Concord MA
Beach at Walden Pond, Concord MA

Concord Today

Concord Visitor Center
Concord Visitor Center on Main Street near Keyes Road

Concord, Massachusetts is a town of nearly 18,000 inhabitants in Middlesex County, 20 miles (32 km) west of Boston, part of the Greater Boston statistical area. Its original 1625 size of “six myles of land square” has grown to nearly 26 square miles (67 square kilometers). Today, Concord boasts over 1400 acres (567 hectares) of conservation land: forests, fields, waters and parks.

In the cherished tradition of New England direct democracy, the annual Town Meeting brings together Concord citizens at the public high school for discussions and votes on all major town budget and other decisions, which are then carried out by a Select Board (town council) and professional Town Manager.

Many Concordians commute to nearby towns and to Boston for work, but Concord has its own thriving business community, including Emerson Hospital, some light industry, shops and professional offices.

Concord is home to three fine high schools and a number of primary and middle schools both public and private.

Concord-Carlisle High School (CCHS) ranks in the top 10% of Massachusetts public high schools. Private schools include Concord Academy (founded 1922) and Middlesex School (founded 1901).

Another sort of “school” is the Massachusetts Northeastern Correctional Center, a minimum-security, pre-release prison on a 300-acre (121-hectare) campus. Concord District Court serves Concord and surrounding towns.