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We the People

Lexington’s Multifaceted Tapestry of Freedom

Since being settled by colonists as a farming community in 1642 and becoming the parish of Cambridge Farms in 1691, Lexington has been a community composed of individuals from diverse socioeconomic backgrounds. The Black, Indigenous, and white residents were free, indentured and enslaved. Most of the residents of Colonial Lexington were born in or had ancestors from Africa and Europe. Many of the stories of the men, women and children who built this historic town were not recorded. Those whose stories were recorded experienced and influenced the events that led up to the American Revolution in different ways.  

The Patriots who participated in or supported the first shot of the Revolution and subsequent battles were drawn from this diverse population. Lexington’s population would have included farmers, tradespeople, and other residents who participated in various ways in the events leading up to and during the Revolutionary War, such as serving in the local militia or supporting Patriot efforts. 

Despite their differences, these Patriots shared a common desire for freedom, independence, and self-governance. They were united by their discontent with British rule and their commitment to challenging oppressive policies and asserting their rights as colonists.

In recognizing the contributions of all members of the Lexington community, regardless of their status, we gain a more nuanced understanding of the Revolutionary War and the ideals for which it was fought. It serves as a reminder that the quest for liberty and justice transcends individual circumstances and encompasses the collective struggle for freedom and equality.

Below are some of the stories of those brave men and their neighbors who participated in the political, economic and cultural life that created “The Birthplace of American Liberty.”

The Burdoo Family

It was in the early 1700s that Phillip Burdoo, a trailblazing figure in Lexington’s history, etched his name as the town’s first Black freeman. Alongside his wife, Ann Solomon Burdoo, Phillip acquired 40 acres of land on Bedford Street, nearly opposite old Simonds Tavern. Their homestead became a beacon of hope and opportunity for their growing family, symbolizing the aspirations of generations to come.

As freeman, Phillip participated in the annual town meetings, shaping the destiny of his community with each vote cast. Ann Burdoo’s admission to the church in 1708 marked a significant milestone, solidifying the family’s ties to the community and its religious institutions. Their first four children – Philip, Eunice, Moses, and Aaron – were baptized in the same hallowed halls where generations of Lexingtonians had gathered to worship and commune.

The Burdoo lineage continued to flourish, with Moses emerging as a steward of the family legacy, acquiring the Burdoo homestead from his parents in 1746.

Moses’ union with Phebe Banister of Concord bore witness to both joy and sorrow, as they welcomed a son, Eli, into their midst before Phebe’s untimely passing. 

As tensions mounted and the call to arms reverberated throughout the colonies, Eli Burdoo answered the summons, stepping forward to defend his homeland. Baptized in Lexington on July 20, 1775, Eli joined the ranks of Captain John Parker’s Lexington militia company, serving valiantly ‘in the morning and in the afternoon of the memorable 19th of April.’ He continued to answer the call of duty, serving in a special detachment of Captain Parker’s militia from May 6 to 10, 1775, and again on June 17 and 18 of the same year.

Though records are scarce for the year 1776, Eli’s dedication to the cause remained unwavering. In 1777, amidst the looming threat of General Burgoyne’s advance on northern New York, Eli once again donned his uniform, serving as a private in Colonel Eleazar Brooks’ regiment of Middlesex County militia. With the urgent need for reinforcements, Eli transferred to Captain Samuel Farrar’s company in Colonel Jonathan Reed’s regiment on September 29, 1777, joining the ranks of those destined to ‘reinforce Northern army under Gen. Horatio Gates.’

The Town of Lexington, also known as Cambridge Farms, was indeed a microcosm of the broader complexities of American society during that era. It was home to both free individuals like the Burdoo family, who played significant roles in shaping the community, and enslaved Africans and their descendants. Some of these Black residents remained enslaved until their deaths, while others were manumitted by their enslavers or achieved self-emancipation. Some had their freedom purchased by others. Many of the stories of the enslaved Black residents of Lexington have yet to be rediscovered, highlighting the need for further research and understanding of this aspect of the town’s history.

As we peel back the layers of time, the tale of the Burdoo family and the enslaved Black residents of Lexington serves as a poignant reminder of the complexities that underpin America’s rich tapestry, weaving together threads of courage, resilience, and the relentless pursuit of freedom.

Phebe Banister Burdoo

By the time Phebe Banister arrived in Lexington, the Burdoo family was already established as a free Black farming family. Phebe came from Concord, but little is known beyond that fact. Phebe married Moses Burdoo in 1754. She would have done many domestic tasks and tended the family’s garden, helping to provide food. Phebe soon gave birth to a son, Eli, who was baptized in 1755. Phebe died October 8, 1756, of unknown causes. Her legacy lived on through Eli, who served in Captain Parker’s company in 1775. Phebe represents the free Black women who contributed to our community and country in a myriad of ways from the colonial period on. She was a Mother of the revolution.

Dinah Bowman Lew and Barzillai Lew 

Barzillai Lew was a fifer in Captain Thomas Farrington’s Company from Groton. After serving in the French and Indian War, he purchased the freedom of Dinah Bowman (1744–1837). He married Dinah in 1768. Dinah was a pianist who had been enslaved in Lexington, Massachusetts. 

Barzillai and Dinah Lew had several children who grew up to be musicians. Barzillai Lew enlisted as a fifer/drummer in May 1775 in the 27th Massachusetts Regiment. He participated in the successful raid at Fort Ticonderoga in 1775 that brought the cannons back to Boston that drove the British out in 1776. He also fought at Bunker Hill in June 1775, playing the tune, “There’s Nothing Makes the British Run Like Yankee Doodle Dandy.” He was also witness to British General John Burgoyne’s surrender to American forces at Saratoga, NY in 1777. The powder horn he carried throughout the war now sits in an African-American History museum in Chicago.


Jack was purchased by Reverend John Hancock from Isaac Powers of Littleton in 1728. However, Jack may have been a teenager at the time of his purchase, as the price Hancock paid, £85, is consistent with the sale of other teenage enslaved people of the time. The money was provided by the town of Lexington so that their minister could focus more on his religious duties and less on domestic labor. 

Jack was likely responsible for many of the Hancocks’ domestic chores: farming, tending animals, preparing food, chopping wood, and carrying goods between Hancock households. The artifacts of household work displayed in this room speak to Jack’s life. The luxury goods in the house illustrate what his labor helped buy. The Hancocks’ wealth was, at least in part, a result of Jack’s labor.

Prince Estabrook

Prince Estabrook, enslaved to Benjamin Estabrook, was a member of the Lexington militia. He mustered with that militia under the command of Colonel John Parker during the early morning hours of April 19th. Prince Estabrook was struck by a musket ball in his left shoulder during the first armed conflict of the American Revolution. 

Over the course of the next eight years, Prince Estabrook served several tours with the militia and with the Continental Army. Similar to many enslaved and indentured soldiers, Prince Estabrook’s payment for serving in the military likely went to his master. 

It is unclear if Benjamin Estabrook had manumitted Prince Estabrook before Prince mustered out of Colonel Michael Jackson’s regiment in 1783. However, we do know that Prince Estabrook was no longer enslaved in 1783. Through the Worcester Cases aka Quock Walker Cases, in 1783 Massachusetts became the first state to abolish slavery.

Quawk and Kate Barbadoes 

By July 11, 1756, Quawk and Kate acquired their freedom and took the surname Barbadoes. They likely took the name of their place of birth, which was a common practice. 

Isaac Barbadoes, their eldest child, enlisted in the Continental Army from Woburn in 1777. From the enlistment records, it appears that Isaac was not a Woburn resident but likely a resident of Shrewsbury. He was part of the class of enlistees who were hired from time to time by Woburn to fill its quota or by private individuals to act as substitutes for them. 

Private Isaac Barbadoes enlisted in April 1777 and died a few months later on December 1, 1777. Private Barbadoes served under Capt. Edmund Munro’s company in Col. Timothy Bigelow’s regiment, the 15th Massachusetts Regiment.

Anna Harrington

Five years before the Battle of Lexington, Anna Harrington had hosted a Spinning Match. This was a form of economic, political, and social protest dominated by women. The women took their grandmother’s spinning wheels out of attics and took on the laborious work of making cloth rather than pay distasteful taxes on imported cloth. Many had their wheels repaired by wheelwright Captain John Parker. 

Abigail Harrington

On the morning of April 19, 1775, Abigail Harrington famously awoke her teen-aged son Jonathan by calling, “The Regulars are out and Something must be done!” This call to action was echoed by the daughters and granddaughters of the revolutionary-era women who pushed to expand liberty by ending slavery and establishing women’s right to vote. These activists used Abigail’s words “Something must be done!” on a suffrage banner in 1877, drawing parallels with the themes of patriotism, liberty, and justice. That banner was passed to a new generation of Lexington activists, and carried in the 1913 Woman Suffrage Procession.

Lieutenant William Tidd

William Tidd was born in Lexington on July 11,1736. William’s military career starts with Captain Parker’s Company and his involvement on the Green, where he held the second highest rank of Lieutenant. He served as Lieutenant in Cambridge from May 11 to May 15, 1775. He served as Lieutenant under Parker when Captain Parker marched to Cambridge the 17th of June 1775. They stayed in Cambridge for two days, the 17th and 18th of June.

At the time of the start of the Revolution, William Tidd tried to believe himself a loyal subject of King George. After the Revolution, which commenced on that April morning he canceled his allegiance.

Based on the rules and regulations of the Lexington Company of 1775, William Tidd could only hold his position as Lieutenant for one year, which he did.


Did You Know?

Did You Know?

Phillip Burdoo and his wife, Ann Solomon Burdoo, were the first free Black residents in Lexington. Their homestead became a beacon of hope and opportunity for their growing family, symbolizing the aspirations of generations to come.