The Musket That Fired the Shot Heard ‘Round the World

Munroe musket

Meeting Hall at the Colonel Timothy Bigelow Chapter of the Daughters of the American Revolution in Worcester, Massachusetts,  home to Ebenezer Munroe’s musket.

When Ebenezer Munroe awoke on his 23rd birthday, he probably couldn’t have imagined that his musket would be the one to fire “the shot heard ‘round the world,” or that it would end up in the home of a Loyalist judge, under the care of the Daughters of the American Revolution, in a city whose claim to fame is that they effectively ended British rule without firing a single shot.

But it’s true.

On this particular day I was sitting alone in the meeting hall of the Colonel Timothy Bigelow Chapter house, looking up at Ebenezer’s musket.  I had just mounted it above the fireplace.  I stared at it in awed silence, as though I were viewing the painting of a master in some cathedral . . . but this was more than a work of art.

It had taken me a long time to realize the significance of this musket.   When I first saw it in our collection, I thought, “oh how nice.  We’ve got a musket from the Battle of Lexington.” At the time, I wasn’t yet familiar with the story of this unassumingly presented artifact, which had been stored out-of-sight in a wooden coffin, along with a 3-ring binder stuffed haphazardly with handwritten notes, pictures, and newspaper clippings.  Once I took the time to read through the jumbled binder, I realized that Ebenezer’s musket wasn’t just “a musket,”  it was “THE musket,” and the weight of that recognition both thrilled me and frightened me, and made my heart pound.

Ebenezer Munroe (19 Apr 1752 – 25 May 1825) of Lexington, later of Ashburnham, was a yeoman farmer and militia corporal who answered the call to arms on April 19, 1775.   The following is an excerpt from his Deposition, (given on April 2, 1825 less than two months before his death) regarding the events of that day:

“Some of our men went into the meeting-house, where the town’s powder was kept, for the purpose of replenishing their stock of ammunition. When the regulars had arrived within eighty or one hundred rods, they, hearing our drum beat, halted, charged their guns, and doubled their ranks, and marched up at quick step. Capt. Parker ordered his men to stand their ground, and not to molest the regulars, unless they meddled with us. The British troops came up directly in our front. The commanding officer advanced within a few rods of us, and exclaimed, ‘Disperse, you damned rebels! you dogs, run!—Rush on my boys!’ and fired his pistol. The fire from their front ranks soon followed. After the first fire, I received a wound in my arm, and then, as I turned to run, I discharged my gun into the main body of the enemy. As I fired, my face being toward them, one ball cut off a part of one of my ear-locks, which was then pinned up. Another ball passed between my arm and my body, and just marked my clothes. The first fire of the British was regular; after that, they fired promiscuously. . . . When I fired, I perfectly well recollect of taking aim at the regulars. The smoke, however, prevented my being able to see many of them . . . I did not hear Captain Parker’s orders to his company to disperse . . .the balls flew so thick, I thought that there was no chance for escape, and that I might as well fire my gun as stand still and do nothing . . .”

After Ebenezer’s death in 1825, his musket was passed down through the generations,  until eventually it was sold to antique gun collector Granville Rideout of Ashburnham in the summer of 1950 for four dollars.   According to Granville, the musket had been left untouched in the Munroe family attic for many, many years, and it was still loaded when he bought it.

Granville kept the musket safe for over 50 years, while still managing to give it “public appearances” at local historical societies and museums.   On April 19, 1975, he rode on horseback to the reenactment on the Battle Green in Lexington, where Ebenezer’s musket was fired once more.

Granville Rideout 1975.jpg

Granville Rideout with Ebenezer Munroe’s musket, riding to Lexington Battle Green on April 19, 1975.

As I read through the binder, I could tell that Granville agonized over finding a final resting place for Ebenezer’s musket. He was worried that it would fall into the hands of a private collector and never be seen again.  In 2003, two years before his death, he gifted the musket to the Colonel Timothy Bigelow Chapter of the Daughters of the American Revolution, on the condition that it be displayed and publicized, and be used to educate the youth about the founding of the United States of America.

If you would like to view Ebenezer Munroe’s musket, you can visit the Col. Timothy Bigelow Chapter House at 140 Lincoln Street in Worcester, Massachusetts during our summer tour season.   The dates are June 11, July 9, August 13, September 10, and October 8 and the hours are 1-4pm.  For more information or to schedule a group tour, you can contact us at col.timothybigelowchapter@gmail.com.  We are also on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/col.timothybigelowdar/.

Postscript:  The title of this blog is in reference to Ralph Waldo Emerson’s poem “Concord Hymn,” in which he writes: 

“Here once the embattled farmers stood,
And fired the shot heard round the world.”

The reference is not a claim to the literal first shot of that battle, but rather a symbol of the American spirit,  their willingness to stake their lives for freedom.  Was Emerson talking about a specific shot, or was it a metaphor for that moment when the colonists crossed the threshold from yearning into action?  As a farmer who was present and whose deposition (and the deposition of others) confirms that he was one of the first ones to return fire on that historic day, Ebenezer Munroe did indeed fire a “shot heard round the world.”