The First Engraving, 1775

First Engraving in New Haven

“The primary cause of the first regular engraving being performed in New Haven appears to have been the battle or action at Lexington. When the news of this affair reached New Haven, Arnold, as has been stated, started with about forty volunteers. Among this number were Mr. Amos Doolittle, and a Mr. Earl, a portrait painter. These young men were, no doubt, powerfully excited by what they saw and heard at the scene of action, and on their return to New Haven endeavored to show to their excited countrymen pictorially the opening scenes of the great contest which had now fully begun.

Mr. Earl appears to have made the drawings for Mr. Doolittle, who engraved the plates. Both their performances were probably the first attempts in these arts, and consequently were quite rude specimens. According to the statement of Mr. Doolittle, he acted as a kind of model for Mr. Earl to make his drawings, so that when he wished to represent one of the Provincials as loading his gun, crouching behind a stone wall when firing on the enemy he would require Mr. D. to put himself in such a position. Although rude, these engravings appear to have made quite a sensation; particularly the battle of Lexington, where eight of the provincials are represented as shot down, with the blood pouring from their wounds.

The annexed engraving was copied from a large print 18 by 12 inches: there were four of this size published, as appears from the following advertisement in the ‘New Haven Journal:’ ‘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, &c., on the 19th April, 1775.’

‘Plate I. The Battle at Lexington. Plate II. A view of the town of Concord, with the Ministerial troops destroying the stores. Plate III. The Battle at the North Bridge, in Concord. Plate IV. The south part of Lexington, where the first detachment were joined by Lord Percy. The above four Plates are neatly engraved on Copper, from original paintings taken on the spot. Price, six shillings per set for the plain ones, or eight shillings, colored. Dec. 13th, 1775.’

If we except an engraving of the Massacre at Boston, in 1770, and the Landing of the British in Boston, in 1774, by Paul Revere, of Boston, these prints may be considered as the first regular series of historical engravings ever published in America.

Both Mr. Earl and Mr. Doolittle were members of the Governor’s Guard at New Haven, and both went on to Cambridge as volunteers, under Arnold, immediately on receiving the news of the conflict at Lexington and Concord. The house denominated, ‘The Public Inn,’ No. 6, in the engraving, is still standing. The church seen in the engraving was taken down in 1794, and a new one erected in its place. Mr. Earl’s drawing was taken on the spot, a short time after the action took place, and it may be presumed to be a correct representation of the opening of the great drama of the American Revolution.

Mr. Doolittle, the engraver, died Jan. 31st, 1832, aged 78 years, after having industriously applied himself to the business of engraving more than half a century. The ‘Battle of Lexington’ was his first attempt at the art, and it is somewhat remarkable that, on the last day he was able to perform any labor, he assisted one of the authors of this work in engraving the reduced copy of this print now annexed to this publication.

The scene represented in this engraving cannot with any propriety be called a ‘battle,’ though thus spoken of by most historians. It is memorable only as the spot where the first American blood was shed; where the first American life was taken, in the Revolution.

On the night preceding the 19th of April, 1775, a detachment of about 800 men, under Col. Smith and Major Pitcairn, were ordered to proceed with the greatest secrecy to Concord, (about 17 miles from Boston,) and destroy the military stores collected by the Americans at that place. Their movements, however, were discovered, and the country was alarmed by church bells, signal guns, &c. The British troops arrived at Lexington (10 miles from Boston) a little before 5 o’clock in the morning. At this time the Lexington militia had assembled, to the number of 50 or 60, at the beat of the drum. When within about 40 rods of the meeting-house, the British officers ordered their men to halt, and then prime and load; they then marched suddenly into the sight of our men, who were collecting as above, about 12 or 13 rods distant. Capt. Parker, who commanded the militia, seeing the great number of the regulars, ordered his men to disperse. The British troops, as soon as they discovered the Americans, huzzaed, and rushed rapidly towards them, headed by three of their officers. One of these, Maj. Pitcairn, rode up to the militia, cried out, ‘Disperse, you d–d rebels! Throw down your arms and disperse!‘ He fired his pistol, and then ordered his men to fire on the retiring militia, which they continued to do till eight men were killed and ten wounded. The British troops proceeded to Concord, destroyed what they could of the public stores, and were then forced to retreat, hotly pursued by the Americans on every side. Had they not been reinforced by Lord Percy, at Lexington, it is doubtful whether any of the detachment would have been able to return to Boston.

Roger Sherman was born at Newton, Mass., April 19th, 1721. He was apprenticed to a shoemaker; and in 1743, he removed to New Milford, Conn. His early advantages were quite limited; but having a strong and active mind, he acquired a large stock of knowledge from books during his apprenticeship. He turned his attention to the stud of law during his leisure hours, and so proficient did he become in legal knowledge, that he was admitted to the bar in 1754. In 1764, he removed to New Haven. At the breaking out of the Revolution, Mr. Sherman took a very decided stand in favor of the American cause, and was sent a delegate to the General Congress. He was one of the most active members of that body, and was appointed one of the Committee to prepare the Declaration of Independence. He was a member of the Convention that formed the Constitution of the United States, and was a Senator in Congress at the time of his death, which took place in New Haven, July 23d, 1793. His son, of the same name, long and favorably known as a merchant, died at New Haven, March 4, 1856, at the age of 87 years.”
-Excerpt and images courtesy of the HathiTrust Digital Library, Indiana University, “History and antiquities of New Haven, Conn., from its earliest settlement to the present time. With biographical sketches and statistical information of the public institutions, &c., &c. By John W. Barber … and Lemuel S. Punderson,” New Haven, J. W. Barber, L. S. Punderson, 1856. (top) Image courtesy of Newspapers.com, The Hartford Courant, April 11, 1965

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