This Day in History: April 19

Siege of Boston leads to first medal of award by U.S. Congress
By , Coin World
Published : 04/19/16
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One of the earliest major military events during the American Revolution became the first subject for honorary medals issued by the young American Congress. 

The siege of Boston began April 19, 1775, when British forces withdrew back to the city following the battles of Lexington and Concord. 

Americant troops controlled land access to the city during the siege, which lasted until March 1776, after bookseller Henry Knox brought reinforcements in the form of heavy artillery from Fort Ticonderoga to defend Dorchester Heights, a point south of the city. 

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Gen. George Washington’s men turned back a British assault, and on March 17 the British evacuated Boston, a day now celebrated as Evacuation Day. 

In recognition of Gen. Washington’s leadership, the Continental Congress voted March 25, 1776, to present what has come to be known as the Washington Before Boston medal, which was in effect the first medal of honor awarded by a U.S. Congress. 

The Washington Before Boston medal would be one of only about a dozen gold medals presented to military heroes of the Revolutionary War. Together with a few medals of related theme, these are known as the Comitia Americana (Latin for "American Congress") medals. 

The siege of Boston offered the first good opportunity to cite specific actions for which to award the first medal to Washington, as members of Congress apparently had been eager to do. It would be the only gold medal Washington would receive for all his accomplishments in the Revolutionary War. 

What Washington received immediately was word that the medal had been approved, and congratulations from those aware of the decision by Congress. It would be several years before the medal itself followed. 

Legislation for the medal provided that a committee of three “be appointed to prepare a letter of thanks and a proper device for the medal.” John Adams, John Jay and Stephen Hopkins were selected.  

For design, they turned to the foremost medalists in the world, in France. 

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