A special thanks to Stacey Fraser at the Lexington Historical Society for the update on the new exhibit described below.
If one asked what a buzzword for 21st century communication would be today, what would be your answer?
Text? Tweet? Snap?
What if the follow up question was that some of the same buzzwords of the 21st century could describe the 18th century? Thanks to the Lexington Historical Society at Buckman Tavern, you can see the similarities yourself.
Opening on April 8th, the interactive exhibit is part of the admission ticket to the tavern. Titled #Alarmed! 18th Century Social Media “explores how news went viral 250 years ago” in addition to letting “visitors imagine how colonials might have made use of modern media tools to kick start a revolution. Continue reading “#Alarmed”→
Leading up to the anniversary of April 19, 1775, we will be sharing some short remembrances from a few people who are from Lexington and Concord.This installment is by Rich Gillespie, a native of Lexington, Massachusetts.
If you live in Lexington, Massachusetts, the beginning of the American Revolution is an essential piece of life. The Minuteman statue dominates the center of town, the village green where the Alarm List stood to face the Regulars is much as it once was, the Town Seal seen on your friendly snowplow quotes Sam Adams’ comment to John Hancock upon hearing the firing—“Oh, What a glorious morning for America!”, and the high school’s team is predictably the Minutemen. The British marched to and from Concord within 150 yards of my 4th grade classroom, and the spring field trip was to the key sites of Lexington and Concord. My first job (as was my sister’s) was guiding visitors on Lexington Green.
Leading up to the anniversary of April 19, 1775, we will be sharing some short remembrances from a few people who are from Lexington and Concord. Our first installment is by Alex Merenyi. Alex grew up in Lexington and moved to the Washington, DC area to attend college. He shares with us how he looks back on Patriots Day..
Patriots’ Day was always weird for me growing up.
Lexington’s Tourist Season would begin with a bang on Patriots Day – one specific bang, at 5:36-ish in the morning a Monday – and carry through until the snow would scare the tour busses back home for the winter. (Ironically, it meant that the foot and a half of standing snow made getting around a lot easier.) It wasn’t until I moved to DC that I realized nobody else knew what Patriots Day was.
What it was for us, in addition to being of the part of the year where tour busses blocked off the best way to Starbucks, was two discrete parts; the historical, which was the reenactment of the Battle of Lexington; and the festival, which was that the center was shut down for a carnival-like opening of the tourist season. (There was also a 5k, which I remember my Father running once. It always seemed odd that they’d run a race that day through the heart of town, but so it went.)
You couldn’t live in Lexington and not know about The Reenactment. Every year, on the third Monday in April, a bunch of Americans would stand up to the Regulars and be cut down in a single volley of fire. I went once, when I was young enough to ride on my Father’s shoulders, and watched my dentist and his friends get shot on the Battle Green. Two minutes later we began walking home, wanting to beat the crowds that had gathered there. A second volley of fire went off, and I remember asking my Dad if that meant the British had shot the wives that ran out to their fallen husbands. (He explained they fired to clear their rifles. I was maybe seven – by this point, ‘The British Were Evil” was pretty engrained; I remained suspicious.) All told, it took us longer to walk to and from the event than watch it. Even as a kid, I had to ask myself what all the fuss was about – a fifteen minute re-enactment of, let’s call it what it is – the first American defeat – seemed rather odd.
I mention my dentist not just as an anecdote, but to illustrate how deeply The Reenactment went – the men and women who would come together at the pre-dawn hours in April and fall over, year after year, were celebrities in Lexington. It was all over my dentist’s office, photos of him marching in the 4th of July parades, scenes of him at the then-standing Foxboro Stadium firing a musket for the other Patriots’ having scored. (Back in the pre-Brady days, those were fewer and further between). Schools would give extra credit for interviewing reenactors, and of course, every student had the requisite “Go to the re-enactment and write a paper on how important it is.” As a child growing up in Lexington, it had an aura effect that made all of the rest of American History seem rather… well, underwhelming – nobody was making a huge fuss about re-enacting the signing of the Constitution. (Adding to that of course was that my Mother is quite British; her answer to my asking about how the Battle of Lexington was covered for her in school? “It wasn’t.”) Until I left Lexington, I never really appreciated why all the fuss was made about The Reenactment, or why these few people were given such a disproportionate amount of attention; It was more than just “this is a thing that we do once a year”, it was a recognition of something that nobody ever dared point out:
“If it weren’t for these guys, Lexington wouldn’t be on the map.”
“Minutemen” on April 19, 1775 at Lexington and Concord have always been grouped together in history and textbooks. But, is that completely historically accurate? Well, no. There is a common misperception that most of the Americans that went to arms on the morning of April 19, 1775 were “Minutemen.” This view has become part of American mythology and popular memory, referenced in most histories dealing with this April day. Despite all of this, the fact remains that many of the men who answered the call that day were not “Minutemen” at all.
The British colonies in North America had a long standing tradition of locally based military units. Most men between the ages of sixteen and thirty five were required to be part of the local militia and these units would meet periodically throughout the year for basic training. Many of these occasions became festive events for the local community. The colonial militia was called out often by the colonial governor to defend against Native American attacks or foreign invasions. Frequently, the militia would supplement a professional force for short campaigns. This was especially common in the French and Indian War, fought between 1756 and 1763.
But the militia was far from a professional and well trained force. Colonies, such as Massachusetts, began to create select companies of men chosen from the local militia regiment. These companies would train more often and be better equipped. They were to be the “elite” force of the militia. Also, these men would be required to respond to an emergency at a short notice. The rise of the “Minuteman” concept can be found as early as 1645. In response to an Indian tribe disturbance, the Massachusetts Council of War created a new regulation. This regulation ordered militia companies to “appoint out and to make choice of thirty soldiers of their companies in ye hundred, who shall be ready at a half an hour’s warning.” The need for a quick response force was already recognized by colonial leaders.
Though the idea of the “Minuteman” can be found in 1645 Massachusetts, the more popular idea of the “Minuteman” came from Worcester, Massachusetts. In 1774 the town was in the forefront of opposing Governor (and General) Thomas Gage’s efforts to enforce Royal authority. The Worcester County Convention passed new militia regulations that highlighted/reinforced how the populace was getting closer and closer to open confrontation with the British Crown. In these new regulations, the Worcester Convention called for “officers in each town of the county, to enlist one third of the men of their respective towns, between sixteen and sixty years of age, to be ready to act at a minute’s warning…” Thus the “Minuteman” was born.
As events in Massachusetts spiraled into open confrontation between the Whigs (Patriots) and the Crown, every town in Massachusetts ramped up their military training of their militia and created “Minuteman” companies. These units became a source of local pride. Along with the militia forces, towns and counties created a complex network of communication via riders that could notify hundreds if not thousands of militia units of possible threats. As Gage began to use his growing military force in Boston to search for colonial military stores, these riders and “Minutemen” showed their effectiveness.
On the morning of April 19, 1775 riders rode out to a very well prepared countryside west of Boston. Paul Revere, William Dawes and many others connected each town with the news that the British regulars were marching on Concord to capture provincial military stores (and possibly capture colonial leaders). Militia and “Minutemen” by the hundreds began to arrive along the road from Cambridge to Concord.
The first Americans the British confronted on the road to Concord were members of Captain Parker’s Lexington Militia. These men, gathered the night before at Buckman’s Tavern in Lexington after an early warning, were still in the area in the early morning of April 19th as the vanguard of the British column neared Lexington. As they formed up in two lines on the Lexington Green, the British quickly came onto the Green to confront the armed colonials. What happened next set off a shockwave not just through Massachusetts, but the entire British colonies in North America. These first shots were fired by militia, not the famed “Minutemen.”
It is here in Lexington that the confusion and myth of the “Minutemen” was born. Several of the monuments around the Lexington Green are dedicated to the “Lexington Minutemen.” But the men on the green were typical militia; they ranged in age and skill levels. They were not highly trained like a “Minutemen” company.
As the British made their way to Concord, Militia and “Minuteman” companies began to answer the well-traveled call that the British were marching on to Concord. After the skirmish at the North Bridge in Concord, more and more colonials answered the call and began to confront the British column as it made its way back to Charlestown. Thousands of militia and “Minutemen” made their way to the towns of Lexington, Menotomy, and Cambridge to confront the British. Because of the great response of these men, there was no turning back after April 19th.
The importance of the “Minutemen” cannot be exaggerated but neither can the importance of the militia. They were two distinct colonial military forces, both created with their own specific uses. In modern times, most wanted to attach their local story to that of the famed “Minutemen.” Though it is most likely that more militia turned out on April 19th than “Minutemen.”
Many monuments in Lexington, Concord and along Battle Road mention the “Minutemen” of 1775. Also, many of the sites associated with the events of April 19th are preserved by Minute Man National Park. I guess “Militia National Park” didn’t have as good of a ring to it.
The Minute Men: The First Fight: Myths and Realities of the American Revolution by John Galvin
Often the study of history can ground us and make us feel less “unique.” This allows us to hopefully put our own experiences into perspective and be able to hopefully learn from lessons of the past. Many today complain about how print and social media can distort facts to support a particular agenda. This is not a modern phenomenon. Many in the Sons of Liberty (such as Paul Revere) used print media to their advantage to promote resistance to and then independence from Great Britain.
Many pro-Patriot newspapers printed nothing less than propaganda pieces after the battles of April 19, 1775. Here is part of what was printed by the Massachusetts Spy on May 3, 1775.
“Americans! forever bear in mind the BATTLE of LEXINGTON! where British Troops, unmolested and unprovoked wantonly, and in a most inhuman manner fired upon and killed a number of our countrymen, then robbed them of their provisions, ransacked, plundered and burnt their houses! nor could the tears of defenseless women, some of whom were in the pains of childbirth, the cries of helpless, babes, nor the prayers of old age, confined to beds of sickness, appease their thirst for blood! – or divert them from the DESIGN of MURDER and ROBBERY!”
Obviously a historic study of the events on April 19, 1775 disputes much of what is claimed by the Massachusetts Spy. But when you have a point to make, an agenda to promote and a local population to rally to a cause…why should truth get in the way?! We have come a long way since 1775, but in many ways not much has changed.
On this date, 241 years ago, the first salvo of what would become the American Revolutionary War, was fired on Lexington Green and North Bridge in Concord.
Historian John Galvin once wrote about the Battles of Lexington and Concord that they were the “least known of all American battles.” I never really understood what Galvin meant, as I had read extensively about April 19, 1775 and thought I understood the details of that day in history.
Yet, until this past weekend, when I spent the better part of four days touring the sites and walking the trails, talking to the historians around the towns, I did not realize how much more there is to what actually happened on that April day.
For starters, did you realize that Paul Revere did not go town-to-town calling out, “The British are Coming” to homesteads and roadside taverns? Instead, he was the catalyst that started a chain reaction of messengers and runners to different towns throughout the countryside that cast the alarm in a wide net.
He also would have told farmsteads and meetinghouses along the way that the “Regulars are Coming,” since the colonists still thought of themselves as British.
Or that the unofficial birth of the United States Army is attributed to the militia that followed Colonel James Barrett and Colonel John Buttrick down the hill toward the British at the North Bridge?
That was the first time that men, formed in regiments with officers, made an advance against what they perceived as an enemy force, and did so in a “very military manner.”
What prompted the various militia companies, which came from other towns than just Concord, to sally forth from the hill toward the now infamous North Bridge? The main reason was what was happening in Concord was the mistaken reason behind the smoke emanating from the town?
In the town, the British were burning military supplies and the wooden gun carriages found in the hamlet. Sparks landed one of the nearby dwellings and British soldiers actually put down their muskets to form a bucket brigade, with civilians, to help put out the flames. The smoke that billowed from the doused fires is what prompted the militia and minutemen response.
With water being dumped on the flames, smoke billowed up, which prompted milita Adjutant Joseph Hosmer to ask the officers; “Will you let them burn the town down?” That prompted the forward movement of the militia down the hill and against the British.
Or did you realize that some of the militia, from the nearby town of Acton, suffered some of the first casualties at North Bridge, including their militia captain, Isaac Davis, who was one of the first killed in the engagement?
Somewhere in the midst of the action in Concord was Reverend William Emerson, the grandfather of Ralph Waldo Emerson who would later write that the action on April 19, would be known as the “shot heard round the world” years later.
These are just a few of the interesting tidbits that I picked up this past weekend. Altogether, they reinforce the historic events that I knew unfolded on this day in American History. However, along with reflecting on what transpired in my visit to Massachusetts, these new tidbits of valuable information underscore the important stories and accounts that shape this spring day that are beckoning to be told.
There is so much to be gained by walking the grounds, talking to the historians and historical enthusiasts of the area, and just taking time to appreciate what this day, April 19th, meant to the future of the United States and the era it was leaving behind as part of the British Empire.
Why did Boston’s act of political vandalism lead to a British military expedition against small towns in Massachusetts sixteen months later?
How, exactly did evolving political tensions result in actual warfare?
How did Lexington and Concord become, as Ralph Waldo Emerson wrote, “the shot heard around the world.”
In a much-needed narrative, historians Ray and Marie Raphael fill in the movement toward those first shots at Lexington and Concord. In a primary source driven, easy to read history of that year before and leading up to 1775. However, “our story slows, pausing at additional markers that are often bypassed or slighted” (x).
Therein lies “only in a full telling is war a plausible outcome” (x).
The Raphael duo fluidly walks the reader through the build-up to that fateful April 1775 day. The book sheds light on developments in towns and counties across the colony of Massachusetts. A timeline in the beginning provides a good resource to remember the important dates as you read.
With the British response to the Boston Tea Party of December 1773, committed activists perceived that Britain had handed them a blueprint for disenfranchisement (44). What would be seen in the colony as the Coercive Acts, which, among other changes nullified the Charter of 1691 which colonists in Massachusetts held as sacrosanct. When the news of what the British government had did, which arrived in the harbor of Boston in May 1774 until the following April 1775, “resistance would mount, coalesce, and manifest itself in armed, relentless rebellion (44).
That coalescing would resemble an accordion, with Boston being one end and the countryside of Massachusetts the other end of the instrument. Both ends would reverberate the bellows as ideas, exchanges of opinions, passive and aggressive action, all marred the intervening months of 1774. Until as Abigail Adams wrote many months before April 1775, the”flame is kindled and like lightening it catches from soul to soul” (192).
The Raphael duo capture what the farmers in Berkshire set in motion, in accordance with capturing the attitude of townspeople in Worcester, Massachusetts at the same time. These various local uprisings, which put an emphasis on peaceful activities coalesced into the call for committees and eventually into the need for the Provincial Congress. This Congress acted as the de-facto governing body of Massachusetts in response to British measures to subdue and punish the intransigent rebels.
When viewed through the prism of the preceding years, what happened on the green of Lexington or the North Bridge at Concord becomes clearer as the pivot in which the simmering resentment in Massachusetts finally boiled over and led to the “shot heard around the world.”
Every once in a while a monograph is written that fills a necessary void in the field of early American Revolutionary history. This history is definitely one of those as it fills in that critical, yet overlooked, time period in the build-up to the fighting between British-American colonists and the redcoats that represented the mother country.
One cannot hope to understand the events of 1775 and beyond without knowing how the colonists of Massachusetts, so many that have unfortunately been lost to the passing of time, began the protests that led to independence, beginning in the years before.
Or as the authors more succinctly state; “and so begins a story we know” (214).
Publisher: The New Press, New York, NY
Pages: 219 pages plus acknowledgements, bibliography, index, and, timeline
As we observe the beginning of the end of the American Civil War this week at Appomattox Court House, Virginia, another anniversary is just around the corner.
240 years and 10 days ago and approximately 630 miles the first shots of the American War of Independence was fired on Lexington Green on April 19, 1775.
Two events, two weeks in April. One commemorating the end of what some combatants at the time referred to as the Second American Revolution, whereas the other anniversary began the First American Revolution (if one sticks with that same theme).
So, as you finish your time tracing the last steps of the Confederate Army of Northern Virginia at Appomattox Court House head north and traverse the Battle Road between Boston, Lexington, and Concord.
Our friends at the national park, Minuteman National Historical Park have multiple events going on leading up to, through, and after the 19th of April.
Check out their events here; http://www.nps.gov/mima/planyourvisit/calendar.htm
Lord Hugh Percy, the 2nd Duke of Northumberland and holding the rank of brigadier general commanded the relief brigade that was ordered out from Boston by Sir Thomas Gage after Lieutenant Colonel Francis Smith had sent back a messenger asking for reinforcements.