In honor of April being National Poetry Month, we share the connection of the literary icons of Concord (MA) and its American Revolution heritage. Concord historian Jayne Gordon wrote about these connections in an appendix in our recent release “A Single Blow.” Below is part of that text.
None of the eighteenth-century Concord authors lived through the American Revolution, yet reminders of that eighteenth-century war abounded in Concord in their lifetimes. Their neighbors were the grandchildren of the minutemen; veterans of the war were still among the townsfolk. Buildings, gravestones, old roads, and other landmarks evoked that part of the past, and they were surrounded by the stories of the fateful day of April 19, 1775. They each drew on their interpretations of the Revolution’s symbolic meaning, and incorporated those ideas into both their private and public writings.
In the case of RALPH WALDO EMERSON (1803-1882), there was a direct historical link to a grandfather who had played a significant role in the beginnings of the Revolution. Sixty years after colonial militiamen confronted the British troops at the North Bridge within sight of the Old Manse, the grandson of patriot minister Reverend William Emerson would come to his ancestral home to stay, writing in his journal, “Hail to the quiet fields of my fathers! . . . Henceforth I design not to utter any speech, poem, or book that is not entirely & peculiarly my work.”Continue reading “THE AUTHORS AND THE AMERICAN REVOLUTION IN CONCORD”→
A version of this post appeared in the Emerging Civil War blog on August 17, 2018.
Those who know me know of my “interest” in famous Confederate partisan, John S. Mosby. Ok, some would say “love affair,” but either way, I grew up reading about Mosby and his exploits during the Civil War. It was not until later in my life that I started to read about the most interesting part of Mosby’s life—not his time in the war, but his time AFTER the war.
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
This past weekend marked the 240th anniversary of “the Shot Heard ‘Round the World”—the opening engagement, in Concord, Massachusetts, of what became the American Revolution. There at the North Bridge, on April 19, 1775, colonial militiamen fired on British soldiers who’d marched from Boston to seize an arsenal of weapons cached in the town. Earlier in the day, the British soldiers had gunned down colonial militamen in the nearby town of Lexington—but this time, when they opened fire on the colonists (killing two of them), the colonists fired back. Two British soldiers died, and a third was mortally wounded.
The last time I visited Concord’s North Bridge was August 6, 2010. As it happened, the date marked the anniversary of another shot heard ’round the world…one certainly as impactful and probably more infamous: Continue reading “Shots Heard Round the World”→