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The Shot Heard Round the World: Patriot’s Day: April 19, 1775

By Sydney Alix

“All that the best men can do is to persevere in doing their duty to their country and leave the consequences to Him who made it their duty…being neither elated by success, however great, nor discouraged by disappointment, however frequent and mortifying.”

~ John Jay (Barton, D., & Green, R.)

On the dawn of April 19, 1775, a small band of about 77 men, led by their pastor, Jonas Clark, and Deacon/Captain John Parker (Fisher, D.) stood armed, and in readiness on the Lexington green. They had been alerted the night before by riders Paul Revere and William Dawes, who had galloped through the night throughout Massachusetts and on towards Concord, warning of the approach of the British army, which was marching upon Concord with orders to confiscate the store of weapons that had been amassed by the colonists (Wallbuilders). Though these courageous men knew that they would be facing a far larger and greater equipped enemy army, they were willing to make a stand in defense of their homes, families, and, most importantly, their freedom, even if it were to cost them everything — including their very lives. As of yet, the hostilities between the British government and American colonies had not yet culminated in an all-out war, but the events that would take place on that fateful morning would change that fact, and spark a revolution that would forever change the course of history.

Decades prior, the American colonies had been relatively contented to remain subject to the authority of the distant English Crown, as the effects of its rule were little-felt for over a century, leaving the colonists to live much more free and independent lives than their countrymen in Great Britain. However, after the French and Indian War ended in 1763, the British began to exact the large debt that they had acquired during the war from the hardworking colonists without granting them any of the say or representation in such decisions that was possessed by their English brethren in Great Britain. Tax after tax was levied upon the colonists by the British Parliament, such the Sugar and Currency Acts of 1764, and the Stamp Act of 1765. The colonists were none too pleased with these tyrannical actions, and dissension grew rapidly. Leading figures in the colonies such as James Otis, Patrick Henry, Samuel Adams, and Benjamin Franklin spoke out strongly in opposition to these unlawful acts, and in 1765, the colonists held an intercolonial congress in New York, where colonial delegates drafted and issued a statement listing the grievances committed against them, and denouncing their lack of representation. In response, Parliament repealed the Stamp Act in 1766; however, upon receiving backlash in

England, they retracted their actions by declaring they had they had the right to impose taxes whenever they chose to do so (Schweikart, Larry., & Allen, Michael).

In the years that followed, new duties and taxes continued to be levied by Parliament. When the colonists attempted to challenge these unlawful measures, the British only tightened their grip upon the colonies. They suspended the New York Assembly in retaliation for New York’s refusal to comply with their tyrannical demands, hoping that this drastic step would help force the other colonies into submission. Contrary to their hopes, the colonists became all the more outraged, and rallied to support New York and her citizens, and began calling for the widespread resistance of new taxes and the boycott of British goods. These efforts were primarily led by the colonists in Massachusetts and Samuel Adams, making Massachusetts (and Boston in particular) the key player in the resistance against British tyranny, and subsequently the main target of the British’s retaliatory actions (Schweikart, Larry., & Allen, Michael).

To further emphasize their authority, the British sent four regiments of troops to Boston, which greatly angered the townspeople. The soldiers proceeded to mistreat the citizens of Boston and competed with them for work, which triggered further upheaval and tension. At last, these growing tensions came to a head on March 5, 1770, when roughly seventy angry Boston workers began throwing snowballs at British sentries (Schweikart, Larry., & Allen, Michael), who, in terror, disobeyed their orders, and opened fire on the angry mob (LOC). In the end, five of the colonists were killed, and still six more were wounded. This sad incident quickly became known as the Boston Massacre (Schweikart, Larry., & Allen, Michael).

Undeterred, England went on to pass the Tea Act in 1773, which essentially forced the colonist to both import and purchase English tea, and would tax the colonists for the tea whether they actually purchased it or not. Righteously indignant, the colonists sought to prevent any of the tea from being received or distributed at their ports, and, in some cases, successfully forced the ships bearing the tea to return to England with their cargo. Finally, the Royal Governor Hutchinson of Massachusetts ordered the ships to stay in the harbor, and refused to allow them to leave (despite the ship owner’s wishes to do so). After running out of all other options, the colonists, led by Samuel Adams, quietly planned and carried out what is now known as The Boston Tea party, which involved disguising as native Americans, boarding the tea ships, and dumping their cargo overboard into the harbor to prevent it from being confiscated by the English navy. All this was carried out in a very peaceful and orderly manner, and was the last recourse left to the colonists other than being forced to pay taxes for tea that they neither wanted or would even use (Wallbuilders).

After the Boston Tea Party, the tyrannical actions of British only redoubled. In 1774, General Thomas Gage was appointed as the new Royal Governor of Massachusetts, and he wasted no time in proceeding to draft and enforce “Coercive Acts” to punish the colonists for resisting the English crown, which served to only increase the tensions and outrage of the

colonists, until at last they realized that the time was fast approaching that would oblige them to take more decisive measures (ABT). As was so fatefully declared by Patrick Henry, “Is life so dear, or peace so sweet, as to be purchased at the price of chains and slavery? Forbid it, Almighty God! I know not what course others may take; but as for me, give me liberty or give me death (UShistory.org)!”

In April 1775, General Gage, fearing out and out rebellion, ordered the British troops to seize the colonist’s weapons and gunpowder that were being stored in Concord, Massachusetts (a town located 20 miles to the northwest of Boston), and also instructed them to “bring back the bodies of Messr. Hancock and Adams (Wallbuilders).” John Hancock and Samuel Adams were two of the main ringleaders of the colonist’s rebellion, and it was considered paramount by the British that they be captured and executed. Gage’s plans were ultimately discovered by patriot spies (ABT), and on the night of April 18, riders Paul Revere and William Dawes were ordered to warn the militias of Minutemen across Massachusetts of the approach of General Gage’s troops (Wallbuilders). Additionally, a previously agreed upon signal of two lanterns were briefly lit in the steeple of Boston’s Old North Church, indicating that the British would traveling to Concord by way of the Boston harbor, instead of traveling by land (ABT).

Revere arrived in Lexington at midnight (Wallbuilders), and traveled to where Samuel Adams and John Hancock were staying as guests at the home of the Reverend Jonas Clark. Revere delivered the warning of the British army’s approach, after which he and the three men proceeded to discuss what they should do. When the Reverend Clark was asked if the Minutemen under his command would fight, Clark is purported to have answered, “I trained them for this very hour; they would fight, and, if need be, die too, under the shadow of the house of God.” Thus, it was decided that the militia at Lexington would be the first to confront the British troops on their way to Concord, and it was hoped that a peaceful show of force would send a clear message of their resolve, and dissuade them from their unlawful course of action (Fisher, D.).

Back in the saddle, Paul Revere and William Dawes then proceeded on their way to Concord, and were joined by a certain Samuel Prescott. Unfortunately, both Revere and Dawes were captured along the way, however Prescott managed to escape and carry the alarm on to Concord (Wallbuilders).

Meanwhile, the Minutemen of Lexington decided to make their stand before the meeting house (which was also used as their church), since it stood right in front of the Boston road leading to Concord. As day began to dawn, the church deacon, also known as Captain John Parker, stationed his small band of 77 men before their church, and prepared them to face a far larger and better equipped enemy force of about 800 British regulars. The youngest of the small body of Lexington men of was a mere 16 years of age, while well over half their number were over the age of thirty. Both Reverend Clack and Captain Parker emphasized to their men that they must not initiate the conflict, and that they must only act in self defense if the need arose.

When giving the final orders to the men, Captain Parker himself ordered, “Stand your ground. Don’t fire unless fired upon. But if they mean to have a war, let it begin here.” (Fisher, D.)

At last, the still quiet of the early morning was broken by the sound of the British army’s approach. According to the words of Reverend Clark himself, “The (British) troops…when within about half a quarter of a mile of the meeting house, they halted, and the command was given to prime and load… Immediately upon their appearing…Captain Parker…ordered the men to disperse, and take care of themselves and not to fire. Upon this, our men dispersed…No sooner did they (the British troops) come in sight of our company, but one of them…was heard to say to the troops, ‘D__n them; we will have them!’ —Upon which the troops shouted aloud, huzza’d, and rushed furiously towards our men. About the same time, three officers (supposed to be Colonel Smith, Major Pitcairn and another officer) advanced…one of them cried out, ‘ye villains, ye Rebels, disperse; D__n you, disperse!’” As the Minutemen of Lexington, having made their point, and in obedience to Captain Parkers orders began to disband, the loud report of a shot rang out (Fisher, D.). That single shot, which would forever changed the course of history, served as the igniting spark that would force the colonists into an all out war against their mother country and the English crown, which now sought to crush their attempts to secure freedom and stand in defense of their God- given rights once and for all.

While there is a lot of debate surrounding which side fired the first shot on that fateful morning on the Lexington green, several eye-witnesses (including Reverend Jonas Clark (Wallbuilders)) strongly asserted that it was discharged by a member of the British army (Buckley, K.). Immediately thereafter, the British troops were ordered to open fire on the small body of dispersing Minutemen, and within minutes, 8 of the Lexington men lay dead on the green, while an additional 10 others (including black Patriot Prince Estabrook (Wallbuilders)) were wounded. Among slain were Jonas Parker, John Brown, Asahel Porter, Robert Munroe, Samuel Hadley, Isaac Muzzey, and brothers Jonathon and Caleb Harrington (Fisher, D.).

Flush with their “victory,” the British army pushed on to Concord, intent on capturing the colonist’s store of munitions. They arrived in Concord at around 8:00am, and promptly proceeded to search for the colonist’s hidden supply of firearms and ammunition, and moved to secure the North Bridge (which spanned the Concord river). Determined to defend their town, roughly 400 Minutemen, and a Reverend William Emerson gathered and advanced upon the British troops, marching down a hill overlooking Concord to make their stand at the bridge and meet their oncoming foes. As soon as they were within range, the British opened fire, killing 2 of the Minutemen (ABT), and wounding 4 others. After seeing his men shot down, the commander of the Minutemen, John Buttrick urged, “Fire, for God’s sake, fellow soldiers, fire!” Upon which, the Minutemen swiftly returned fire, ultimately killing 3 of the British troops, and leaving 9 others wounded. Terrified, the British beat a hasty retreat back to the town of Concord (ABT).

Soon after, the British army was ordered by their commanders Francis Smith and John Pitcairn to return back to Boston (ABT). The news of egregious and murderous actions inflicted

by British army at Lexington and Concord spread like wildfire, and hundreds of Minutemen rallied from the surrounding countryside to engage their foes in a running fight. Furious at the audacity and bold stands of the colonists, the British proceeded to ransack, plunder, and fire the town of Menotomy (AHS), shooting and bayoneting many of the townsmen (Federer, W.). Filled with righteous anger, the Minutemen continued to pursue and waylay them all along their way back to Boston, firing upon them from the cover afforded by trees, buildings, stone walls, and the like, thus remaining largely invisible to their foes. In this manner, the Minutemen harried and chased the British regulars all the way back to Boston, until they were ultimately forced to come to a halt after the British managed to reach the protective cover of the guns of their ships that were situated in the Boston waterways, bringing the conclusion to the first battle of the American colonies battle for freedom (ABT).

The Battles of Lexington and Concord marked the start of a long, bloody war for the American colonies’ battle freedom and independence. After numerous attempts at negotiation, and exhausting all peaceable means, they had been forced to take up arms and act in self defense after being attacked by their own government and military. Now, they found themselves fully immersed in a war against the largest empire in world history (Federer, W.), and ultimate victory would seem to many to be an impossible feat. Despite the seemingly insurmountable odds, the American colonists resolved to sacrifice everything to ensure that freedom was secured for their families, fellow countrymen, and future generations. As was later stated by General George Washington, the commander of what became the Continental Army, in an address to his men before going into battle, “The time is now near at hand which must probably determine whether Americans are to be freemen or slaves; whether they are to have any property they can call their own; whether their houses and farms are to be pillaged and destroyed, and themselves consigned to a state of wretchedness from which no human efforts will deliver them. The fate of unborn millions will now depend, under God, on the courage and conduct of this army. Our cruel and unrelenting enemy leaves us only the choice of brave resistance, or the most abject submission. We have, therefore to resolve to conquer or die (National Archives).”

After 8 long years of war, thanks to their immeasurable courage, determination, and sacrifice, and the Divine Intervention of Almighty God, the Americans ultimately defeated the British army, and in 1783, the United States became a free and independent nation (National Archives).

On this Patriot’s Day, which marks the 249th anniversary of “The Shot Heard Round the World,” let each of us take the time to remember and reflect upon the courageous stand of our forefathers on the Lexington green, who were willing to lay down their lives to give us the beautiful, amazing country and life of freedom that we enjoy today. May we seek to honor their sacrifice by standing in defense of freedom in our day and do our part to see that it is preserved for the next generation, and when we are faced with feelings of discouragement or hopelessness about the future of our country, and feel tempted to give up, may we be reminded of the example so bravely lived out by our founding fathers, and that,

“Tyranny, like hell, is not easily conquered; yet we have this consolation with us, that the harder the conflict, the more glorious the triumph.”

Thomas Paine, The American Crisis, No. 1, December 19, 1776 (UShistory.org)

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