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Americana Corner: Lexington and Concord, Minutemen in arms
tom hand new

The Battles of Lexington and Concord, fought on April 19, 1775, marked the start of America’s war for independence from England. The story of that fight is an inspiring account of how everyday Americans came together to resist the power of Great Britain.

Following the Boston Tea Party on December 16, 1773, when colonists dumped 92,000 pounds of British tea into Boston Harbor, Parliament imposed the Coercive Acts in May of 1774. One of these new laws, the Massachusetts Government Act, revoked the Massachusetts Charter of 1691, effectively eliminating the local government and placing the colony under direct British control. Leaders in Massachusetts were furious and immediately organized to resist this encroachment on their liberties. Colonists in Suffolk County, which contained Boston, led by Joseph Warren passed the Suffolk Resolves on September 6, 1774. This document called for a boycott of British goods, the refusal to pay taxes, and for all colonies to form militias. Perhaps most importantly, they declared the Royal government powerless and formed a provisional government, the Massachusetts Provincial Congress, to run the colony. At about this same time, the First Continental Congress was convening in Philadelphia. Warren asked Paul Revere, a prosperous Boston silversmith and courier for the Boston Committee of Safety, to carry a copy of the Suffolk Resolves to that meeting.

Warren hoped the delegates would support their northern neighbors, especially regarding the boycott.

Revere, who was to make a more famous ride the following year, delivered the Suffolk document and it was endorsed by Congress on September 17.

Importantly, this document provided a template for the delegates to use in crafting an American wide boycott called the Continental Association.

In any event, after word of the Suffolk Resolves arrived in London, the King, in February 1775, declared Massachusetts to be in a state of rebellion. Accordingly, General Thomas Gage, the commander of troops in Boston, was given instructions to seize military supplies held by the militias, as well as to imprison rebel leaders.

Gage quickly acted on these orders and planned a foray beginning the night of April 18 to grab munitions reported to be in the town of Concord, about 17 miles west of Boston. He selected Lieutenant Colonel Francis Smith to lead about 700 men on this mission. Gage worked hard to keep this plan quiet, but there were no secrets in Boston.

By the time Smith and his men began their march to Concord at 2:00am on April 19, all the towns along the route of march knew the Redcoats were coming, including the people in Concord. Word had traveled fast thanks to the colonists “alarm and muster” communication system, which included the ringing of bells, lighting of bonfires, and using express riders to warn neighboring towns of impending danger.

Two of these riders, Joseph Dawes and Paul Revere, left from Boston for Concord shortly before midnight, warning every house along the way. This dash to warn their fellow countrymen would be rendered famous in 1861 when Henry Wadsworth Longfellow published his poem, Paul Revere’s Ride: Listen my children, and you will hear/Of the midnight ride of Paul Revere/ On the eighteenth of April, in Seventy-Five/Hardly a man is now alive/Who remembers that famous day and year.

Upon reaching Lexington, Dawes and Revere were joined by another rider named Samuel Prescott, and it turned out to be a good thing. Soon after leaving town on their way to Concord, this trio was stopped by a British patrol. Dawes escaped but was later thrown from his horse. Revere was captured and never completed his ride. Only Prescott made it to Concord to warn the citizens. Makes you wonder why the poem is not about Prescott!

In any event, by 4:00 a.m., with bells ringing and bonfires burning, the British knew they had lost the element of surprise.

To speed up the march, Lieutenant Colonel Smith sent a small force under Major John Pitcairn on the quick to Lexington. When the British soldiers arrived around 5:00 a.m., they found the Lexington militia already assembled on the village green.

The British commander ordered the Massachusetts men to lay down their arms and disperse. The militia commander, Captain John Parker, not wanting to start a fight, ordered his men to go home.

Then someone fired a shot, no knows who for sure, and the Redcoats opened up on the militia as they were leaving the field.

When the firing stopped, eight Lexington militiamen were dead and ten wounded. The British quickly regrouped and continued their march to Concord.

Next week, we will talk about the fight at Concord and “the shot heard round the world.”

Until next time, may your motto be “Ducit Amor Patriae”, Love of country leads me.

Tom Hand is a West Point alumnus and Ford Plantation resident. He has a website, www.americanacorner. com. Check it out.

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