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Chapter 27:


April 19, 1775.

on the afternoon of the day on which the provincial
Chap. XXVII.} 1775. April.
congress of Massachusetts adjourned, Gage took the light infantry and grenadiers off duty, and secretly prepared an expedition to destroy the colony's stores at Concord. But the attempt had for several weeks been expected; a strict watch had been kept; and signals were concerted to announce the first movement of troops for the country. Samuel Adams and Hancock, who had not yet left Lexington for Philadelphia, received a timely message from Warren, and in consequence, the committee of safety removed a part of the public stores and secreted the cannon.

On Tuesday the eighteenth, ten or more sergeants in disguise dispersed themselves through Cambridge and further west, to intercept all communication. In the following night, the grenadiers and light infantry, not less than eight hundred in number, the flower of the army at Boston, commanded by the incompetent Lieutenant Colonel Smith, crossed in the boats of [289] the transport ships from the foot of the common to

Chap. XXVII.} 1775. April.
East Cambridge. There they received a day's provisions, and near midnight, after wading through wet marshes, that are now covered by a stately town, they took the road through West Cambridge to Concord.

‘They will miss their aim,’ said one of a party who observed their departure. ‘What aim?’ asked Lord Percy, who overheard the remark. ‘Why, the cannon at Concord,’ was the answer. Percy hastened to Gage, who instantly directed that no one should be suffered to leave the town. But Warren had already, at ten o'clock, despatched William Dawes through Roxbury to Lexington, and at the same time desired Paul Revere to set off by way of Charlestown.

Revere stopped only to engage a friend to raise the concerted signals, and five minutes before the sentinels received the order to prevent it, two friends rowed him past the Somerset man of war across Charles river. All was still, as suited the hour. The ship was winding with the young flood; the waning moon just peered above a clear horizon; while from a couple of lanterns in the tower of the North Church, the beacon streamed to the neighboring towns, as fast as light could travel.

A little beyond Charlestown Neck, Revere was intercepted by two British officers on horseback; but being himself well mounted, he turned suddenly, and leading one of them into a clay pond, escaped from the other by the road to Medford. As he passed on, he waked the captain of the minute men of that town, and continued to rouse almost every house on the way to Lexington. Vol. VII. 25 [290]

The troops had not advanced far, when the firing

Chap. XXVII.} 1775. April 19.
of guns and ringing of bells announced that their expedition had been heralded before them; and Smith sent back to demand a reinforcement.

On the morning of the nineteenth of April, between the hours of twelve and one, the message from Warren reached Adams and Hancock, who divined at once the object of the expedition. Revere, therefore, and Dawes, joined by Samuel Prescott, ‘a high son of liberty’ from Concord, rode forward, calling up the inhabitants as they passed along, till in Lincoln they fell upon a party of British officers. Revere and Dawes were seized and taken back to Lexington, where they were released; but Prescott leaped over a low stone wall, and galloped on for Concord.

There at about two in the morning, a peal from the belfry of the meeting-house brought hastily together the inhabitants of the place. They came forth, young and old, with their firelocks, ready to make good the resolute words of their town debates. Among the most alert was William Emerson the minister, with gun in hand, his powder-horn and pouch for balls slung over his shoulder. By his sermons and his prayers, he had so hallowed the enthusiasm of his flock, that they held the defence of their liberties a part of their covenant with God; his presence with arms, proved his sincerity and strengthened their sense of duty.

From daybreak to sunrise, the summons ran from house to house through Acton. Express messengers and the call of minute men spread widely the alarm. How children trembled as they were scared out of [291] sleep by the cries! How wives with heaving breasts,

Chap. XXVII.} 1775. April 19.
bravely seconded their husbands; how the countrymen, forced suddenly to arm, without guides or counsellors, took instant counsel of their courage. The mighty chorus of voices rose from the scattered farmhouses, and as it were from the very ashes of the dead. Come forth, champions of liberty; now free your country; protect your sons and daughters, your wives and homesteads; rescue the houses of the God of your fathers, the franchises handed down from your ancestors. Now all is at stake; the battle is for all.

Lexington, in 1775, may have had seven hundred inhabitants; forming one parish, and having for their minister the learned and fervent Jonas Clark, the bold inditer of patriotic state papers that may yet be read on their town records. In December, 1772, they had instructed their representative to demand ‘a radical and lasting redress of their grievances, for not through their neglect should the people be enslaved.’ A year later, they spurned the use of tea. In 1774, at various town meetings, they voted ‘to increase their stock of ammunition,’ ‘to encourage military discipline, and to put themselves in a posture of defence against their enemies.’ In December, they distributed to ‘the train band and alarm list’ arms and ammunition, and resolved to ‘supply the training soldiers with bayonets.’

At two in the morning, under the eye of the minister, and of Hancock and Adams, Lexington common was alive with the minute men; and not with them only, but with the old men also, who were exempts, except in case of immediate danger to the town. The roll was called, and of militia and alarm men, about [292] one hundred and thirty answered to their names. The

Chap. XXVII.} 1775. April 19.
captain, John Parker, ordered every one to load with powder and ball, but to take care not to be the first to fire. Messengers, sent to look for the British regulars, reported that there were no signs of their approach. A watch was therefore set, and the company dismissed with orders to come together at beat of drum. Some went to their own homes; some to the tavern, near the southeast corner of the common.

Adams and Hancock, whose proscription had already been divulged, and whose seizure was believed to be intended, were compelled by persuasion to retire towards Woburn.

The last stars were vanishing from night, when the foremost party, led by Pitcairn, a major of marines, was discovered, advancing quickly and in silence. Alarm guns were fired, and the drums beat, not a call to village husbandmen only, but the reveille to humanity. Less than seventy, perhaps less than sixty, obeyed the summons, and in sight of half as many boys and unarmed men, were paraded in two ranks, a few rods north of the meeting-house.

How often in that building had they, with renewed professions of their faith, looked up to God as the stay of their fathers, and the protector of their privileges! How often on that village green, hard by the burial place of their forefathers, had they pledged themselves to each other to combat manfully for their birthright inheritance of liberty! There they now stood side by side, under the provincial banner, with arms in their hands, silent and fearless, willing to fight for their privileges, scrupulous not to begin civil war, and as yet unsuspicious of immediate danger. [293] The ground on which they trod was the altar

Chap. XXVII.} 1775. April 19.
of freedom, and they were to furnish its victims.

The British van, hearing the drum and the alarm guns, halted to load; the remaining companies came up; and at half an hour before sunrise, the advance party hurried forward at double quick time, almost upon a run, closely followed by the grenadiers. Pitcairn rode in front, and when within five or six rods of the minute men, cried out: ‘Disperse, ye villains, ye rebels, disperse; lay down your arms; why don't you lay down your arms and disperse?’ The main part of the countrymen stood motionless in the ranks, witnesses against aggression; too few to resist, too brave to fly. At this Pitcairn discharged a pistol, and with a loud voice cried, ‘Fire.’ The order was instantly followed, first by a few guns, which did no execution, and then by a heavy, close, and deadly discharge of musketry.

In the disparity of numbers, the common was a field of murder, not of battle; Parker, therefore, ordered his men to disperse. Then, and not till then, did a few of them, on their own impulse, return the British fire. These random shots of fugitives or dying men did no harm, except that Pitcairn's horse was perhaps grazed, and a private of the tenth light infantry was touched slightly in the leg.

Jonas Parker, the strongest and best wrestler in Lexington, had promised never to run from British troops; and he kept his vow. A wound brought him on his knees. Having discharged his gun, he was preparing to load it again, when as sound a heart as ever throbbed for freedom was stilled by a bayonet, [294] and he lay on the post which he took at the

Chap. XXVII.} 1775. April 19.
morning's drum beat. So fell Isaac Muzzey, and so died the aged Robert Munroe, the same who in 1758 had been an ensign at Louisburg. Jonathan Harrington, junior, was struck in front of his own house on the north of the common. His wife was at the window as he fell. With the blood gushing from his breast, he rose in her sight, tottered, fell again, then crawled on hands and knees towards his dwelling; she ran to meet him, but only reached him as he expired on their threshold. Caleb Harrington, who had gone into the meeting-house for powder, was shot as he came out. Samuel Hadley and John Brown were pursued, and killed after they had left the green. Asahel Porter, of Woburn, who had been taken prisoner by the British on the march, endeavoring to escape, was shot within a few rods of the common.

Day came in all the beauty of an early spring. The trees were budding; the grass growing rankly a full month before its time; the blue bird and the robin gladdening the genial season, and calling forth the beams of the sun which on that morning shone with the warmth of summer; but distress and horror gathered over the inhabitants of the peaceful town. There on the green, lay in death the gray-haired and the young; the grassy field was red ‘with the innocent blood of their brethren slain,’ crying unto God for vengeance from the ground.

Seven of the men of Lexington were killed; nine wounded; a quarter part of those who stood in arms on the green. These are the village heroes, who were more than of noble blood, proving by their spirit that [295] they were of a race divine. They gave their lives

Chap. XXVII.} 1775. April 19.
in testimony to the rights of mankind, bequeathing to their country an assurance of success in the mighty struggle which they began. Their names are had in grateful remembrance, and the expanding millions of their countrymen renew and multiply their praise from generation to generation. They fulfilled their duty not from the accidental impulse of the moment; their action was the slowly ripened fruit of Providence and of time. The light that led them on, was combined of rays from the whole history of the race; from the traditions of the Hebrews in the gray of the world's morning; from the heroes and sages of republican Greece and Rome; from the example of Him who laid down his life on the cross for the life of humanity; from the religious creed which proclaimed the divine presence in man, and on this truth as in a life-boat, floated the liberties of nations over the dark flood of the middle ages; from the customs of the Germans transmitted out of their forests to the councils of Saxon England; from the burning faith and courage of Martin Luther; from trust in the inevitable universality of God's sovereignty as taught by Paul of Tarsus, and Augustine, through Calvin and the divines of New England; from the avenging fierceness of the Puritans, who dashed down the mitre on the ruins of the throne; from the bold dissent and creative self assertion of the earliest emigrants to Massachusetts; from the statesmen who made, and the philosophers who expounded, the revolution of England; from the liberal spirit and analyzing inquisitiveness of the eighteenth century; from the cloud of witnesses of all the ages to the [296] reality and the rightfulness of human freedom. All
Chap. XXVII.} 1775. April 19.
the centuries bowed themselves from the recesses of a past eternity to cheer in their sacrifice the lowly men who proved themselves worthy of their forerunners, and whose children rise up and call them blessed.

Heedless of his own danger, Samuel Adams, with the voice of a prophet, exclaimed, ‘Oh! what a glorious morning is this!’ for he saw that his country's independence was rapidly hastening on, and, like Columbus in the tempest, knew that the storm did but bear him the more swiftly towards the undiscovered world.

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