Lexington and Concord - The Shot Heard ‘Round the World'
A Memorial Tribute
There really was no clear beginning to the Revolutionary War. For years the colonists and the crown had bickered about the source and nature of authority over colonial affairs. Most people were content to live under the jurisdiction and protection of the King (or Queen) of England, but then as now, no one enjoyed paying taxes, and there was a vigorous cat and mouse game of tax evasion and smuggling.
Following an expensive a war with France, some particularly high taxes were imposed on the colonies (starting in 1764) to refill England's treasury. There was a tax on molasses imports, a requirement that official stamps be bought for many simple documents (including playing cards), a tax on imported window glass and lead, and, lastly, the infamous duty on imported tea. The colonists devised clever ways to frustrate or get around these taxes and formed Committees of Correspondence to coordinate actions among all the American colonies. After several violent acts against agents of the crown, troops were quartered in homes near Boston starting in 1768. Violence continued with the shooting deaths in 1770 of five mob members who had been stoning British soldiers (the so-called "Boston Massacre"). A less violent and more colorful incident was the Boston Tea party in December of 1773, in which colonists loosely disguised as American Indians boarded several merchant ships one night and dumped their cargos of tea into Boston Harbor.
As a punishment, Parliament closed Boston Harbor to shipping in June of 1774 and the British garrison seized 250 barrels of the colonials’ gunpowder in Charleston that September. When General Gage began fortifying Boston, the local militias outside of Boston began stockpiling arms. The British sent a small force to confiscate some arms at Salem in February of 1775, but were turned away by armed colonials. The British War office now demanded more decisive steps, and at 10 o’clock on the evening of April 18 a column of British troops set out to sieze some arms that were reputed to be stored in Concord, sixteen miles from Boston.
By this time the colonists had spies, a regional communication network, and a mutual assistance military action plan. When they noticed the troop movements they sounded the alarm, and militiamen from all over eastern Massachusets swarmed toward Concord. The British troops could hear church bells ringing the alarm as they marched through the night. By 1 AM there were 140 Minutemen on the green at Lexington -- a small town in the road five miles before Concord -- but half of them had gone home by the time the British arrived at 4:30 AM. These 70 Minutemen formed ranks to block the way of several hundred British troops in the advance party. British Major John Pitcairn told the colonials to lay down their arms and disperse.
Faced with such superior force, Minuteman Captain John Walker told his men to disperse, but they did not put down their arms, and as the British rushed onto the green, someone fired a shot. The British then fired two volleys and the Minutemen returned fire. Ten Minutemen died and ten more were wounded. Only one British soldier was wounded. The British troops then fired a victory volley into the air and marched on toward Concord.
By the end of that day, the fortunes of war had changed. The crown had lost 273 men, three times as many as the colonies’ loss of 95. Now that a significant number of men had died in battle, reconciliation was impossible. It was only a matter of time before most other colonies would also become independent representative democracies -- in Canada, India, South America, and Africa -- and that all the kings of the world would be deposed in favor of government by the people -- in France, England, Germany, Spain, Russia, and China.
So we see that the first shot heard ‘round the world' wasn’t really fired "by the rude bridge that arched the flood" in Concord, as stated in the famous poem. While the world may best recall the bullets fired on that day, we must remind the world that the primary concern of the colonists was ballots, not bullets. So on this fine April day let us remember the courage and the resolution that led to those shots of 1775 and let us celebrate the billions of votes that are now heard ‘round the world' because of those brave men!
by Ralph Waldo Emerson (1803-1882)
At the completion of the Battle Monument, citizens sang this hymn on July 4th, 1837. Emerson's grandfather was at the bridge, that fateful day, 52 years earlier.
By the rude bridge that arched the flood,
Their flag to April's breeze unfurled,
Here once the embattled farmers stood
And fired the shot heard round the world.
The foe long since in silence slept;
Alike the conqueror silent sleeps;
And Time the ruined bridge has swept
Down the dark stream which seaward creeps.
On this green bank, by this soft stream,
We set to-day a votive stone;
That memory may their deed redeem,
When, like our sires, our sons are gone.
Spirit, that made those heroes dare
To die, and leave their children free,
Bid Time and Nature gently spare
The shaft we raise to them and thee.