SAN JOSE, April 19, 2016 — Between April 18th and 19th of 1775, all hell broke loose across Massachusetts, to the west of Boston, and the treacherous path to an insurgence against the Crown commenced. Initially, on the evening of April 18th and into the early morning hours of the next day, cries of danger swept through the area as Paul Revere and William Dawes and others rode their mounts as rapidly as they could to warn Samuel Adams and John Hancock that the British were coming to arrest them. The Americans were also aware that the British troops were coming to seize a cache of weapons at Concord, and had made contingency plans for protecting the weapons as well.
But as tensions mounted, the shot heard ’round the world sparked war.
Essentially, the directives from the primitive Continental Congress to prepare local militias to meet the growing British threat had succeeded in not allowing the British to have their way. The Americans had made plans and contingencies that had been implemented and fulfilled. On the weekend prior to the 18th, Paul Revere had organized a plan to use lighted lanterns hung in the tower of the Old North Church as signals to other riders that the British troops would be on the march, and taking a land route or one by water. Revere was uncertain whether he could get away and leave Boston with a British curfew in effect. Yet, he was able to slip away in the night, and had arranged for compatriots to row him across the Charles River to get a decent head start to warn the two leaders in Lexington.
On that April evening, as Paul Revere, William Dawes, and Dr. Samuel Prescott, as well as other riders alerted their fellow citizens that the British regulars were on the march, many individual efforts initiated a unique American response to the British military’s harassment of the people in their homes. Several volunteer riders were utilized to warn Adams and Hancock, warn the rural people, and call the able-bodied to arms.
About midnight, William Dawes, who had ridden on a different route, arrived in Lexington shortly after Revere. While Revere and Dawes made it to Lexington, neither of them made it to Concord. Though Prescott rode with the two, all three were captured by a British patrol along the road. And, although they got away, Dawes was thrown by his horse, and Revere’s horse was seized by the British. Eventually, only Prescott made it to Concord to spread the warning. Somehow, the various contingency plans proved valuable.
As the cries of alarm spread “through every Middlesex village and farm, for the country folk to be up in arms,” as Longfellow wrote in 1860, the ordinary people rose from their sleep, left their beds, and braced themselves to face an incredibly formidable foe. A rag-tag band of brave men and boys gathered their powder horns and muskets and shot, and made their way along to Lexington Green to wait in the cool April morning, uncertain of what would happen next as it had never happened before. And there they waited for the dreaded British troops marching methodically toward their objective.
British Gen. Thomas Gage had dispatched a contingent of approximately 700 regulars to arrest Sam Adams and John Hancock in Lexington, and then to seize a cache of gunpowder, weapons, and ammunition, reportedly stored near Concord. The troops had left in the late evening, just after Paul Revere set off on his famed ride. The British intent was to avert future problems with the rebellious colonists through this mission, but it was hard to keep such actions a secret, and the Americans were more than ready. They had reached a point where they were not going to tolerate British bullying any longer.
Certainly, the brave colonists had not read a British military manual instructing them that it was futile to resist. They stood their ground, waiting. Some may have been wondering if they would get back home to their beds that day. Thirty-eight citizens stood their ground. Ironically, the “first shot” Ralph Waldo Emerson referred to in his famous poem, “The Concord Hymn,” was fired at Lexington and not at Concord, where a larger skirmish occurred later on April 19th. But his poem immortalized the moment in Concord:
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….
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.
This was certainly an act of war. Shooting at the King’s troops was comparable to firing on the King himself. It was not easy to digest or to spin as multiple gun-cleaning accidents. Throughout New England, news spread of the skirmishes from Lexington and Concord on the morning of April 19, 1775. Tensions rapidly surged between the colonists and British troops. From all areas in surrounding colonies, various leaders marched volunteers together toward Boston in a simplistic strategy to surround the British forces and trap them in the city. Fear, anger or pride set colonists on a path in one direction or another.
There would definitely be a reckoning, but the Continental Congress did not formally declare war against the mother country in 1775. Most people knew that the British Empire would not put up with rebellion in their precious colonies without a serious fight. And although not all Americans in that day understood what had just happened, they soon learned that common folk had stood up to the mighty British military. It hardly seemed believable, or prudent, in light of the fact that the British government boasted the most powerful army on the planet at the time.
The American patriots knew the impossible odds stacked against their success, yet they still persisted. They may have not been totally ready to go the distance at that point in the eventual rebellion, not truly knowing how great that distance, or how many years, or how much sacrifice such a rebellion would require.
This moment in American history, some said, was the point at which they could not turn back – and some would say it was the real birth of the infant Land of the Free. The brave Americans had taken up arms not for a country, but for a cause – a cause that Thomas Paine would proclaim to be the cause of all mankind. It was not long afterward that the cause would be more cogently articulated — in the Declaration of Independence.