“Lay down your arms, you damned rebels, and disperse.”
On April 18, 1775, 700 British troops slunk out of Boston under the cover of night. Their mission was to march to the little town of Concord to capture and destroy a cache of firearms and gun powder that the American “rebels” were stockpiling there. The outspoken patriot leaders Samuel Adams and John Hancock had taken refuge in nearby Lexington and would have also been arrested as the British marched to Concord. In short, the Redcoats planned to arrive in Lexington and Concord at dawn and cut the legs out from under the burgeoning American rebellion.
Fortunately for the cause of Liberty, the patriots had developed an intricate surveillance and information network. Committees of Correspondence carried critical messages between the colonies. Informants spied on British troop movements. And messengers on horseback raced between towns with instructions from leaders like Samuel Adams. These organizations were entirely extralegal, but served critical functions and were indispensable to the American Revolution.
As soon as the British had slipped out of their base, they were discovered by the network of American patriots. A predetermined plan was set into motion, beginning with the famous “one if by land, two if by sea” signal. This signal – two lanterns hung in the steeple of the Old North Church – was flashed from Boston to nearby Charlestown to alert the other members of the network that the Redcoats were rowing across the Charles River.
Paul Revere, who was instrumental in the local courier network and in the secret group of spies called the Mechanics, visited the home of Dr. Joseph Warren of the Boston Committee of Correspondence. Dr. Warren had already dispatched a messenger named William Dawes to Concord with the alarming news. Revere was also sent to Concord via an alternate route.
Revere carefully rode through the countryside warning people friendly to the “rebels” that the troops were on the move. He arrived in Lexington just before Dawes and immediately went to warn Samuel Adams and John Hancock of the danger. Adams and Hancock were staying in the Lexington home of Reverend Jonas Clark (also spelled Clarke) where they were actively guarded by a number of men from his parish.
Revere and Dawes succeeded in convincing the patriot leaders to flee for their safety and then continued on to Concord. On the way, they were joined by yet another rider, Samuel Prescott. The trio was soon intercepted by British soldiers. Dawes and Prescott managed to escaped and rode on to Concord. Revere, however, was detained, questioned, and had his horse commandeered before walking back to Lexington where he arrived before the first shots of the American Revolution were fired.
After the messengers had alerted the people of Lexington, about seventy minutemen eventually gathered on the Lexington town green. They were led by Captain John Parker. Captain Parker ordered his men not to fire when the British arrived. In fact, he decided to place his militia on the neutral town common instead of block the road to Lexington, which would have been a provocative act. He is reported to have said: “[D]on’t fire unless fired upon, but if they mean to have a war, let it begin here.”
Nearby, other minutemen gathered at the Fitch Tavern for a quick breakfast. Their leader, Captain Willson, remarked: “It is a cold breakfast, boys, but we will give the British a hot dinner. We’ll have every dog of them before night.” His words would prove to be truer than perhaps he ever imagined.
When the Lobsterbacks finally arrived in Lexington, after roughing up and even arresting various people along their way, they were incensed to the see Captain Parker’s minutemen lined up, rifles in hand, on the town green. The British gathered in battle formation across from the patriots and fixed bayonets. Even before the British appeared, some of the militiamen were spooked and discussed leaving. Captain Parker overheard the murmuring and responded: “The first man who offers to run shall be shot down.”
The British invaders were led by Major John Pitcairn. Pitcairn rode his horse to within earshot of Captain Parker and ordered: “Lay down your arms, you damned rebels, and disperse.” Apparently Captain Parker and his men decided to fall back, but declined to give up their weapons. Pitcairn again demanded: “Damn you, why don’t you lay down your arms?”
At this crucial point, another British officer behind Pitcairn prompted the troops to fire at the retreating American minutemen. Most books today claim that no one knows who fired the first shot, but the evidence suggests it came from the British side – not from the American militiamen who were at the time falling back. At any rate, Pitcairn then formally ordered his men, with profanity and anger, to fire. The American patriots returned fire and the War for Independence had begun.
Ebenezer Munroe, one of the first patriots hit, yelled out to John Munroe as he turned to fire: “I’ll give them the guts of my gun.” He and the other stalwart militiamen of Lexington exemplified the “Don’t Tread On Me” American spirit. This spirit had long been cultivated by Reverend Jonas Clark and other patriots.
On December 13, 1773, in response to the Tea Act, the men of Lexington had actually adopted a resolution written by Rev. Clark – an early version of the Declaration of Independence, one might say – in which they had declared: “We trust in God that should the State of Our Affairs require it, we shall be ready to Sacrifice our Estates, and every thing dear in Life, Yea & Life itself, in support of a Common Cause.” Facing off against British tyrants on the town common was only the natural next step in their commitment to Liberty.
The battle on Lexington Green lasted only a couple minutes. But when the smoke cleared, eight Americans lay dead and nine others were wounded. Some of those who died had been shot in the back and others were bayoneted by the British jackals. The others melted away into the town or nearby countryside. The British wasted little time in Lexington and marched on to their real goal: The Americans’ guns and ammunition stored at Concord.
While the drama was unfolding in Lexington, numerous messengers were sent into the countryside to inform as many people as possible that the King’s troops were on their way. Samuel Prescott had reached Concord and the local minutemen had gathered together. They were later informed by Reuben Brown that shots had been fired in Lexington. They didn’t know the outcome of the fighting there, but braced for a battle in Concord.
As the British approached Concord, they saw a Liberty pole that had been erected. Tellingly, they cut it down. They began seeing militiamen in the hills along the route. By the time they arrived in the town to confiscate and destroy the patriots’ firearms and ammunition, the minutemen had left the town and spread out into the surrounding areas.
The British immediately embarked on their search-and-destroy mission, aided by lists of patriots’ names provided to them by Tory traitors. Some weapons were successfully hidden and certain townswomen were instrumental in diverting the British away from others. Other public provisions were likewise protected by villagers pretending it was their private property. Despite these efforts, the British soldiers looted a number of the homes, burned some of the buildings, and found some of the armaments, which they destroyed.
With their tyrannical work complete, the British prepared to return to Boston. Their return trip would not go off without a hitch, however. Before the Redcoats could exit Concord, hundreds of militiamen from surrounding areas had gathered under the command of Colonel James Barrett. A war council was held. When smoke and fire were seen in Concord, the patriots decided to move into the town. Colonel Barrett ordered Major John Buttrick to advance on the British, though not to fire unless fired upon. Major Buttrick was heard to say they would “march into the middle of the town for its defence, or die in the attempt.”
Before they could enter the town, the patriots had to cross Concord Bridge which was guarded by British troops. The British fired upon the militiamen as they approached, killing one man. The militia returned fire, killing several British and wounding others. The British withdrew and were joined by others from the town. They squared off with the militiamen for some time. When they finally began their journey back to Boston, they were ambushed on the way by as many as one to four-thousand men from nearby communities who had responded to the warnings of British invasion into their area.
As the Redcoats marched to Boston, they were sitting ducks for militiamen concealed in the trees and hills along the roadside. For hours, the British endured guerrilla fire from American muskets. Along their march, a particularly interesting incident occurred. Samuel Whittemore was seventy-eight-years-old at the time. His house, in the small village of Menotomy, sat on the road that lead to Boston. As the British fell back after their attacks upon Lexington and Concord, Whittemore was warned that they were coming. Instead of running, he prepared to defend his home.
Whittemore set up his musket, pistols, and sword and prepared for the Redcoats. In due time, the British marched through the village, smashing everything as they went. When his door was kicked in by British regulars, Whittemore didn’t hesitate to pull the trigger of his pistols, felling the intruders. He then shot another British soldier who rushed at him. Finally, he went for his sword as still other British soldiers burst into his home. They shot him in the head and bayoneted him thirteen times before ransacking his house and leaving him for dead. But he didn’t die. Incredibly, this brave patriot not only survived, but lived to the age of 98 – living to see America freed from British domination. When asked by his wife if he regretted engaging the British instead of hiding, he promptly replied: “No! I would run the same chance again.”
The Redcoats were harassed on all sides by the American patriots as they rushed back to Boston. They only found relief when they reached the city and General Gage’s reinforcements. The bloody march came to be known as “Parker’s Revenge.” The Battles of Lexington and Concord were costly for the occupiers. At least 73 British were killed with dozens injured and even more who went missing. On the other hand, the “shot heard ‘round the world” ignited the revolutionary spirit throughout the colonies and made a full-scale war for Independence inevitable.
The “shot heard ‘round the world” has been remembered and commemorated by many as Patriot’s Day. In one particular Patriot’s Day address, Major T. Harrison Cummings noted:
“Perhaps the most important date in our national calendar, therefore, is the nineteenth of April, 1775. Since, on that day, the blood that was shed in Cambridge and Lexington, marked the first brave resistance of our ancestors to English tyranny, injustice, and oppression, and that resistance brought about the birth of a new nation of freemen.”
Surely April 19, 1775 deserves its place among other special dates such as July 4, 1776 and September 17, 1787. But how many of us remember, let alone go out of our way to commemorate, this exceptional day? How many of us even know the names of national heroes like Captain John Parker and Colonel James Barrett? We have so much to be grateful for as Americans – more than any other people on the planet – yet our forgetfulness of our past, our heroes, and our principles, is nothing short of deafening.
There’s another reason beyond mere gratitude that we should remember the noble American blood spilled at Lexington and Concord. Our national situation is analogous to 1775. The major difference, however, is that the tyranny we face today is far worse than the tyranny our forefathers faced in on the eve of the Revolution. Our ancestors would have never tolerated the abuses that are daily heaped upon us. Yet, most of us pathetically tolerate and endure violations of our sacred rights.
Despite the cowardice that has a hold on so many people, there are millions of us who are not so timid; millions of American patriots who understand our rights, comprehend the Constitution, and prefer to die on our feet as freemen than live on our knees as slaves. The powers-that-be who have hijacked our government believe we will roll over and continue to submit to their dictates because there are many who loudly profess their subservience to the state. But “therein lies the road to war, because those voices don’t speak for the rest of us. You and I know and do not believe that life is so dear and peace so sweet as to be purchased at the price of chains and slavery . . . Where, then, is the road to peace? Well it’s a simple answer after all. You and I have the courage to say to our enemies, “There is a price we will not pay.” “There is a point beyond which they must not advance.”” (Ronald Reagan, “A Time for Choosing,” October 27, 1964).
We don’t know where the next “shot heard ‘round the world” will be or what will spark it. It may be in Virginia where the newly-elected Democrat regime is busy pushing through egregious gun control laws. It may be in New York where they want to confiscate firearms just like the British hordes who descended upon Lexington and Concord. It may be in Utah where the state government is attempting to usurp a totalitarian authority over people and property. It may be in the mountains of Montana if the national government ever attempts to once and for all abolish the Second Amendment. It might be on a ranch or farm that the government is attempting to steal like they did in the 2014 “Battle of Bunkerville.” We don’t know where or when the government’s despotism will be opposed with deadly force and the powder keg of resistance will be ignited – but it will be eventually.
The best case scenario is that the American People wake up and we only have a limited revolt against the tyrants entrenched in government. The worst case scenario – the scenario that is, unfortunately, most likely – is that the Elite will get their way and plunge the Republic into an everyone-against-everyone melee of mob warfare. In either case, American patriots have a tremendous need to remember the men who stood on Lexington Green and at Concord Bridge.
Americans need to imbibe the spirit of our forefathers. They were real men. They had courage. They knew their rights. They were armed both intellectually, spiritually, and physically against tyrants. They resisted infringements of their rights as all freemen do. They were willing to give their lives to defend their Faith, Families, and Freedom. If we are not prepared to sacrifice everything that they sacrificed in the common cause of Liberty, we’re not worthy to enjoy the level of Freedom they won with their gallantry.
May the names Paul Revere, Jonas Clark, John Parker, James Barrett, and Samuel Whittemore rest on your mind. May the hallowed scenes of Lexington Green and Concord Bridge play continually before your eyes. And may the spirit of Freedom that animated the minutemen who fired the “shot heard ‘round the world” flow through you and inspire you to act against abusive government, when the time comes, as bravely as they did. Long Live Liberty!
April 19, 2020
See the following for more details about the battles:
The Battle of April 19, 1775 by Frank Warren Coburn
Lexington: From Liberty’s Birthplace to Progressive Suburb by Richard Kollen
The Minutmen and Their World by Robert A. Gross
Battles of Lexington and Concord by John Hamilton