By MARIANNE BRINKER and ELLEN BRINKER
Fourteen Signers, represented by 50 members and guests, gathered for the Spring meeting in Lexington and Concord, Massachusetts to learn about the events of April 19, 1775, known as Patriots’ Day.
Those who arrived early had the benefit of some lovely weather. On Friday, while the Board Meeting got underway, SODS and others toured Orchard House, the home of the Alcotts from 1858-1877, named for the approximately 40 apple trees formerly planted around the property. The house is actually two houses put together, which makes for some interesting architectural features. Much of the furnishings are original, so the rooms look very much the way they did when the Alcotts lived there. A Transcendentalist like his Concord neighbors, Ralph Waldo Emerson, Henry David Thoreau, and Nathaniel Hawthorne, Bronson Alcott was a philosopher and a teacher, and his wife, Abigail, was one of the first paid social workers in Massachusetts. The house is most noted for being where Louisa May Alcott wrote and set her classic “Little Women” in 1868. Dorothy Quincy, wife of John Hancock, and Louisa May Alcott were 7th cousins.
After the tour, we carpooled to the River Rock Grill in Maynard for dinner. Our restaurant host, Pablo, had done a lovely job of simplifying the menu choices, and the meals were delicious. Following dinner, the function room was ready for us to hear a wonderfully warm-hearted lecture by Professor Adolfo Caso. Our speaker was stranded as a child in Italy in WWII. Returning to the U.S., he graduated from Northeastern and Harvard,served in the U.S. Army, retiring as a colonel, and taught in Waltham. Currently he is publisher of Branden Books. He has written more than 30 books. We all were charmed by him and his delightful wife, Margaret.
Saturday morning arrived with cool showers; however, the bus was warm and ready to take us on our journey of discovery. Our first stop, the excellent multi-media production at the Minute Man Visitor Center, set the tone for what we would learn about the events of April 18th and 19th, 1775.
Following a short bus ride to Lexington, we toured three important sites: the Hancock-Clarke House, where John Hancock and Sam Adams were awakened by Paul Revere and William Dawes; Buckman Tavern, where some of the militia awaited the arrival of the Regulars; and the Lexington Green where the battle is re-enacted each year. The Captain John Parker statue stands ever vigilant on the corner of the Green.
Lunch was served at the nearby Lexington Depot. Formerly a train station, it is now owned by the Lexington Historical Society. We enjoyed a great box lunch while President-General Laurie Croft presided over the General Meeting. We then re-boarded the bus with our step-on guide, Joan, and headed toward Concord.
Joan pointed out the William Smith House (1693). Smith was the brother of Abigail Adams and captain of the Lincoln Minutemen. This house, because it was there at the time of the battle on April 19, 1775, is one of the 11 “witness houses” within the Park.
Our first stop in the Minute Man National Historic Park was at Hartwell Tavern, a renovated 18th Century tavern. Another “witness house,” it sits on a beautifully restored section of the actual Battle Road. We walked on Battle Road beyond Hartwell Tavern to Bloody Angle, where the Minute Men had lined both sides of the road and shot at the Regulars in guerilla fashion, taking cover behind stone walls and trees. In April 1775, it was the only stretch of road where there was a large stand of trees.
Once back on the bus, Joan mentioned various places of interest as we drove through Concord. We stopped at North Bridge, often called Old North Bridge, the site of the historic Battle of Concord. The current wooden pedestrian bridge, which crosses over the Concord River, is actually a recent (summer of 2005) restoration of the last bridge built on this site in 1956. The 1956 bridge was the fifth one since the 1775 “battle bridge” was taken down in 1788. Across the bridge, we saw Daniel Chester French’s beautiful Minute Man statue – wearing his hat, holding his plow with one hand and his musket in the other.
From Monument Street, we drove two miles beyond the North Bridge to the farm that belonged to Colonel Barrett, commander of the Middlesex Militia Regiment. Barrett’s Farm was a key target of the British expedition on April 19th because they knew that many provisions were stored there. (We learned that not much was found because the supplies had been moved or cleverly hidden from view.) Built in 1705, this “witness house” and farm were owned by the Barrett family for 200 years until it was sold in 1905 to the McGrath family, who owned it for the next 100 years. In October 2012, Minute Man National Historical Park and Save Our Heritage, the organization that had restored the house to its Colonial character, hosted a celebration of transfer of ownership of the Col. James Barrett House to the MMNHP.
On Saturday evening, at the Concord Museum, with its collection of Americana, we had the opportunity to see the various displays portraying Concord’s development since the 1600s. The special exhibit, The Shot Heard Round the World, featured original artifacts from April 19, 1775, including one of the lanterns hung at North Church, the drum used to call the militia together at Lexington Green, a powder horn with original woven strap that belonged to Abner Hosmer, various muskets, the sword of Major John Buttrick, who gave the order to return fire at the North Bridge, and flints found during an archeological dig.
After a delightful buffet dinner in French Hall, we heard from our two guest speakers – Captain Steve Crosby and Quartermaster Jaime Powers, both Acton Minutemen re-enactors. They described how, at dawn of every Patriots’ Day, they walk the seven-mile-long Captain Isaac Davis Trail to Concord indicated by granite markers with the words “Line of March, April 19, 1775 – Acton Minutemen.” The evening’s finale was a performance by the Colonial Singers and Dancers from the Lexington Historical Society, a very pleasant way to conclude the day and meeting.
As Dr. Joseph Warren wrote, “Resolved: That it is our solemn duty to preserve, maintain, and defend those civil and religious liberties for which our forefathers fought, died, and bled, and pass them on unimpaired to future generations.” — Lexington and Concord – First Battleground of the American Revolution, Jim Hollister and Lou Sideris, Eastern National, 2008. p. 37.
In 1738 Reverend John Hancock built the initial Hancock-Clarke house as a two story timber frame structure. Succeeding Hancock as minister in 1752, the Reverend Jonas Clarke, who reared 12 children in the parsonage, was an eloquent supporter of the colonial cause. Here is an excerpt from his war sermon as the Lexington militia headed to Concord:
“The bands of decency and humanity which bind men to men in Concord and amity have been broken; but not by us. Broken, I say, willfully and with deliberate malice, by a king who has by these very actions forfeited all rights of allegiance from us, from this colony, and indeed from all colonies lying in North America lying under his supposed dominion.”
“David prevailed over the Philistines, as you, under the mercy and purposes of God, will prevail!”
The Hancock-Clarke house is the only surviving residence associated with John Hancock. It became his boyhood home in 1744 when, upon the death of his father at Quincy, the seven-year-old boy came to live in Lexington with his grandfather, Rev. Hancock. In 1750 John joined his childless uncle, Thomas Hancock, a wealthy Boston merchant, who adopted him.
On the evening of April 18, 1775, John Hancock and Samuel Adams, having attended the Massachusetts Provincial Congress in Concord, were guests of Rev. Clarke. Fearing that they might be captured by the Regulars, Dr. Joseph Warren of Boston dispatched William Dawes and Paul Revere with news of the advancing British troops. Arriving separately, they stopped to warn Hancock and Adams around midnight, then set off for Concord. Hancock and Adams made their way to Burlington to avoid capture. [Paul Revere was later captured that night while William Dawes escaped; it was a fellow rider, Dr. Samuel Prescott, who warned the townsfolk of Acton and Concord that the Regulars were coming.]
The Buckman Tavern, built about 1690, was the oldest gathering place in Lexington for both locals and travelers and the location of many important town meetings. In April 1775, it was run by John Buckman, a member of the Lexington Training Band, and his wife. In those days, the tavern was a favorite gathering place for the militia when they trained on the Lexington Green. (Lexington, unlike other local communities, did not establish a minuteman company, instead maintaining a “training band” [an old English phrase for a militia company] for local defense.) Although best known as the headquarters of Captain Parker and the Lexington militia, Buckman Tavern was perhaps the busiest of Lexington’s 18th century taverns.
The Tavern’s interior appears today very much as it did in 1775, and one can see the restored 18th-century taproom with large fireplace and central chimney. Among the many items on display is the old front door, with its bullet hole likely made by a British musket ball during the battle and a portrait of John Buckman. There is also John Hancock’s trunk of important documents (what the documents were is still unknown); he sent Paul Revere and another militia man to retrieve the trunk just as The First Shot was fired.
Unlike many other towns, when Lexington was first settled in 1640, the Lexington Green did not exist since the residents had not set aside a separate common area when the town was laid out. In 1711, the town raised funds by subscription and purchased 1.5 acres of land as a militia training ground. This was enlarged by one more acre in 1722.
The conflict on Lexington Green took place before dawn on April 19, 1775. Having received word that the Regulars had left Boston in force to seize and destroy military supplies in Concord, several dozen militia gathered on the Green. When the Regulars took longer to arrive than initially expected, some militia went home while others went to the Tavern to await the arrival of the British troops. Definite word reached them just before sunrise, and Captain Parker’s company of militia left the tavern to assemble in two ranks on the Green. Following the arrival of the Regulars, a single shot was fired, by whom it is still not known. The militia suffered the first casualties of the American Revolution when the two sides exchanged fire; eight militia were killed and ten wounded. About 1½ miles west of the Green, there is an area known as Parker’s Revenge, where the Regulars, returning to Boston in the afternoon, were attacked by Captain Parker’s men in retaliation for the morning’s skirmish.
Over the years, the Wayside has been the home of a Concord minuteman, Samuel Whitney, the Alcotts, Nathaniel Hawthorne, and Harriett Lathrop (Margaret Sidney).
Emerson House – Ralph Waldo Emerson, Transcendental philosopher, poet, and lecturer, moved into this handsome white house with his second wife, Lidian, shortly after their marriage in 1835.
In 1774 and 1775, the meetinghouse of the First Parish of Concord was used for Provincial Congress meetings, and in 1775 and 1776 for classes of Harvard College, which was temporarily moved from Cambridge to Concord for the safety of the students in wartime.
The original structure of the Colonial Inn was built in 1716. In 1775, one of the Inn’s original buildings was used as a storehouse for arms, provisions, and supplies which the British came to seize and destroy.
The Old Manse was built in 1770 for Rev. William Emerson, father of minister, Rev. William Emerson and grandfather of the Transcendentalist writer and lecturer, Ralph Waldo Emerson. The elder Emerson was the town minister in Concord, chaplain to the Provincial Congress when it met at Concord in October 1774, and later a chaplain to the Continental Army. (Rev. Emerson observed the fight at the North Bridge from his farm fields while his wife and children witnessed the fight from the upstairs windows of their house.)
Barrett’s Farm – The farthest point of the British advance, Barrett’s Farm is a direct, living, tangible link to the beginning of our nation. The most respected political figure in Concord and the commander of the Concord militia, Colonel James Barrett used his farm and the adjacent mill, as an arsenal for gunpowder and weapons, including two pair of prized bronze cannon, according to secret British intelligence. Thus, it is because of Barrett’s Farm that the first battle of the American Revolution took place in Concord – the Regulars’ principal purpose was to search Barrett’s Farm and confiscate the colonial militia’s artillery and munitions, but Barrett and his family had received advance notice of the British plan and had successfully hidden the provisions. Many supplies, including the cannon, were taken to nearby towns while some of the weapons were buried in the furrows of the newly-plowed fields surrounding the farm.
On April 19, when the courthouse bell announced the approach of the Regulars, the Concord Minutemen assembled at Wright’s Tavern. Later, after the Regulars’ arrival in the Concord Square, British officers refreshed themselves in the Tavern.
The British soldiers passed peacefully by Meriam House in the morning, but, at the corner adjacent to this “witness house,” the militia ambushed the Regulars as they headed back to Boston
The North Bridge – On April 19, 1775, five companies of Minutemen and five companies of militia occupied the hill above the North Bridge. As additional men kept arriving, the number swelled to 400 Colonials. The Regulars, totaling fewer than 100 men, were left to guard the bridge while four other companies marched two more miles to Col. Barrett’s home to search for supplies. In the short battle that lasted only two to three minutes, two men from Acton – Capt. Isaac Davis and Abner Hosmer – were killed. Two Regulars were also killed and one was wounded.
Along the walkway leading to the Bridge, there is a British grave at a rock wall near the bridge. It is the grave of two British soldiers. From a poem by James Russell Lowell, these lines are inscribed:
They came three thousand miles and died,
To keep the past upon its throne:
Unheard, beyond the ocean tide,
Their English Mother made her moan.
April 19, 1775
1836 Memorial – When there was no bridge at the site, the residents of Concord erected a memorial obelisk on which is inscribed:
“HERE On the 19 of April, 1775, was made the first forcible resistance to British aggression[.]
On the opposite Bank stood the American Militia[.] Here stood the Invading Army and on this spot the first of the Enemy fell in the War of that Revolution which gave Independence to these United States[.] In gratitude to GOD and In the love of Freedom this Monument was erected AD. 1836.”
Daniel Chester French’s Minute Man Statue is adjacent to the North Bridge. The statue was cast in the Ames Foundry in Chicopee, Massachusetts and was made from seven American Civil War cannons donated for the project by Congress. The statue, and the 1875 bridge, were dedicated at a Centennial recognition of the original April 19, 1775 battle. Inscribed at the base of the statue, which stands on a seven-foot-tall granite pedestal, is the first stanza of “Concord Hymn” by Ralph Waldo Emerson, sung to the tune of Old Hundreth:
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.
Historical sources for this article:
Lexington Historical Society (lexingtonhistory.org), louisamayalcottt.org; brochures from the Minute Man National Historical Park, Massachusetts; National Park Service, U.S. Department of the Interior; Wikipedia.com; http://www.paul-revere-heritage.com/midnight-ride-map.html; http://virtualamericanrevolution.com; http://www.saveourheritage.com/Barretts_Farm_Project.htm; http://www.concordmuseum.org/
Fischer, David Hackett, Paul Revere’s Ride, Oxford University Press, New York, NY, 1994; wikipedia.com; http://virtualamericanrevolution.com; Lexington and Concord – First Battleground of the American Revolution, Jim Hollister and Lou Sideris, Eastern National, 2008; http://www.archives.gov/historical-docs/todays-doc/index.html?dod-date=419; http://tps.cr.nps.gov/nhl/detail.cfm?ResourceId=64&ResourceType=Building; http://www.lexingtonminutemen.com/the-lexington-training-band.html; brochures from the Minute Man National Historical Park, Massachusetts; National Park Service, U.S. Department of the Interior; http://www.metrowestdailynews.com/x1263224246/Lexington-re-enactors-portray-Parkers-Revenge/?Start=1
Brochures of Minute Man National Historical Park, Massachusetts; National Park Service, U.S. Department of the Interior; Wikipedia.com; http://virtualamericanrevolution.com; Lexington and Concord – First Battleground of the American Revolution, Jim Hollister and Lou Sideris, Eastern National, 2008; http://jamesbarrettfarm.org/