241 Years Ago Today

Two-hundred forty-one years ago today, the world changed.  If you’ve been around the Revive 1775 blog for a while, you know the incredible story of April 19th, 1775.

Or at least you know the overarching story.  But the life of the story is in the details.  Wouldn’t you agree?  When I’m invited by a group to tell the story, the first thing I do is find out how much time I have.  I can do a good overview in twenty minutes.  But give me an hour and a half and you’ll come away inspired by what those people went through that day.

So, on the anniversary, what can I say that will do them justice?  For some reason the anniversary finds me rather subdued, struggling to find words to share.

I can’t tell you the story of that day in one blog post.  So, let me simply tell one man’s story.

7156569_sNathaniel Mulliken.  Clockmaker.  Lexington, MA.

Nate was named after his father , who was the Lexington clockmaker before his death in 1767.  The senior Nathaniel left a wife, four sons and three daughters behind.  Nate took over the clock shop next to their home.  It was two doors from Monroe Tavern on the main road from Boston to Concord.

At age 23, Nate was now the man of the family.  He was responsible for caring for his mother and younger siblings.  I’m certain he took that role of provider seriously. SS21Mulliken,N1-1388770365

In the pre-dawn of April 19th – it was a Wednesday morning, Nate joined the Lexington training band on the town green, after having been warned that the Regulars were out.  The Redcoats – eight hundred of his Majesty’s best, were marching to Concord to confiscate the munitions stored there.  It wasn’t the first time they’d tried this, but it was definitely the most ambitious to date.  The secondary mission of the King’s soldiers was to arrest Sam Adams and John Hancock, who were staying in the Reverend Clarke’s home in Lexington.

Nate joined seventy other men on the Green that morning.  And by the time the Redcoats left Lexington to continue their march to Concord, eight men lay dead on the Lexington Green, more wounded.  The tiny town of seven hundred souls heard the victory volley and three cheers before Colonel Smith marched his forces out of town.

The people in Lexington knew that the regulars would be back through later.  They scrambled to bury their dead in a mass grave.  Captain Parker, Nate’s commander gathered his forces and they, too, marched out of town toward Concord.

At a prime spot for an ambush, Nate and his brothers in arms waited.  At about two o’clock that afternoon, they would have a measure of revenge.  Captain Parker’s men would open fire on Smith and his troops and continue firing until they could no longer safely hold that position.  Then they would take to the woods, joining thousands of other militia fighters as they circled ahead of the Redcoat army, ambushing them over and over again until the Redcoats finally made it back to Boston.

Nate would return home to Lexington to find his home and shop burned to the ground.

The search of the body of a dead Redcoat would turn up items stolen from the shop before it was torched.

Nate would leave for Boston, to join the Revolution, probably the next morning.  And less than two years later, Nate would die of camp fever at the age of twenty-five.

When they pledged their lives and their fortunes, these men—young and old—knew what they were saying.  They were willing to pay that price – even if they never saw the liberty for which they sacrificed.

 

Classic New England “Democracy” in Concord

Punkatasset HillIt’s early morning in Concord, April 19th, 1775. Young Dr. Samuel Prescott rode through, alerting the town to the oncoming Redcoats. By morning three groups of men gathered in the center of town.

The Minutemen – these were the young bucks. They had to be ready to go at a moment’s notice.

The Militia – these were the “middle aged” group – late-20’s into their 40’s.

The Alarm Listers – these were the “old guys” – the over 50’s group – veterans of the French and Indian war – much too old to fight.

In classic New England style, they discussed the situation. Everyone had a chance to voice his opinion.

The Minutemen were gung-ho. They wanted to rush out and meet the oncoming Redcoats – to take the fight right to the enemy.

The Militia didn’t like that idea. They wanted to stay put and protect their town.

The Alarm Listers – remember, these are the guys who’ve got the most combat experience – they wanted to wait until the numbers were more even.

“Town is no place to fight a war, boys.”

Their suggestion was to go to their training field – on Punkatasset Hill – wait for reinforcements there. From that Hill, they can see down into town and see the roads. It was a good, strategic spot.

So, after much discussion, in classic New England style, they did all three things.

The Minutemen marched out with their own fifer and drummer. They didn’t have to go far. When they realized what eight-hundred Redcoats looked like, they decided to turn around. They didn’t turn and run though. They neatly turned around, and marched back into town.

The towns people said it was a rather comical sight. Their Minutemen leading the Redcoats into town.

When they got to town, they discovered that the Militia was no longer in town. They had seen the wisdom of the “old men” and waited on the training field. So, the Minutemen just kept marching until they joined their own forces and the gathering forces from the surrounding area.

And, by the time the men on Punkatasset Hill were engaged in the battle, the old Indian fighters had what they wanted. . . A fair fight.

And now for something a little different. . .

 

I’m a day late, here.  Had some issues getting this thing put together and online.  I hope it was worth the wait.

Last week, I was privileged to tell the overview of April 19th, 1775 to the local Kiwanis Club.  Now, mind you, I can tell this story in about an hour and a half.  We had 30 minutes and had a few other stories to tell.  The gauntlet thrown down, I picked up the challenge and here is a "short" version of this inspiring story.  Enjoy. 

 

Colonel James Barrett – Concord

 

James Barrett, Colonel of the Concord Militia. He left his home early on the morning of April 19th, 1775 to join his troops first in town, then on Punkatasset Hill.

The Concord forces had been warned earlier in the week by Paul Revere that something was up – the Sons of Liberty in Boston didn’t know quite what. But they urged the Concord folks to make sure their arms and ammunition were hidden.

And, they pretty much were.

Now, Concord was not Lexington. In Lexington, they say, there were no Tories (folks loyal to the Crown) but that wasn’t true in Concord. And the Tories had been taking note of who the “Insurgents” were and passing that information on to General Gage in Boston. So, when the troops arrived that morning, they had specific places to search. And Barrett’s farm was one of those places.

Once in Concord, Colonel Smith, heading up the Redcoat column, split his men up. Some searched the town. Some went across the North Bridge to Barrett’s. And a third group was in charge of holding the North Bridge so the troops who went to Barrett’s wouldn’t be cut off.

When they got to Barrett’s, they searched but found nothing. Mrs. Barrett was there but the Colonel was with his troops. I can only imagine how scared Mrs. Barrett was. The Redcoats, while not being overly vicious, must have been completely intimidating. They forced Mrs. Barrett to make them breakfast.

Then, they offered to pay her. She told them to keep their blood money.

They began their march back to town. On their way, they saw boys up on the hills plowing. The boys waved. The Redcoats waved back.

What they didn’t know was that the boys were planting muskets in the furrows as they dug them.

And Colonel Barrett on Punkatasset Hill? Well, the Concord boys saw smoke coming from town and decided to march to town to stop the Redcoats from burning the town (that’s a whole other story for another time.) They began marching toward the North Bridge and the Redcoats opened fire on them. The Militias returned fire, killing almost half of the officers at the bridge and wounding many more. And the Pride of the British Army turned tail and ran for town.

Barrett held the bridge and, when the other detachment that had been at their house came back, the militia let them pass unmolested.

Remember the orders of the day were: Do not fire unless fired upon. To do so was a hanging offense.

But the Concord Militia and the other Militias that had joined them by now followed the Redcoat column out of Concord as they headed back to Boston. They’d have their chance soon enough.

Captain John Parker – Lexington

Captain John Parker. Age 46 on the morning of April, 19th, 1775. He’d been a soldier in the French and Indian War. He was the father of seven. Puritan. Farmer. Head of the Lexington Militia.** Dying of tuberculosis.

The leaders of the militia were not appointed, they were elected. Parker wasn’t the smartest or the richest man in town. But he was well respected.

On that fateful morning, after getting word that the Regulars were out, Parker gathered his forces on the Lexington Common. The men he commanded that morning were friends, family, neighbors. Some of the younger men, John had known since they were born. It was not lightly that he ordered these men, “Don’t fire unless fired upon. But if they mean to have a war, let it start here.”

They stood on the Green that morning, not to start trouble, not to start a war. Over the last few months, General Gage had sent troops out into the countryside several times to confiscate arms and powder. The Colonials had made a show of standing, not to fight, but to let the Redcoats know they were there. On a recent occasion, Colonials had stood fast and the Redcoats had been turned away empty handed. No shots were fired.

Parker may have expected a similar effect. Though he knew that the Regulars were headed to Concord, he was not about to let them come into Lexington without resistance. There is also speculation that the Lexington boys were there to stand between the Redcoats and Sam Adams and John Hancock, who were staying just up the road from the Green.

When faced with a force over ten times the size of his band of brothers, Parker ordered his men to disburse. When they turned to leave, a shot rang out. In the following volleys from the Redcoats, seven of his friends were killed, seventeen more wounded. His cousin, Jonas, lay dead as well. The last thing Parker heard as he got his boys to safety was a victory cheer from the Redcoats.

Huzzah, huzzah, huzzah!

Parker would not forget. The same Redcoats that left his men dead and injured on the Green would have to come back through Lexington later in the day.

Parker would have his revenge.

** Lexington didn’t have a militia, it had a training band.

Robert Munroe – Part 2

From: Proceedings of Lexington Historical Society and papers relating to the history of the town

ROBERT MUNROE.

Read by G. W. Sampson, Oct. 12, 1857.

April 19, 1775, was the last day on earth of Robert Munroe. When aroused from his bed by the message of Paul Revere, it would have been pardonable in a man of sixty-four, who had twice seen service, to have acted on the principle of "old men for counsel and young men for war." He might well have decided that his family was fully represented on the field by his two sons and sons-in-law. But it requires a more vivid imagination than I possess, to think of Robert Munroe as hesitating for one instant.

In the band of minute-men, Munroe and his family played an important part. Lieutenant Tidd was next in rank to Captain Parker; Daniel Harrington was clerk of the Company; Munroe himself was ensign, and next in rank to lieutenant; while his two sons were privates.

Thus the father and his sons and sons-in-law all stood in line on the Common. At the first volley, the old hero was struck down. Much as I dislike a man who holds himself aloof from his fellow-men on account of the superiority of his forefathers, I believe that a proper feeling of pride in one’s ancestry is fitting and right. When I think of that brave old man, and scores like him, I say Lexington people have as good blood in their ancestry as any people of the Commonwealth.

"What the fathers won the sons defended." I was reminded of this sentiment last Memorial Day, when the grave of one of our soldiers was being decorated. Over the spot where he rested stood the color-bearer and Commander of the Post, all three — the living and the dead — direct descendants of Robert Munroe.

Two other descendants of his enlisted from a neighboring city during the Rebellion, and there were probably others who followed their example. Some have predicted that this country will degenerate through a lack of interest in her welfare; but I believe that we shall always have men in time of need of the spirit of Robert Munroe, who will spring to the front, and bravely defend what the fathers won.

Robert Munroe – Part 1

From: Proceedings of Lexington Historical Society and papers relating to the history of the town

ROBERT MUNROE.

Read by G. W. Sampson, Oct. 12, 1857.

Lexington GreenAmong old Lexington families, the Munroes stand second to none. In civil life or in time of war, they were always found at or near the front. Perhaps the three most distinguished in the Revolutionary period were Robert, Edmund, and William. I am here to speak for Robert, not because he was superior in any way to the others, but because he was my ancestor. Robert Munroe was born in Lexington, May 4, 1712.

The old stock of Munroes first settled, as I am told, in that part of Lexington which takes its name, "Scotland," from their nationality. They can be traced as far back as the time of Bruce in Scotland. We read of them at Bannockburn, Berwick, Edinburgh, in the Protestant war in Germany, in Sweden, and even in India, fighting sturdily and steadily on every occasion. Up to 165 1 the Munroes could boast of three generals, eight colonels, five lieutenant-colonels, eleven majors, more than thirty captains, and a large number of subalterns. We find the Munroes again in command of large forces in the Irish Rebellion, at Fontenoy, at Falkirk and elsewhere; everywhere, indeed, but in the rear, when there was fighting at the front.

It is an old saying that "blood will tell." When a military spirit becomes infused through generations, it only needs a spark of war to ignite the latent energy in a man and develop a first-class soldier. It follows with almost as much certainty as if he were a chemical compound, the occasion for the display of warlike attributes being the missing link in the component parts. We read with no feeling of surprise, therefore, the name of Robert Munroe as ensign of the Lexington quota in the French and Indian War. In the expedition against Louisburg, in 1758, he was color-bearer in that memorable attack, reflecting honor upon Massachusetts and upon Lexington. In 1762, he was one of a company from this town sent to watch the Indians, and prevent the reopening of hostilities before peace had been declared.

In regard to his private life and characteristics, I can give no information. Those who knew him at all, passed away more than a generation before my time; and those who knew him intimately, more than two generations.

He seems to have been a typical New Englander of that period, firm, upright, of staunch integrity, but of considerable bigotry, superstition, and prejudice; a grand old Puritan, who abhorred idleness, dishonesty, and all things superficial, who constantly attended church, trained in the militia, kept a sharp eye on public affairs, tilled his farm, and cheered his sorrow with good New England rum, after the custom of that time.

He had four children: Anna, wife of Daniel Harrington; Ruth, wife of William Tidd; and Ebenezer and John. Daniel Harrington, my ancestor, was clerk of Captain Parker’s Company at the time of the battle; and William Tidd was lieutenant. Both were afterwards prominent in town affairs, and lived to a ripe old age. From some of the elder members of my family I have heard many anecdotes of "Grandfather Harrington" and his blacksmith shop, and of "Uncle Bill Tidd," as they were familiarly called. Ebenezer and John Munroe, like most of the young men of the town, were in the events of the 19th of April, Ebenezer also seeing service in the Jersey campaign of 1776.

Jason Russell’s Bloody Battle

On April 19th, 1775, Jason Russell was 59 years old and lame. His beautiful home, built or remodeled on land he inherited just before marrying his wife in 1740, was in Menotomy (modern day Arlington) right on the main road to Lexington.

 After the Redcoats marched by before dawn, Jason took his wife and family to a neighbors home further from the road. But Jason returned. When warned to flee to safety, he is remembered as saying “An Englishman’s home is his castle.”

Late in the day, on April 19th, he is within the walls of his “yard” and is joined by Militia and Minutemen from the surrounding countryside. They set up a defense to intercept the retreating Redcoats. But, even after being warned, they neglect to watch for the Redcoat flankers.

The lot of them – twenty or so – were overtaken by the flankers and rushed into Jason’s house for protection. Jason was slower than the rest, of course, and was shot twice on his doorstep and stabbed multiple times as the Redcoats followed the Minutemen into the house.

Eight were able to make it into the basement and were able to defend their position by firing up the stairs. The rest were mowed down in the front room of Jason’s home.

When Mrs. Russell returned home, the blood was ankle-deep where she found her husband’s body, along with eleven others, laid out in her kitchen. The blood stains never came out of the floor.

This was the bloodiest battle for the Americans on that day. Jason Russell and the eleven others that died there that day were buried in a mass grave near the house. An obelisk that marks the grave reads:
 
Erected by the Inhabitants of West Cambridge, A.D. 1848, over the common grave of Jason Russell, Jason Winship, Jabez Wyman and nine others, who were slain in this town by the British Troops on their retreat from the Battles of Lexington and Concord, April 19th, 1775. Being among the first to lay down their lives in the struggle for American Independence.

 

The Bedford Flag

BedfordFlagThe Bedford flag is the only flag thought to be carried by the Insurgent forces on April 19th, 1775.  It was carried by Nathaniel Page, of the Bedford Minutemen.  Bedford is about five miles northeast of Concord.

But the flag itself dates back to even before the French and Indian war.  It was commissioned for a Massachusetts cavalry unity by Nathaniel’s father in 1737.  As a cavalry flag, it was not the size we think of for other Revolutionary War Flags.  It measured 27″ long by 29″ wide and was made of crimson silk damask.  This flag still resides in the Bedford Public Library.

Their website describes the flag this way:  “Into the rich red damask is woven a pattern of pomegranates, grapes, and leaves.  The design is painted on both sides of the flag, mainly in silver and gold.  The emblem consists of a mailed arm emerging from clouds and grasping a sword.  Three cannonballs hang in the air.  Encircling the arm is a gold ribbon on which the Latin words “VINCE AUT MORIRE” (Conquer or Die) are painted.”

Nathaniel told his grandson the story of April 19th, when he carried this little flag to Concord and into history:  “Our people were not surprised when the messenger reached this house…  We had agreed at the last drilling to meet, in case of alarm, at the tavern in the center of the town, kept by Jeremiah Fitch, sergeant of the militia company.  The horseman banged on the house and cried out, ‘Up, Mr. Page, the regulars are out.’  We were not long at our preparations, and were soon at the tavern.”

When they reached concord, Nathaniel and the Bedford Minutemen remove and hide stores before joining the Concord militia at the North Bridge.

Harry Gould – Concord

9C Harry GouldMistakes happen.  This card is wrong.

On the morning of April 19th, Harry Gould was just eighteen. However,  he was not from Lexington, but from Concord.  And he didn’t muster on Lexington Green but in Concord.

History reports that Harry was “panic struck at the first sound of the British drums.”  We also know that, as the Redcoat Army approached Concord, the early morning sun glinted ominously on the British Bayonets.

As a side note, the movie “April Morning” does an amazing job of portraying the sound of the drums.  I had never given the noise much thought, thinking that the whole music-to-make-war-by thing was rather silly.  Then I watched that movie.  The sound of the drums was overwhelmingly loud.  Scary loud.  I can imagine this young man being terrified by the sound.

Let’s also remember that blood had already been shed that morning.  The Concord Militia and those gathered there knew that things had gone south in Lexington.  They were likely still hoping to not have further bloodshed, but they also were aware that this might be impossible now.

So, as they watched the eight hundred Redcoat soldiers approach, the sights and sounds incredibly frightful, thirty-two year old Reverend William Emerson (Grandfather of Ralph Waldo Emerson) moved quietly among the American soldiers, encouraging them.  Like his counterpart in Lexington, Reverend Jonas Clarke, he had been preparing his congregation for this day.  They had taught them about Liberty and Tyranny and the just cause of standing in the face of evil.

“Stand your ground, Harry, your cause is just and God will bless you,” Emerson told him.

They stood their ground.  Their cause was just.  And God did bless them.