Sons of Liberty – Lexington Green – Part 1

In my last blog post, I reviewed the segment of the HISTORY Channel’s Sons of Liberty which encompassed the “Midnight Ride” of Paul Revere and William Dawes.  In this post, we’ll look at the segment on Lexington Green.

When we left off, Paul Revere had gallantly ridden away from Lexington to distract the Redcoat patrol away from Hancock and Adams.  I did mention that this didn’t happen, right?  Well, when we get to Lexington Green, blood may shoot out of my eyes.

Blood shot out of my eyes. . .

The next scene is of men running through Lexington, supposedly the Lexington militia?  Maybe?  Seems logical as they’re running with their muskets in their hands.  And the camera backs up and we see the town and the alarm bell ringing and finally, as the camera pulls back even more, the Green itself.  It is portrayed as a huge open field some ways from town.

Which it wasn’t. 

In this drawing, you can see that the green was the center of town.  The road from Boston to Concord ran from right to left, toward the northwest.  At the meetinghouse, the road forked and the north road ran on the east side of the green, passed by Buckman’s Tavern.  Then at the “top” of the green, another road ran east.  This road was “residential” in that there were homes/farms along this road.  The men who lived here simply crossed the road to get to the green. 

So, please get the picture out of your mind that the Battle of Lexington Green was fought way out of town. 

Next we see the Redcoats – maybe fifty or so – I’d have to go back and count – please don’t make me – taking their place on the green.  And we have the “men of Lexington” running onto the green, muskets leveled at the Redcoats.  Major Pitcairn (without Scots accent) demands that the “men of Lexington” bring out Sam Adams and John Hancock.  Words are exchanged.  Muskets leveled on each side (notice the lack of bayonets on the Redcoat muskets) and then MAN OF LEXINGTON tells his men to let the Redcoats fire first.  Much shooting ensues.  Lotsa Patriot bodies . . .

Sigh.  Can we talk?

It didn’t happen that way. . .

 

Before I go further though, throughout this silly series, we see the same characters just moving from place to place as the day progresses.  Here, on the Green, we see this MAN OF LEXINGTON who is the focus of the scene.  In the series, he’s one of Sam Adam’s buds named Kelly.  He leads the Lexington men, gives them their order not to shoot first, then becomes a martyr to Pitcairn’s torture.  Balderdash!!!

In part 2, I’ll tell you what really happened. 

Sons of Liberty – Midnight Ride

As promised, I tell you now my thoughts on HISTORY Channel’s Sons of Liberty.  As I said in the earlier post, this 3-episode series made me cry.  The question “Why?” just kept ringing in my head.  Why had the producers made the choices they made?  The likely answer is ratings, I suppose. 

Though, it would seem that a venue titled HISTORY Channel might give more thought to the actual history than, say, HBO.  And this brings up the elephant in the room:  if we know that the portrayal of April 19, 1775 was so “fabricated” for the viewing public, that it cannot be trusted as History, then is anything we see on this so-called “HISTORY” Channel any more reliable? 

But I digress.

For this post, I’ll mutter a bit about the Sons of Liberty portrayal of the night of April 18th and the early parts of April 19th – up through the “Battle” of Lexington Green. 

 

Dr. Joseph Warren – philanderer?

 
First of all, let me mention that I don’t believe for a minute that Margaret Gage was sleeping with Dr. Joseph Warren.  Now, I suppose it’s possible but I imagine this was just a let’s-throw-some-sex-in-here decision by the writers/producers.  (Much like we see in the series Turn.) Though, of course, there was bound to be illicit sex in Colonial America, let’s face it; these people, for the most part were pretty religious.  Sam Adams and John Hancock, for that matter were very religious men – just read their writings. 

Dr. Warren was the head of the Sons of Liberty in Boston.  He was dedicated to a cause.  Besides that, he’d lost his wife in 1772 (leaving behind four children) and sources say that he was desperately sad – to the point of being self-destructive.  Does that mean that he didn’t have a dalliance with the Royal Governor’s wife?  No.  But I do doubt it.

Revere and Dawes – on the road again . . .

Then there’s Paul Revere and William Dawes.  I give SoL credit that they included Dawes in the ride to alert the countryside.  But there were a few problems that I picked out on this issue.  (Let me say, though, that these are really very minor issues and I might be silly to even bring them up.)  It is doubtful that Dawes and Revere had conversations in the days before the ride.  The whole Sons of Liberty/spying thing was pretty secretive.  They likely hadn’t met until they were both at the Clarke House in Lexington.

Revere didn’t ride out of Boston.  He was rowed across Back Bay, in the shadow of the HMS Somerset, to Charleston, where he was met by Patriots who loaned him a horse.  It was Deacon Larkin’s father’s horse – said to be the fastest horse in the region.  And the good Deacon wouldn’t get his dad’s horse back.

Revere gets his fight on . . .

In the series, there’s a fight scene between Revere and a Redcoat patrol that tries to stop him from alerting the countryside. Revere did run into a patrol on the road to Lexington but he was able to evade them with Brown Beauty’s speed.  But I did like this scene – which could have been inserted later and been more accurate.  When Revere is asked who he is, he answers "I’m a colonial scout for an armed resistance against the tyranny of General Gage and the British Crown."    The Redcoat says "Really" – totally unconvinced.  But it was a great line and made me smile.  And, frankly, I really liked their version of Revere.  He was a real fighter.  I like that in a Revolutionary War Hero.  More about the "Paul Revere Show" in another post.

Revere arrived in Lexington at around midnight – not in the full light of day as in the series.  In the show, he busts into a small house where Adams and Hancock are staying and warns them that they need to flee to safety.  Sam Adams wants to stay and fight – this part is true.  But the bit with Revere causing a diversion so Adams and Hancock could get away was purely made up. 

Hancock and Adams at the preachers house – and a fiancee?

Hancock and Adams were staying at the home of the Reverend Jonas Clarke – Lexington’s firebrand preacher. Jonas Clarke succeeded the Reverend John Hancock (our John Hancock’s grandfather) as preacher in Lexington. Our John Hancock spent a lot of time there as a child and young man so he was a very familiar face in Lexington.  Also staying at the Clarke home was Dolly Quincy, Hancock’s fiancee.  It was only after Revere’s capture, his release and his walk back to Lexington that he was able to convince Adams and Hancock to load up the carriage and get to safety.  Of course, John took Dolly along as well. 

Point of fact – Revere didn’t make it. . .

And finally, here’s the most important HISTORY that the HISTORY channel screwed up.  Paul Revere never made it to Concord.  He and Dawes left the Clarke home about 1am, headed to warn Concord.  Along the road they met Samuel Prescott, the young doctor from Concord and also a High Son of Liberty. The three of them rode together, but were captured by a Redcoat patrol in Lincoln.  Dawes and Prescott got away.  Dawes was unhorsed in the escape and walked back to Lexington.  Prescott got clean away and was the one that warned Concord.

Revere was let go about two hours later – and there’s a great story there which I’ll have to tell another time.  The Redcoats kept Brown Beauty and legend has it that they rode her to death.   But this brings up the point that I often make:  April 18th and 19th, 1775 were so filled with TRUE drama that a self-respecting HISTORY Channel would not have to make stories up. 

Well, I certainly didn’t mean this post to be this long.  And I thought I could get through the HISTORY Channels portrayal of events on Lexington Green.  Alas, no.  That will have to wait till next time. 

History Channel: Sons of Liberty – My Take

For several weeks, I’ve been posting reviews for the History Channel’s Sons of Liberty series on my Facebook page.  It quickly became obvious that the history was going to be sacrificed on the altar of entertainment.  In his article, Tom Verenna dissected the series in a powerful way.  But, Buck Sexton made a great point that, if the show isn’t entertaining, then it doesn’t matter if the history is right, no one will watch it. 

Okay.  Makes sense.  And a few friends were watching it and enjoying it despite it’s historical blasphemy.  So, we watched it this weekend.  It’s three episodes, each about two hours long.

And?  What was my review?  A full discussion of the April 19th, 1775 segments will follow in a series of posts.  But for now, let’s just say this:  I cried through most of the second episode and half of the third.

Tears of Joy?  Because I was seeing the settings and people I have come to love and respect and. . . Love on the screen before me, period settings and clothes on display?  Because I was so very entertained?

Well, no.  Though I did enjoy the period clothes and settings.  Anything that makes 1775 come alive before us is good, I suppose.  And, as long as I could watch it with my movie watching hat on, I was entertained.  But that became harder and harder to do after the first episode.

Tears of what then?

I think grief. Sadness. My husband posted today on his Facebook page that “the sheer distortion of the people and events that she has come to love ripped right through her.”  He’s right. 

The drama of April 19th, 1775 was the stuff legends are made of.  Most Americans have never even heard of the heroes and heroines of that day. And if they have, Paul Revere comes to mind, what they know is mixed with myth and fabrications.  A three part series could be made of that day, sticking moment by moment to the truth of that day and it would be just as entertaining as this series, if not more so.  It was the day America became America.  It was the true birthday of our nation. 

And while I don’t really want to take apart this series bit by bit – some will see it as being just so very negative – I want my readers to know the truth.  I think the truth is even better than the Sam and Paul’s Excellent Adventure that the History Channel brought us.  And, where I can, I’ll give kudos.  There are a few kudos to be had. 

So, go watch the series with the History Channel app before mid month, while it’s free.  And watch for my coming posts. 

Of Myths and Certain History

Some of my readers might know that I live near the #1 city park in the USA.  You might also know that I volunteer there.  The Garden of the Gods park is one of my very favorite places and I totally enjoy my Monday afternoons when I can share the park with visitors.

By now, you’re asking what this has to do with 1775.   Hold on, I’ll get to it.

This formation in the Garden of the Gods is called the Kissing Camels.  As you can see, the humps on the camels are not even close to the same size – heck one hump isn’t even on the same rock.  So, from some vantage points you can see a humpless camel.  This has led to a rather common myth – that one of the camels humps broke off.

Recently, we had a gentlemen visitor that told anyone who would listen, in great detail, about the lightning strike back in the 70’s that took out that hump and sent rock crashing down into the park.  If truth were measured by certainty, this story would have been 100% true.  Problem is, there is zero truth to the tale.  That rock formation has been the same at least back to when the park was donated to the city in 1909.  I had to follow after the storyteller and let the staff members know that his story was pure myth.

So, here’s the point.  I was recently engaged in a discussion about whether British troops were housed in civilians homes in 1775 against the homeowners wishes.  I have always heard that they were.  This scholar said I was wrong.  He assured me that the source documents are clear on the subject.

Maybe I am wrong on that one.  I do try to verify my facts with source documents if at all possible.  But the reality remains that it’s a wonder that, 240 years later, we can find anything even resembling the truth. 

 

Merry Colonial Christmas – Not

   Do a Google search for “Colonial Christmas” and you’ll find that many of the historic homes are all decked out for the holidays.
    Even Mount Vernon.
   The Old Bedford Village site entices visitors to “Take a step back in time and bring your family to Bedford County and enjoy an old fashioned Colonial Christmas at Old Bedford Village. Interact with historical Pennsylvania Christmas traditions from the 1700s & 1800s.”
   Delicious aromas of hot cider and gingerbread abound and reenactors are dressed in period clothing, decorating period Christmas trees.  Stockings are hung by the chimney with care in hopes that St. Nicholas soon will be there…
   Yada, Yada, Yada.
   Except for one teensy, tiny problem.
   The Colonials didn’t celebrate Christmas for the most part.  They were Puritans and Pilgrims who wanted to cleanse the church from pagan celebrations.
In Massachusetts Bay Colony, the celebration of Christmas was outlawed – punishable with a 5 shilling fine (about $100 in todays currency.) 

For preventing disorders arising in severall places within this jurisdiceon, by reason of some still observing such ffestivalls as were superstitiously kept in other countrys, to the great dishonnor of God & offence of others, it is therefore ordered … that whosoever shall be found observing any such day as Christmas or the like, either by for-bearing of labour, feasting, or any other way, upon any such account as aforesaid, every such person so offending shall pay for every such offence five shillings, as a fine to the county.

The first Christmas under our new Constitution (December 25, 1789) saw Congress in session.  Christmas caught on in the South before it did in the North.  The first three states to make Christmas a legal holiday were in the South: Alabama in 1836, Louisiana and Arkansas in 1838. Christmas wasn’t declared a federal holiday until June 26, 1870.    Here’s a great site if you want to learn more. 

So what does this mean for all those sweet holiday celebrations at our historic landmarks?  Revisionist History?  Maybe.  Or maybe it’s a way to entice Americans to learn a dram of history?  You decide. 

Bonnie Prince Charlie and “Free Scotland”

     As I write this blog post, the people of Scotland are voting – on Independence. As an American, even the mention of voting on “Independence” makes my heart sing. That’s likely a purely American reaction. Or is it?
     What has kept the hope of being an Independent, Free Scotland alive for more than two hundred years?
     After the rising of 1745, when the Highlanders followed Prince Charlie onto the field at Drumossie Moor, and were slaughtered in just over an hour, the Highlanders that remained were hunted down, tried for treason and hanged. Or they fled to America.
     Remember the scene in Braveheart after William Wallace’s father was killed? The funeral scene? Young William wanders outside to see pipers lit only by the bonfire they stand around, and asks his uncle what they’re doing.
     “Playing outlawed tunes on outlawed pipes,” his uncle replies. 

      That was the truth of it, too. Everything that made the Scots a distinct people was forbidden and the Scots could no longer be the Scots.
     But was it that very forbidding that kept the dream of a Free Scotland alive?  The Scots are a rather stubborn, "thistley" people, are they no?
     I am re-reading the Outlander books and there’s a passage in Dragonfly in Amber that takes place in 1968. Claire and Roger are discussing Bonnie Prince Charlie. Claire believes that Charles Stuart was a “fool, and a drunkard, and a weak, sill man.” The Highland Chiefs, she believed were enthralled with the Bonnie Prince’s silly dreams that had no chance of success.
     Her conversation with Roger continues and he comments that you can’t go anywhere in the Highlands without seeing Bonnie Prince Charlie paraphernalia in every tourist shop. The discussion continues as they glance at a wall that’s been graffiti’d with “FREE SCOTLAND.” (Even then.) Roger asks Claire if the historians and artists and vendors are wrong.
     “You still don’t understand, do you?” she said.
     And she continues.
     “You don’t know why,” she said. “You don’t know, and I don’t know, and we never will know. Can’t you see? You don’t know, because you can’t say what the end is—there isn’t any end. You can’t say, ‘This particular event’ was ‘destined’ to happen, and therefore all these other things happened. What Charles did to the people of Scotland – was that the ‘thing’ that had to happen? Or was it ‘meant’ to happen as it did, and Charles’s real purpose was to be what he is not – a figurehead, an icon? Without him, would Scotland have endured two hundred years of union with England, and still – still – have kept its own identity?”
     Diana Gabaldon might be onto something.
     Would drive for Independence have died in 1745 had the English not forbidden them to be Scots? Of course, like Claire, we’ll never know.
     But by this time tomorrow we will know how they’ve voted. And either way, there are costs to be paid. Freedom – or lack thereof – is never free.

 

A libel on their character. . .

    No Taxation without Representation I may have blogged about this before. One sometimes loses track. But I continue to read through the History of the Town of Lexington by Charles Hudson, published in 1868. It is so beautifully written and gives such an inspiring view looking back on these people and these times.
     If we were to do a “man on the street” interview with folks, and asked them why the Colonists fought for Independence, if they had any idea at all, the likely answer would be a rote “no taxation without representation.”
     I can’t refute that statement any better than Hudson does, so I’ll just leave you with this passage:

It is a libel upon the character of our fathers, to say that they involved the country in all the horrors of war, rather than pay a petty tax upon stamped paper and tea. They had motives higher, purer, and holier, than that of avoiding the payment of an insignificant tax. They planted themselves upon the great principles of human rights — of fealty to their country, and fidelity to their God. They felt that they had personal rights which they were bound to defend — a duty they owed to posterity, which they were under a sacred obligation to discharge — a devotion to the Most High, which it were treason to disregard. Such were the motives and the convictions of our patriot sires. They fought not to conquer, but to defend; not to humble a foe, but to build up a commonwealth on the great principles of equal rights. To these duties they were prompted by the dictates of patriotism, and the teachings of the Word of Life.

More fundamentally mistaken notions

 

From   A Primary History: Stories of Heroism By William Harrison Mace

Here is the text with my comments in red.  (Keeping in mind that I am NOT an expert on the subject.  But I am working on it.)

The Battle at Lexington and at Concord Bridge.

As the British soldiers reached Lexington at sunrise, April 19, 1775, the captain of the minutemen gave the command:  "Stand your ground.  Don’t fire unless fired upon.  But if they mean to have war, let it begin here!"  A bold speech for a captain of only about sixty men when facing as brave soldiers as Europe had ever seen! [Hold the presses!  Right here I pretty much knew that we were going to have issues.  Yes, the British Army was the most formidable army on earth at the time.  But, the vast majority of the soldiers that were stationed in Boston in 1775 either had seen very little actual battle action or had seen none.  They were not seasoned soldiers.] The minutemen stood their ground till seven were killed and nine wounded–nearly one-third of their number.  Then they retreated.  [This is wrong.  The militia (actually Lexington had a training band, they were not officially a militia – but for the sake of simplicity, we’ll call them the Lexington Militia) on the Green that day numbered most likely 77 men.  When Captain John Parker saw the numbers arrayed in battle formation before him, he simply told his men to disburse.  It was as they walked away that the shot was fired.  Then, the Army opened fire on them, and after several volleys, lowered their bayonets and charged.]

The British pushed on to Concord.  But the minutemen, now coming from every direction, made a stand at Concord Bridge.  Their musket fire was so deadly that the British started back, running at times to escape with their lives.  At Lexington they fell upon the ground, tired out with the chase the minutemen gave them, and were met by fresh troops from Boston.

Soon the British soldiers were forced to run again, for minutemen by the hundreds were gathering, and they seldom missed their aim.  From behind rocks, trees, fences, and houses they cut down the tired redcoats.  Nearly three hundred British soldiers were killed or wounded before Boston was reached that night.

 

*** Hat tip to JL Bell at Boston 1775 Blog for the term "fundamentally mistaken notions."   I highly recommend his blog. 

Whilst I was reading “April Morning”

I’ve always been hesitant to read history.  Not because I don’t love history.  I do.  And historical fiction is such a pleasant way to learn history.  But with some history – that which is awash in politics – how can you be sure that what you’re reading is accurate.  I think the best way is to get down to original sources.  But unless the author you are reading used original sources in his research, then you never know what you’re going to get.

April MorningIn an effort to immerse myself in the 18th Century, I’ve been reading what I can get my hands on.  On of those books is April Morning by Howard Fast (1961)

Last night, I came upon this:

This is a conversation between the main character’s father, Moses, and the Reverend Clarke.

“They were here tonight.”   (The Reverend speaking)
“Who?”
“Sam Adams and John Hancock.”
“Oh, no,” Father said. “Now what in heaven’s name were they doing here?”
The Reverend shrugged, the gesture saying better than words that these were two men with their own ways.
“Where were they?”
“At my house.”
“And now?”
“I didn’t want them here,” the Reverend said bitterly. “Would you want them here, Moses?”
“We got our troubles here.”
“So it seemed to me. I can’t understand any more how this started and the way it is building up. Who chose tonight? Ourselves? The devil? The British? No, I didn’t want them here, and I told them to go to Burlington–”
“They left?”
“About an hour ago, Moses. They have their problems and we have ours.”

I promptly closed the book and I’m not sure I’ll keep reading.  There is so much wrong with this section. I’ll just point out a few.

  • It suggests a disdain by the Reverend Clarke for Adams and Hancock, for their cause.  This could not be further from the truth.  It is said of Clarke that, if we had no writings from the Founding Fathers, but had his sermons, we would know the causes of the Revolution
  • It suggests that Adams and Hancock being at Clarke’s house was unusual.  It wasn’t.  It was a safe place out of the city.  They were there often.  Hancock had practically grown up in that house.
  • It suggests that Clarke was clueless about what was happening around him.  Again, he’d prepared Lexington so well for this night that there was no better place for the events that followed.
  • And probably the biggest problem with this “story” is that it left out Paul Revere entirely.  He arrived at the Clarke house at midnight, urging Hancock and Adams to get to safety ahead of the Redcoat Army.  And, after Revere was captured and then released, he returned to the house, found the two leaders still there.  At that point, they were convinced to leave.

So, if Fast got this wrong, how much other stuff is wrong that I won’t recognize?  How much will the unsuspecting reader take in and assume is fact?  How do we find books we can trust?

Well, I hope mine will be trustworthy.  There will be fiction wrapped around fact in my books.  There has to be.  But I will do my best to present the fiction as reliable.

I’d love to hear your thoughts on the subject.