It’s Patriots’ Day—the anniversary of the Battles of Lexington and Concord, regarded as the official start of the American Revolution, although Massachusetts and Maine (once part of Massachusetts) are the only states that officially celebrate the occasion.
Boston does so mainly by the running of the Boston Marathon, which has nothing to do with the history but is still a good show, if you like that sort of thing (I’m not a keen fan, although it’s fun to watch in person). But here on this blog let’s just think a moment of the repercussions of that day back in 1775, when they fired the shot heard round the world .
No one really knows who fired that first shot; eyewitness reports varied, as they often do. But it was considered the true beginning of the military conflict that ended with the establishment of our country, and was fought by militias composed of ordinary citizens who were defending (among other things) their right to their munitions. You might say they were clinging to their guns, although not bitterly.
There was no internet, and no cellphones then. Nevertheless, the militias had developed an efficient way of communicating, and not just through the illustrious horseman Paul Revere:
The ride of Revere, Dawes, and Prescott triggered a flexible system of “alarm and muster” that had been carefully developed months before, in reaction to the colonists’ impotent response to the Powder Alarm. This system was an improved version of an old network of widespread notification and fast deployment of local militia forces in times of emergency. The colonists had periodically used this system all the way back to the early years of Indian wars in the colony, before it fell into disuse in the French and Indian War. In addition to other express riders delivering messages, bells, drums, alarm guns, bonfires and a trumpet were used for rapid communication from town to town, notifying the rebels in dozens of eastern Massachusetts villages that they should muster their militias because the regulars in numbers greater than 500 were leaving Boston, with possible hostile intentions. This system was so effective that people in towns 25 miles (40 km) from Boston were aware of the army’s movements while they were still unloading boats in Cambridge.
The original Boston Tea Party had already occurred, and Britain had passed what were known here as the Intolerable Acts to punish the rebellious colonists, the most intolerable being:
The Boston Port Act…[which] closed the port of Boston until the East India Company had been repaid for the destroyed tea and until the king was satisfied that order had been restored…
The Massachusetts Government Act…Under the terms of the Government Act, almost all positions in the colonial government were to be appointed by the governor or the king. The act also severely limited the activities of town meetings in Massachusetts. Colonists outside Massachusetts feared that their governments could now also be changed by the legislative fiat of Parliament…
The Administration of Justice Act allowed the governor to move trials of accused royal officials to another colony or even to Great Britain if he believed the official could not get a fair trial in Massachusetts…George Washington called this the “Murder Act” because he believed that it allowed British officials to harass Americans and then escape justice…
The Quartering Act…allowed a governor to house soldiers in other buildings if suitable quarters were not provided…
The Acts were meant to punish Massachusetts. But like many acts of tyranny, they only caused a backlash. The outrage spread to other nearby colonies, and were seen as a threat to the liberty of all:
The acts unintentionally promoted sympathy for Massachusetts and encouraged colonists from the otherwise diverse colonies to form the First Continental Congress. The Continental Congress created the Continental Association, an agreement to boycott British goods and, if that did not get the Coercive Acts reversed after a year, to stop exporting goods to Great Britain as well. The Congress also pledged to support Massachusetts in case of attack, which meant that all of the colonies would become involved when the American Revolutionary War began at Lexington and Concord.
Which brings us back to today, Patriots’ Day.
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.
The foe long since in silence slept;
Alike the conqueror silent sleeps;
And Time the ruined bridge has swept
Down the dark stream which seaward creeps…
[ADDENDUM: This is not entirely unrelated.]