For those fortunate enough to be in the great Commonwealth of Massachusetts, (I hope you) celebrate(d)! It was an especially nice weekend weather-wise too – this week (a local school vacation week) promises to be a first blast of summer.
For those in the US but not in MA (or ME or WI), well, you’re missing a great holiday along the lines of the fourth of July, except the 19th of April came first.
For those outside of the US, Patriot’s Day is the actual spark that began the whole American Revolution thing. For some of that which has followed – some would say especially the past few years, the best I can say is the old phrase oft quoted, that democracy is the worst form of government – except for all the others.
In any case, I give the true spark of the origins of our country to Concord. For those not familiar, Google or your favorite search engine will offer a basic background, although detailed and properly-researched stories are not simple to find. Mental note: create a website that links to the best background sources for Patriot’s Day someday.
Short short version: troops of the British regular army (often wearing red coats, but not by any means all) marched out of Boston towards Lexington and Concord in the wee hours of the morning. Several staunch colonial patriots rode around to give the alarm, which summoned many of the local militias to their town commons. Now a lot of other things happened that day; but these are the things that strike me.
At dawn, Captain John Parker and some of his militia stood in a line on the far side of Lexington green. The redcoats marched up, and demanded they disburse. The militia briefly stood their ground, and then – we’re not quite sure how or who – shots were fired. Several militia were injured or killed, and the rest dispersed. Now this was clearly a serious incident, given that army troops shot and killed a number of (effectively) civilians. But at this point, the protest against the British government was still basically peaceful, and if this were all that happened, the revolution could have begun later.
About 7 marching miles later, the redcoats dispersed through the town of Concord, searching for military supplies. A number of troops also marched briefly across the Old North Bridge, where they saw a large number of militia men organized in several companies. Since the actual redcoats at the bridge were widely outnumbered, they retreated back across the bridge and took up a defensive position. The militia troops advanced on the bridge, calling for them to leave. As the militia got to the other side of the bridge, the redcoats opened fire – at first individually, and then in volleys. The militia returned fire, less organized, but in a fair volume.
While the encounter at Lexington could possibly have been ignored – a single mistaken volley to disperse uncooperative civilians – the full rank of militia firing back at the army troops could not. That was the act of an organized militia specifically declaring war upon an occupying army.
The differences in the original conflicts in Concord and Lexington are clear products of the fact that Concord is further away from Boston. Many more militia had had a chance to gather. Plus, the redcoats had actually burned just a few supplies in the town of Concord, which left the large militia that had gathered to wonder if their town was being burned down.
In any case, if the organized but very brief conflict at the bridge hadn’t been enough, the large numbers of militia troops from across New England that had gathered by mid-day ensured that the events of April 19th would be heard ’round the world.
P.S. Note: please do not confuse Patriot’s Day with, um, Patriot Day. Very different things.