If there were any justice today would be a national holiday at least as big as Independence Day. I’m not kidding.
Back in the 1770’s an unrest that had started more than a century before–with Colonial reaction to the English Civil War, the Catholic reign of James II, and the Glorious Revolution that followed–was growing in the American colonies, at least those along the Atlantic Seaboard from New Hampshire down through Georgia. Protests over taxes imposed without the taxed having any voice in the matter, complaints about a distant monarch and legislative body making rules and laws over people to whom they are not beholden.
There had been clashes which fed that unrest, including the famous “Boston Massacre” where British troops fired into a rioting mob resulting in several deaths. Think of it as the Kent State of the 18th century.
In an effort to quell the unrest, or at least have it be less of a threat to British officials, General Thomas Gage, Military governor of Massachusetts, under orders to take decisive action against the colonists, decided to confiscate firearms and ammunition from certain groups in the colony. His forces marched on the night of April 18, 1775.
The colonists, forewarned of the action (the Longfellow poem, which children learn in school–or they did when I was in school “Listen my children and you shall hear, of the midnight ride of Paul Revere”–is historically inaccurate, but it sure is stirring, isn’t it?), first met the British troops at Lexington Massachusetts where John Parker, in command of the local Colonial Militia said, according to the recollection of one of the participants, “Stand your ground. Don’t fire unless fired upon. But if they mean to have a war, let it begin here.”
Whether Parker actually said those words, the first shot was fired. No one knew who fired it, whether British or Colonial. In the ensuing, brief battle the British regulars put the Colonial militia to flight.
The British then turned toward Concord.
A small unit of militia, hearing reports of firing at Lexington marched out but on spotting a British unit of about 700 while themselves only numbering about 250 they returned to Concord. The Colonial militia departed the town across the North Bridge to a hill about a mile north of town where additional militia reinforcements continued to gather.
The British reached the town and began searching for the weapons they came to confiscate. They found several cannon, too large to be moved quickly, and disabled them. Other weapons and supplies had been either removed or hidden.
On seeing the smoke of the burning carriages from the cannon, the Militia began to move. It is not my purpose here to go into detailed description of their movements but in the end the British regulars found themselves both outnumbered and outmaneuvered. They fled, a rout that surprised the Colonial Militia as much as the British regulars. Again, I simplify but in the end they marched back to Boston continuing to suffer casualties from what amounted to 18th century sniper fire from the surrounding brush. The frustration of the British soldiers led them to atrocities, killing everyone they found in buildings whether they were involved in the fighting or not.
Eventually the British forces fought their way back to Boston where they were besieged by Militia forces numbering over 1500 men.
And the Revolutionary War had begun.
And so, on this day in 1775, the nascent United States took the course that would lead eventually to Independence.
And that’s why April 19 deserves to be a National Holiday on a par at least with Independence Day. The latter was recognition of what became fact on the former.