April 19, 1775: Raid to seize patriots’ guns led to ‘the shot heard round the world’

Special to WorldTribune.com

By Bill Federer, April 19, 2022

In April of 1775, the British Royal Military Governor of Massachusetts, General Thomas Gage, sent 800 British Army Regulars, under the command of Lieutenant Colonel Francis Smith, on a preemptive raid to seize guns from American patriots at Lexington and Concord.

‘The Battle of Lexington’ (April 19, 1775) by William Barnes Wollen, National Army Museum / Public Domain

George Mason of Virginia stated: “To disarm the people is the best and most effectual way to enslave them.”

A warning was sent from Boston’s Old North Church that the British were coming, as recounted in Henry Wadsworth Longfellow’s poem, “Paul Revere’s Ride”:

Listen my children and you shall hear
Of the midnight ride of Paul Revere,
On the 18th of April, in 75;
Hardly a man is now alive
Who remembers that famous day and year.
… He said to his friend, ‘If the British march
By land or sea from the town to-night,
Hang a lantern aloft in the belfry arch
Of the North Church tower as a signal light …
One if by land, and two if by sea;
And I on the opposite shore will be,
Ready to ride and spread the alarm
Through every Middlesex village and farm,
For the country folk to be up and to arm …
Through the gloom and the light,
The fate of a nation was riding that night;
And the spark struck out by that steed, in his flight.”

Paul Revere was captured along the way, but William Dawes and Dr. Samuel Prescott continued the midnight ride.

Revere wrote:

“About 10 o’clock, Dr. Warren sent in great haste for me, and begged that I would immediately set off for Lexington, where Messrs. Hancock & Adams were … I got a horse of Deacon Larkin … (and) set off … It was then about 11 o’clock … After I had passed Charlestown Neck … I saw two men on horseback … When I got near them, I discovered they were British officers. One tried to get a head of me, and the other to take me. I turned my horse very quick, and galloped … to Medford Road.

The one who chased me, endeavoring to cut me off, got into a clay pond, near where the new tavern is now built. I got clear of him … I went through Medford, over the bridge, and up to Menotomy … I alarmed almost every house, till I got to Lexington …” We had got nearly half way. Mr Dawes and the Doctor stopped to alarm the people of a house: I was about one hundred rods a head, when I saw two men … in an instant I was surrounded by four … The Doctor being foremost, he came up; and we tried to get past them; but they being armed with pistols and swords, they forced us in to the pasture; — the Doctor jumped his horse over a low stone wall, and got to Concord …

Six officers, on horseback … ordered me to dismount … He asked me if I was an express? I answered in the affirmative. He demanded what time I left Boston … Major Mitchel, of the 5th Regiment, clapped his pistol to my head … and told me he was going to ask me some questions, and if I did not give him true answers, he would blow my brains out.” ….

On April 19th, “Patriots’ Day,” the British continued their march to Lexington and Concord intent on seizing arms and arresting Tea Party leader Samuel Adams and Massachusetts Provincial Congress president John Hancock. ….

John Hancock had previously experienced British tax collectors confiscating his merchant ship Liberty in 1768. Hancock had declared to the Massachusetts Provincial Congress, April 15, 1775:

“In circumstances dark as these, it becomes us, as men and Christians, to reflect that, whilst every prudent measure should be taken to ward off the impending judgments …(a day) … be set apart as a Day of Public Humiliation, Fasting and Prayer … to confess their sins … to implore the Forgiveness of all our Transgression.”

Connecticut Governor Jonathan Trumbull, whom Washington called ‘the first of the patriots’, was the only colonial governor at the start of the Revolution to support the patriot cause. Trumbull proclaimed a Day of Fasting, April 19, 1775, that: “God would graciously pour out His Holy Spirit on us to bring us to a thorough repentance and effectual reformation that our iniquities may not be our ruin; that He would restore, preserve and secure the liberties of this and all the other British American colonies, and make the land a mountain of Holiness, and habitation of righteousness forever.”

As the sun rose, April 19, 1775, there were 800 British regulars approaching Lexington’s town green. To their surprise, they were met by Lexington’s militia, comprised of 77 men who were mostly members of the Church of Christ, pastored by Rev. Jonas Clark, whose wife was a cousin of John Hancock.

Patriot captain John Parker told the militia: “Stand your ground; don’t fire unless fired upon, but if they mean to have War, let it begin here!” It is disputed who fired first, but the British opened fire and killed or wounded eighteen of Captain Parker’s men.

In his sermon preached a year later, April 19, 1776, Pastor Jonas Clark described: “Under cover of the darkness, a brigade of these instruments of violence and tyranny, made their approach … They enter this town … like murders and cut-throats … without provocation, without warning, when no war was proclaimed, they draw the sword of violence, upon the inhabitants of this town, and with a cruelty and barbarity, which would have made the most hardened savage blush, they shed INNOCENT BLOOD! …”

The American militia retreated, growing to number 400, and took a stand at Concord’s Old North Bridge. The British fired first, wounding four and killing two.

Militia commander John Buttrick yelled: “Fire, for God’s sake, fellow soldiers, fire!” Taking many casualties, the British began a hasty retreat 20 miles back to Boston, being ambushed along the way by John Parker’s militia in “Parker’s Revenge.”

Tragically, in the anger of their retreat, the British shot or bayoneted almost everyone in the town of Menotomy.

Henry Wadsworth Longfellow continued his poem:

“You know the rest. In the books you have read
How the British Regulars fired and fled,—
How the farmers gave them ball for ball,
From behind each fence and farmyard wall,
Chasing the redcoats down the lane,
Then crossing the fields to emerge again
Under the trees at the turn of the road,
And only pausing to fire and load.”

Longfellow ended:

“So through the night rode Paul Revere;
And so through the night went his cry of alarm
To every Middlesex village and farm,—
A cry of defiance, and not of fear,
A voice in the darkness, a knock at the door,
And a word that shall echo for evermore!
For, borne on the night-wind of the Past,
Through all our history, to the last,
… In the hour of darkness and peril and need,
The people will waken and listen to hear
The hurrying hoof-beats of that steed,
And the midnight message of Paul Revere.”

Though it took eight long years, Americans won their independence.

A century later, on April 19, 1875, at that same Old North Bridge, patriots were honored by the dedication of the “Minute Man Statue” designed by Daniel Chester French.

On the statue’s base is a stanza of the poem The Concord Hymn, written Ralph Waldo Emerson, April 19, 1860:

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 that seaward creeps.
… On this green bank, by this soft stream,
We place with joy a votive stone,
That memory may their deeds redeem,
When, like our sires, our sons are gone.
O Thou who made those heroes dare,
To die, and leave their children free,
Bid time and nature gently spare,
The shaft we raised to them and Thee.”

The Revolutionary War began with an attempt by government officials to seize citizens’ guns.

Patriots had prepared for this with the Massachusetts Provincial Congress, October 26, 1774, organizing their defenses with one-third of their regiments being “Minutemen,” men who were ready to fight at a minute’s notice.

This idea came from the Bible, where in Ancient Israel every man was armed and ready to defend his family and community.

David B. Kopel wrote in “Ancient Hebrew Militia Law” (Denver University Law Review, July 15, 2013):

“New Englanders intensely self-identified with ancient Israel … Thus, ancient Hebrew militia law is part of the intellectual background of the American militia system, and of the Second Amendment … Every male ‘from the age of twenty years up, all those in Israel who are able to bear arms’ … were obliged to fight, to go forth ‘armed to battle.’ Men who failed this duty ‘sinned against the Lord.'”

“Thus says the LORD God of Israel, Put every man his sword by his side” (Exodus 32:27); “They all hold swords, being expert in war: every man hath his sword upon his thigh” (Song of Solomon 3:8) ….

James Madison wrote (Letters & Writings of James Madison, 1865, p. 406): “The advantage of being armed, which the Americans possess over the people of almost every other nation … forms a barrier against the enterprise of ambition … Kingdoms of Europe … are afraid to trust the people with arms.” ….

Michigan Supreme Court Chief Justice Thomas Cooley wrote in The General Principles of Constitutional Law (2nd Ed., 1891, p. 282): “The Second Amendment … was meant to be a strong moral check against the usurpation and arbitrary power of rulers … The people … shall have the right to keep and bear arms, and they need no permission or regulation of law for the purpose.”

Patrick Henry wrote (Elliott, ed., The Debates in the Several State Conventions, 1836, 1941, p. 378): “Let him candidly tell me, where and when did freedom exist when the sword and the purse were given up from the people? No nation ever retained its liberty after the loss of the sword and the purse … The great object is, that every man be armed … Everyone who is able may have a gun.”

Similar to the midnight ride of Paul Revere, when Jefferson was Governor of Virginia, British Colonel Tarleton led his cavalry to Charlottesville to capture him. Jefferson barely escaped, June 3, 1781, thanks to 27-year-old Jack Jouett, Jr., the “Paul Revere of the South,” who rode all night to warn to warn him.

Jefferson wrote in the Declaration on the Causes and Necessity of Taking Up Arms, July 1775:

“We … most solemnly, before God and the world declare that … the arms we have been compelled to assume we will use with perseverance, exerting to their utmost energies all those powers which our Creator hath given us, to preserve that liberty which He committed to us in sacred deposit.”

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