237 year anniversary of 'The Shot Heard 'Round the World'

It was 237 years ago at dawn that 6 companies of British regulars under the command of Major John Pitcairn faced off against a ragged group of citizen soldiers on the green in Lexington, Massachusetts. Under the command of John Parker, a veteran of the French and Indian wars and a respected townsman, the small group of patriots had been mustered early in the morning after being warned that the King's soldiers were on their way from Boston by Paul Revere and William Dawes.

What do you suppose it was like on that green with the dawn breaking, having waited all night and now were confronted by vastly superior numbers and an officer who, by later reports, was contemptuous of the colonials and their rabble rousing.

Parker was no fool. He knew the British were more interested in the arms cache in Concord than anything in Lexington. He also wasn't going to sacrifice his men for no good reason. So he decided to make a military demonstration rather than risk a confrontation. He placed his men in a parade ground formation and had them stand "at arms" as a show of defiance. They were not blocking the road to Concord nor did they believe they would be engaged with the enemy that day.

Parker is supposedly to have said, ""Stand your ground; don't fire unless fired upon, but if they mean to have a war, let it begin here." He claims in an affadavit given shortly after the attack to have said no such thing, which would be in keeping with his attitude of non-confrontation.

In fact, when Pitcairn rode up and demanded that the militia lay down their arms, Parker ordered his men to disperse and go hom. But because of the confusion and the shouting by the regulars who were now trying to surround the militia, few heard him.

It is doubtful the outcome would have been any different. Shortly after Pitcairn made his demand, a shot rang out - no one to this day knows which side fired it - and the British let loose a volley that killed 8 militia men and wounded several others.

A TV mini-series on the Revolution gave life to my favorite theory of who fired the first shot. Rip Torn as Sam Adams was seen at Lexington hiding in the bushes and firing the first shot. Impossible? Probably. Adams was no doubt long gone after being warned by Paul Revere that the British were coming not only for the weapons at Concord, but also to arrest Sam Adams and John Hancock. But it would be wonderful historical symmetry if  the man most responsible for whipping up war fever against the British fired the initial shot of the Revolutionary War.

Word of the confrontation at Lexington spread like wildfire across the countryside in Middlesex county and by the time the British got to Concord, the hills between the North Bridge and Boston were swarming with patriots. They found no supplies at the armory - the patriots had hidden them the day before. Meanwhile, the confrontation at North Bridge between several companies of patriots and British regulars marked the first real battle of the war. Militias from dozens of surrounding towns were showing up along the road back to Boston  which made the long march a deadly gauntlet for the British as the 700 regulars who started the mission were under constant fire. British losses were more than a third of their force and by the next day, fully 15,000 Massachusetts militia men were outside of Boston. 

It's a long way from there to here. When Longfellow wrote his famous poem about Paul Revere's ride, "hardly a man was left alive" who could recall the particulars. Today, we are connected only through history and myth - no living memory fills in the gaps and buttresses our understanding of the events that occurred that day.

Still, it's interesting to imagine oneself standing on the Lexington Green, anxiously awaiting an uncertain dawn; cold, tired, hungry, maybe a little hung over when all of a sudden the "lobsterbacks" in their bright red uniforms are charging toward you firing, your friends and neighbors falling all around you.

Lexington and Concord will always be remembered for being a hinge of history. On one side of the door was the old colonial America. On the other side, a new nation creating its own identity. The two battles that took place so long ago played a large role in forming that new conciousness.

The war may have begun in confusion. But the fact that it ended decisively is one of those miracles of history that make America an exceptional place.


It was 237 years ago at dawn that 6 companies of British regulars under the command of Major John Pitcairn faced off against a ragged group of citizen soldiers on the green in Lexington, Massachusetts. Under the command of John Parker, a veteran of the French and Indian wars and a respected townsman, the small group of patriots had been mustered early in the morning after being warned that the King's soldiers were on their way from Boston by Paul Revere and William Dawes.

What do you suppose it was like on that green with the dawn breaking, having waited all night and now were confronted by vastly superior numbers and an officer who, by later reports, was contemptuous of the colonials and their rabble rousing.

Parker was no fool. He knew the British were more interested in the arms cache in Concord than anything in Lexington. He also wasn't going to sacrifice his men for no good reason. So he decided to make a military demonstration rather than risk a confrontation. He placed his men in a parade ground formation and had them stand "at arms" as a show of defiance. They were not blocking the road to Concord nor did they believe they would be engaged with the enemy that day.

Parker is supposedly to have said, ""Stand your ground; don't fire unless fired upon, but if they mean to have a war, let it begin here." He claims in an affadavit given shortly after the attack to have said no such thing, which would be in keeping with his attitude of non-confrontation.

In fact, when Pitcairn rode up and demanded that the militia lay down their arms, Parker ordered his men to disperse and go hom. But because of the confusion and the shouting by the regulars who were now trying to surround the militia, few heard him.

It is doubtful the outcome would have been any different. Shortly after Pitcairn made his demand, a shot rang out - no one to this day knows which side fired it - and the British let loose a volley that killed 8 militia men and wounded several others.

A TV mini-series on the Revolution gave life to my favorite theory of who fired the first shot. Rip Torn as Sam Adams was seen at Lexington hiding in the bushes and firing the first shot. Impossible? Probably. Adams was no doubt long gone after being warned by Paul Revere that the British were coming not only for the weapons at Concord, but also to arrest Sam Adams and John Hancock. But it would be wonderful historical symmetry if  the man most responsible for whipping up war fever against the British fired the initial shot of the Revolutionary War.

Word of the confrontation at Lexington spread like wildfire across the countryside in Middlesex county and by the time the British got to Concord, the hills between the North Bridge and Boston were swarming with patriots. They found no supplies at the armory - the patriots had hidden them the day before. Meanwhile, the confrontation at North Bridge between several companies of patriots and British regulars marked the first real battle of the war. Militias from dozens of surrounding towns were showing up along the road back to Boston  which made the long march a deadly gauntlet for the British as the 700 regulars who started the mission were under constant fire. British losses were more than a third of their force and by the next day, fully 15,000 Massachusetts militia men were outside of Boston. 

It's a long way from there to here. When Longfellow wrote his famous poem about Paul Revere's ride, "hardly a man was left alive" who could recall the particulars. Today, we are connected only through history and myth - no living memory fills in the gaps and buttresses our understanding of the events that occurred that day.

Still, it's interesting to imagine oneself standing on the Lexington Green, anxiously awaiting an uncertain dawn; cold, tired, hungry, maybe a little hung over when all of a sudden the "lobsterbacks" in their bright red uniforms are charging toward you firing, your friends and neighbors falling all around you.

Lexington and Concord will always be remembered for being a hinge of history. On one side of the door was the old colonial America. On the other side, a new nation creating its own identity. The two battles that took place so long ago played a large role in forming that new conciousness.

The war may have begun in confusion. But the fact that it ended decisively is one of those miracles of history that make America an exceptional place.


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