Patriots’ Day

On the evening of 18 April 1775, about nine hundred British troops marched from Boston toward Concord, where they had been ordered to destroy military supplies held by the Massachusetts militia. Boston silversmith and patriot Paul Revere set forth on his famous midnight ride while “the Moon shone bright,” alerting the countryside to the Redcoats’ movements and ensuring that the rebels were prepared to greet them. As dawn approached on the morning of 19 April, the King’s troops, led by Major John Pitcairn, advanced onto Lexington Green and found themselves confronted with a group of about eighty minutemen. Lexington’s John Robbins testified,

“[O]n the green or common, and I being in the front rank, there suddenly appeared a number of the King’s troops, about a thousand, as I thought, at the distance of about sixty or seventy yards from us, huzzaing, and on a quick pace towards us, with three officers in their front on horse back, and on full gallop towards us, the foremost of which cried, throw down your arms, ye villains, ye rebels.”

At that moment, “the shot heard round the world” was fired.  Exactly who did so remains a mystery, but the British quickly responded, killing eight and wounding ten more. The rebels scattered to the woods, and the Regulars marched onward to Concord. One man recalled,

“[A]bout an hour after sunrise, we assembled on a hill near the meeting-house in Concord aforesaid, in consequence of an information that a number of regular troops had killed six of our countrymen at Lexington, and were on their march to said Concord.”

The foes faced off at the North Bridge. Now, it was the Redcoats who retreated, beaten back by the ever-growing forces from the countryside. By the time they reached Boston, the British had lost about 20 percent of their men. The Revolutionary War had begun.

In 1894, Governor Frederic Greenhalge declared 19 April Patriots’ Day to celebrate the Battles of Lexington and Concord. Three years later, in 1897, Boston commemorated the Regulars’ plodding retreat toward safety by hosting its first marathon. This year on Patriots’ Day (observed Monday, 15 April), have the best of both worlds: watch (or maybe even run) the marathon, then immerse yourself in the worlds of Lexington and Concord by streaming our Patriots’ Day podcast. Let three experts guide you through the eighteenth-century towns on the eve of the Revolution. What better way to celebrate the day than to lace up your running shoes in the morning and to relax afterwards by taking a walk in the shoes of a minuteman?

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About Anna K Williams

Editorial Assistant for The New England Quarterly
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