Every once in a while, something truly miraculous occurs that is recorded in the annals of history. Underdogs in a particular conflict manage to gain the upper hand and smite the condescending powers that be right in the face. The American Revolutionary War for Independence is one grand example of this phenomenon at work.
Patriot’s Day is annually celebrated in the New England region in commemoration of the Battles of Lexington and Concord on April 19th, 1775. While the mainline public and most dissidents crack jokes about their “obligatory observation of Independence Day,” only some dissidents recognize the more important significance of what occurred on the Lexington Commons (as well as the concomitant series of events that happened before, during, and after the initial engagement with the Redcoats). A truly objective chronology is essential in order to understand the lessons learned from this historical affair.
Paul Revere was a silversmith by trade who held to the Puritan notion of ordered liberty. His socio-economic status was so uniquely complex it can only be described as that of a “gentlemen artisan,” considering not only his wealth but also his personal bearing. He was also a veteran of the French & Indian War where he served as an artillery lieutenant in the militia; afterwards, he became a very active Freemason. Revere eventually joined the Sons of Liberty where he intimidated British officials, ensured that the British soldiers involved in the Boston Massacre received a fair trial, and assisted with throwing the British tea into the harbor as part of the Boston Tea Party. As a courier for 2 years, Revere was responsible for the timely arrival of messages between such entities such as the various Committees of Correspondence, the colonial Congresses, and even several Committees of Safety.
Thomas Gage was the British general who interestingly believed in the rule of law yet regarded the colonists (especially Bostonians) as unruly and unkempt rabble-rousers who had to be brought in line so as to maintain stability with the mother country on the other side of the pond. Unlike George Patton (yet very similar to Dwight Eisenhower), Gage was a constant failure on the battlefield; he excelled as a “peacetime” soldier behind a desk. In addition to his specific dislike of the inhabits of Boston, he more generally disapproved of the Puritan culture, since he regarded their town meetings, covenants, and work ethic as so repugnant that he proposed a commercial monopolistic relationship to be imposed on the Massachusetts Bay Colony. As if that wasn’t bad enough, Gage also wanted to disarm the Puritans so as to delay the desire for independence by initiating “small surgical operations” that were “meticulously planned, secretly mounted, and carried forward with careful economy of force” with the express intent of preventing, not provoking, a war.
Due to such preceding events like the Powder Alarm, the Portsmouth Alarm, and the Salem Alarm, minuteman companies were formed so that 1/3rd of the overall militia manpower would remain in a “constant readiness to march.” Elaborate alarm systems and courier networks were organized; the First Provincial Congress formed a Committee of Supplies and a Committee of Safety “armed with executive powers.” The Roxbury, Cambridge, and Charleston Committees of Safety decided to establish evening sentries who would also guard paths of egress from Boston. In regards to the formation of the Committees of Safety themselves, it should also be mentioned that, “The arrangements varied from town to town, which responded to the Provincial Congress more as sovereign bodies than subordinate agencies;” this suggests that the Committees of Safety were an authentic bottom-up organizing of the grassroots.
Revere even set up his own spy rings whose operatives were to observe British troop movements, the cumulative intelligence of which was gathered and sorted out at the Green Dragon Tavern. It should be kept in mind that American intelligence networks were completely decentralized (not even centering on a particular Committee of Safety), unlike the British side where the nucleus of all intelligence efforts passed through General Gates. Unfortunately, Dr. Benjamin Church was a paid informant whose handler was none other than Gates himself (Dr. Church was eventually exposed and exiled from the North American continent). Poetic justice to some degree was achieved when it turned out that Dr. Joseph Warren had a volunteer informant inside of Gage’s own camp (the most likely individual is suspected to be none other than Gage’s own wife, Margaret Kemble). The Cambridge Committees of Safety and Supplies benefited from Revere’s intelligence sources on enemy movements, since that also encouraged John Hancock and Samuel Adams to remain in the more rural areas (especially considering that they were wanted men).
After the Menotomy Provincial Committees of Safety and Supplies meetings at Newell’s Tavern had concluded, some of its members noticed a contingent of British officers traveling slowly through the countryside. They immediately sent word to the Lexington Committee of Safety that Hancock and Adams were in danger. Upon receiving this report, the Lexington militia were mustered with the express purpose of bodyguarding Adams and Hancock. Following his verification of multiple sources of intel about troop movements (as well as getting the lanterns hung at the Old North Church), Revere chose to go warn Adams and Hancock about the attempt to arrest or murder them. Meanwhile, the Charleston Committee of Safety sent their own courier to Cambridge, who failed to deliver the warning. As soon as Revere arrived at the Clarke’s personage where Adams & Hancock were, he told Sgt. Munroe that “The Regulars are coming out!” (NOT that “The British are coming!”).
Paul Revere was at one point captured by roving British patrols (thankfully, two other couriers managed to get away thanks to Revere’s bait and switch during the brief chase). During his interrogation, Revere remained so dignified that he actually ended up taking control of it and was so successful at doing so that he managed to psyche out the Regulars! He was eventually released (along with other “detainees”), but the Regulars stole Brown Beauty and literally ran the horse to death, so the Larkin family never did get her back from Revere.
Captain John Parker, another veteran of the French and Indian War (like Paul Revere), was suffering from pulmonary tuberculosis when he mustered the Lexington militia. The average Lexington militiaman were middle-aged dairy farmers who owned their own properties and “served on juries, voting in town meetings, ran the [local] church, [and] managed their own affairs.” After the “Provincial Congress of Massachusetts created a Committee of Safety…..[a]ll men between the ages of sixteen and fifty were asked to ‘enlist’ themselves in the militia…[o]lder men from fifty to seventy were organized into another group called the alarm list, and ordered to be ready for service in dire emergency.”
It’s wasn’t just the Lexington and Concord militia units that were mustered and took part in combat on that fateful day. Roxbury had a company of minutemen, Sudbury had 5 militia companies, and Acton (under the command of Cpt. Isaac Davis) had one company of minuteman. There were also the Brookline militia, the Pepperell militia (under the command of Cpt. Prudence Wright), the Medfield militia (under the command of Cpt. Ephraim Cheney), the Salem militia, the Dedham militia, and the Danvers militia (under the command of Cpt. Levi Preston).
Following Paul Revere’s impromptu release, he returned to the Clarke household to witness Adams and Hancock still there! It had been three hours since he had left, and Hancock was busy sharpening his dress sword and cleaning his gun, given that he declared his wish to line up with the Lexington militia. After Revere related to both of them his interrogation, Hancock relented and the trio retreated to a safer location. Soon after Adams and Hancock were relocated, John Lowell (Hancock’s clerk) told Revere that a trunk of Hancock’s damning papers (that implicated many of the Whig leadership) were still in the upper level of Buckman Tavern. Lowell and Revere retrieved the trunk and carried it out through the main door of the tavern, through the militia lines, just as the British were coming into view.
As Revere and Lowell were burying the heavy trunk, everyone there on and near the Lexington Common green heard the “shot heard ’round the world,” but couldn’t determine the source of it. The British then shot without orders against the Lexington militia. When Col. Francis Smith arrived, he managed to gain control over the wild redcoats, thus (to his credit) prevented further wanton bloodshed (at least for the moment). Cpt. Parker eventually led the Lexington militia to an ambush spot just inside of Lincoln, where they opened fire on an approaching British column. Unfortunately, Parker died not long after the 19th due to his illness, and thus was unable to participate in the Battle of Bunker Hill.
The following morning, Revere attended a meeting of the Cambridge Committee of Safety where he ended up performing courier work for them over the next three weeks. This CoS “resolved to enlist 8,000 men for the siege of Boston, and sent a circular letter to [other] town committees throughout the province.” It could be said that the “second battle of Lexington & Concord” was an infowar between the CoS and General Gage, both of whom were trying to set the tone in the aftermath of the events of the 19th. By attempting to provide their own context, both sides were trying to elicit sympathy from the colonial population; obviously, the CoS were able to beat Gage on that front. The closer relationship that the CoS enjoyed with local printers and newspapers than what Gage had with whomever was willing to print his rebuttal turned out to be the decisive factor in convincing the colonial populace the legitimacy of the Whig cause for independence.
Particular individuals who aren’t as well known as Paul Revere and John Parker but who were otherwise noteworthy in the Battles of Lexington and Concord deserve special mention. Josiah Haynes, who was too old even for the alarm list, led such a quick tempo for the Sudbury militia that the minutemen were gasping to keep pace. Samuel Whittemore, who is acknowledged as the oldest known combatant of the whole war, heard the Regulars coming through his home turf of Menotomy; this veteran grabbed his musket, two pistols, and cavalry saber, and then proceeded to ambush the British as best as he could. He incurred over fourteen bleeding wounds (from a combination of bullet wounds and bayonet stabs). When his family took the door off the hinges (with which to carry his presumably dead body) and arrived at the scene just as the British were leaving, Whittemore was not only still alive, but was attempting to reload his musket; despite his many wounds and advanced age, Whittemore recovered to live the better part of an additional two more decades.
Captain Levi Preston of the Danvers militia was interviewed years later concerning the events of the 19th. The author relates the exchange to have been the following:
[A] historian asked him, “Captain Preston, what made you go the Concord Fight?”
“What did I go for?” the old man replied, subtly rephrasing the historian’s question to drain away its determinism.
The interviewer tried again. “…Were you oppressed by the Stamp Act?” he asked.
“I never saw any stamps,” Preston answered, “and I always understood that none were ever sold.”
“Well, what about the tea tax?”
“Tea tax, I never drank a drop of the stuff, the boys threw it all overboard.”
“But I suppose you have been reading Harrington, Sidney, and Locke about the eternal principle of liberty?”
“I never heard of these men. The only books we had were the Bible, the Catechism, Watts’ psalms and hymns and the almanacs.”
“Well, then, what was the matter?”
“Young man, what we meant in going for those Redcoats was this: we always had governed ourselves and we always meant to. They didn’t mean we should.”
Perhaps contemporary political dissidents would take due notice and heed Cpt. Preston’s explanation for why reading, studying, and spreading books about Liberty by itself is not going to save us (the propertarian anarchists, as well as the other more minarchist adherents of the Austrian school of economics, should take this lesson of history just as seriously as a heart attack).
I wholeheartedly recommend that all dissidents read David Fischer’s Paul Revere’s Ride. It is an uniquely fascinating examination into how Committees of Safety were integral to the cause for American independence, as well as the importance of various support mechanisms in aiding those on the front lines. Unlike a common dissident misconception that Committees of Safety are supposed to somehow “support State legislators,” actual Committees of Safety work outside of the system, and Fischer’s detailed historical account of the Battles of Lexington and Concord proves this conclusively.