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Pause and remember: the 19th of April, 1775.

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.

(From Concord Hymn by Ralph Waldo Emerson, 1803-1882)

Emerson wrote Concord Hymn in 1836, for the dedication of a monument commemorating the Battle of Lexington and Concord. Readers who feel the moving power and sentiment of his words should appreciate the blood connection Emerson felt with that hallowed ground: his grandfather was a Minuteman who fought at both Lexington and Concord that day. The family home, called "The Old Manse," sat beside the bridge Emerson's grandfather stood upon to face the British.


Emerson wrote the Concord Hymn while living in that house, whose walls must have whispered his grandfather's stories of risk and revolution, terror and triumph. Later, Nathaniel Hawthorne lived in the Manse, remarking that he too felt the very roots of American history running through its rafters; the spirits of citizen-soldiers speaking from the stones of the fireplace.

As the title implies, what we know as a poem was written as a solemn song, sung to the tune of an old Genevan Psalter hymn written in 1551. The words were printed on slips of paper and given to those attending the ceremony. It was sung for decades each April 19th at the Obelisk.

In time, that "rude bridge" fell and was swept downstream. As the people and events grew distant and memory faded like the colors of the pine tree "Liberty Flag" * unfurled that momentous morning, the date itself and the deeds done seemed to slip away like mist on the nearby marshes.

The foe long since in silence slept; Alike the conqueror silent sleeps; And Time the ruined bridge has swept Down the dark stream which seaward creeps.

When I arrived in the US, I was disappointed to find there were no significant celebrations on the 19th of April commemorating that shot heard 'round the world. It seemed to me a pivotal point in time, certainly for this unborn nation, but also for the world. Maybe that's because my Dad made sure I saw the events of that day in context.

"The important thing to remember," he often told me, "is that had those first Americans laid down their arms as commanded, the concept of a democratic republic may have been destroyed or at least delayed for what? Hundreds of years? That," he said, "Is why that shot was heard 'round the world."

Their known world, he explained, was ruled by the iron fists of kings, czars, emperors and sultans. Of all of them, the English crown, although nearly absolute in its power, was perhaps the least onerous because English people had limited rights. But those rights were not extended to the colonists under British rule. A point seemingly lost to modern history is that for years the "rebels" only requested-then demanded--the same rights as their English cousins across the pond. And with each request and later demands, the King's response was more belligerent and punitive.

Until the French & Indian War, the American colonies existed under what Parliament called "salutary neglect"--essentially non-interference--and nonsupport. The colonists were widely viewed in Britain as the rubbish of the realm; criminals, religious pariah, escaped indentures and politically radical peasants, and the land, a worthless wilderness where life was dirty, brutish and brief.

On this green bank, by this soft stream,

We set to-day a votive stone; That memory may their deed redeem,

When, like our sires, our sons are gone.

The war changed those views--in a negative way. When the crown reluctantly sent redcoat regiments to help colonial militias fight the French and their native allies, noblemen of the court came with them. They reported to King George III on the rabble's remaking of the wilderness into a land of plenty, one from which great wealth could be taxed and taken.

As soon as the war was won, largely through the courage and sacrifices of the "rabble's" militia, the taxing and taking ramped up with a vengeance. A 10,000-man British army was left in the colonies, ostensibly to "protect" them, but the peasants knew better. It was intimidation, pure and simple; essentially, a goon squad to protect the tax collectors, and the rabble had to pay--handsomely--for the goons. Most of all, dissent was viciously suppressed.

The colonists had fought the crown's wars--and were despised by their nobles. Their government seemed cold to their needs but hot for their taxes, which were spent on more "favored" subjects. The crown seemed interested only in their own sophisticated pursuits and expanding ever-greater power.

The crown had once told the colonists to raise and arm their own militia and provide for their own defense. Now those militiamen were to be stripped of their arms and their leaders arrested.

Spirit, that made those heroes dare, To die, and leave their children free, Bid Time and Nature gently spare The shaft we raise to them and thee.

Seven hundred British troops marched on Concord to seize, destroy and arrest, but first they had to pass Lexington Green. There in the pre-dawn gray stood 77 Minutemen, captained by farmer and mechanic John Parker. Many were veterans of the recent war. Many could see their own homes or the smoke curling from their chimneys. They were tinsmiths, potters, merchants and wheelwrights. They were subjects, about to become citizens.

British Major John Pitcairn cried out to them, "Disperse, you rebels! Damn you, throw down your arms and disperse!"

Captain Parker told his men, "Stand your ground. Don't fire unless fired upon, but if they mean to have a war, let it begin here."

Historians tell us only about 3 percent of colonials actively fought as patriots in the Revolution, supported by about 1/3 of the population. One-third sat it out, remaining neutral. Another 1/3 were British loyalists, and in fact, toward the end of the war, more loyalists were fighting for King George than revolutionaries were fighting for their new nation. Against all odds, the 3-percenters prevailed.

Sometimes great deeds are done by the few, the committed. This 19th of April, let us remember those few, those brave, those 3-percenters. Connor OUT.
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Title Annotation:ODD ANGRY SHOT
Author:Connor, John
Publication:Guns Magazine
Date:Apr 1, 2010
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