In the afternoon of the 18th (April, 1775) the patriots in Boston watched every movement of the troops with keen vision. Dr. Warren, Paul Revere and others made arrangements for a sudden emergency, to warn Hancock and Adams of danger, and to arouse the country. Their precautions were timely, for at ten o'clock that evening, eight hundred British troops marched silently to the foot of the Common, where they embarked in boats and passed over to Cambridge. They were commanded by Lieutenant-Colonel Smith, assisted by Major Pitcairn. Gage supposed his secret was inviolate, but was soon undeceived. Lord Percy, who was one of his confidants, when crossing the Common, heard one of a group of citizens says, "The British will miss their mark. "What mark?" inquired Percy. "The cannon at Concord," was the reply. Percy hastened to inform Gage, who immediately issued orders to his guards not to allow any person to leave the city that night. It was too late. William Dawes had gone over the Neck to Roxbury on horseback, with a message from Warren to Hancock and Adams, and Warren and Revere were at Charlestown awaiting the development of events. Revere had engaged his friend Newman, sexton of the North Church, to give him a timely signal.
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 arm."
The moon was just rising when the British troops landed on the Cambridge side of the water. Newman had hung out two lanterns, and the watching Revere, springing into a saddle on the back of a fleet horse owned by Deacon Larkin, hurried across Charlestown Neck. At the end of the isthmus he was confronted by two British soldiers, who attempted to arrest him. Turning back toward Charlestown, he soon reached the Medford road, and escaped; and at a little past midnight he rode up to Clarke's house in Lexington, which was well guarded by Sergeant Monroe and his men. He asked, in hurried words, for Mr. Hancock. "The family have just retired," said the sergeant, "and I am directed not to allow them to be disturbed by any noise." "Noise!" exclaimed Revere; " you'll have noise enough before long; the Regulars are coming out!" He was then allowed to knock at the door, when Mr. Clarke opened a window, and inquired--" Who is there?" Revere answered hurriedly," I want to see Mr. Hancock." "I do not like to admit strangers into my house so late at night," Clarke replied. Hancock, abed but not asleep, recognizing the voice of the messenger, called out: "Come in, Revere; we are not afraid of you." The story of impending peril was soon told, and the whole household were astir. Dawes, who went by Roxbury, Soon afterward arrived. After refreshing themselves, he and Revere rode swiftly toward Concord, arousing the inhabitants by the was, as the latter had done between Medford and Lexington. They were overtaken by Dr. Samuel Prescott, who had been wooing a young woman in Lexington, and he joined them in their patriotic errand, when Revere, who was riding ahead, was suddenly surrounded by some British officers, and with Dawes was made a prisoner. Prescott dashed over a stone-wall with his active horse, and escaped. He rode over to Concord, and at about two o'clock in the morning of the 19th gave the alarm. Revere and his fellow prisoner were closely questioned concerning Hancock and Adams, but gave evasive answers. They were threatened with pistol-balls, when Revere told his captors that men were out arousing the country in all directions. Just then a church-bell was heard; then another, when one of the Lexington prisoners said: "The bells are ringing--the town is alarmed--you are dead men." The frightened officers left their prisoners, and fled toward Boston.
The alarm rapidly spread, and the Minute-men seized their arms. At two o'clock in the morning, Captain John Parker called the roll of his company on Lexington Green in front of the meeting-house, and ordered them to charge their guns with powder and ball. The air was chilly, and, as the invaders did not seem to be near, the men were directed to take shelter in the houses. Meanwhile the British troops were making their way in the soft light of a waning moon. Colonel Smith was convinced that their. Colonel Smith was convinced that their secret was known and there was a general uprising of the people, for church-bells were heard in various directions. He sent back to Boston for reinforcements, and ordered Major Pitcairn to push rapidly on through Lexington and seize the bridges at Concord. As the latter advanced, he secured every man seen on the way. One of these escaped, and mounting a fleet-footed horse, hurried to Lexington and gave the alarm, but not until the invaders were within less than two miles of the village green. The bells rang out an alarm. The Minute-men came; and just at the earliest dawn of day Captain Parker found himself at the head of almost seventy men. After much persuasion, and the cogent argument that their lives were of the greatest importance to the colony at that time, Hancock and Adams left Mr. Clarke's house and went, finally, to a more secure retreat. Dorothy Quincy, to whom Hancock was affianced (and whom he married in September following), was visiting the family of Mr. Clarke, and she accompanied her lover and his friend in their slow flight from immediate danger.
In the gray of the early morning, Major Pitcairn and his scarlet-clad soldiers appeared, and halting not far from the line of Minute-men on Lexington Common, loaded their muskets. The patriots stood firm. They had been ordered not to fire a shot until they were assailed by the invaders. A pause ensued, when Pitcairn and other officers galloped forward, waving their swords over their heads, and followed by the shouting troops in double-quick time. "Disperse, you villains! Lay down your arms! Why don't you disperse, you rebels? Disperse!" cried the major. In rushing forward the troops had become confused. As the Minutemen did not immediately obey the command to lay down their arms, Pitcairn wheeled his horse, and waving his sword, shouted: "Press forward, men! surround the rascals!" At the same moment some random shots were fired over the heads of the Americans by the British soldiers, but without effect. The Minute-men had scruples about firing, until their own blood had been spilled. Pitcairn was irritated by their obstinacy, and drawing his pistol, discharged it, at the same moment shouting fire! A volley from the front rank followed the order, with fatal effect. Some Americans fell dead or mortally wounded, and others were badly hurt. There was no longer hesitation on the part of the Minutemen. The conditions of their restraint were fulfilled. The blood of their comrades had been shed; and as the shrill fife of young Jonathan Harrington set the drum a-beating, the patriots returned the fire with spirit, but not with fatal effect. The blood of American citizens stained the green grass on Lexington Common, but no British soldier lost his life in that memorable conflict. Captain Parker, perceiving his little band in danger of being surrounded by overwhelming numbers and massacred, ordered his men to disperse. They did so; but as the British continued to fire, the Americans returned the shots with spirit, and then sought safety behind stone-walls and buildings. Four of the Minute-men were slain by the first fire, and four afterwards, and ten were wounded. Only three of the British were wounded, with Pitcairn's horse.
So ended the opening act in the great drama of the Old War for Independence. The bells that were rung on that warm April morning--the mercury marking 85 deg in the shade at noon--tolled the knell of British domination in the old thirteen colonies. When the firing began, Samuel Adams was lingering in his tardy flight on a wooded hill near Clarke's house, and when the air was rent by the first volley on Lexington Common, he uttered these remarkable words: "What a glorious morning for America is this!" With the vision of an inspired seer at that moment, the sturdy patriot perceived in the future the realization of his cherished dreams of independence for his beloved country. Those words are inscribed on the Lexington Centennial Medal.
When the Minute-men at Lexington were dispersed at sunrise after the battle of Lexington, the British drew up in line on the Common, fired a fou de joie, gave three cheers in token of the victory, and in high spirits marched rapidly toward Concord. They had just been joined by Colonel Smith and his party, and felt sure of the success of the expedition. But the sunset told a sad tale for the invaders.
Meanwhile the news of the skirmish was spreading with great rapidity over the province. Before noon that day, the tidings reached Worcester, thirty miles from Lexington. "An express came to the town," says Lincoln, the local historian, "shouting as he passed through the streets at full speed, `To arms! to arms! the war has begun !' His white horse, bloody with spurring, and dripping with sweat, fell, exhausted, by the church. Another was instantly produced, and the tidings went on. The bell rang out the alarm; the cannon were fired, and messengers were sent to every part of the town to collect the soldiery. As the news spread, the implements of husbandry were thrown by in the fields, and the citizens left their homes with no longer delay than to seize their arms. In a short time the Minutemen were paraded on the Green, under Captain Timothy Bigelow; after fervent prayer by Rev. Mr. McCarty, they took up their line of march. They were soon followed by as many of the train-bands as could be gathered under Captain Benjamin Flagg."
The scene at Worcester on that occasion, was a type of a hundred others enacted within twenty-four hours after the skirmish at Lexington. It affords a vivid picture of the spirit of the people.
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