By E. James Adkins
We don’t celebrate the 19th of April anymore. It was never celebrated in a big monumental way, but we once celebrated that day.
“Hardly a man is now alive
Who remembers that famous day and year.”
— so wrote Longfellow in his poem that begins:
“Listen my children and you shall hear
Of the midnight ride of Paul Revere,”
Revere and others went forth on the night of April 18, 1775 with the alarm, “The redcoats are coming!” They rode all through the night.
“It was one by the village clock,
When he galloped into Lexington.
It was two by the village clock
When he came to the bridge in Concord town.”
Why was it so immediately important, on the night of April 18, 1775, for all of the people to know that the “redcoats are coming?”
It was the practice in our colonial period for each village to have a “common” or “village green” that was used for public gatherings. The most significant use of the “common” was as a mustering point and drill field for the village militia, “every able bodied man between the ages of 16 and 60 years.” The militia was trained (as they termed it, “disciplined” and “well regulated”) in the use of arms, here at the village green. The militia provided protection for individuals and property of the village against all threats. A man would spend some time in the “gaol” if he missed a militia call. The militia, each man, was required to keep and bear his own arms. It was common for the militia to maintain a community armory for the storage of shot, powder, flint, additional small arms and any heavy arms that it might afford. Individuals could draw from these supplies as needed, as well as acquiring their own private supplies.
On the night of April 18, 1775, Governor Gage (British Governor of fortress Boston) ordered British “redcoats” to march to the many surrounding villages, to seize and destroy all stores of munitions and to arrest the country leaders, the “arch-conspirators.”
British Major Pitcairn led the march into the countryside. The prime objective was to still the voice of the people, disarm them and make them more servile. Rebellion must stop, they said. So, Revere took to horse to give the alarm: “To arms, to arms, the redcoats are coming!”
Early on the morning of the 19th of April, 1775, Major Pitcairn’s “redcoats” arrived at Lexington and met Captain John Parker’s company of colonial militia drawn-up on the meeting house green.
“By the rude bridge that arched the flood,
Their flag to April’s breeze unfurled,
Hence once the embattled farmers stood
And fired the shot heard round the world.”
— so wrote Emerson in 1837.
Some colonials were wounded and some were killed. Resistance to the larger British force proved futile. Pitcairn’s return march to Boston became a humiliating rout as our colonial militiamen, Minutemen and individual countrymen harassed the British column from behind stone walls, rocks and trees, every step of the way.
The shot heard round the world, the first shot in our fight for independence from King George’s slavery, was fired to protect and defend the natural right of men to protect themselves, to keep and bear arms for the purpose of preserving liberty. This right to keep and bear arms was codified on the 15th of December 1791 when it became the Second Amendment to the Constitution of the United States of America.
We don’t celebrate the 19th of April anymore. Perhaps we should.
“That memory may their deed redeem,
When, like our sires, our sons are gone.
Spirit, that made those heroes dare
To die, and leave their children free.”
— Emerson, 1837
The redcoats are coming!