May 9th, 1763 – The Siege of Fort Detroit

239001087_orig.jpgIt had been just over three years after General James Wolfe met the Marquis de Saint-Veran, General Louis-Joseph Montcalm on the Plains of Abraham. Though it would cost both commanders their lives, it would be the turning point in the war that would lead to the inevitable British victory in North America. Not even the French successes at the Battle of Quebec could turn that tide anymore. Now, with the Treaty of Paris signed by France, England and Spain, that vast Northern territory that once belonged to Louis XV now rested in the hands of his nation’s ancient enemy. Soon it would fall upon the shoulders of the newly appointed Governor-General, Jeffery Amherst, the chief architect of the British victory, to secure the peace as, as Francis Parkman, author of France and England in North America, would observe, “Half of the continent had changed hands at the scratch of a pen.”

Perhaps had the Court of St. James chosen any other man some level of conciliation with NPG 150,Jeffrey Amherst, 1st Baron Amherst,by Thomas Gainsboroughthe Native tribes could have been reached. Yet, for as much disdain as General Amherst felt towards the French he now was charged with the governance of, it was nothing compared to the contempt he had for the Native American people. The idea that he might have to somehow placate them and keep the peace with them through the giving of gifts did nothing to change that opinion. Even as the Superintendent of Indian Affairs for the Northern District, General William Johnson, a man respected by the tribes he was charged with keeping the peace with, pleaded with him to maintain those ties with Native Nations, he would make his position abundantly clear, “When Men of What race soever, behave ill they must be punished but not bribed.”

In that arrogant dismal it would soon become apparent that the days of friendlier relations with the French were over as Amherst demonstrated his lack of patience with them. Not only would he stop the gifts, trade would be restricted and guns and gun powder to the tribes would be limited, fueling the animosity between the two peoples. The fact that the British would refuse to pull from the Allegheny Valley at the forks of the Ohio would nothing to ease this tensions. It would be Amherst hard-line policies that would lead Chief Pontiac to unite the Great Lake tribes, the Ottawa, Ojibwa, Huron, and Potawatomi, to rise up, and throw off the European advances, embracing the traditional way of life preached by “The Delaware Prophet” Neolin.

s500.5167Just two days prior Pontiac had passed the gates of Fort Detroit with 300 men, their guns hidden in their blankets. He had hoped to launch a surprise attack and chase the British from its walls, but word had already reached Major Henry Gladwin of the plans. Even as they entered Pontiac and his men came to the realization that they were outgunned as they saw the British troops stationed around them with bayonets loaded and ready. The attack would be halted. The next day Pontiac, accompanied by three other Chief’s of the Ottawa, made every indication they had wanted peace. They had appeared before the gates of Fort Detroit to parlay with Gladwin, presenting him with a Calumet, a ceremonial pipe, with the assurances that they would return the next day to smoke it with him in the name of peace.

Then, on May 9th, 1763, at about 11 am, Pontiac would return with approximately 400 men that rowed 56 canoes across the river to the gates of the fort. Captain Donald Campbell, who would later be taken under a flag of truce, bludgeoned to death, scalped and dismembered by the Objibwa, before their Chief Wasson cut out and ate his heart, would come forward from the gate to greet them. Gladwin, acutely aware of the danger that Pontiac presented, and distrustful of all Natives even before this, would allow only a small number through the gate. Pontiac would explain that all his people would want to smell the smoke of the pipe. Gladwin would respond that then all would be allowed to enter, but only in small groups, one leaving before another would be allowed in.

The embarrassment and humiliation felt by Pontiac would be almost too much to bear, but worse yet, he knew the element of surprise was lost. Even as they turned from the gates they knew what had to be done and they would not be satisfied until the British were either dead or chased from Detroit.

As the war dance died down from the Native Camps, the war cry would go up as the Siege of Fort Detroit had begun, setting in motion a series of events that would send ripples and waves through the colonies for over a decade.

A brutal engagement, of which Pontiac himself was only responsible for a small part of fort_pontchartrain_du_detroit (1)the planning of, Pontiac’s Rebellion would spread as far west as present day Indiana and into the east as they laid siege on Fort Pitt, bringing out the darker nature of both sides as no mercy was shown. Amherst himself would propose the use of smallpox laden blankets to subdue the Native population as his sights would turn to biological warfare. The native tribes, in many instances, made no distinction between settler and soldier, torturing and slaughter both, as they had done with surrendering soldiers. In Western Pennsylvania British Colonists would form their own vigilante groups, and, making no distinction between friend or foe, murdered Native’s indiscriminately, while, in at least one case, that of Captain Campbell, a British soldier was cannibalized by the enemy. In the end the there would be no certainty as to the number of the losses from either side as, as one historian would describe it, “Both sides seemed intoxicated with genocidal fanaticism.”

Aware now of the dangers and the struggles now faced with the conclusion of the French and Indian Wars, George III would, by October of that year, sign the Royal Proclamation of 1763 which would forbid British settlements west of the Appalachian Mountains and void land grants offered by the Crown for service to it. Though having been planned before the Siege of Fort Detroit, Pontiac’s actions pushed it through hastily and pre-maturely. Even now one need not examine too hard the effects that it would ultimately have on the British subjects across the Atlantic. Having looked Westward for the abundance of land, and the potential that it brought, the Proclamation would enrage Colonists, who believed expansion into that territory was their right and destiny, bringing latent resentment towards the Court of Saint James and that far distant, far removed government in London to the forefront, resentments that would rear their head during the course of the next decade and beyond as America marched itself towards Revolution.

Eventually peace would be struck but, by that time, the damage had already been done. In the end the measures taken by the Crown to prevent future rebellion would, in turn, offer kindling to a different sort.

May 4th, 1776

1280px-Return_of_Roger_Williams.jpgIn many ways it had earned the nickname Rogue’s Island. Founded by Roger Williams when he had been expelled from Massachusetts colony for sedition and heresy, it had become the home of what many considered the most radical elements of the Puritans population in the colonies. While the colony itself had grown and prospered as a Mercantile hub, especially with the rise of the Transatlantic slave trade, the radical, rogue nature of Rhode Island and Providence Plantations had remained. By 1764 a group of Loyalists known as the Tory Junto, concerned with the revolutionary streak that ran through the Colony would go as far as to petition the Court of St. James to repeal the Colonies Royal Charter and replace it with Royal Government. In the end they would fail. They would be chased from Rhode Island. The colony, on the other hand, would remain largely unchanged, with many committed to the cause of Independence even in those early days.

That independent spirit that refused to relent to King and Parliament would become clear when, less than a decade later residents ran aground the HMS Gaspee, a British Custom’s schooner under the command of the increasingly zealous Lieutenant William Dudingston. While Admiral John Montagu, once a staunch defender of the unpopular Lieutenant Dudingston, had the commander sent back to England for Court Marshall, he found himself powerless to punish those who had burned the Royal Vessel in Narragansett Bay. Though cgaspee.jpgharged with treason by a Royal Commission, it wouldn’t last as the matter was eventually dropped. Though it wasn’t the first or the last act of defiance by the Colony, it had demonstrated how far Rhode Island would go and the protection that its residents would be afforded by its Governor Joseph Wanton.

In that spirit of independence, the Rhode Island Legislature would meet on May 4th, 1776. It had been little over a year since the fighting had broken out at Lexington and Concord, since the first shots had been fired, engulfing the thirteen colonies in war, and violence and bloodshed, as they entered open rebellion against the British Crown. Rhode Island would eagerly send its troops. Merchants and privateers by trade, accomplished and creative sailors by experience, it would furnish the Continental Forces with the Commander-in-Chief of its Navy, Commodore Esek Hopkins, brother of former Governor turned Delegate to the Continental Congress. Samuel Hopkins. Now, as the Continental Congress met to discuss what this loose Confederation of Colonies would do, Rhode Island busied itself with its own future and the path to its own independence.

Drafted by Jonathan Arnold, who would go on to serve as a surgeon in the Continental Army before twice serving in the Congress of the Confederation, the preamble of the Resolution would read:

WHEREAS in all states, existing by compact, protection and allegiance are reciprocal, the latter being only due in consequence of the former:

And whereas George the Third, King of Great Britain, forgetting his dignity, regardless of the compact most solemnly entered into, ratified and confirmed, to the inhabitants of this Colony, by his illustrious ancestors, and till of late fully recognized by him—and entirely departing from the duties and character of a good King, instead of protecting, is endeavoring to destroy the good people of this Colony, and of all the United Colonies, by sending fleets and armies to America, to confiscate our property, and spread fire, sword and desolation, throughout our country, in order to compel us to submit to the most debasing and detestable tyranny, whereby we are obliged by necessity, and it becomes our highest duty, to use every means, with which God and nature have furnished us, in support of our invaluable rights and privileges; to oppose that power which is exerted only for our destruction.

In less than two hundred words they would lay out their case in the simplest possible terms, listing their grievances with the Crown and the Parliament, calling the policies of the Crown and Parliament to the forefront for their tyranny and oppression, before the resolution itself was read. Allegiance to the King was replaced with allegiance to the State, the courts were removed from Royal Authority and placed under home rule and the business of the government would no longer be conducted in the name of the George III or his heirs, it would be a government of Rhode Island.

With a stroke of the pen and a vote of the Legislature Rhode Island, long reputed as the most independent of the Colonies, would become the first of the thirteen to separate itself from the Crown and Mother Country, and declare its independence. No longer would it hold itself under the authority of a King in a far distant capital. No longer would it hold itself to the authority of a Parliament it was not represented in. Even as they closed that session of the Legislature, the feeling, the attitude and tone would be different for them as, instead of declaring, as they so often before had, “God save the King”, now they declared “God save the United Colonies.” Nicholas Cooke, elected to replace Governor Wanton in 1775, would write to General George Washington shortly after, “I also enclose a copy of an Act discharging the inhabitants of this Colony from allegiance to the King of Great Britain, which was carried in the House of Deputies, after a debate, with but six dissentient voices, there being upwards of sixty members present.”

Declaration_independence.jpgTwo months later, to the day, the Declaration of Independence, the great charter of American national freedom, would pronounce freedom across all Rhode Island’s sister colonies, finally breaking the ties that bound it to the British Empire, as sovereignty separate from the Crown rang through the colonies, and set these United Colonies on an irreversible course towards nationhood and republic. Proudly the delegates of Rhode Island would affix their names to the document. The signature of William Ellery would be second only to that of John Hancock, while Hopkins, now well advanced in years but still a force to be reckoned with, would seek to steady his palsied ridden right hand, declaring, “my hand trembles, but my heart does not.”

Once the war was over Rhode Island would become the fourth of the thirteen colonies to ratify the Articles of Confederation, that first charter of political freedom that governed the new United States, but it would, in that independent nature, initially refuse to take on the Constitution. It would only be when a Bill of Rights, declaring the rights and freedoms of the individual, was guaranteed that it would become the last of the original thirteen to adopt. Even then it would be reluctantly, having grown weary from those years of colonial rule of giving too much power and authority to a centralized government in a distant capital, in the hands of an Executive and Legislature removed from their daily lives.

Thinking Historically (Part Two)

OrwellHistory is more than just trivia. It is more than dates and places and names. A record of what we have done and where we have been, it offers to us a guide for learning based on the vast experience of the course of human events. In turn this allows us to grow, to advance and to progress beyond in the deeper knowledge that we will not repeat the mistakes of the past.

The problem is that we have become a society that no longer believes that those lessons are applicable to us, they are no longer valid to who we are. In our hubris we believe that through our advancements, we are above the lessons of history. We live in an age, after all, with modern marvels that would confound even the most enlightened of scholars, and would transcend the dreams of the most learned of individuals.

Yet that does not leave us immune to the value or the worth that history holds.

We can see that in many of the struggles that we face as a nation and a people. In many senses, the worst of the problems we face, they have been, and continue to be avoidable if we took the time to look at the history with more than a fleeting interest or a passing consideration, if we considered it as a means to frame our perspective and educate our outlook. What, for example, can we learn from McCarthyism amidst our current political dialogue? What can the Tea Tax of 1773 teach us about Government Bailouts and the popular reaction to them? What can does early American Treasury Policy under Alexander Hamilton teach us about debt?

Though perhaps not always perfect examples, they offer insight and understanding as we consider human nature, and the possible implications of the course we are embarking on. It then allows us to see the future with greater clarity, allowing for us to make provisions for the present and plan for the tomorrow with a deeper sense of what it is going to bring. It is why it is so essential that we think historically, why we take a critical view of history and the implications that it has.

To this we need to think of it like a puzzle. Though we may see the larger picture, that picture is constructed of several small pieces that interlock together to construct it. Those consist of the “Why” or the “How”, the motives and the motivations, ideas and notions, ideologies and incentives, they push in together with the “What” to create a larger view of each small portion of those events, people and places that constitute the larger, grander scope of that history. This reminds us that nothing stands on its own, or exists free of internal and external factors. Though not all reactions may be, as we learn in physics, equal or opposite to an action, they are there, setting in motion the course of human activity, thought and, on a larger scale, history.

It isn’t then just about understanding history, but also the context and the application of it in a wider scope. This sets it against the backdrop of the human experience and human nature, revealing to us that though two things may never be exactly alike there are general understandings that govern us, allowing for us to learn from our past mistakes and judge the future, allowing us to strengthen our response to circumstances and situations and, thus put us on a surer footing for the future.

HeinleinThis is not something that we outgrow or we advance beyond just because we have the technological prowess to advance our civilization and our society to new technological heights or enlightened understandings. If it was then Greece, the cradle of advanced thoughts and ideas would stand like the Colossus at the precipice of human advancement, or Rome, with all of its works, would govern over the achievements of humanity even still. Egypt, Greece, Rome, they would fade, subject to human flaws and nature. Yet, still, as the Founders realized, there was much to be gleaned from their rises and falls, lessons that still rang true in the eighteenth century, and lessons that still ring true today.

At our fingertips we have more access to information than any other time in our history. The question then becomes how we are going to use it. Is it simply to be for trivia, or is it for something else entirely? Ultimately the answer is up to us but what we perhaps have to remember is that for as far as we have come, we can go further and reach to greater heights if we let history guide us to where we need to be.

Thinking Historically (Part One)

BurkeWhen one considers the scope of the human experience it is hard not to recognize that we live in an age of advancement that should mesmerize and enthrall. We, after all, seem to perpetually live on the cusp of progress as one new development gives way to another and we become an increasingly more technological civilization.

In a sense we have always been motivated by the desire to grow and advance, believing that, through our advancements, we will master our surroundings, perhaps even nature itself. We have done so with a Utopian view that, through this mastery, we can expel problems like famine, disease, inequality and war to extinction. Why wouldn’t we though? In so many ways it has made our lives easier and better. We have more access to information than any other point in history, we have more means to have our voices heard and to open the channels of communication to foster a deeper understanding of the experiences of others. We have more access to food and clothing than any other time, and, diseases that once crippled and killed have become nothing more than a nuisance in many ways.

Yet, in a very real way our advancements, for as much as they have propelled us forward, have done us one great disservice. They have left us feeling as if we are somehow above the lessons of history. Yes it is something to be looked at and read with a degree of curiosity and interest, but as for what it should mean to us, we have far outgrown it. How could we not have, after all, when we far exceed the wildest imaginations of the minds of Thomas Jefferson or Benjamin Franklin or any of their early students?

One of the reasons, if not the core reason, that the Founding Fathers were able to build a lasting republic based on democratic principles in an age when enlightened despotism was the order of the day was because they were students of history. Understanding it as more than a series of dates and places, they looked at it critically to explain to them human nature and the evolution of events that that nature could spur on. They reasoned that while humanity progressed and learned, changing with time in their understanding and outlook of the world, if it did not learn from its achievements and its mistakes it would never grow past them, dooming itself, as it was, to the old cliché so often recycled it does not need repeating.

TrumanIn a very real sense they heeded those famous words that almost perhaps sounded like a warning in their ears, “The thing that hath been, it is that which shall be; and that which is done is that which shall be done: and there is no new thing under the sun.” They knew that they were not immune to the traps of Greece or of Rome, those grand experiments that rose and fell under the same sun they now bloomed under. They knew they were not free of the same excesses that had been witnessed in all the great civilizations that had prospered and flourished only to soon after fade from former glory.

We wise to remember that as we consider our path forward.

Our freedom and democracy, whatever liberty we are afforded by the laws of nature, do not exist free of history, nor can we view ourselves free of our bonds to it. In a larger scope than he perhaps intended, we would be wise to take heed of the words of Patrick Henry as he spoke on the floor of St. John’s Church in 1775, stating “I know of no way of judging of the future but by the past.”

In the end we must decide what sort of society we want to be. The best was to do that is to train ourselves to think historically, to consider it not as the study of past events but as lessons in the nature of politics and government, humanity and human nature, and yes, even the meaning, purpose and course of progress and advancement. This gives us the ability to learn, to adapt and to grow without repeating the past errors amidst the arrogant assumption they are no longer applicable because we have ultimately transcended them.

The purpose of this post, and the ones that are going to come, is not to condemn science and technology, progress and advancement. To do that would be to condemn the human spirit, a spirit that is always looking to the frontier as the answer to the challenge of its soul. It is, instead, to remind us that we do not live in a vacuum, free of the lessons of history. Countless others have, in their hubris, have believed that, and despite their advancements, fell into the same traps and enticements they believed they had far surpassed.

It is, instead, intended to remind us of who we are, where we came from, and what that should mean to us as we stand on the precipice of the future.

April 26th, 1777



The smoke lifted through the air as the houses burned, undoubtedly seen across the border in Dutchess County, New York. Earlier that day 2,000 British soldiers, marching from Fairfield, Connecticut under the command of Willian Tryon, Royal Governor of New York and Major General of the Provincials, had arrived in Danbury. Searching for rebel weapons and supplies, they would start to mark the homes of Loyalists. It wasn’t just that were going to deprive the enemy of guns and food. No, they were going to send a message. The unmarked homes, homes of Patriots would be set on fire.

As word reached Colonel Henry Ludington, commander of the local militia, fresh returned from a three-day ride with his troops to shore up supplies, a sinking feeling had to come over him. The Patriots had only recently moved their supplies to Danbury in the belief that they would be safe there. Now they gone. Worse yet though, the veteran of the French and Indian Wars had to know that it was only a matter of time before the British Army crossed the border. Had the 400 men under his command been assembled they could perhaps, at the very least, put up a fight. But they weren’t. They were furloughed, on leave at their homes, believing little, if nothing had changed. He had to gather the troops. Yet the messenger who brought word at about nine that evening didn’t know the terrain, not well enough to bring word to the men scattered throughout the county.

No, this task had to fall on the shoulders of someone who knew the territory and terrain, someone who knew the homes and the families along the road.The task would fall on the shoulders of the oldest of Colonel Ludington’s eight children, the 16 year old Sybil.

Fiercely independent, she had watched her father train and drill his soldiers, and felt her own patriotism to the cause grow. Brave beyond her years, she had often served as a sentinal for her father. More than that though she knew the countryside, well versed in the terrain and the towns a messenger would have to ride. She would be the only choice.

As the rain fell amidst the thundering of that night on April 26th, 1777 she would mount her horse with her father’s musket at her side, and she would ride. She would ride hard into the night. The ground beneath would have been soft and murky, having stormed all day, but she wouldn’t let it slow her. Her route would take her as far south as Mahopac and then to the North to Stormville. A treacherous path, she not only would have to avoid loyalists, but also roaming bandits with no allegiance to either side of the war.

Yet she would be undeterred and undaunted. Not even the attack of a highwayman she would have to fend off would stop her. As she reached Carmel yelling “The British are burning Danbury” the Church bells would ring the alarm. Knowing the treacherous road she faced one of the men of Carmel would offer to ride the rest of the route with her. She knew the territory, and she had no fear for what might come. Dispatching him to spread word to the East, with the words “Tell them to join my father at Ludington Mill”, she would continue alone.

Even as she rode word would reach Tryon that the Revolutionary forces were on the move. By this point, having found supply of whiskey, order broke down as the British troops stumbled through the streets of Danbury, looting homes as the people of the town watched in horror. Knowing that it wouldn’t be long before General David Wooster, and General Benedict Arnold arrived from Bethel, Tryon ordered they burn even more of the houses. The sky would burn orange into the night as the smoke lifted higher. Yet what they would soon find is that Arnold and Wooster were not their only problems as Ludington’s men began to assemble.

In the course of that night, through mud and mist, rain and dark, against all obstacles, Sybil would cover forty miles before returning home in the early hours of that morning.

Just over two years to the day of Paul Revere’s famous ride into the countryside of Boston she had rode twice as far to raise up the 400 men that would chase the British as they hurriedly exited Danbury that morning. Though they would not be able to save Danbury from the British they would be a part of the larger forces that would engage them at the strategic American victory at the Battle of Ridgefield. A short time later Colonel Ludington would receive praise from General Alexander Hamilton for his efforts, writing, “I congratulate you on the Danbury expedition. The stores destroyed have been purchased at a pretty high price to the enemy” with his daughter receiving personal notes of thank you from both the Comte Rochambeau and General Washington.

Never really claiming her share of the glory a short time later she would slowly fade to the realm of the obscure, a part of lost history of the American Revolution, for over 100 years. Even today, while names like Paul Revere or William Dawes invoke a stir, hers remains largely unknown in the pantheon of early American heroes.

April 20th, 1775

1024px-Lexington_Concord_Siege_of_BostonLord Dartmouth had put it plainly to Governor Thomas Gage, “the sovereignty of the king over the Colonies requires a full and absolute submission.” Still few in Parliament had perhaps seen it going like this when, in February of that year, they had declared the Colony in an open state of rebellion, and pledging English lives and property to putting it down.

Now even with the re-enforcements of Lieutenant-General Hugh Percy arriving with a thousand fresh troops to aid the expedition of Lieutenant Colonel Francis Smith, the Patriots had refused to relent. They pushed forward without giving an inch to British Regulars as they inflicted heavy casualties on them. Once, where they had perhaps been able to be talked down, it had now gone too far. Shots had been fired, blood had been shed, and the war was upon them.

It had to be dawning on Governor Gage, as he looked out late in the evening and saw the camp fires surrounding the city, that there would be no submission, there would be no obedience in the colonies except through military supremacy even as the Colonialists were perhaps realizing they had forfeited their own safety at Lexington and Concord that morning. Now the only safety they would be guaranteed would be in their own numbers and ranks, in their military preparations and their ability to band together as a cohesive force.

Now headquartered in nearby Cambridge, by the morning of April 20th, 1775 almost 15,000 Colonials surrounded the city. Plain people from nearby towns and colonies, militiamen, tradesmen, farmers who would have otherwise been home planting their crops, were now arriving in droves. Though they would not be able to take the Harbor or contend with the might of the Royal Navy, they could control the ground. Under the loose command of Brigadier General William Heath, who had taken control in the final stages of the Battles of Lexington and Concord, they began, with military like efficiency, to form Siege lines, emphasizing a blockage along the two necks, Boston and Charlestown, leaving the Royal forces trapped on the Peninsulas without land access to the remainder of the colony.

Even as Gage now planned his next move, fortifying along Charlestown and Boston Necks, General Artemas Ward, having received word that fighting had commenced, rose from his sickbed in Shrewsbury, where he had been laid up with bladder stones, took to his horse and rode thirty five miles to Cambridge.

A Colonel in the French and Indian Wars, Ward had made powerful enemies speaking out against Parliament and British colonial policies. Sir Francis Bernard, the predecessor to Governor Thomas Hutchinson, had stripped Ward of his commission and voided the results of an election to the Colonial Assembly that would have seen Ward take a seat in it. Had Bernard been able to contend with the respect and popularity that Ward had the portly officer might have been erased from history, but he could not. When it became apparent that the situation in Boston was degenerating into war, his former Regiment resigned from service to the Crown and elected him their new Commander. Only a few months later the Massachusetts Assembly voted him Commander-in-Chief of the Colonies Militia.

The task in front of Ward was not an easy or a simple one. He was, by virtue of his rank, not by any vested authority, the officer in charge, but, more than that, he commanded an army of volunteers, one that had enlisted only for a single battle rather than a long, drawn war. Criticized by some for failing to impose stricter rules on those troops, he was acutely aware of a situation that Samuel Adams would clearly state when he wrote, “Our soldiers will not be brought to obey any person of whom they do not themselves entertain a high opinion.” Writing to the Provincial Congress himself a few days later Ward would state, “My situation is such that if I have not enlisting orders immediately, I shall be left all alone. It is impossible to keep the men here expecting something to be done. I therefore pray that the plans [for the formation of an army] may be completed and handed to me this morning, and that you, gentlemen of the Congress, issue orders for the enlisting of the men.”

At that very moment he had a delicate balance he had to strike. Ultimately, despite his popularity, he would be replaced by General George Washington as New England tried to convince the remaining colonies that this was not their struggle alone, that this was a struggle for the liberty of all of the colonies united. It would ultimately his new Commander’s low opinion of him that would force him into retirement, and from anywhere but the more obscure places in early American history.

In the meantime Ward had to keep the Siege together through whatever means he could. Yet his challenges, they perhaps seemed small compared to that which was facing his adversary across the Charles River. It was there that the Patriot Commander found his greatest strength.

The truth was he benefitted from the ineptitude of Governor Gage, who miscalculated the situation and the Patriots more often than not. Even as Dr, Benjamin Church, a well-known Patriot, fed him information in the days following the Battle of Lexington and Concord, and the establishment of Rebel encampments, he seemed unable clearly assess the situation to properly put down the rebels who were now rising up against the Crown and his own authority. But he would not be alone for long. In just over a month Vice Admiral Samuel Graves would sail into the harbor with 4,500 fresh troops, and three new Generals, John Burgoyne, William Howe, and Henry Clinton. Within the course of another month he would be replaced entirely, recalled to London, and replaced by William Howe.

Regardless, the pot had boiled over as the fire of Revolution was lit. The inevitable collision between the American Colonies and England, the most powerful Empire in the World, had occurred, and it was beginning to become apparent that nothing would ever be the same again….

April 19th, 1775

battle-of-lexington-and-concordFew knew the pressure that Sir Thomas Gage was under to put down the rebellious spirit that had swept through Massachusetts Colony. Sir Thomas Hutchinson, and Sir Francis Bernard, who had both aspired to the position of Governor had found that their ambition was ill-equipped for the task in front of them as the Colony always seemed to simmer right near the boiling point, ready, at a moment’s notice, to spill over into violence. Appointed Military Governor by the Board of Trade in 1774, Gage had but one task, to bring those colonists in line by reminding them that they were loyal British subjects by whatever means he deemed necessary.

Married into an old American family that has immigrated when New York was still New Amsterdam, many had perhaps hoped that Gage, with his reputation as a fair minded individual, would be more sympathetic than his predecessor had been. He was not. He was there on the King’s business and he would do the Kings business.

Now he had received word that the Americans were gathering and storing cannons and gunpowder.

In the earliest hours of the morning on April 19th, 1775 British Redcoats gathered under the command of Lieutenant Colonel Francis Smith, with Major John Pitcairn to lead the advance party. Their orders from Gage were to set about in haste, under the cloak of the utmost secrecy and to march on Lexington to arrest Samuel Adams and John Hancock before turning to Concord to destroy any rebel weapons stores that they may find.

As they began to cross the Charles River at Boston Neck, they were perhaps oblivious to the two lanterns that Robert Newman hung from the Steeple at the Old North Church. It was the warning sign of the Patriots, “One if by Land, Two if by Sea”, as the alarm was sounded. What they were becoming aware of though was the fact that the farmhouses along their march, they should have been in the quiet peace of the nights rest, yet they were not. The lights in the windows burned as a bustle of activity seemed to be occurring behind those closed doors. Spies near to the Governor had already shared Gage’s plans with Dr. Joseph Warren, one of the few rebels left in Boston, and Warren turned to William Dawes and Paul Revere to sound the alarm. Just ahead of the British troops they rode, first Revere to the North, slipping past the HMS Somerset docked in the harbor, followed a short time later by Dawes to the South, pounding on the doors of Patriots declaring that “The Regulars are coming out”.

By the time Smith and Pitcairn reached Lexington at Sunrise, Colonel John Parker, a veteran of the French and Indian Wars, and his Minutemen were waiting, well-armed with rifles that had better aim and distance than the bayonet and muskets carried by the Red Coats. Three officers would ride in full gallop, Pitcairn, it is said, yelling, “Throw down your Arms ye Villains, ye Rebels. Why don’t ye lay down your arms?” Defiantly Parker would declare, “Stand your ground; don’t fire unless fired upon, but if they mean to have a war, let it begin here.”

Suddenly a shot would fire, from where no one really knows. Though the full extent of the gravity of that shot perhaps wasn’t fully understood at that time it would become “The shot heard round the world.” Fighting would erupt at the British charged with their bayonet in hands. Parker’s cousin Jonas would be run through with a bayonet in front of his eyes. John Harrington, wounded, would drag himself home, only to die on the steps at his wife’s feet. As eight of Parker’s men lay dead, Colonel Smith had to realize the gravity of the situation. They had engaged in open hostilities with Colonists, now, regardless of who fired the first shots, they would ultimately need to justify that action to Gage upon their return. They needed to find the weapons stores. They would continue their march to Concord.

Perhaps, with what happened at Lexington, they felt that the Patriots had received word and pulled back, or that word of their march had not travelled that far west because it was quiet when they had arrived, almost sleepy when they arrived. It wouldn’t last.

Having pulled back to determine the next move Colonel James Barrett and his troops waited over the ridge as Smith and Pitcairn tore into the town. Under the tavern of Ephraim Jones they’d find three 24-pounder long guns. Having had word for some time of the plans of the British they had been buried there, but Loyalists in the town had tipped off the British as to their location, and now, at the edge of a bayonet, they forced Jones’ to reveal where on his premise they were placed. What they didn’t know was that as they searched the town fresh militiamen from Sudbury, Acton and other neighboring towns arrived to aid the small company of Patriots at Concord.

With orders not to fire unless fired upon the Militia began their advance on the North Bridge at just before noon. Suddenly the worst fears of General Gage were coming to fruition as the Patriots rose up and charged against the Regulars. The British had no choice but to retreat as the withdrawal turned into a chaotic panic as they fled back to Boston. The American’s would not relent, they would fire upon them, even taking out Pitcairn’s horse, as they engaged in a different sort of fighting than the British Regulars were familiar with, combining marksmanship with Native cover-and-concealment strategy and ambush tactics. The neat lines the British were used to forming were no match for it. Though Smith would try to drive them off, he would find they wouldn’t be moved, inflicting heavy casualties on the British forces as they continued to rain down hell on then. Even the relief that must have been felt as they began to hear the familiar drum beat of re-enforcements was short lived.

Worried he had sent too small of a force General Gage had dispatched Lieutenant General Hugh Percy and a thousand additional troops to the field a short time after Colonel Smith began his fateful advance. Now they were meeting as Smith was being chased from the field. Yet even the sight of fresh troops wouldn’t deter the Colonials as they pushed forward undaunted. Now under the command of Brigadier General William Heath they gave no relief as they pushed them back, refusing to give up even an inch of ground.

In the end the British army was forced back to Boston and the war was upon them as Massachussets reached out in the struggle for liberty to slap back the long arm of the most powerful Empire in the world.

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.

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.

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.

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.
Ralph Waldo Emerson, The Concord Hymn