Patriots’ Day — Hold the Line!
“What a glorious morning this is!”
“If ye love wealth better than liberty, the tranquility of servitude than the animating contest of freedom, go from us in peace. May your chains sit lightly upon you, and may posterity forget that ye were our countrymen!” —Samuel Adams (1776)
By the grace of God every day is a good day, but it is a great day when April 19th, Patriots’ Day, coincides with my Wednesday column. It is a pleasure to write about American Patriots from all generations, but especially those who fired the opening volleys for American Liberty in defiance of forces sent to disarm them.
Among our family’s hardheaded Appalachian ancestors was an early Patriot militia colonel, George Gillespie. In 1772, he arrived in the wild and largely uninhabited area of what was then western North Carolina, and over the next four years constructed Fort Gillespie at the mouth of Big Limestone River on the Nolichucky River. In October 1780, in a pivotal battle of the Revolutionary War, he and his sons joined others to form a gauntlet against British tyranny at the Battle of Kings Mountain on the North and South Carolina border. There, they killed Cornwallis’s campaign henchman, the infamously brutal Scotsman Major Patrick Ferguson.
That was but one of the 10 most critical engagements of the Revolutionary War. But it was the first battles of Lexington and Concord on which our quest for Liberty was launched.
Let’s take a brief stroll down the path that gave rise to our Republic.
On December 16th, 1773, “radicals” from Boston, members of a secret organization of American Patriots called the Sons of Liberty, boarded three East India Company ships and threw 342 chests of tea into Boston Harbor.
This iconic event, in protest of oppressive British taxation and tyrannical rule, became known as the Boston Tea Party.
Resistance to the Crown had been mounting over enforcement of the 1764 Sugar Act, 1765 Stamp Act, and 1767 Townshend Act, which led to the Boston Massacre and gave rise to the slogan, “No taxation without representation.”
The 1773 Tea Act and resulting Tea Party protest galvanized the Colonial movement opposing British parliamentary acts, which violated the natural, charter, and constitutional rights of the colonists.
In response to the rebellion, the British enacted additional punitive measures, labeled the “Intolerable Acts,” in hopes of suppressing the burgeoning insurrection. Far from accomplishing their desired outcome, however, the Crown’s countermeasures led colonists to convene the First Continental Congress on September 5th, 1774, in Philadelphia.
By the spring of 1775, civil discontent with royal rulers was growing, and American Patriots in Massachusetts and other colonies were preparing to cast off their masters. The spirit of the coming revolution was captured in Patrick Henry’s impassioned “Give me Liberty or give me death” speech.
On the evening of April 18, 1775, General Thomas Gage, acting as the Crown’s military governor of Massachusetts, dispatched a force of 700 British Army regulars with secret orders. These troops, under the command of Lieutenant Colonel Francis Smith, were to arrest 53-year-old Boston Tea Party leader Samuel Adams, Massachusetts Provincial Congress President John Hancock, and merchant fleet owner Jeremiah Lee.
But what directly tied Gage’s orders to the later enumeration in our Constitution’s Second Amendment assurance of the innate “right to keep and bear arms” was the primary mission of his Redcoat brigades. They were charged with undertaking a preemptive raid to confiscate arms and ammunition stored by Massachusetts Patriots in the town of Concord.
Patriot militia and minutemen, under the leadership of the “radical” Sons of Liberty, anticipated this raid, and the confrontations with British regulars at Lexington and Concord proved to be the fuse that ignited the American Revolution.
Near midnight on April 18th, 41-year-old Paul Revere, who had arranged for advance warning of British movements, departed Charlestown (near Boston) for Lexington and Concord in order to warn Hancock, Adams, and other Sons of Liberty that the British Army was marching to arrest them and seize their weapons caches.
Revere’s ride was immortalized by noted poet Henry Wadsworth Longfellow: “Listen my children and you shall hear of the midnight ride of Paul Revere… Hang a lantern aloft in the belfry arch… One if by land, two if by sea… Through the gloom and the light, The fate of a nation was riding that night; And the spark struck out by that steed, in his flight.”
After meeting with Hancock and Adams in Lexington, Revere was captured, but his Patriot ally, Samuel Prescott, continued to Concord and warned militiamen along the way.
The Patriots in Lexington and Concord, with other citizen militias in New England, were bound by “minute man” oaths to “stand at a minute’s warning with arms and ammunition.” The oath of the Lexington militia read thus: “We trust in God that, should the state of our affairs require it, we shall be ready to sacrifice our estates and everything dear in life, yea, and life itself, in support of the common cause.”
In the early dawn of April 19th, their oaths would be tested with blood. Under the command of 46-year-old farmer and militia Captain John Parker, 77 militiamen assembled on the town green at Lexington, where they soon faced Smith’s overwhelming force of seasoned British regulars. Parker did not expect shots to be exchanged, but his orders were: “Stand your ground. Don’t fire unless fired upon, but if they mean to have a war, let it begin here.”
Within close musket range from the Patriots’ column, British Major John Pitcairn swung his sword and ordered, “Lay down your arms, you damned rebels!”
Not willing to sacrifice his small band of Patriots on the green, as Parker later wrote in a sworn deposition, “I immediately ordered our Militia to disperse, and not to fire.” But his Patriots did not lay down their arms. Then under Pitcairn’s orders, as Parker testified, “Immediately said Troops made their appearance and rushed furiously, fired upon, and killed eight of our Party without receiving any Provocation therefor from us.” Ten other Patriots were wounded.
As his militia moved toward Concord with the British in pursuit, their ranks grew to more than 400.
In Concord, the British divided in order to search for armament stores. Before noon, the second confrontation between regulars and militiamen occurred as 100 British light infantry from three companies faced the ranks of militia and minutemen at Concord’s Old North Bridge. From depositions on both sides, the British fired first, killing two and wounding four.
This time, however, the militia commander, Major John Buttrick, ordered, “Fire, for God’s sake, fellow soldiers, fire!”
And fire they did. The volley commenced with what poet Ralph Waldo Emerson later immortalized as “The Shot Heard Round the World.” With that shot, farmers, laborers, landowners, and statesmen alike brought upon themselves the sentence of death for treason. In the ensuing firefight, the British suffered heavy casualties. In discord, the Redcoats retreated to Concord proper and, after reinforcing their ranks, marched back toward Lexington.
During their retreat from Concord, British regulars took additional casualties in sporadic firefights. The most notable of those was an ambush by the reassembled ranks of John Parker’s militia, which became known as “Parker’s Revenge.” Despite reinforcements when they returned to Lexington, the King’s men were no match for the Patriot ranks. The militia and minutemen made the Redcoats pay dearly all along their 18-mile tactical retreat to Boston.
By day’s end, the Patriots suffered 49 killed, 39 wounded, and five missing. The British casualties totaled 73 killed, 174 wounded, and 26 missing.
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Fellow Patriots, on this 248th Patriots Day, one of the most cost-effective ways you can extend the blessing of Liberty to the next generation is to support our *2023 Patriots Day Campaign! Please do so today!
Upon hearing of those first shots in what would become an eight-year struggle for American Liberty, Samuel Adams declared to fellow Patriot John Hancock, “What a glorious morning this is!”
Indeed it was, and the sunrise each April 19th has remained so ever since.
Thus began the great campaign to reject tyranny and embrace the challenge of securing individual Liberty. “The People alone have an incontestable, unalienable, and indefeasible right to institute government and to reform, alter, or totally change the same when their protection, safety, prosperity, and happiness require it,” wrote Samuel Adams.
Moreover, as the first shots of the Revolutionary War were fired to repel forces sent to disarm the people, James Madison would later observe: “The ultimate authority … resides in the people alone. … The advantage of being armed, which the Americans possess over the people of almost every other nation … forms a barrier against the enterprises of ambition, more insurmountable than any…”
Two months after the battles of Lexington and Concord, the Continental Congress, under President John Hancock, declared on June 12th, 1775: “Congress … considering the present critical, alarming and calamitous state … do earnestly recommend, that Thursday, the 12th of July next, be observed by the inhabitants of all the English Colonies on this Continent, as a Day of Public Humiliation, Fasting and Prayer, that we may with united hearts and voices, unfeignedly confess and deplore our many sins and offer up our joint supplications to the All-wise, Omnipotent and merciful Disposer of all Events, humbly beseeching Him to forgive our iniquities. … It is recommended to Christians of all denominations to assemble for public worship and to abstain from servile labor and recreations of said day.”
Why would the first generation of American Patriots forgo, in the inimitable words of Sam Adams, “the tranquility of servitude” for “the animating contest of freedom”?
The answer to that question — Liberty or Death — defined the spirit of American Patriotism then, as it defines the spirit of American Patriots today. We are the beneficiaries of generations who pledged their lives, fortunes, and sacred honor “to support and defend” Liberty as enumerated in our Declaration of Independence and enshrined in our Constitution.
In 1776, George Washington wrote in his General Orders: “The time is now near at hand which must determine whether Americans are to be freemen or slaves; whether they are to have any property they can call their own; whether their houses and farms are to be pillaged and destroyed, and themselves consigned to a state of wretchedness from which no human efforts will deliver them. The fate of unborn millions will now depend, under God, on the courage and conduct of this army. Our cruel and unrelenting enemy leaves us only the choice of brave resistance, or the most abject submission. We have, therefore, to resolve to conquer or die.”
Of that resolve, two centuries later President Ronald Reagan said: “Freedom is a fragile thing and is never more than one generation away from extinction. It is not ours by inheritance; it must be fought for and defended constantly by each generation…”
Indeed, the time is always at hand when American Patriots must reaffirm whether we are to be freemen or slaves.
From the Revolutionary War forward, our family line has been represented well in the ranks of every major conflict — including in the last century the veterans who most influenced my life: my grandfather, who served as an early experimental naval aviator in World War I, and my father, who served as a naval aviator in World War II. Their legacy extends to our son, a Marine Infantry officer.
But our Patriot ancestors represent much more than a family line. Their legacy is just a small part of our shared national heritage and belongs to all of this generation’s American Patriots — those who defend Liberty whether their roots go back hundreds of years or less than a generation. That legacy is the foundation of the The Patriot Post, and our mission is to extend the endowment of American Liberty to the next generation from our editorial offices in the foothills of the Great State of Tennessee.
Patriots, through the trials we face now, stand firm and fast, and remember who YOU are, brothers and sisters — who WE are together. As Washington declared, “Our cause is noble; it is the cause of mankind!”
Finally, in the words of Thomas Jefferson in his “Declaration of the Causes and Necessity of Taking Up Arms” in July 1775, “Honor, justice, and humanity, forbid us tamely to surrender that freedom which we received from our gallant ancestors, and which our innocent posterity have a right to receive from us.”
Fellow Patriots, on this day, and every day of the year, hold the Line! And on this 248th Patriots Day, one of the most cost-effective ways you can extend the blessing of Liberty to the next generation is to support our *2023 Patriots’ Day Campaign!
Support and Defend Liberty!
The Patriot Post is entirely funded by American Patriots like you. Please make your gift to our Patriots’ Day Campaign today to help ensure that our defense of Liberty remains strong, and the ranks of American Patriots continues to grow!
Semper Vigilans Fortis Paratus et Fidelis
Pro Deo et Libertate — 1776
Note: For a resource on our nation’s founding, read the Patriots Primer on American Liberty. You can also purchase our highly acclaimed pocket-size Patriot Primers in bulk for distribution to students, grassroots organizations, civic clubs, political gatherings, military and public service personnel, professional associations, and others.
For a scholarly assessment of the events leading up to and beyond the first shots fired at Lexington and Concord, the British gun control programs that precipitated the American Revolution, see my friend Dave Kopel’s post, “The American Revolution Against British Gun Control.”
Join us in prayer for our nation’s Military Patriots standing in harm’s way, for our First Responders, and for their families. Please lift up your Patriot team and our mission to support and defend our Republic’s Founding Principle of Liberty, in order to ignite the fires of freedom in the hearts and minds of our countrymen. Thank you for supporting our nation’s premier online journal of Liberty.
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