“Don’t Fire Unless Fired Upon. But if They Mean to Have a War, Let it Begin Here.”

Today in History, April 19: 1775 – The Midnight Ride continues. Paul Revere and his fellow rider, William Dawes meet up while warning Lexington of the approaching British soldiers. They had stopped at several villages between there and Boston spreading the alarm.

In each village additional riders would set off in all directions to spread the word for minutemen to converge on Lexington and Concord. Village cannons were fired so they would be heard in neighboring villages…a pre-arranged signal. The system was so efficient that before the British soldiers were even disembarking from their boats, still miles away, hundreds of Patriots were converging on the British target of munitions at Concord. Unbeknownst to them, their mission had already been rendered moot. The “rebels”, long aware of the British plans, had already dispersed and hidden the munitions. Revere and Dawes had already warned Samuel Adams and John Hancock, who had been taken elsewhere to prevent their arrest.

In Lexington Revere and Dawes met up with Dr. Samuel Prescott, who had been visiting his fiance. The three set out for Concord to warn them. On the road they encountered an British patrol and were captured. As they were being taken to a nearby meadow Prescott shouted, “Put on!” (scatter, run for it). He and Revere rode off in opposite directions. Prescott jumped his horse over a neaby stone fence and was off into the night. Dawes escaped, but lost his horse, leaving him on foot. Revere made his second escape of the night, as he’d nearly been captured in Charleston earlier. However he soon came upon a group of British officers and was captured again. He would eventually be released, but without his horse. Precott, a Concord native familiar with the area, quickly made his way to Concord and warned them, then continued on to warn others.

“Don’t fire unless fired upon, but if they mean to have a war, let it begin here.” –Militiaman Capt. John Parker, to his troops on Lexington Green. When the 700 British troops reached Lexington, they were confronted with a mere 77 minutemen who had managed to convene there. Capt. Parker, knowing that the British mission had already been rendered pointless, was not eager to risk the lives of is men. He had them form in ranks on Lexington Green, where they could give an expression of dissention without blocking the road to Concord. The British commander decided to confront them anyway. With an expression of great insult, the British commander ordered the “damned rebels” to disperse. Parker directed them to do so as the well trained British regulars approached. Nobody knows who fired the “shot heard ’round the world”. The Americans, of course, believe it was and over eager British soldier; the British believe it was from a minuteman; some speculation is that it was fired from the safety of a nearby tavern. Whoever fired that first shot, it resulted in the British cutting down nearly a dozen minutemen, and one injured British soldier. The British then marched past the dead and injured on their way to Concord. http://youtu.be/wAFz5YNCTGc

The Brits, emboldened, marched on Concord. When they got there they were confronted with more than 300 minutemen. The outcome was quite different than at Lexington. The British were quickly repelled, and decided to return to Boston. As they completed the long march back to Boston, the minutemen continuously fired upon them from behind trees, rocks, fences, etc. By the time the regulars made it back to Boston, they had lost over 300 men.

Why was it the “shot heard ’round the world”? Not just because of the American Revolution. The acts of the revolutionaries did not affect only the “Colonies”. The French were encouraged to aid the Americans with their fleet eventually. Other portions of the British Empire were encouraged to revolt. King George didn’t know it, but on this date, thanks to a few farmer and merchant “peasants”, the sun had begun to set on the British Empire.

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