By Judge Michael Warren
April 19 marks the shot heard ‘round the world.
For well over a decade, the British Empire engaged in a wide ranging campaign to crush colonial liberties in America. Contrary to popular modern belief, this was much deeper than taxation without representation. King George III and a compliant Parliament had declared that the Empire was supreme in all cases whatsoever; the colonials must submit to the Empire’s dictates even if they were not represented in Parliament; and the colonials possessed no unalienable rights – except at the pleasure of King and Parliament.
The Empire went about proving its position in many ways. There would be 27 grievances of British oppression in the Declaration of Independence. Colonial resistance was widespread and stiff. The colonists repeatedly petitioned for relief, and they were repeatedly dismissively ignored.
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The King decided a military solution was in order to squash colonial resistance. The perceived epicenter of the problems, Boston, was occupied by redcoats. England’s political and military leadership were certain that a quick blow in Massachusetts would break the Americans and end any pretense of rebellion. England sent orders to the Boston troops to go on the offensive and secretly arrest colonial political leaders and capture military supplies.
The British commander in Boston determined to arrest Samuel Adams, a leading Son of Liberty and major agitator for American resistance, and John Hancock, a rich merchant and leading political leader. In April, 1776, the two men were ensconced in the small village of Lexington, 7 miles away from Boston. The British also targeted an arms cache in Concord, about 20 miles outside of Boston. The plan of action was simple. March at least 850 redcoats to Concord, arrest Adams and Hancock, then proceed another 13 miles to Concord, destroy or capture the military supplies, and return to Boston.
The British maneuvers began late on the night of April 18. They were brought by ships from Boston to a landing point where they would begin their march inland. Colonials quickly moved to alert the countryside. Son of Liberty Dr. Joseph Warren sent riders Paul Revere and William Dawes to warn Lexington and Concord, and on the way to tell all they passed that the British were coming. At Revere’s instructions, two lanterns were hung on the steeple of the North Church – warning that the British were coming by sea.
Revere and Dawes traversed different routes, made it to Lexington, and warned Hancock and Adams. On the way to Lexington, Revere was detained by British troops and they threatened to blow his brains out, but he was eventually abandoned.
Meanwhile, dawn had broke. In Concord, no more than 70 determined, but hopelessly outnumbered, colonial militia faced down the British troops. Who fired the first shot on the village green is lost to history, but it was a slaughter. Several colonists were killed on the spot. Only one British soldier sustained a small injury. Adams and Hancock eluded capture.
The British soon departed for Lexington where they burned a meeting house and a few supplies. Hundreds of colonial militia confronted the British. A skirmish broke out killing several on each side. Sensing serious jeopardy, the British started their 20 mile march back to Boston. The Americans made them pay. The British were almost continuously harassed by gunfire by colonials who hid in the woods, behind walls, and in homes. The march was a living hell. Desperate British stormed some of the homes and committed atrocities of the highest order. At the end of the day, 9 Americans lay dead, 39 wounded, and 5 missing. The British suffer 73 deaths, 174 injured, and 26 missing. This disaster was far from the decisive victory the British arrogantly expected.
The Americans had proven their resolve to live free or die. We, as the heirs of this brilliant legacy, should determine to keep alive that spirit in our hearts and minds.
Hon. Michael Warren is an Oakland County Michigan Circuit Court Judge, co-founder of Patriot Week (www.PatriotWeek.org), author of America’s Survival Guide (www.AmericasSurvivalGuide.com), and host of the Patriot Lessons: American History & Civics Podcast.