Minute Man National Historical Park

Long-simmering tensions between American colonists and British regulars finally came to a head on a day that would forever change history.  The day began in the middle of the night, actually, with the famed rides by three brave revolutionaries out into the countryside to warn that the British troops were on their way.  It ended some 20 hours later with 100+ men dead and 200+ men injured.  This is the day – April 19, 1775 – that a bloody revolution began.  

Eight years later it would lead to the birth of a new nation.

Going back to add more color and detail to the story for my two youngest nieces [Hi Elizabeth and Natalie!] who I hope are reading and learning from this ~ girls, here’s your history lesson:

Leading Up To This Day

In the period between 1765-1770, Britain began taxing its American colonies to pay for the French and Indian War.  (This war was known by the rest of the world as the Seven Years War.)  Colonials protested, not believing Britain has the right to tax them.  British soldiers were sent to Boston, tensions mounted, and when they fired into a mob, they killed five colonists in what rebels call the Boston Massacre.

Paul Revere rides out warning locals in the countryside that the British are on their way to seize ammo & weapons
Paul Revere rides out warning the colonists in the countryside that the British were on their way

In 1773-1774 most of the taxes were repealed – all but the tax on tea.  The rebels responded by dumping tea into the harbor – the Boston Tea Party.  Britain then closed the port and put more restrictions on Massachusetts (remember this was still a colony and not yet a state in the United States; that didn’t come until years later) so it was recommended that the local towns get together companies of “minute men” who kept their their weapons ready at all times so they could march on a minute’s notice if need be to defend their colonies.

At the beginning of 1775, tensions were very high.  The British Army was patrolling beyond Boston.  Militia companies and the minute men prepared themselves to fight.  Colonists out in the outskirts of town stockpiled gunpowder and supplies so if conflict did break out they were ready.

April 19, 1775

Paul Revere, a patriot living in Boston, learned that the British Army was preparing to cross the Charles River and march to Concord to capture weapons and ammunition that had been stockpiled there.  He had worked out a code to warn colonists which path these British soldiers would take from Boston to Concord: one lantern would be hung in North Church if they were coming south over the land; two lanterns would be hung if they were taking a ferry across the river and then the northern route out to Concord.

Two lanterns were hung, Revere mounted his horse and took off on the north route; William Dawes galloped along the southern route.  A third rider, Samuel Prescott, joined them in spreading the alarm.  But around 1 a.m. a British patrol surprised them along the road and captured Paul Revere.  Dawes and Prescott got away and kept racing west, arousing the colonials and militia companies along the way.

By 7 a.m., around 700 British soldiers had arrived in Concord and began searching for military supplies.  Several hundred militia men gathered and watched from nearby hills.  Smoke was seen in Concord and was mistakenly thought to be the British burning houses.  It turned out they were burning weapons and ammunition, but this further angered the colonists who confronted the British soldiers at North Bridge outside of Concord around 9:30 a.m.  The British regulars fired warning shots, then a volley of rounds which killed two colonials.  Militia officer John Buttrick, on the front lines at the bridge, ordered his men to return fire; an act of treason against the British government.  This is remembered today as ‘the shot heard ’round the world.’

Battle Road 1775
Fighting along Battle Road as the colonists pushed the British regulars back to Boston

Fighting ensued, and the British regulars retreated.  They regrouped and headed back towards Boston, but they were met by more militia companies waiting for them.  The minute men opened fire at Meriam’s Corner, and so began the battle back to Boston.  In all, some 4,000 colonists poured out of the nearby towns and villages and unleashed incessant fire on the regulars for hours as they drove them back to safety in Charlestown.  

By evening, the colonists surrounded and laid siege to Boston and the Revolutionary War had begun.

Such bravery on the part of these part-time citizen militia who armed themselves and went to battle to defend their communities and their liberties.  The events of April 19, 1775, took Massachusetts and the other colonies a major step closer to Independence.  Casualties in Lexington, then Concord, then on the road back to Boston, marked a turning point in the decade-long struggle.

On July 2, 1775, George Washington, a planter from Virginia, took charge of this army.  Eight months later, on March 17, 1776, British troops evacuated Boston.  In Massachusetts the fighting was over, but the War for Independence had only begun.

As we always do, we thoroughly enjoyed our visit here in yet another of America’s great treasures.  Minute Man National Historical Park truly brings life to the historic events which happened in and around this area.  There are two Visitor Centers in this park.  At the Minute Man Visitor Center, we began our visit with the award-winning multi-media presentation “The Road to Revolution” and commented that if history was made this fascinating in classrooms around the country, we’d have a lot more engaged citizens who truly understand the meanings and value of words like ‘liberty’ and ‘freedom’ and ‘Independence’ – it was outstanding!  The North Bridge Visitor Center features a shorter film that depicts the events that happened there at the North Bridge.

Minute man statue in Lexington, Mass.
Minute man statue in Lexington
At the North Bridge, this statue commemorates  'the shot heard 'round the world'
Minute man statue at the North Bridge to commemorate ‘the shot heard ’round the world’

We then drove along the 5-mile Battle Road Trail, stopping to visit several houses, important locations, and a tavern that played significant roles in the day.  

If anyone is reading this who hasn’t visited this park yet, we highly recommend it, and we would also recommend bringing your bikes to bike along the historical trail.  Both Visitor Centers offer terrific hiking trails, as well, and while the gorgeous fall day beckoned us to stay longer to enjoy more of the nature offered here in this park, our stomachs let us know it was about three hours past lunchtime – my, how time flies when you’re having fun! – so we headed into Concord for some very late lunch.

Thank you to the NPS, rangers and volunteers for making this such a wonderful park!