He said to his friend, "If the British march
By land or sea from the town to-night,
Hang a lantern aloft in the belfry arch
Of the North Church tower as a signal light,--
One if by land, and two if by sea;
And I on the opposite shore will be,
Ready to ride and spread the alarm
Through every Middlesex village and farm,
For the country folk to be up and to arm."
Paul Revere's Ride
Henry Wadsworth Longfellow
On the evening of April 18th, 1775, two friends, co-conspirators, made plans for rousing the colonial militias in Middlesex County west of Boston. Paul Revere was to row across the harbor to a point outside the city where he would be able to ride a northern route into Middlesex to raise the alarm. William Dawes was to stay in Boston and signal Revere from the belfry of The Old North Church when the 'redcoats' started to move.
They had heard a rumor from an informer within the inner circle of General Sir Thomas Gage, military governor of the Province of Massachusetts Bay, about upcoming troop movements. The Governor General had just recently received orders from William Legge, Earl of Dartmouth, to disarm the colonial militias in Middlesex by seizing their arms and ammunition stored at Lexington and Concord. Gage had done this once before in 1774, just after his arrival from England, and that act had put the militias on a permanent high alert. The present action was scheduled for the 19th of April with the 700 British troops moving late on the 18th.
As Revere waited on the far shore in Charlestown, Dawes hung two lanterns in the Old North Church tower to indicate that British regulars were coming 'by sea' across Boston harbor. Revere took off westward to let the militias know that "The British are coming! The British are coming!" At the same time, Dawes slipped out of Boston and rode the southern route toward Lexington doing the same thing. Why everyone knows about Revere and almost nobody knows about Dawes is my favorite mystery.
At about 5am the British arrived in Lexington and were met by 77 militia and 100 spectators who had gathered to watch the 'festivities'. A British officer rode forward and ordered the militia to disperse and many of them decided to go home at that point. Just then, a shot was fired; no one knows to this day who fired the shot, but it was enough to get the battle started. Following a bayonet charge, the battle of Lexington was 'over' with 8 militia and one British regular dead.
At Concord later that day, perhaps 8am, the British forces clearly did fire the first shot and this was met by effective return fire from the militiamen assembled. The British managed to do some searching for weapons, but found little or nothing to compensate them for their time. By mid-morning, other militia companies began arriving and jumping into the fray. By mid-afternoon, it is estimated there were between 2,000 and 4,000 colonial militia engaging the British troops, although half-heartedly. Many clearly thought this was a minor incident and would operate to chasten the regulars and make them leave the colonials alone. There were enough hardened militia, however, to chase the British troops back to Boston, inflicting 287 casualties along the way.
By the following morning, 20 April 1775, more than 15,000 militia ringed Boston, beseiging it. The War for Independence had begun.
* * * * * * * * *
For the longest time, the identity of the informer within Gage's organization was a mystery. Historians now believe they know who the 'mole' was: Lady Margaret Kemble Gage, the Governor's New Jersey-born wife is now considered the prime suspect.
* * * * * * * * *
Other important events which also happened on April 19th
In 1943, the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising began.
In 1993, the Branch Davidian compound in Waco, TX, was burned to the ground.
In 1995, a bomb exploded at the Alfred Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City.
In 2010 (this year) American citizens, many of them, like me, 3%-ers, will hold a rally in Fort Hunt National Park on the Potomac River south of Washington DC. Many of them will be armed as a sign that (among other things) the federal government no longer enjoys their support. If things go very badly awry, we may get to hear the first shots of the next American Revolution. If things go very well, we will have started our long march back from the edge of darkness. That would be 'a very good thing'.