Tonight is a night of great gravity. If our country properly celebrated the moments of greatest risk, courage, and fortitude, the evening of April 18 every year would be observed much like that of Passover. When the highest point of the fulcrum was reached between Liberty and Tyranny, Freedom and Servitude, our forefathers and foremothers stepped out of the shadows. One widow woke her teenaged son up so he could respond - not knowing if he would survive to bring in the fall harvest. The penalty for opposing the government’s power was capital punishment without trial - by firing squad or being hanged from the nearest tree.
At a time when communication was between written messages and what could be passed by signals within earshot, 14,000 turned out with no prior notice within a matter of 18 and one-half hours.
The people who showed up left their homes, horses in their traces in the fields, they left with children sick in bed with illnesses that were often fatal, they gathered what they had - which often was very little, and set out toward danger and the unknown. They had no health, disability, life, or unemployment insurance, no crop insurance, no social security, and no idea if or when they would ever return.
Some were organized, many were not. Some marched. Some rode. Some ran.
The responders included children, men, women, and among them - not often mentioned - minorities. The oldest responder, thought to be between 78 and 80 years of age, was shot in the face, bludgeoned with the butts of firearms, bayonetted over a dozen times, and left for dead - but not before he took out at least 3 soldiers. (Miraculously, he survived and even fathered more children.)
Of 8 pairs of fathers and sons in one skirmish, 5 pairs were broken by death the next morning. Many of them were shot in the back as they dispersed to their homes after being asked to do so.
Wounds were often fatal due to the lack of medical knowledge and practice. One teenager wounded in the foot suffered a series of amputations from the ankle to the hip over weeks of misery and finally succumbed to gangrene. One school master in his mid-twenties - who was already an amputee - walked over 10 miles and met his fate when he was shot in the stomach. His deacon father read scripture to him and when his father asked if he was sorry he turned out, part of his response was “I die willingly for my country, for I believe now that with God’s help she will be free.”
In the worst area of violence, a small town now called Arlington, the blood was so deep in one house from citizens killed by military that it reportedly washed over the tops of the shoes of those who went to check on them when the fighting was over.
These common people overwhelmed the greatest military force in the world convincingly. Experienced soldiers ran until they were so exhausted that they sat down in the road to wait for their end. Their commanders convinced the troops of this mighty army to stop running in fear at the point of bayonets.
One of the military commanders leading the government troops that day had so much disrespect of these peasants that he had apparently said that any rebellion could be put down by castrating all of the males - that most males would volunteer and the rest would submit, “with just a little prodding.”
That same commander wrote a letter about the events of April 19 and said: “Whoever dares to look at them as an irregular mob will find himself much mistaken. They have men amongst them who know very well what they are about.”
While this 24 hours in history is mentioned in passing from time to time, it rarely receives the observance or reverence it deserves. Part of that is the passage of time, some of it has to do with the decidedly politically-incorrect reasons these common people dared challenge the establishment. But make no mistake, that spirit of Liberty still lives. It is a spark held by a circle of people who are fanning it with the faith that it will again be a roaring blaze.
I, for one, am doing what I can to stay off the sidelines. I do not want to be the person our 2nd President wrote about a year after this day of honor: “Posterity, you will never know how much it cost the present generation to preserve your freedom. I hope you will make good use of it. If you do not, I shall repent in heaven that I ever took half the pains to preserve it.”
How about you? Will you let your children go to bed tonight or tomorrow without telling them about one of the most dramatic and inspiring days in our country’s history? I hope you don’t. I hope you will pass on to them with the respect and focus it so deserves.
Patriot Day - April 19, 1775