Tuesday, February 10, 2009


Located in upstate New York on the shores of Lake Champlain, Fort Ticonderoga was built in 1755 by the French, captured by the British in 1759, and then captured by colonial militias in 1775.


Colonial militias? 1775? That can mean only one thing, dear readers.

American Revolutionary War history!

But first, a bit of “pre” history. Whenever France and Great Britain went to war in Europe (which was frequently), there was very often a corresponding war in their respective North American colonies. Four of them, in fact. Five, if you count the American Revolution (but in that war, the French were mainly helping us fight the British).

The story of Fort Ticonderoga begins during the fourth war: the French and Indian War (called the Seven Years War in Europe). In the early 1750s, the North American colonies of both the French and the British were expanding and looking to expand even further. One special area that each country coveted was Lake Champlain (which today forms part of the border between New York and Vermont). The lake (along with neighboring Lake George) was a vital travel route in colonial times as the two lakes provided a passage between the French-controlled Saint Lawrence River Valley and the British-controlled Hudson River Valley. Whoever controlled Lake Champlain would control the trade routes between the two valleys. Definitely something worth fighting for.

France and Great Britain had been contesting this area as early as the 1690s, but the conflict escalated with the French and Indian War. So in 1755, France built a fort at the narrows at the southern end of Lake Champlain and called it Fort Carillon. Today, we know it as Fort Ticonderoga.

Fort Ticonderoga

Lake Champlain from one of Fort Ticonderoga's Ramparts

In 1758, the French - with only 3,500 soldiers – successfully defended the fort from a British army numbering 16,000 (this would be the greatest victory for France during the French and Indian War).

But the following year, the British returned, drove the French from the fort and renamed it Fort Ticonderoga (which is derived from an Iroquois word meaning “at the junction of two waterways”).

Fast forward 16 years to early May of 1775. It’s now been just a couple of weeks since the “shot heard ‘round the world” was fired at the North Bridge in Concord, Massachusetts.

The famous Siege of Boston is well under way. The British soldiers who had retreated from Concord with enraged New England militias right on their heels are now trapped in Boston as the militias surround the town and prevent any more movement by the British troops.

Meanwhile, in upstate New York, Fort Ticonderoga is still in British hands. But, since the end of the French and Indian War in 1763, has been garrisoned by only a small number of British soldiers. It is well known to the colonial militias that the fort has large stores of munitions. Just what all those militias need, now that they’re fighting a war against the British.

Lots of cannon...

...and lots of mortars. Just what a fledgling rebel army needs!

A close-up of one of the French mortars.
How ironic that a thing of war can also be a thing of beauty.

So there is Fort Ticonderoga with all its artillery. Enter Ethan Allen and his Green Mountain Boys of Vermont.

And enter Colonel Benedict Arnold and some of his Massachusetts militia. Yes, THAT Benedict Arnold. Prior to his decision to switch sides, Arnold was an earnest supporter of the colonial rebellion against Britain and a very respected military officer.

So Allen and Arnold set out – completely independently of each other - to capture Fort Ticonderoga and claim all the fort’s armaments for colonial use. They meet up, join forces, and on May 10, 1775, basically knock on the front door of the fort and capture it.

“Capture of Fort Ticonderoga” by Alozo Chappel

It really must be mentioned here that the ease with which Allen and Arnold captured Fort Ticonderoga was due in part to the fact that they arrived at the fort at dawn, while much of the garrison was still sleeping. It also didn’t hurt that none of the inhabitants of the fort was aware of what had occurred in Lexington and Concord several weeks earlier and had no idea that their counterparts in Boston were under siege. In short, the British at Fort Ticonderoga had no idea that Britain was now at war with its North American colonies.

Much has been written about all that happened after the fort was captured and you can find some great books, if you’re interested, that read like thrilling adventure novels. And much has been written about the widely different paths Ethan Allen and Benedict Arnold took after their capture of Fort Ticonderoga. Benedict Arnold’s story, especially, is very compelling.

But back to the fort. With the capture of the fort, the colonial forces did, indeed, acquire a large supply of munitions, including lots of cannon. Six months later, in November of 1775 (and I still don’t understand why it took so long), George Washington (who was by this time Commander of the Continental Army) realized his troops simply didn’t have the munitions necessary to successfully continue the Siege of Boston. So he sent Henry Knox, a 25 year old bookseller-turned-soldier, to Fort Ticonderoga to retrieve some of the heavy artillery that was there.

I pause here to ask you to consider the following: it’s roughly 300 miles from Boston to Fort Ticonderoga. It’s November. It’s cold and it’s snowy. And it’s 1775. This young man has just been asked by the Commander of the Continental Army to go to upstate New York and bring back to Boston roughly 60 tons of artillery. In the snow. In 1775. There are no cargo planes. There are no trucks. How do you do something like that?

Here's how...

“The Nobel Train of Artillery” by Tom Lovell

With oxen and sledges across frozen lakes and rivers, through ice and snow. Now that’s impressive!

It took 56 days to bring the cannon back to Boston. But once they were placed on a hill overlooking the city and pointing right at the British fleet in Boston Harbor, it took only 10 days for the British to decide to withdraw from the city.

In what is now known as Evacuation Day, the British left Boston on March 17th, 1776. And I bet you thought it was St. Patrick’s Day that Bostonians celebrate on March 17th!

Unfortunately, the colonial occupation of Fort Ticonderoga did not last long. British troops recaptured it in July of 1777. But by then, Fort Ticonderoga had given the colonial rebels what they wanted, what they most needed.

The British abandoned the fort in November of 1777, almost completely destroying it before they left. It was eventually reoccupied by the British, but then abandoned again in 1781.

The fort subsequently and sadly fell into ruins. It eventually became the property of the state of New York, changed hands a number of times and finally was sold to a man named William Pell in 1820.

"The Ruins of Fort Ticonderoga" by the historian Benson John Lossing from his "Pictorial Field-Book of the Revolution" published in 1853.

William Pell’s descendants began restoring the grand old fort in 1908 and it was opened to the public the following year. In addition to the fort itself, the buildings are full of amazing collections pertaining to the French and Indian War and the American Revolution. There are books, maps, military manuals, 18th century British and American newspapers, letters, diaries, paintings, photographs, military uniforms, weapons (nearly 1,800 muskets, bayonets, pistols and swords, along with cannon and mortars) and a truly unique collection of engraved powder horns from the late 1700s.

Used to safely carry gun powder, powder horns were generally created from cow or bison horns.

If made correctly, a powder horn is both airtight and waterproof. Engraved powder horns from the 18th century are classified as a unique colonial American art form.

Fort Ticonderoga is a remarkable place and brings alive a remarkable time in the history of our country. Art and I really enjoyed our time there and highly recommend it to anyone.

And if you happen to be one of those folks who is a bit nuts about early American history (do we know any of those?), then all you’ll need to do is read the plaque that greets you as you enter the fort.

Knowing you are walking in the footsteps of George Washington and Ben Franklin and Ethan Allen and Henry Knox (among others) is both thrilling and humbling.

Not a bad way to spend a day.

--- Barbara (back home in Solvang)

Sunday, February 8, 2009

The New England Autumn

One of our major goals for this trip was to experience the New England fall colors. As we were leaving Canada we started looking at the online foliage reports. Because it seemed to be too early, we first headed down to the Boston area and further south, but kept watching foliage reports. By late September, things looked like the fall color was starting to develop, so we headed up to the White Mountains in New Hampshire. Though the weather was mostly overcast and damp, we were still able see the trees near their peak color. For somebody from Southern California, this was a most amazing spectacle.

One of our stops was the voting room at Dixville Notch. The small village of Dixville Notch, New Hampshire, holds the distinction of always providing the first voting return in national elections. The entire voting population gathers in this room at the Balsams Hotel the night before election day. Just after midnight, they all vote, close the polls, count the votes and submit their election results.

While we were in the area, we had to make the drive to the top of Mount Washington, even though we were warned it was not clear on top. On April 12, 1934, the observatory atop Mount Washington recorded a wind speed of 231 MPH! This record still stands as the highest recorded surface wind speed anywhere. The building in the above, left picture actually has large chains over the top over the building to insure it is held down. Besides the toll road that we drove, there is also a cog railway that provides excursions up and down the mountain.

Just a little more fall color from New Hampshire.


After a few days in the White Mountains of New Hampshire, we headed over to the area around the village of Stowe in northern Vermont.

A very pretty highway travels north from Stowe and crosses over a narrow mountain pass called Smuggler's Notch. Smuggler's Notch was used to smuggle English goods from Canada after the American Revolution. It was also used during Prohibition to smuggle alcohol from Canada.

The area around Stowe is extremely picturesque. The area is also popular for downhill sking in the wintertime.

We'd really like to visit this area again when the skies are clear!

Saturday, February 7, 2009

"Into the Mystic"

The southern coast of Connecticut has a long and rich maritime history. Two locations we visited were the U.S. Navy Submarine Force Museum and the Mystic Seaport Museum.

The U.S. Navy Submarine Force Museum is the home of the USS Nautilus, which was the first atomic powered submarine and changed the nature of submarine operations. The Nautilus was the first vessel to reach the North Pole, and it did so by sailing UNDER the Arctic ice pack.

Space in a submarine is limited, so the accomodations are pretty tight.

Having this much battery capacity would be great, but the weight might put our RV a little over our weight limit!

The "facilities" looked pretty familiar to these RV travelers.


The Mystic Seaport Museum is dedicated to preserving America's maritime heritage, and has an awesome collection of sailing vessels and other maritime artifacts. We found this museum to be absolutely fascinating.

The museum is set up as a seaport village. Most of the buildings are historic structures from the area that have been moved here.

The museum has a large lift so that they can move vessels between the Mystic River and their drydocks. When we were there, they were just starting a refurbishment of the Gloucester schooner the L.A. Dunton.

This is the Charles W. Morgan, the last surviving American wooden whaling ship.

Many of the buildings were businesses common in the past. Many of them had interpretive staff to talk about the business. This building was a printing business with several old printing presses along with racks of type and other things needed for printing.

This shop was a great example of life before electric motors. Overhead shafts provided power to equipment using a system of belts. I imagine workers had to be very careful to keep clothing and tools from getting caught in the belts and pulleys.

This is a visit we highly recommend. Plan on spending at least one full day.

Friday, February 6, 2009

Poking Around Plymouth, Massachusetts

One of the things Art and I love about traveling is the opportunity it offers us for learning.

Especially about history (no surprise there!).

Like many folks, we enjoy learning about events and people we had not been aware of before and we truly appreciate re-learning that which we may have forgotten over the years. We also find it great fun to learn about those bits of history that - for whatever reasons - were left on the editing room floor when many school history text books were written.

But what we really relish are the occasions when we learn things that set the record straight (our revelation regarding Paul Revere comes to mind).

And that’s why our day in Plymouth, Massachusetts (September 19, 2008), was so satisfying. That day, we got it all. We not only learned new “stuff” about the Mayflower and the “Pilgrims” (a term that was not generally used until the 1800s...who knew?) and their settlement at Plymouth, we also were reminded of things we had forgotten, we learned about things that we should have learned way back when, and we were able to correct some misinformation that we had harbored in our heads for years.

For example, did you know that of the 102 passengers who sailed on the Mayflower, only 41 of them were English Separatists, the folks who had arranged for the voyage to the New World? Only 41!

Yet I’m willing to bet that many folks (including me) grew up with the idea (fostered by the history books of my youth) that the entire ship was filled with folks fleeing religious persecution.

So who were the other people on board the Mayflower? They were individuals or families simply hoping for a better life in a new colony, or businessmen hoping to make some profit in that new colony.

Yes, the Separatists’ quest to find a place to worship as they chose was an important part of the story of the very first colony in New England. But it’s equally important to acknowledge that it is only part of that story.

Our day in Plymouth told us (as Paul Harvey would say) “the rest of the story.” We began with a visit to the Mayflower II, an authentic replica of the original ship.

As you can tell from the photo, it was not a very large ship. Actually a cargo ship, the Mayflower spent 66 days in the fall of 1620 crossing the often rough Atlantic Ocean during hurricane season with its 102 passengers and 30 crew members.

And if one did not already have an appreciation for what these folks were willing to endure in their pursuit of a better life for themselves and their children, then just consider this: for the sake of their own safety and that of the crew, the passengers were mostly confined to their very crowded quarters below deck. It was cold and dark (no candles allowed, again for safety’s sake) and very, very damp. And that was when the seas were calm!

Our next stop was the Plimoth Plantation, a wonderful living history museum that offers a glimpse into the world of both the original New England colonists and the Wampanoag People (the Native Americans who were living in what is now the Plymouth area at the time of the Mayflower’s arrival).

The moment you walk through the gate of what is called the English Village, you are immersed in the year 1627. Much research went into what is on display in the village and it’s thrilling (especially for a history junkie) to know that you are getting a truly authentic look at how the first New England colonists lived.

You are encouraged to go from house to house and talk to the village’s “residents”. The costumed role players have taken on the names, life histories and viewpoints of the folks who actually lived in Plymouth in 1627. They will joke with you, debate with you, gossip with you and answer any and all questions you may have about life in 1627.

It was engaging, it was entertaining and it was altogether very satisfying. So, if you ever find yourself in Plymouth, Massachusetts, we heartily encourage you to put the Mayflower II and the Plimoth Plantation on your "must see" list. We promise you, you will get a thoroughly enjoyable education and very possibly a re-education in what life was like for our first New England colonists.

--- Barbara (back home in Solvang)

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Will the Real Salem, Massachusetts, Please Stand Up?

Chances are pretty good that when you see or hear the words "Salem, Massachusetts" you think of witches. And that's understandable, since the infamous witch trials of 1692 are a valid part of Salem's history.

But consider this...

By the 1640s (that's 135 years before the first shots of the American Revolution were fired in Lexington), ships from Salem, Massachusetts, were carrying New England lumber and Atlantic cod down to the West Indies. There the lumber and cod would be traded for rum and molasses which would then be either sailed back home to Salem or sailed to Europe where they were traded for manufactured goods that were then brought back home. This profitable trade continued until England, in the 1770s, imposed upon the colonies a series of duties and taxes and altogether very restrictive trade regulations. But woe to the country that gets between a wealthy shipowner and his profits. Many of Salem's shipowners subsequently became the prime financial backers of the American Revolution.

And consider this...

When the American Revolution began, the fledgling Continental Navy had a grand total of 25 ships. Certainly not much of a threat to the Royal Navy. So the Continental Congress got creative. Firstly, they authorized colonial shipowners to prey on English merchant ships during their own commercial voyages. Then they licensed privateers to attack and capture English ships. By war's end, Salem had supplied more sailors and ships during the American Revolution than any other North American colonial port.

And then there's this...

Shortly after the conclusion of the American Revolution, England closed its ports in the West Indies to American shipping. A spiteful move, yes, but not surprising. It would have been devastating to those American ports whose economies were based on trade, were it not for the bold merchants of Salem. They would not be deterred. They began to send Salem's ships to Russia, to the Philippines and even to the East Indies. From 1790 until the War of 1812, Salem's trade, especially with the East Indies, made it one of the richest cities in our very young country.

So why isn't this information as well known as the Salem witch trials?

Why does one year of witch trials trump thirty years of incredibly lucrative trading that helped to pay, through customs taxes, the bills of our fledgling government?

Is it that shipping and trading are simply not as interesting, not as sensational as witches?

Then more's the pity, because the 170+ years of maritime history in Salem, Massachusetts, had a much more profound effect on the development of our country than a year of hysteria.

So here's the question. What represents the real Salem, Massachusetts?


Or this?

I've made my choice.

End of rant.

--- Barbara (currently in Pomona, California)
Day 163
Total miles: 14,717

Saturday, November 15, 2008

Old Ironsides

In 1794 Congress authorized the construction of 6 frigates to defend the maritime interests of the fledgling country. One of these was named the USS Constitution. Launched in 1797, she first put to sea in 1798. During the war of 1812, after cannon shot were seen glancing off of her sides, the ship earned the nickname "Old Ironsides". Due to continuing public support, the navy has refurbished the ship a number of times, and it is now the oldest continuously commissioned ship still serving in the world.

I had been through Boston for short periods on a number of business trips, but had never had the chance to tour the grand old ship, and Barbara had never been to Boston. So when we finally got into Boston proper on this trip, one of the top things on my list was to visit the USS Constitution. Normally only the top deck can be visited unless part of a guided tour, which visits the top 3 decks. But because of refurbishment going on, there were no tours and the public was allowed to wander all three top decks as they wished. There were a few navy personnel in early navy uniforms available to answer questions.

The USS Constitution floating at dock in Boston Harbor.

Some of the cannon aboard the ship.

Imagine spending several months sleeping like this.

This fellow was an actual physician who was enjoying spending his 2 weeks of active duty in the reserve as an 18th century doctor for the ship tours.

With major renovation work being done on the top deck, many of the cannon and much of the rigging had been taken off the ship.

We found this ship to be a direct link to our post revolutionary history, and thoroughly enjoyed our visit. This is a must do for those interested in early American history.

Monday, October 27, 2008

Don't Know Much About History...Part II

We're back!

Not back home (yet), but back to blogging after a month-long hiatus. During that month, we continued to explore the eastern United States (Boston, Plymouth, Philadelphia, Washington D.C., among other places) and we visited friends and family. We have some catching up to do and so I'll get right to it.

But first, a warning: Thar be history ahead, mateys!



"Listen my children and you shall hear of the midnight ride of Paul Revere..."

So wrote Henry Wadsworth Longfellow in 1863.

"Paul Revere? Lexington? Concord? The American Revolution? Yawn. Who cares?"

So thought me in the 1950s. And the 1960s. And the 1970s.

Then a funny thing happened. Once I had lived long enough to have some history myself, I realized how important history really is. What happened long ago really does have an impact on us today. Who knew?

And so, ever since my historical epiphany, I've been rather interested in history (understatement ;-D ). Yet there were still some events that existed for me only in history books. They remained as dry as the pages their pertinent names and dates were printed on. I previously blogged about one of those events: the Viking presence in North America 500 years before the 1492 voyage of Christopher Columbus. That came alive for me when we visited L'Anse aux Meadows, the site of a 1,000 year old Viking settlement in Newfoundland. There's nothing like walking in the footsteps of Leif Ericsson, sitting in what was his longhouse, and seeing actual archaeological artifacts from that time to make you a believer.

And now I'm delighted to say that I can add yet another entry to my list of "Historical Events That I Now Give A Damn About."

The American Revolution.

It became real for me the day Art and I visited the villages of Lexington and Concord in Massachusetts. Lexington and Concord...where, on April 19, 1775, militias made up of farmers and shopkeepers and clergy and doctors took up arms - for the first time - against their King and the British military. Lexington and Concord...where the first shots were fired, where the first fatalities were recorded. Where the American Revolution began.

I give full credit to Minute Man National Historic Park for my American Revolution awakening. The park is located between Lexington and Concord, and the folks there have taken a very busy and pivotal day in the history of our country and have created interpretive exhibits and preserved historical sites (including battlefields) that clearly and compellingly tell the story of that very significant day. The people, the places, the events of April 19, 1775, are now so real to me that it feels like it must have happened mere months ago, not 233 years ago.

I found myself responding especially to those exhibits that cast some of the well known participants of the American Revolution (in particular, Samuel Adams and John Hancock) in a new and much more realistic light. Ironically, it was seeing these folks as mere mortals instead of the larger-than-life heroes they usually are portrayed as (especially in elementary and high school history books) that made them so much more real to me, so much more interesting.

In addition, I was fascinated by the stories that gave long overdue credit to people who played highly significant roles in the American Revolution, but somehow, and sadly, never made it into the history textbooks. At least not the basic ones I had while in school. I was especially taken with the story of Dr. Samuel Prescott.

Dr. Prescott lived in Concord, which is west of Lexington (which is northwest of Boston...trust me, this is important to the timing of what's to come). On the night of April 18th, 1775, the good doctor was in Lexington, courting his lady love who lived there (yes, courting...remember, this was the 1700s ;-D ). But their courting was put on hold when they received the news that Paul Revere had arrived in Lexington with word that British troops (known as Regulars) were on the move west, toward Concord. They were marching under orders from General Thomas Gage, Britain's top man in Massachusetts at the time, and were to seize and destroy military stores and equipment that General Gage knew were stockpiled in Concord.

Back in the 1770s, the most direct route from Boston to Concord was through Lexington, so Revere wanted to warn the good folks of Lexington that 700 British soldiers would soon be marching through their small village. But Revere also had another reason for stopping in Lexington that night. Samuel Adams and John Hancock - two of the colonial rebels' biggest guns and sharpest thorns in the side of King George III - were guests of Lexington's parson that night. There were real concerns that the British Regulars were also on the lookout for Adams and Hancock with the intent of arresting them.

But back to our Dr. Prescott. Hearing the news that the British troops were on the way to his town, he bid his lady love goodbye and headed back home. He soon caught up with Revere, who was now, having delivered his warning to Lexington and Adams and Hancock, on his way further west to Concord. But Paul Revere was not alone on this leg of his ride. He was accompanied by William Dawes, another midnight rider who had been dispatched from Boston at the same time as Revere. Dr. Prescott's timing in meeting up with Revere and Dawes was perfect, for the three men soon met up with a group of British soldiers. The outcome?

Paul Revere was captured. He never made it to Concord.

William Dawes escaped, but was thrown from his horse and walked back to Lexington. He never made it to Concord, either.

And Dr. Samuel Prescott? He also escaped and was the only one to successfully make it to Concord with the news that 700 British troops were on their way.

Well, then.

That will teach me to learn history from a poem. For in Longfellow's poem, there is no mention of William Dawes. And - even more significant, I feel - there is no mention of Dr. Samuel Prescott. Longfellow has Paul Revere - and Paul Revere only - reaching Concord. What is up with that? And with all due respect to Mr. Revere, he (and William Dawes) had volunteered for this potentially dangerous mission. But Dr. Prescott was just a young doctor, out late (very late) courting his gal. He just happened to be in the right place at the right time to help. And he did. Now THAT would make a great poem.

Now for some "Midnight Ride Trivia" (because you never know...you just might find yourself on "Jeopardy" one day with the category of "Famous Midnight Rides")...

Firstly, as Revere and Dawes rode through the countryside on their different paths to Lexington, they warned folks in all the small villages along the way. Many residents of those villages then set out on horseback to deliver warnings to yet other villages. It is believed that by the end of the night, there may have been as many as 40 "midnight riders" galloping throughout the immediate countryside!

In addition, contrary to what I have believed most of my life, Paul Revere did not shout out "The British are coming! The British are coming!" as he rode through the villages. For one thing, the colonial rebels really didn't want any British patrols in the area to know that THEY knew that 700 British soldiers were headed towards Concord. Also, the residents of all these villages were all still British subjects and many still considered themselves British. So to shout out "The British are coming!" would not have been all that alarming.

Paul Revere's warning (according to Paul Revere himself and to eyewitness accounts, and not shouted, but personally delivered to members of the various village militias) was "The Regulars are coming out."

Yeah, I know. It doesn't have the same ring to it.

Now for a few photos...

Captain James Parker

This statue, on the Lexington Battle Green, pays tribute to Captain James Parker - farmer, former soldier in the French and Indian War and commander of the Lexington militia on April 19, 1775.

The Lexington Common, later renamed the Lexington Battle Green

This is the very spot where Captain James Parker and 77 members of the Lexington militia stood as 700 British Regulars marched down the road towards them. Except for the fact that they had to march right by it, the small village of Lexington was of very little interest to the British troops on the morning of April 19, 1775.

But Captain Parker and his men had decided to make a statement. So there they stood, muskets at their sides, on the Lexington Common as dawn approached. There were no plans to stop the British troops and Captain Parker had ordered his men not to fire. But still, there they stood.

Many historians believe that as experienced a soldier as Captain Parker was, he would have known that the British troops would not just simply march past a group of armed men. He would have known there would be some interaction. So what was Captain Parker thinking? That question can actually be answered by posing yet another question. What was Samuel Adams thinking?

Remember, Samuel Adams was in Lexington when Paul Revere arrived with his news about the British regulars moving towards Concord. He had worked passionately and tirelessly for ten years to keep the idea of rebellion against Britain alive in the colonies. In early 1775, he had been increasingly dismayed by the colonists' apathy, even in British-beleaguered Massachusetts. He needed something to happen, something outrageous, something that would convert that apathy to outrage. And the outrage to rebellion.

So is it possible Adams believed the advancing British troops might provide the "wake up and smell the coffee" event he had been waiting for? Was he behind the potentially inflammatory decision for 77 men to face off against 700?

Many historians think so.

But Captain James Parker - not Samuel Adams - was responsible for the safety of the men in the militia. All of them neighbors, many of them relatives. So when the British major in command of the first group of Regulars to reach Lexington ordered his troops to move from the road and onto the Lexington Common (he was not about to file by this armed militia - no matter how small it was - and then have them at his rear), and when he then ordered the Regulars to surround and disarm the militia, Captain Parker made the only decision he could. He ordered his men to disperse. He also - and this is very important - ordered them not to fire. Equally important is the fact that the British major had also ordered his men not to fire.

It was perhaps not what Samuel Adams had in mind, but what happened next served his cause just as well.

Someone - and to this day, no one knows who - did fire their musket. The British soldiers then broke ranks and began firing at random, ignoring orders from their own officers to stop. Not surprisingly, there was return fire from the militia. By the time the British troops were back under control, eight Lexington militia members lay dead. One British soldier was wounded.

After the disastrous unplanned stop in Lexington, the British Regulars continued on to their primary destination of Concord.

Upon reaching Concord, around 7:00 A.M., the commander of the Regulars separated them into three groups. This division proved critical two hours later.

One group was ordered to stay in the village of Concord to search for and destroy military supplies. This they did with - according to many colonial eyewitness reports - a great amount of courtesy. Another group was ordered to cross the North Bridge, west of the village, and search for and destroy military stores and equipment that were known to be hidden at the farm of Concord's militia commander, Colonel James Barrett. The final (and smallest) group was ordered to stay at and guard the North Bridge in order to keep the militia - who were gathered on a ridge just west of the bridge, just watching the British soldiers - away from the village.

The North Bridge over the Concord River (complete with a "redcoat"!)

According to many historical accounts, the British Regulars were having a much easier time of it in Concord until two things happened. Firstly, the numbers of militia present on that ridge grew steadily as men from villages to the west of Concord joined them there. The news of the British army's mission had been taken far beyond Concord itself. And, not surprisingly, word was now spreading quickly about what had taken place in Lexington at dawn.

The second thing that happened was this: a decision was made by the British troops in the village to burn any wooden "contraband" they found, rather than simply smash it. The smoke rising from the bonfires set for this purpose was spotted by the ever-growing numbers of now seriously concerned militias on the ridge.

There was real fear that the British Regulars were setting fire to the entire town. By this time, the number of men on the ridge had grown to 400. They now outnumbered the British troops stationed at and around the North Bridge, 4 to 1. Around 9:00 A.M., with orders from Colonel Barrett to not fire unless fired upon, the combined militias (now regarded as the first American army under a unified commander ever to take the field) began moving down the ridge towards the North Bridge.

The 84 British troops at the bridge were on the west side of it, with the river and the bridge at their back. Not a prime position for them to be in as 400 angry men advanced towards them. So the British soldiers scurried back across the bridge and attempted to get in a defensive formation to prevent the militia from advancing any further. As in Lexington, a shot was fired. But unlike Lexington, depositions taken from members of the colonial militia, as well as British soldiers, point to a warning shot being fired by one of the Regulars. That shot was followed by others from the British before their commanding officer could stop them.

Two minutemen were hit and killed, and four more were wounded. The militia was then ordered to return fire. Or, to phrase it in a different way, for the first time in the North American British colonies, British subjects were ordered to fire upon British soldiers, killing three of them.

The "shot heard round the world." There was no turning back now.

The story of what happened next, as the remaining British soldiers attempted to make their way back to Boston from Concord, has been told in countless books. If you, perchance, have had your interest in early American history piqued by what happened at Lexington and Concord (as I obviously had), I encourage you to search out a couple of those books. Treat yourself to a rip-roaring adventure that ultimately led to the creation of our United States.

The Minuteman Statue

In 1875, on the 100th anniversary of the the battle at North Bridge, a contest was held to create a monument honoring the minutemen and the militia. A young man from Concord by the name of Daniel Chester French won the contest. The Minuteman statue is cast from bronze that was melted down from Civil War cannons. Daniel Chester French went on to become a great sculptor and is perhaps best known for the seated Abraham Lincoln statue in the Lincoln Memorial in Washington D.C.

The statue depicts a farmer who leaves his plow and picks up his musket to defend his land and his liberty. The statue does not represent a particular person (like the Lexington statue of Captain James Parker), but rather is representative of the nature of the minutemen, many of whom were farmers. It is known, though, that Daniel Chester French did make sketches of some of the descendants of the first colonial killed at the North Bridge.

These days, the terms militia and minutemen are often used interchangeably. But back in the 1700s, there was a definite difference between the two. All minutemen were members of the militia, but not all militia were minutemen. Minutemen were selected - based on their physical strength and reliability - from a town's militia to form a special force. Usually about 1/4 of a village's militia would serve as minutemen.

Now to wrap up this history-in-a-nutshell lesson (are those sighs of relief I hear? ;-D ), I earlier mentioned "the shot heard round the world." A famous phrase that no doubt most of us associate with the American Revolution. But many folks (including me, prior to our visit to Lexington and Concord) were uncertain as to whether the "shot" referred to Lexington (where the first shots of April 19, 1775, were fired), or to Concord (where the order to fire upon British troops was first ordered).

We learned that the phrase comes from a poem titled "Concord Hymn" by Ralph Waldo Emerson, written in 1837 for the dedication of a monument on the North Bridge in Concord. Emerson's grandfather was at North Bridge on April 19, 1775, and their family home is within sight of the bridge. Here is the first stanza of that poem:

By the rude bridge that arched the flood,
Their flag to April’s breeze unfurled,
Here once the embattled farmers stood,
And fired the shot heard round the world.

In the end - and this is only my opinion - it doesn't really matter where that shot was fired. The fact that it was fired at all is what is truly important. The fact that a bunch of British colonials bravely decided that the rights of their family and friends and neighbors were worth risking their lives for...that is what I take from this poem. And that is what I take - humbly and appreciatively - from our visit to Lexington and Concord.

If you have read this entire blog entry, I thank you. I have discovered that I cannot help myself when it comes to history...I am smitten.

--- Barbara (currently near Knoxville, Tennessee)
Day 140
Total miles: 11, 558