By April of 1775, tensions between the citizens of the Province of Massachusetts Bay and the British soldiers who were occupying the colony had reached the boiling point. The Boston Tea Party of 1773, where colonists protested British taxes that had been levied against them despite the fact that they had no representation in Parliament in London, escalated tensions between the colonies and Britain. The British government responded by passing a series of laws called the Coercive Acts (known in the Americas as the Intolerable Acts). Of the four acts, the most objectionable to the colonists were two: one which called for closing the port of Boston until the tea companies were reimbursed for the dumping of their products into the Boston Harbor, and the other a military government taking control of Massachusetts Bay. Colonial militias formed and began stockpiling armaments in the town of Concord, approximately 19 miles west of Boston. Learning of this, General Thomas Gage, British military governor of Massachusetts, dispatched a force to Concord to seize the weapons and destroy them.
The colonists had well-placed sources who informed them of Gage’s decision, however, and several leaders of the rebellion rode from Boston to Concord to warn the militias of the impending British attack. Before departing for Concord, one of the leaders, a local silversmith named Paul Revere, instructed that two lanterns be lit in the steeple of the Old North Church to warn residents of nearby Charlestown of British Army movements. The next day, April 19th, British forces first encountered rebel militias in the town of Lexington. The two sides engaged in a small skirmish and the first shots were fired of the American Revolution. The British forces then pressed on to the town of Concord, about two miles to the west. There, they secured the North Bridge which spans the confluence of the Assabet and Sudbury rivers. What the British forces did not realize, however, was that over 400 Minutemen (militia members who were so named for their readiness to fight “in a minute”) were waiting on the hills overlooking the bridge. These citizen-soldiers descended upon the British forces and the first major battle of the Revolution began. The Minutemen won a surprising victory, forcing the far larger British force into a hasty retreat toward Boston. Militia members continued to harass the British forces during the retreat, and the British were only saved from total destruction by another force that Gage had sent west to assist. These two battles on a day in mid-April would ultimately lead to the independence of America, and the founding of the United States (via Wikipedia).
When I was in graduate school several years ago, I had briefly visited Concord, but had only seen a small portion of the battlefield. Overseen by the National Park Service, Minute Man National Historic Park, which begins in Lexington, Massachusetts, goes through Lincoln, and ends in Concord, is a well-preserved battlefield that lets you step back in time to learn about the beginnings of this country. After several days of poor weather, I awoke on Sunday to a beautiful spring day, and decided grab my camera and head to this important destination.
Checking my map before heading home, I spotted one other cool site nearby: Walden Pond. Formed by retreating glaciers 10-12,000 years ago, Walden Pond is a beautiful state park. First used by Native Americans for fishing, Walden Pond is now most closely associated with transcendentalist author Henry Thoreau, whose book Walden (1854) details his two years living in the woods beside the pond, as well as the personal philosophies he developed during that time. The location of Thoreau’s cabin (built on land owned by his friend Ralph Waldo Emerson) was discovered in 1945, and has since been a historic landmark. I parked my car and headed about a half mile into the woods, to find this special place.
I returned home exhausted from spending much of my day hiking, but also in awe of seeing such amazing historical sites less than an hour from my home. Both Minute Man National Historical Park and Walden Pond are open year-round, and are free. For anyone interested in American history, both of these sites are must-see destinations.
Thank you for coming along on another Voyage of DH!