Sunday, October 9, 2011

Lexington, Concord and Revenge

     At the time of the “battle” of Lexington, John Parker was forty-six years old—not too far distant from my own age. Deep in middle age, as some would say, then and now. In 1775, significant portions of the population were eliminated from infectious disease. More American soldiers died from disease in the Revolution than in combat. Parker himself had tuberculosis and would die five months after the battle on September 17, 1775. Captain of the militia (the Lexington Provincial Company) he served in the French and Indian War and participated in the capture of Quebec. The statue of him on the Green at Lexington shows a healthy-looking man in rolled up sleeves, rifle at the ready. He is looking east, towards the British advance. In Parker’s own deposition of the battle, written out four days later, he states that he “immediately ordered our militia to meet on the common in Said Lexington, to consult what to do, and concluded not to be discovered nor to meddle or make with said Regular Troops, (if they should approach) unless they should insult or molest us; and upon their sudden approach I immediately ordered our militia to disperse and not to fire.”   

     At Lexington died Jonas Parker, John Parker’s cousin. He had fired, put his ammunition in his hat at his feet, and while attempting to reload, was killed by British soldiers, run through with a bayonet. This was a personal, up close combat, an evolution of the older pike and spear combat, adapted to the new weapons. Captain Parker had his revenge against the British on their way back to Boston from Concord. In 1825, fifty years later, Elias Phinney’s book The History of the Battle of Lexington on the Morning of the 19th April 1775 was authorized by the citizens of Lexington to put right the then-circulating conventional wisdom that “first blood” was shed at Concord. As Phinney describes it, “Capt. Parker turned aside into the fields, and, as the enemy passed, they were exposed to a most galling and deadly fire from his greatly exasperated men.”

     This is the site of Parker’s Revenge, on the Battle Road between Lexington and Concord. The plaque by the pole identifies the site; go up a trail a bit on the hill and you can see what they saw. The British passed here on their march back from Concord to Boston. Here John Parker and his men lay in ambush the Regulars. Colonel Smith was shot in the leg; Major Pitcairn assumed command. Two British regulars were killed; either one or two militiamen were killed at this site.

     Parker and his militia were encouraged to attack here, following the losses at Lexington, by Reverend Jonas Clark. This cleric wrote the inscription for the monument that today stands, and among other things, said: “The Blood of these Martyrs In the Cause of God and their Country Was the Cement of the Union and these State, then Colonies, and gave the spring to the spirit, firmness, and resolution of their Fellow-Citizens. They rose as one man to revenge their Brethren’s Blood, and at the Point of the Sword, to Assert and Defend their native Rights.”



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