Perhaps we felt so immersed in how historic a city Boston is that we forgot to actually go in search of the history.
We were on the tourist trail, on the art trail, on the retail trail and I, for one, was on the dirty martini trail (my first one ever!) but we completely failed to seek out the famed Freedom Trail.
Chastened, but driven by our itinerary to move on up the road toward our next destination, we decided to make amends by heading toward Minute Man National Historic Park where the American Revolutionary War changed the history of our country – and the world.
It was the early morning of April 19, 1775 when, warned the night before by Paul Revere’s ride, seventy of John Parker’s militiamen gathered on Lexington Green to face 800 British soldiers who had been dispatched by British General Thomas Gage to disarm the militias and confiscate their ammunition.
As the redcoats strode onto the green, Captain Parker ordered his troops to disperse. A shot rang out – it’s source remains disputed – and the British fired on the retreating colonists, ultimately killing eight of them.
George Washington wrote in his diary that this day “the first blood was spilt in the dispute with Great Britain” and it has since gone down in history as “the shot heard ’round the world“. But until I stood on Lexington Green myself, I don’t think I fully comprehended this historic moment.
When we parked our car on the street next to the Green – there were only a handful of visitors that Sunday morning and we more or less had it all to ourselves – I initially regarded the charming, small-ish green town square as an opportunity to put a “check in a box”, a dutiful “I can say I’ve been there”.
But when I actually stood in the spot on the Green where the colonists beheld the oncoming British soldiers, I was unexpectedly moved by the experience. Suddenly, it became real.
I could not begin to imagine the courage it took those outnumbered ragtag militiamen to stand where I did in the dappled shade and face down the British. Captain John Parker’s prophetic admonition to his Minutemen is preserved on this memorial stone placed in the spot where they stood:
Just a few steps across the street from this spot is Buckman Tavern, where we were told the Minutemen gathered liquid courage prior to the fateful encounter:
Inside the museum is a gift shop and a room set up to represent the tavern’s interior as it was on that day:
Seven of the eight men killed on the Green that day are buried beneath this obelisk erected in 1799:
From there the battle spilled to Concord and the road back to Boston. And from there to the perilous, costly war that finally bought our freedom when the British recognized our independence in 1783.
We’ve all (those of us whose school curriculum actually taught history, that is) heard the story so many times it almost seems like a fable. But it felt very, very real to stand on Lexington Green that day and I am so grateful to have had the opportunity. In driving time it was just half an hour from Boston, but it was an experience of almost 250 years in time travel.