Chapter 15


One warm April morning, in the year 1775, Harrison Gray Otis, aged nine, a nephew of that James Otis of whom I have told you, was "late to school."

It was all the fault of the soldiers," he said; for, as he tried to cross Tremont Street so as to get into School Street, where was~ his schoolhouse, a corporal frightened the little fellow by turning him back with a gruff, "You can’t get through here, young ‘un. Go around through Court Street."

Tremont Street was full of soldiers. They stretched from Scollay Square to the Common, and the Otis boy did not know what was on foot. He felt it must be something exciting, for the British redcoats in Boston had been kept" on the jump" from various causes since, in the year before, eleven regiments of British soldiers, with artillery and marines, had been quartered in Boston to overawe the rebellious town.

So the Otis boy had to go to school by the long way round; and as he ran into the schoolhouse late, and just a bit frightened and excited over all the soldiers he had seen on Tremont Street, he heard his schoolteacher say sharply and rather excitedly, too, I imagine, "Put away your books. War’s begun; school’s done."




The schoolmaster was right. War had begun, at last; and Massachusetts had begun it. Month by month the bonds had been drawn more tightly around the defiant colony. Enraged at the Boston Massacre and the Boston Tea Party, angered at Samuel Adams and John his cousin, at John Hancock arid other determined and pugnacious Massachusetts men, the English ministry had resolved to punish the refractory Bay colony, and proceeded by a decree called the Boston Port Bill to shut up the port of Boston to all trade until the town should repent and pay for the tea it had destroyed.

But Boston was not in a repentant mood, and did not intend to pay for the tea. The colony supported the town in its refusal. The king sent General Thomas Gage, with a dozen regiments and warships, as military governor, to take charge of affairs, and Boston was in bonds.

The whole country was aroused at this act of tyranny. "We must fight! " said Patrick Henry in Virginia. "There is no retreat but in submission and slavery. Our chains are forged; their clanking may be heard on the plains of Boston. The war is inevitable—and let it come! I repeat it, sir,—let it come! "

Boston did not intend to permit her chains to clank unresisted; Massachusetts refused to recognize the authority or the acts of General Gage. The towns about Boston made up a "relief fund" and sent it in to "the distressed inhabitants of Boston." Salem arid Marblehead, which, as seaports, might have profited by the closing of Boston and its loss of trade, loyally refused to do so, and offered to Boston merchants the free use of their wharfs and stores and warehouses.



The Great and General Court, in session at Salem in spite of Gage’s orders, set itself up as the ruler of the colony and sent delegates to the proposed Continental Congress at Philadelphia. Gage retaliated by denouncing the Great and General Court as open and declared enemies of the king and Parliament, and endeavored to fasten the charges of treason upon such earnest workers for liberty as the two Adamses and Hancock and Warren.

Toward Samuel Adams and John Hancock the general was especially bitter. He called them rebels and traitors, and when orders came to him from England to arrest them for treason and send them to London for trial he hastened to obey.

But Hancock and Adams were not to be caught napping. Hancock was made president of the Provincial Congress, into which the Great and General Court had resolved itself; Adams was earnest and unceasing in his efforts to urge the colonies to resistance. They kept clear of Boston, and on the x 8th of April were both spending the night at the Hancock-Clark house in Lexington, still standing in that famous old town.

Gage had word of this; so he decided to capture them, and, at the same time, break into and destroy or bring away the military stores which the colony had gathered at Concord, eight miles beyond Lexington.

It was not the first powder hunt upon which the British soldiers had been dispatched. Gage had sent wherever he heard that military stores were secreted by the people—to Marshfield and Jamaica Plain and Marblehead and Salem, and out to the present city of Somerville, where the " old Powder House" still stands



in its verdant park, as a memorial of that first open act of war on the part of the British governor.

So the redcoats whom the Otis boy had run against on his way to school on that memorable 19th of April were bound alike on a man hunt and a powder hunt. After his school had been thus quickly "let out," he watched the soldiers from where the Revere House now stands in Bowdoin Square as they paraded through to Washington Street on their roundabout march to Cambridge.

What the Otis boy did not then know, however, was that these especial troops were dispatched as reinforcements to a smaller force which had already been sent in advance, in the dead of night, to march in secret to Lexington and Concord for the capture of the rebel leaders and the secreted stores.

But, secretly as they had slipped away from town, the patriots had been on the watch and were ahead of them. That prince of patriots, Dr. Joseph Warren of Boston (he lived on the spot now occupied by the American House on Hanover Street), had word of the British movement by one of the secret "patriot patrol," and gave warning by a signal lantern in Christ Church steeple to three swift riders across the river—Paul Revere, William Dawes, and Samuel Prescott. By three separate routes the fleet riders galloped through the night to warn the farmers of Middlesex of the British design and to tell Hancock and Adams to be on their guard.

You know what came of it all:

"Listen, my children, and you shall hear

Of the midnight ride of Paul Revere."



Longfellow has told the story, but we hear little of the midnight ride of William Dawes and Samuel Prescott, though Prescott was the only one who made the complete ride and carried the warning through to Concord.

The countryside was roused; Hancock and Adams escaped capture; the battles of Lexington and Concord followed, and all the world soon knew that Massachusetts, on that 19th of April, 1775, had burst her bonds, and that speedily the thirteen colonies of North America would be in arms against the king. The "yeomanry of Middlesex" had lighted the way to liberty.

The yeomanry of Middlesex, returning from their stern hunting of men on that famous retreat from Concord, at once turned the tables upon their persecutors, and stolidly encamped before Boston.



The farmers and fishermen of the other Massachusetts counties joined their Middlesex neighbors, and speedily General Gage and his soldiers found themselves securely shut up in Boston, besieged by fifteen thousand determined New Englanders.

The general proceeded to fortify the town carefully; but he could get little or no help from outside, and he sent to England a hasty appeal for reinforcements. They came; but the colonies also sent on reinforcements to the men of Massachusetts. The Continental Congress at Philadelphia took matters in hand; while Gage, who was as great a blunderhead as his master, King George, went to work to conciliate the colonies in the wrong way, for he issued a ridiculous proclamation, begging them to lay down their arms, and offering pardon to all but those terrible Massachusetts agitators, Samuel Adams and John Hancock.

But before the formation of the continental army and the reinforcements from other colonies the New England volunteers and the Massachusetts minutemen once again showed their pluck and their fighting qualities. For, near Bunker Hill, in Charlestown, on the 17th of June, in 1775, three Massachusetts regiments, with two hundred Connecticut men and John Stark’s New Hampshire volunteers, first threw up earthworks in a night and then defended them against thirty-five hundred picked and disciplined British troops, ably officered and gallantly led.

Thrice did the farmer boys and fisher lads of Massachusetts repulse the red-coated veterans, driving them back from the hay-stuffed rail fence and down the


clubbed muskets, sticks, and stones until they slowly and stubbornly retired across the Neck to Cambridge.

It was a defeat, but in effect it ‘was a victory. For, as has been said, though the British won the battle of Bunker Hill, they lost the thirteen colonies. The battle of Bunker Hill showed the spirit of the Americans and emphasized their certainty of resistance. It gave to the people of all the colonies hope, courage, and determination, and when Washington learned that the men of Massachusetts, behind their frail earthworks, had really stood against the advance and the fire of the splendidly disciplined British regulars, he exclaimed thankfully, "Then the liberties of the country are safe." Bunker Hill has always been a glorious record for Massachusetts.



The colony was making a record for itself elsewhere. The first Continental Congress, convened at Philadelphia, had elected John Hancock of Massachusetts president. The man upon whose head the King of England had set a price as a traitor was made the chief one in the colonial councils, and Benjamin Harrison of Virginia said, as he escorted Hancock to the president’s chair, "Now Great Britain can see how much we care for her proscriptions."

In the second Continental Congress John Adams of Massachusetts nominated George Washington of Virginia as commander in chief of the American army. Thus were the North and South joined in a common cause; the elevation of Hancock and Washington to the chief civil and military offices of the confederation drew the colonies closer together. Virginia and Massachusetts headed the revolt against the crown; they directed the congress and led the army.

Massachusetts at Bunker Hill had shown the world that, rightly led, the American soldiers could win the cause of independence; and George Washington assuming command of the continental army at Cambridge was proof that the soldiers of liberty were to be rightly led.

On Massachusetts soil, encamped before her chief city, George Washington was first to make his mark as a great leader of men. For when, on



the 3d of July, 1775, he took command of the continental army beneath the historic elm at Cambridge, still a cherished landmark, the siege of Boston had fairly begun.

Massachusetts had burst her bonds. Under the leadership of George Washington her fighting men were to drive the forger of her fetters into the sea, defeated, outgeneraled, and outmaneuvered.