HOW MASSACHUSETTS BURST HER BONDS.
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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.