On April 19, 1775, a few shots fired in the Massachusetts towns of Lexington and Concord shook the foundations of the world and heralded the dawn of a new age.
When a few brave minutemen — including at least one slave, Peter Salem — stood their ground on Lexington Green and Concord’s North Bridge and refused to let the British soldiers pass, it must have seemed to the prudent and the fearful like an act of insane futility. How were rag-tag groups of farmers and shopkeepers to defeat the most powerful and best-trained army in the world? And yet the American patriots drove the British back to Boston in shame. There was a long war ahead of the rebels, but they had proved that they were willing to die to defend their freedoms against the ever more tyrannical British Empire.
The famous phrase so often associated with the opening salvos at Lexington and Concord, “the shot heard round the world,” is said to have originated in Ralph Waldo Emerson’s Concord Hymn.
“By the rude bridge that arched the flood,
Their flag to April’s breeze unfurled,
Here once the embattled farmers stood
And fired the shot heard round the world.”
Another American poet who beautifully memorialized the heroics at Lexington and Concord was the great Henry Wadsworth Longfellow. In Paul Revere’s Ride, Longfellow expressed the belief that Americans will always rise against tyranny as they did at Lexington and Concord:
”So through the night rode Paul Revere;
And so through the night went his cry of alarm
To every Middlesex village and farm,—
A cry of defiance, and not of fear,
A voice in the darkness, a knock at the door,
And a word that shall echo forevermore!
For, borne on the night-wind of the Past,
Through all our history, to the last,
In the hour of darkness and peril and need,
The people will waken and listen to hear
The hurrying hoof-beats of that steed,
And the midnight message of Paul Revere.”
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