The American Revolution Begins: Thousands Watch Patriots' Day Reenactment

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British regulars kill eight colonials in Lexington -- during a reenactment Monday morning. (Curt Nickisch/WBUR)
British regulars kill eight colonials in Lexington -- during a reenactment Monday morning. (Curt Nickisch/WBUR)

Early Monday morning, thousands of people converged around Lexington Common just like they would along Boylston Street a few hours later. Instead of cowbells, there were fifes and drums.

And much the same way people make signs to cheer on marathon runners, onlooker Stephanie Grinley, on hand Monday to watch reenactors commemorate the opening battles of the American Revolution, made a sign for the members of the Massachusetts Militia.

"It's a 'Join or Die' propaganda poster from the American Revolution time period," Grinley said as she held it up and smiled.

In other words: Lobsterbacks, go home!

"Yup," Grinley laughed, "this is our turf!"

The enthusiastic audience is a far cry from what it used to be.

"When we first started coming here, there was nobody here," said Katy Wilsack, of Lexington. "So that was in the early '70s. And so, look at it now, it’s crazy."

As the sun rose over the chilly field, it warmed crowds a dozen people deep. At one place along the perimeter of the battle green, a colonial reenactor was telling onlookers about what they would be seeing.

John Nichols, from Burlington, was dressed as Lexington’s Samuel Hadley. He talked about the scenario of April 19, 1775, when several dozen militia men led by their captain, John Parker, were facing hundreds of British regulars who'd marched on them from Boston.

"'I'm sorry, I'm going to go home,' " Hadley said the militia members must have been thinking. "'This is foolish. This is absolutely foolish.'

"And so I think [Parker] then turns to his men and says, 'Stand your ground. We’ll let them pass by. We’re not going to meddle with them.' And I think it was more of a plea. Otherwise he would have lost the men that were there!"

No one knows for sure what Parker said that day. During the reenactment, the captain said a combination of several different accounts:

"Stand your ground!" the reenactor yelled with the British soldiers at the edge of the green. "Do not fire unless fired upon! Let the troops pass by and do not molest them, unless they make it first!"

What followed is part skirmish, part massacre.

When the smoked cleared, eight colonials were dead, including Samuel Hadley. The rest retreated to Concord, where others were assembling.

The British regulars march on North Bridge in Concord. (Curt Nickisch/WBUR)
The British regulars march on North Bridge in Concord. (Curt Nickisch/WBUR)

Kat Sistare from Somerville got her reinforcements at a pancake breakfast in Lexington. Then she continued on to Concord to watch the second reenactment of the morning at Minute Man National Historical Park.

"Because I’m a geek?" she said, laughing. "Part of what’s wonderful about living up here is having the history around us and being able to be in those places and see those events reenacted is really, really cool to me."

The reenactment was followed by Concord’s Patriots’ Day Parade. Over the same North Bridge contested by colonial rebels in 1775 marched ranks of Girl Scout troops, school bands and local charities.

Lexington’s parade was canceled due to rain this year. But many of the people who came to see the reenactments followed the route of the British retreat back to Boston, so they could take in some of the marathon along Commonwealth Avenue, Beacon and Boylston streets.

Patriots’ Day lives on 240 years later, remembering where "embattled farmers stood, and fired the shot heard round the world."

This article was originally published on April 20, 2015.

This segment aired on April 20, 2015.

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Curt Nickisch Business & Technology Reporter
Curt Nickisch was formerly WBUR's business and technology reporter.



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