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One if by land, and two if by sea;
And I on the opposite shore will be,
Ready to ride and spread the alarm
Through every Middlesex, village and farm,
For the country folk to be up and to arm.

from the 1860 poem "Paul Revere's Ride" by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

While many of us spend our Fourth of July at a beach barbeque or watching fireworks, it is also an appropriate time to reflect back to the events that helped to make this day into a national holiday. The National Park Service preserves many areas that were important to American Revolution. Among these parks, the Minute Man National Historical Park preserves and protects the significant historic sites, properties, and landscapes associated with the opening battles of the American Revolution. In addition, the park also preserves the 19th century literary revolution through The Wayside, home of Nathaniel Hawthorne, Louisa May Alcott and Margaret Sidney.

Minute Man Statue
courtesy of the National Park Service


Many of the tensions that brought on the American Revolution were the results of the seven-year French and Indian War fought between the French and the British. Following the Treaty of Paris that officially ended the war in 1763, the British sought to recover some of its war-related expenses by taxing a variety of goods. The Stamp Act of 1765 followed by the Townshend Acts in 1767 caused resentment among the colonists, and the situation was further exacerbated as British troops were sent into the Boston area to enforce the regulations. In March of 1770, tension erupted in the "Boston Massacre," as British troops, who were being harassed and taunted by townspeople, fired into a crowd, killing five people.

Under pressure of a colonial boycott of British goods, the following years brought a revocation of most of the Townshend Acts, though the tax on tea remained. When the Massachusetts royal governor, Thomas Hutchinson, refused to allow three ships loaded with tea to leave Boston Harbor without paying the tax or unloading, angry citizens, led by Samuel Adams and Paul Revere, took action. On December 16, 1773, they disguised themselves as Indians, boarded the ships and dumped the tea into Boston Harbor. Parliament responded by passing five Intolerable Acts, which included closing the Boston Harbor to shipping in June of 1774.

In the fall of 1774, General Thomas Gage, the British Military Governor of Massachusetts, began fortifying Boston. After the local militias outside of Boston began stockpiling arms, the British made an unsuccessful attempt to confiscate some arms at Salem in February of 1775. Colonial leaders knew that the British would try again to capture their supplies.

The Minute Men

In September of 1774 the townspeople of Concord had voted in town meeting to form "one or more Companys" to "Stand at a minute's warning in case of an alarm." By January of 1775 these companies, which would become known as the Minute Men, were formed. Other communities voted to raise their own minute companies that would respond to emergencies more quickly than the regular militia could. Though they had their own officers and responsibilities, the minute men were part of the colonial militia.

The Shot Heard Round the World

On April 15, 1775, General Thomas Gage, the British Military Governor of Massachusetts, was ordered to destroy the rebel's military stores at Concord. On the evening of April 18th, approximately 700 British troops set out from Boston, crossed the Charles River, and marched towards Concord. Local patriots found out about the plan and sent Paul Revere and William Dawes by separate routes to alert the towns of Lexington and Concord. Lexington Militia Captain John Parker collected his men to face the British column. By 1am there were 140 Minutemen on the green at Lexington, though only about half of them remained by the time the British arrived.

"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."

The verses above are the beginning of a poem written by Ralph Waldo Emerson, which was sung as a hymn at a July 4, 1837 ceremony to mark the completion of the Concord Monument, commemorating the American resistance to British forces on April 19, 1775. The poem's phrase "shot heard round the world" is now internationally famous for its description of the philosophical importance of the American revolution.

Advancing British units, under the command of Major John Pitcairn, reached Lexington at dawn, where the group of 70 Minutemen formed ranks to block the way. Major Pitcairn told the colonials to lay down their arms and disperse. As Parker complied, a shot rang out. Who fired the shot is unclear, but the British then fired upon the small group of militia, killing eight, and wounding ten others. The militia then retreated into the woods to avoid the British fire. And so started the first battle in the American Revolutionary War.

The British later marched to Concord, destroyed some colonial supplies, and fought another engagement before beginning a costly 20-mile retreat under colonial fire back to Boston. By the end of the day, the crown had lost 273 men and the Americans 95.

Visiting the Park

Located 22 miles west of Boston, the Minute Man National Historical Park consists of over 900 acres of land along the original segment of the Battle Road throughout the towns of Concord, Lincoln, and Lexington. The park includes two visitor centers: 1) the Minute Man Visitor Center, located in Lexington, offers a multimedia program, exhibits, and a bookstore; and 2) the North Bridge Visitor Center, located in Concord, serves as the park headquarters.

Facilities include the Battle Road Trail, an 11-mile (round trip) interpretive trail that retraces portions of the Battle Road for April 19, 1775; the Hartwell Tavern, a restored 1733 home and tavern that includes costumed interpreters and colonial living history demonstrations; and the North Bridge area, which includes the Daniel Chester French Minute Man Statue, British Grave Site, and 1836 Battle Monument.

The Wayside
courtesy of the National Park Service

Regularly scheduled ranger programs offered daily throughout the summer season. Visitors may obtain a park newspaper that has a complete program listing at the visitor centers.

Also incorporated into the park is The Wayside, the only National Historic Landmark lived in by three American literary figures, whose works span more than three centuries: Louisa May Alcott, Nathaniel Hawthorne, and Margaret Sidney. Exhibits and guided tours are available.

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