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Reflections 2011
Series 21
New England Thrice-2C: 1775 Boston - Concord & Lexington


This is the third of four postings on the July trip to the Boston area. After Salem, I’d just visited Saugus in the morning of the second full day, and to avoid unwanted downtime, had planned the rest of the day seeing some places in Boston itself, either again (but better) or for the first time. They all lay on the periphery of the center of town, that I’d revisited only a few years ago (2006/11). Should anyone be interested in how one gets around extremely easily in a city like Boston by public transportation, and can fit in even more connections by online preplanning, specifically of bus routes, we’ll reprint the map of the T. It’ll also serve as a preview of the outlying Revolutionary War Boston destinations I strung together after Saugus like pearls on a string.


1775 Boston   All the sights visited here deal with Boston in 1775, or running over into the next year. As I’d said, I’d taken the hourly bus back from Saugus to Malden, which ended at the Malden Center station of the Orange Line. I took the Orange Line a mere three stops to the Community College stop in Charlestown to revisit (1) Bunker Hill. Returning, I continued on the Orange Line, changed at Downtown Crossing to the Red Line south to the Andrews Station, where I connected to a frequent bus that brought me close to (2) Dorchester Heights. Leaving there, a second bus on a frequent schedule heading downtown took me through (3) the site of Boston Neck and the Boston Town Gate to the Chinatown Station of the Orange Line, which I took three stops to Haymarket, where it was a short walk to the (4) North End to see (a) the Paul Revere House and the (b) Old North Church. From there it was just steps to North Station, where I even managed to catch that same 5:25 express train to Salem for my last night there that I’d caught on arrival two days earlier. Public transportation, especially with preplanning, is a breeze. Piece o’ cake.


BUNKER HILL MONUMENT From the station it was a ten-minute hot walk until I crossed Main Street, where one finally started climbing uphill for the last block or two into a neighborhood of Victorian town houses. I vaguely remember having driven here years ago and having a lot of difficulty finding a parking space (yay public transportation!) and I’m rather sure we did not climb the monument. Anyway, shortly one came to smallish square park, two blocks long on each side. Stately town houses surrounded the park on all sides, and the park peaked in the center, obviously the crest of a hill, Breed’s Hill, with the Bunker Hill Monument in the center. Across from the park, the NPS Visitor Center was housed in a former branch of the Charlestown Public Library. Inside, I watched an illuminated diorama explaining the battle. Lexington had been a skirmish. The battle at Concord’s North Bridge had lasted only 3-5 minutes. But this all-day battle, on 17 June 1775 (2011/16), was the first real confrontation of length between the two sides, and is noted for the colonials being able to repulse the first two attacks of the great British army on the redoubt at the top of the hill. However, the third British attack was successful, but in the three attacks the British suffered so many dead and wounded (1000 of the 2200 men, calling it “a hill too dearly bought”) that they no longer had the manpower to build on this Pyrrhic victory, such as moving on to Cambridge, which in the long run led to them evacuating Boston the next year after the siege of the city.


The traveler has to use different degrees of imagination in order for a visit to work right, varying between very little, total, and partial, the latter when there’s a distraction. For instance, what happened at Concord’s North Bridge is so clear, there’s no way one can’t “see” it while there, with very little imagination needed. On the other hand, when at Kips Bay, the traveler needs total imagination to remove the present buildings and mentally replace the bay, Kip’s farmhouse, and the boats bringing the British in for a landing in Manhattan. Bunker Hill is the third kind. If the hill had been totally built up, one would need total imagination to visualize the battle there, very much like at Kips Bay. But the park and monument take on a life of their own, actually as a distraction, so that there are two things to “see” in the same place, the battle site and the oversized monument commemorating it.


First let’s look at the battle site. We’ll start with this familiar period map (click to enlarge Charlestown). Much of the water is now landfill, but note the hill in nearby Boston, which is Copp’s Hill adjacent to Old North Church, and the two hills in Charlestown, which are misaligned on this map. The British attacked the Charlestown peninsula from all sides. (Also note Dorchester Neck for later reference below.) Now look at this period map of Charlestown and use our imagination to overlay my visit. That large bay of the Charles River is landfill today, with the Orange Line running diagonally along it, parallel to the major street you see, so the long walk was across that flatland area to the street, which is to this day Main Street. It’s then not far up 19m (62 ft) Breed’s Hill to the redoubt. Note the distance to 18m (58 ft) Copp’s Hill on the Boston side of the river, and also note the location of the 34 m (110 ft) Bunker Hill itself, which saw little action.


Now for the distraction. As you enter the park and climb the slope, it’s hard to picture the redoubt or any of the action. It might have been easier if the park had been bigger, but land on the hill around the park had to be sold off to pay for the monument (!!!) Talk about killing the patient in order to save (or honor) him! People were obsessed with a monument commemorating the battle to the detriment of the battle site itself. So one’s mind moves to appreciating a large obelisk in an attractive park, yet still associate it with a battlefield. You can force yourself to do it, but you’re really dealing with two realities, although associated with each other.


This is the Bunker Hill Monument. Notice one of four windows at the top. Since the obelisk is centered in the park, and since you can see cars parked on the street in the foreground, you can see how small the park is, and how little of the summit of Breed’s Hill remains exposed. The 67 m (221 ft) obelisk was erected between 1827 and 1843 with granite from Quincy. It was famously transported from the Quincy quarry by the Granite Railway, built specially for that purpose, followed by a trip by barge to Charlestown. The Granite Railway was the first commercial railway in the US, just for freight in the beginning, as the name implies, and was later blended into other railroad routes.


One enters via a small stone pavilion at the base, which has in it a large statue of the most important casualty of the war on the colonial side, Dr Joseph Warren, the man who organized the rides for Revere, Dawes, and others. Then one enters the monument itself and up a circular stone stairway with 294 steps. There are encouraging numbers as you climb to show you how many steps you’ve covered. Also, remember how hot the day was. I estimate I climbed the equivalent of 22 stories.


From the top one could see this panorama (click to enlarge). Start at the extreme right and you’ll see the combination interstate highway-Orange Line-commuter rail lines, as well as my flatland route to the hill, whose Victorian townhouses start to be visible coming up the side of the hill in the foreground. As you move to the left to the Boston skyline, North Station is the building with an orange and a blue sign right after the bridge. After the skyline and across the Charles you can see the white tower of Old North Church on Copp’s Hill in the North End. Next, on the Charlestown side of the Charles, you can see the three white masts of the USS Constitution (Old Ironsides), dating from 1797, the oldest, still floating, commissioned naval vessel in the world. We visited it years ago. Now move left to the point where you no longer see any rivers and you’ll find a large church with a gray steeple. This building sits at the top of the actual Bunker Hill, with Bunker Hill Street coming down to the right toward the four o’clock position. Finally, we have a distance view of the Bunker Hill Monument as it appears above Charlestown from a marina on the Charles River.


DORCHESTER HEIGHTS The bus from the Andrews Station on the Red Line was prompt, and it was a short ride to the closest stop to go up Dorchester Heights, a place I’d never been, but got curious about after having written about it. This area is within what is today South Boston, where a great deal of landfill surrounds the actual Dorchester Heights, which remains the highest point in the neighborhood. But just two blocks uphill got me to an intersection of several streets, which I was pleased to note had been designated Major General Henry Knox Square, where a large plaque read: “At this place the cannon brought by General Henry Knox from Fort Ticonderoga to deliver to General George Washington in the winter of 1775-1776 were used to force the British army to evacuate Boston.” The Siege of Boston ended and the Evacuation took place on 17 March 1776 (2011/16).


Behind this were twin staircases in an oval pattern to take you up to Thomas Park, at the crest, where you find that Dorchester Heights is another example, like Bunker Hill, where imagination is necessary to picture the cannons threatening Boston, because all you see today is the “distraction” of a pleasant park with a monument. People who need to “kick the tires” to feel they are experiencing something historically tangible will just see the park, and have little idea of the significance. Even though Dorchester Heights is a National Historic Site under the National Park System, once again I was the only one around, literally. Even more imagination is necessary, since from the ground (the monument doesn’t seem to even have any opening hours), surrounding buildings, even though they are mostly low-rise, block the view of most (not all) of the harbor. Only the tall downtown buildings behind them indicate where the center city lies. The monument, built of Georgia white marble, was completed in 1902 and is 35 m (115 ft) tall. A small monument next to the tower reads: “Location of the American Redoubts on Dorchester Heights which compelled the evacuation of Boston by the British Army, March 17, 1776.”


SITE OF BOSTON NECK & TOWN GATE If there were no other visitors at Dorchester Heights, there were certainly no visitors at this site, just plenty of oblivious passers-by. I’d been very glad to note that the route of the bus I’d chosen to go downtown went down East Berkeley Street (originally called Dover Street) and then turned right up historic (but drab) Washington Street, and I knew that that very intersection was the site of Boston Neck, before all the landfill, the only connection to the mainland of Boston’s Shawmut Peninsula. At this narrow point, early settlers built in c 1631 a wooden town gate and earthen wall against attacks by Native Americans and to keep unwanted people and animals out. The gate was guarded and locked at certain times, an no one could pass.


Knowing there was “nothing to see” I had no intention of getting off the bus here; I just wanted to absorb the view as the bus waited for a traffic light. This is the current intersection, from East Berkeley, over Washington; downtown is to the right. Given the parking lot and scruffy buildings, here we require total imagination. Boston Neck was about 37 m (120 ft) wide at normal high tide, so the view ahead down East Berkeley, as well as behind us, would have been of water. Turning right to look down Washington (I showed this view once before), we can only picture the town gate, not only its use in the 17C, but also as it was in 1775. This was the location where, the hour before midnight on 18 April, William Dawes talked his way into being allowed to pass through the gate to ride on to Lexington. This is where, the next morning, the fateful 19 April, British General Percy led 1000 troops toward Lexington to reinforce the British position. This is where, during a truce in the Siege of Boston, loyalists in the countryside were allowed to seek refuge in the city, while rebels in the city were allowed to leave. And this is where, after Dorchester Heights, Washington and his troops entered and took over the city after the British evacuation by sea. Pity the passers-by who just see a parking lot and drab buildings, and, as ever, sic transit gloria mundi.


NORTH END The Big Dig was the underground displacement of the unsightly viaduct of an interstate highway that for years had cut off the view of Boston’s historic North End. In 2006, when I stayed at a hotel on Long Wharf, I was at the southern end of the Big Dig, where northbound traffic went underground, but the park area above had not yet been landscaped. This time, exiting the Haymarket Station and turning toward the North End, I was surprised to find myself crossing the north end of the Big Dig, where traffic exited below to cross that bridge over the Charles. And this time, I got to see the landscaping of the parkland over the Dig; not only were people enjoying the lawn areas, but the park formed a pleasant front lawn to the adjacent buildings of the North End, forming an enjoyable entryway. This is a view of the North End towards Chelsea in the distance. Old North Church is obvious in the center. The Bunker Hill Monument in Charlestown would be off the picture to the left.


Some locations have an obvious multi-level history. Look at New Amsterdam streets overlaid by Wall Street buildings. Look at the DeLancey farm--with Orchard Street no less--overlaid by the Lower East Side. Look at the North End, with all its colonial history, overlaid by what is essentially Boston’s “Little Italy”. It doesn’t use that name. Just mentioning that you’re dining in the North End implies Italian cuisine. So, entering the North End, I found my way past elegant Italian restaurants as well as pizza parlors, to North Square, site of the only 17C house in Boston. A traveler must be able to perceive, and discern between, the various layers of history.


Paul Revere House I’d seen it from the outside several times over the years, and I decided this was the time to visit the interior. Just like the two Adams houses in Quincy, the building is older than its most famous inhabitant. It had been built c 1680 as an elegant house, and was already less fashionable and had been modified several times over the 90 years until Revere owned it, from 1770 to 1800. Although he and his family may have actually lived elsewhere for periods of time in those three decades, it was from this house that he set off for his ride on 18 April 1775. In the century that followed, the house was modified even more, and at one point was sandwiched between two brick buildings, and its ground-floor front served as a shop. It was restored in 1907-8, after Revere’s great-grandson had purchased it to ensure it wouldn’t be demolished. The renovation restored the building to its conjectured appearance around 1700. Still 90% of the structure is original to 1680. The street view on North Square shows an overhang with pendants. The front entrance is not used today for visitors. Downstairs is the parlor, and upstairs a bedroom. Note the garden that’s been added to the side, which is the present entrance. The garden view shows the back of the parlor, plus both bedrooms upstairs, which contain several pieces of furniture believed to have belonged to the Revere family, and the back entrance to the kitchen. The building has heavy beams, large fireplaces, and, as is typical, no interior hallways. Of particular interest to me was that, while the kitchen and both bedrooms were restored to Revere’s 18C period, the parlor had been restored to the original 16C style. The contrast was pleasantly striking, and I felt it was a good way to show a building covering two periods of interest--again, layers of history.


Old North Church Walking up to Old North Church, on passes Saint Stephen’s, and between the two is a short linear park called the Paul Revere Mall, with a statue of him on horseback. But Saint Stephan’s interesting in its tying our two periods of history together. It had been built in 1806 as a Congregational Meeting House (apparently in colonial Massachusetts, a church was often called a meeting house) and is the only remaining church in Boston of the five designed by Charles Bulfinch. But it also ties itself to the contemporary North End, because in the 1860’s it became a Catholic church to service the then growing Italian community.


On the other end of the Mall is Old North Church (1723), the oldest active church building in Boston, inspired by the works of Christopher Wren. On 18 April 1775, a little after 10 PM the steeple served a military purpose. Paul Revere had told the sexton, assisted by two other men, to carry two lanterns to the steeple, which two of them did, the third keeping watch for British troops down below. (I saw one of the supposed lanterns on permanent display the next day in the Concord Museum.) The purpose of the signal was to warn Charlestown back-up riders about the movements of the British army and to tell them to start riding to spread the word, just in case Revere and Dawes didn’t make it out of Boston. The lanterns were hung for just under a minute, long enough to be seen by the Charlestown militia, but short enough not to be seen by British troops in Boston. The code was “one if by land, two if by sea”, meaning by water, across the Charles. Two were displayed, since the troops crossed “by sea” from Boston Common, which the river bordered at the time, to the north bank. As it turns out, it was Percy and his reinforcements who came “by land” across Boston Neck, the next morning.


The original steeple, which was 58m (191 ft) tall, no longer exists, since it was destroyed in a storm in 1804. Its replacement was designed by Charles Bulfinch (!), but that was destroyed by Hurricane Carol in 1954. The current steeple, which is 53m (175 ft) tall, uses design elements from its two predecessors.


At the time of the US Bicentennial, President Ford visited Old North Church on 18 April 1975. After his remarks, two descendants of one of the original men each carried a replica lantern up into the steeple. Then the next year, on 11 July 1976, Queen Elizabeth II attended a Sunday morning service there, where she was presented with a replica of a silver chalice made by Paul Revere.


Concord and Lexington   The day in Saugus and Boston was followed by my last night back up in Salem. I then took an early commuter train to North Station, and connected to another commuter line out to Concord. It was about a ten-minute walk into the center of Concord, but it was along Sudbury Road, which came behind me up from Sudbury, which was to be my destination for the weekend, the final one of the trip.


Concord charms me more than Lexington, and I find it more of interest historically. After all, it was Concord where the Provincial Congress had met, and where emergency stores were hidden, both arms and provisions, by the revolutionaries. Here was the real first battle, at North Bridge, where it’s easy to imagine the events. In Lexington took place a skirmish, albeit with fatalities, and it takes real imagination to picture what happened on Lexington Green. I also learned while there that only Concord had Minutemen, since a local militia needed special training to become Minutemen. Concord could afford to pay the farmers in their militia for their time away from the fields for special training, and Lexington could not, so Lexington hat merely its militia. That’s why the famous Minuteman statue by Daniel Chester French is at the North Bridge in Concord. The similar-looking statue on Lexington Green is not of a Minuteman, but of militia leader Captain John Parker. This statue is often misidentified.


In addition, Concord has more than one layer of importance, as Salem did, and as Lexington does not. In the middle 19C Concord became a literary center, with houses associated with Emerson, Thoreau, Hawthorne (again!), and Alcott, all of whom are buried near each other on Authors Ridge in Sleepy Hollow Cemetery.


Concord’s layout is simple, as can be seen by this map of Minuteman National Historical Park (click to enlarge). Find the rail line, then Concord Depot. Follow Sudbury Road into Main Street into Monument Square. This is actually a slanted oval, but is shown here as parallel red and blue lines. Where the blue line breaks to the right is the head of Monument Square, the location of Concord’s Colonial Inn, where I stayed, and to its side, the road continues to old North Bridge. The road to Sleepy Hollow Cemetery leaves from the east side of the square. At the bottom of the square is historic Wright Tavern on Lexington Road, which then passes first the Concord Museum and Emerson House, and later other houses of interest. In sum: the upper end has the hotel and bridge road, the lower end the road to Lexington with buildings of interest, and the cemetery is off to the side.


Lexington is to me secondary to the story, although I can get excited by it as well. I went there as a side trip out of Concord, which is what I recommend, especially since Lexington has no hotel as historic as Concord’s Colonial Inn to stay at, and Lexington I any case has just three closely-placed things to see.


As I did in Salem, I’ll mention how things fit together most easily, then put things in chronological order. On the train arrival day in Concord, I went north, checking into the hotel then walking to North Bridge. After pausing in the heat, I then went south to the Wright Tavern, the Concord Museum, and to see the other historic houses, but just externally. On the second day, I went to Lexington, and on my return, toured the cemetery.


So how did I get to Lexington? I’ve mentioned that no train line goes any longer to Lexington, so connecting at North Station wouldn’t have worked. No bus connections exist either, and there are no car rentals. But the hotel advertised a Lexington tour bus between the two towns, that seemed to imply pick-up and drop-off at designated points, so I bought it for $25, which included admission to certain historic houses. I knew I’d have to put up with flashy buses they like to call “trolleys” (I hate how they denigrate that word from its meaning as “streetcar”), and a costumed guide. Well it worked, but on a tight schedule. It’s not really an on-and-off service, it’s a Lexington service starting there and does only four circle tours a day. I was almost the only one who got on and off, once eastbound and once westbound. Still it worked almost perfectly, but squeezed me for time. I wasn’t picked up in Concord until on their first circuit, late morning, and had to come back on the last, mid-afternoon circuit. I had time to properly tour the three locations, but none extra.


CONCORD MUSEUM I’ll start with the excellent Concord Museum, which had many displays, but the following were of particular interest to me. The very first exhibit explained that Concord is not on the coast, like all the other older towns, because it was purposely founded, in 1635, as Massachusetts Bay’s first inland settlement. That’s only 15 years after the 1620 landing at Provincetown and Plymouth. The area was chosen because a number of smaller rivers come together there, where you see the irony of the Battle of Concord was fought on the North Bridge over the Concord River. The land was purchased in peaceful concord from the Native Americans, hence the name of the town. (Lexington, on the other hand, when founded just seven years later in 1642, was merely part of Cambridge in the beginning. Although I did like Lexington, you may sense a bias toward Concord.)


A well-known exhibit is that of the lantern, which, since 1853, has been identified as one of those used that night in the steeple of Old North Church. The only doubt in accurately identifying it in 1853 is the length of time from 1775 that it was sitting in the church.


A drawing of what was called the Middlesex Alarm was probably my most favorite find in the museum. I only wish I could find an illustration of it, but I’ll have to describe it. I’ve expressed how important it should be to everyone that the colonials were prepared (in many, if not all the thirteen colonies), that they’d been forming a shadow government and that the had a trigger-ready communications system set to go the moment it was needed. In Middlesex County of Massachusetts, the area involved on 18-19 April 1775, it was called the Middlesex Alarm.


Picture the route from Boston roughly west to Lexington and Concord. Then picture large oval ripples encircling this route all across coastal Massachusetts. This was the area, as they fanned out, covered by the more than forty riders that gave the alarm that night, only one of which was Paul Revere. It showed that between 11 PM and 1 AM the strip from Boston to Lexington was alerted. The next oval covered the next two hours, from 1 to 3, and included the Prescott brothers and Concord. Dr Samuel Prescott went from beyond Lexington west to alert Concord between 1 and 2, as well as Acton, where he’s celebrated to this day. He also stopped at his Concord house on Lexington Road, where his younger brother Abel Prescott Jr rode southwest to Sudbury (3 AM) and Framingham (4 AM). The next oval covered 3-5 AM, and the outermost covered 5-9:30 AM. Salem, in the northeast, was alerted at 9 AM. Some riders were named, as above. Others on the map were referred to as “Tewkesbury Rider”, “Bareheaded Rider”, “Unknown Rider”. One area, toward the northeast, was indicated as having been alerted by alarm bells and guns. This map of the Middlesex Alarm--and I love that name--should be made more available, since it’s something everyone, domestically or internationally, who wants to understand the meticulous preparation involved in the founding of the United States should be interested in.


The last thing is something that was NOT in the Concord Museum that I think definitely belongs there, at least in a small display. When I brought the subject up with some docents at the museum, one mentioned that they once had a temporary exhibit about it. It’s the fruit that famously bears Concord’s name.


Just down Lexington Road from the Museum, eastward toward Lexington, is the house of Ephraim Bull, which I passed later on the tour bus. In 1843 he began trying to breed a grape that could thrive in the cold New England climate. By 1849, after planting some 22,000 seedlings, he finally created, from native species of grapes, a large sweet variety he called the Concord grape. He began selling the grapes at $5 per vine, but then the growers that bought them from him began raising their own crops, and competed with his sales. Bull saw little to no profit after those first sales as the grape grew widely popular. I guess he was a good at discovery but poor at business. On his cemetery marker (which I later found--see below), among carved grapevines, is noted sardonically: “He sowed, others reaped.” I heard that the original vine still grows at his house down Lexington Road.


LEXINGTON Let’s now start in Lexington and follow events chronologically back to Concord on the same map of Minuteman National Historical Park as above (click to enlarge). You’ll see that the Lexington layout is much simpler, which is why we didn’t need to look at it before. You’ll note (1) triangular Lexington Green with the statue, (2) the Buckman Tavern across the street, and (3) the Hancock-Clarke House up the road. The Lexington sights are quite compact.


I got off the tour bus from Concord at the end of the Green with the statue of the Lexington Militia Man, in the form of their leader, Captain John Parker. It does not represent a Minuteman, nor was Parker one, and the statue is often misidentified and confused with the more famous one in Concord. Even the Michelin Guide to New England describes this as though it were the Concord statue, where the Minuteman is wearing a hat and has a plow at his side, indicating he’s ready to leave his farming at a minute’s notice. While the Parker statue is a fine one, it doesn’t have the panache of a statue by Daniel Chester French. The French statue is also on a carved pedestal, while this statue stands on a sharp rock, with a fountain in front and flowers surrounding it.


The Captain Parker statue is at the end point of the Green facing Boston, awaiting the Regulars (Redcoats). The blue line on the map coming from the lower right is the main road from Boston, still the main street of town. It’s quite attractive for a modern town, but distracting to see pizza parlors, laundromats, and dry cleaners leading right up to the green. It turns one off when one is trying to visualize history.


Behind the statue is the Lexington Green, which they like to also style the Lexington Battle Green, aggrandizing their skirmish into a full battle. It’s a pleasant enough park with a large lawn, and gives no feeling whatsoever of history. Look at that picture. What are they doing, golfing? Over on the SW end toward Concord there is a monument to the battle, the oldest war monument in the US, dating from 1799. Seven colonists that were killed were buried under it. But still, the green, where on the Buckman Tavern side has an indication of there the colonists were standing, fails to inspire. The town of Lexington maintains it, in my opinion, more as a pretty park than as a historic site.


Facing the Green and across the street, almost at the forking of the road from Boston, is Buckman Tavern. It’s dated c 1690, so it was already an aging building in 1775. I visited it on my tour ticket (the Hancock-Clarke was also included), and found out such things like that little addition on the right was a post office in the day, how the life of an innkeeper was, and what type of period drinks were served in the tavern. We toured the downstairs rooms, and in the front hall, behind the later door shown in the picture, there was the original door, which had a bullet indentation in it from the famous night. The tour was very informative in learning about period inns, but also didn’t inspire much about the events on the Green. Other than that bullet hole, we have the knowledge that the militia men waited in the tavern before the British arrival, and that that fatal, unknown first shot “may have” come from behind Buckman Tavern. I enjoyed touring the tavern, but still remained unenthused about the local big event.


It was the third and final thing to see that really got to me, quite unexpectedly, since it didn’t seem at first to be as much at the center of events as the Green or the Tavern. Perhaps that’s just it: German refers to the advantage of ein bisschen Abstand--a bit of distance--and that seemed to make all the difference in “seeing” and appreciating the Green. As I took the seven-minute walk in the heat up Hancock Street, it was both the odd angle to the street and the bright, butterscotch color of the Hancock-Clarke House that struck me. Surprise! This picture of the house I found doesn’t have the color I saw. I can only assume that the Historical Society that owns the house has since had further funds to restore it to its original color, which adds GREATLY to the impression it gives when one sees it up the street.


But that odd angle is significant. Note the stone wall along the street, which shows that the house is at an acute angle to the wall and to the street. That’s because the street is newer than the house, and indicates that all the other houses lined up neatly along the street WERE NOT THERE on 19 April 1775, and this house had an expansive open view of the Green in the short distance, particularly from those upper windows. Also note for later discussion the pair of windows downstairs to the left of the main entry, as well as the entry itself.


[A note on preservation: at one point in the history of the house, the owner wanted to tear it down and develop the property. The Historical Society happened to own a lot across the street, bought the house for $1, and moved it. Later, the original property came up for sale once again, the Historical Society bought it, and moved the house back onto its original foundations, at that odd angle to the street. When the house tour guide explained that act of preservation, I commented that it could be said that the house had made a “round trip”. She like that so much that she asked if she could use it in her future talks.]


Let’s first point out the importance of the house. The Reverend John Hancock, who was the grandfather of the revolutionary leader of the same name, built the house in 1737. When the younger Hancock’s father died in Quincy in 1744, the seven-year-old came to live with his grandfather in this house, and it became his boyhood home for about eight years. This house is therefore the only surviving residence anywhere that’s associated with John Hancock, President of the Continental Congress, first (significantly so) signer of the Declaration of Independence, and the first Governor of Massachusetts. If for no other reason--and there is the obvious one below--the house is a significant landmark. Then, in 1752, the Reverend Jonas Clarke, who also supported the revolutionary cause, succeeded the elder Hancock as minister--hence the double name of the house today.


John Hancock (in his boyhood home) and Samuel Adams were guests of Reverend Clarke in connection with attending the Massachusetts Provincial Congress in Concord. They were cautious about going to Boston, and stayed with Clarke in the days up to the fateful night and following day of 18-19 April 1775.


John Singleton Copley did portraits of many prominent people in this period, some of which we showed in 2011/16. He also did this portrait c 1765 of John Hancock, and c 1772 this one of Samuel Adams.


Hancock’s large, flamboyant signature on the Declaration of Independence has become iconic. His name has famously actually become, in American usage, synonymous with the word “signature”, as in the phrase “put your John Hancock on the dotted line”. The signature also appears on the stern of the USS John Hancock. Both Adams and Hancock fifteen months later were signers of the US Declaration of Independence (click to enlarge; this is an 1823 facsimile, since the original is badly faded). The Hancock signature--written first, before all the others--is easy to find. Among 56 signers, look at least for two future presidents, Thomas Jefferson and John Adams, Sam Adams, and Benjamin Franklin.


John Adams and Sam Adams were related, but distantly. They were not brothers or even first cousins, they were second cousins. As for popular culture, most will recognize the beer connection. The Boston Beer Company brews Sam(uel) Adams beer, and their website explains the connection by saying that, in additional to his political activities, “Samuel Adams was also a brewer who had inherited a brewing tradition from his father.”


I’ve found that, as much as one may think one knows about an historical subject, an introductory film, such as in Salem, in Saugus, and at this house, really puts one into the time frame. The Historical Society had a short film, made with local residents, dealing with the era, and most impressive was how it showed the basis for the dissatisfaction leading up to 1775.


I had never realized the importance to this whole story of the Seven Years’ War, called by some the real first world war. Its manifestation in North America is referred to locally by the misleading name French and Indian War, which explains nothing. It’s quite simple. There was French America. There was British America. Each one wanted to take over the other, and one did. That we are not speaking French right now tells us that the British won. Francophone Québec is today surrounded by anglophone Canada and the US. Picture the reverse if the French had won, an anglophone Thirteen Colonies surrounded by New France from Québec/Acadia to Louisiana.


Back to the film: apparently the Seven Years’ War was expensive and had depleted the British treasury. At this point George III and his government made a very fateful decision, one that led to American independence. The reasoning was that the Thirteen Colonies were the ones that benefited most, by remaining British. Therefore the Thirteen Colonies should pay for the war. Bad idea. This led to the heavy taxation, which, with other events such as the Boston Massacre, angered the colonials to the point of revolt. For instance, imported British cottons were of high quality, and highly taxed. Locally homespun linen was cheaper, and became the basis for a boycott. The film showed a half-dozen women, in costume, spinning linen on Lexington Green. British tea was a highly-taxed luxury. They showed a bonfire on the Green, with a reenactment of townspeople dumping small casks of tea into the fire. This Lexington Tea Party took place three days before the more famous Boston one. It reached the point where you could tell the politics of a tavern by whether they still served tea or not. Now this background begat for me real appreciation of the mindset of the day. In addition, the Stamp Act required expensive tax stamps on all legal documents, which was also thought to be oppressive.


Actually quite exciting in the film was the reenactment of Paul Revere’s arrival in the front hall of this very building, asking to see Hancock and Adams. Clarke and others insist that they’re working, and can’t be disturbed. “You don’t understand”, says Revere, “the Regulars are out!”, which causes quite a stir and gets things moving to get the men to safety. Shortly afterward, Dawes arrives and joins the group. While the following tour of the building is interesting enough in seeing a 17C home, the high point is walking into the actual front hall where those events just reenacted on the film had taken place, and then entering that room to the side (pointed out in the above picture). This is the room where Hancock and Adams had been working, and includes the round table they’d been sitting at, marked with a plaque. The experience gave goosebumps.


There’s another interesting interlude. After Revere and Dawes left for Concord, got captured, and escaped, Revere walked back to the Hancock-Clarke House and was shocked to see Hancock and Adams still working at the table! (Remember, the warning was at midnight and the skirmish happened at dawn.) Revere got them on their way, leaving luggage behind, but then Hancock realized that one trunk was full of incriminating documents, naming names and places. Revere went back and retrieved it. One wonders how things might have been different had he not.


And then there’s the matter of the famous quote--or misquote. It’s another example of two realities, such as in Casablanca where she actually says “Play it, Sam, play it”, but everyone remembers it as “Play it again, Sam”. One is actuality, one is popular culture, both exist. The phenomenon can be described as “X, traditionally quoted as Y”.


Sam Adams had a premonition of something big happening that night, that perhaps the Thirteen Colonies were on their way to independence, and after leaving the house, but apparently already hearing gunfire, he said to John Hancock “What a glorious morning this is!”, or perhaps more poetically “What a glorious morning is this!” This is what the orator Edward Everett stated in an address in Lexington on the anniversary of the event in 1835. However, over time, this quote has been embellished. It is today often “traditionally quoted as” “What a glorious morning for America.” Don’t dismiss this paraphrased version, since it’s that version that’s the official Motto of Lexington.


Once they’d left for safety, those remaining in the house went to the windows of the upper bedrooms and had an open, balcony view of the dawn events on the Green. On that basis, I like to call a house like this a Witness House.


Not only does the Hancock-Clarke House bring the Green to life, so does a reenactment. I used to think of reenactments as just men dressing up and playing with their toys, but now I see it as a serious manifestation of performance art. Every April 19 in Massachusetts is Patriots’ Day, which is rife with reenactments. Obviously one gets a much better feel for the Green under these circumstances. Watch this YouTube video of this year’s reenactment of the ”Battle” of Lexington. At 2:11 listen for the “do not fire”; at 2:20 is the call to disperse; at 5:10, the tableaux vivants around the fallen are a nice touch.


CONCORD As I left Lexington for Concord on that bus, we can follow the route once again on the same map of Minuteman National Historical Park as above (click to enlarge). The parkland area in green covers the restored colonial landscape of the 8 km (5 mi) “Battle Road Trail” between the towns, which approximates the route taken in 1775. I was assured that 20C structures that had been along the road had been removed in order to create the historic, park-like setting. Note that the parkland doesn’t include either town center, but does include the magnificent North Bridge area above Concord. Of particular note along the road is a small monument at the Paul Revere Capture Site.


Zipping by The Wayside and Orchard House (see below) on the bus, a casual reference was made to a plaque, between there and the Concord Museum/Emerson House. I was glad that the day before, I’d already discovered that plaque on my hike along this road. Resting from the heat, I sat down on a stone fence on the north side of Lexington Road and read that that property was the site of the home of Dr Samuel Prescott. It was a thrilling find to have accidentally discovered the spot that Prescott had ridden to right down that very same road from the Revere Capture Site. There he had alerted his family and others including his younger brother, and they both rode off into the center of town onto Main Street, where he continued west to warn Acton, and the brother then turned SW down Sudbury Road (see map) to warn Sudbury, then Framingham. It’s all there to see--and walk--today, over two centuries after the fact.


They certainly would have stopped on their way at Wright’s Tavern (1747) in the middle of town at the bottom of Monument Square (the parallel red and blue lines). To its left still stands the Parish Church (in Massachusetts-speak, the “Meeting House”), where the Massachusetts Provincial Congress had met (including those delegates from Salem mentioned in 2011/20). Meanwhile, committees had met at Wright’s Tavern. A monument on the lawn in front of the Meeting House declares it to be the site of: “The first Provincial Congress of delegates from the towns of Massachusetts . . . . Delegates assembled here with John Hancock as President . . . . This Congress assumed the government of the province and . . . prepared the way for the War of the Revolution”.


Then, as the Prescotts left the Tavern, the courthouse bell announced the alarm. The Minutemen then assembled at Wright’s Tavern before the British arrived, although later in the day it became British headquarters and center of operations for Pitcairn and Smith.


The Regulars conducted essentially a search and seize operation for arms and other provisions, both within Concord and in outlying areas. They burned what they could, but, rather humorously as it turned out, they threw stockpiled cannonballs into the town millpond, where the townspeople simply retrieved most of them the next day.


At the north end of Monument Square (the parallel red and blue lines on the map) today sits what is styled as “Concord’s Colonial Inn”, where I stayed. It’s been run as a hotel since 1889, is listed on the National Register of Historic Places, and is a member of the Historic Hotels of America, which is a branch of the National Trust for Historic Preservation, of which I’m a member. The Inn was originally three separate buildings, now joined together, the earliest dating to 1716, and part of the events of 19 April 1775. At that point, the middle section of the Inn was an arms and provisions storehouse, one of the goals of the British. In the adjoining building, now also part of the Inn, lived a doctor who cared for the wounded. After North Bridge, the British fled past the Inn in their retreat. Finally, it’s not uncommon in Concord for a historic building to have both a war and a literary connection. John Thoreau, grandfather of Henry David Thoreau, in 1799 purchased the adjoining property that is now part of the Inn, and Henry’s family moved in with his aunts in 1835. Henry lived here for the next two years while attending Harvard College. One of the hotel’s dining rooms, where I ate, is the Thoreau Room, one of a hodgepodge of small and larger rooms constituting the ground level.


Finally, the epitome of communing with the past I by chance experienced first. On arrival at the Inn that first day--my room wasn’t even ready yet--I decided to walk up to the North Bridge. On the map locate Monument Road leaving Monument Square at the Inn, and follow the route turning left around the Old Manse, to the North Bridge, in the parklands area. In the west, locate Barrett’s Farm, listed here as Colonel Barrett’s House.


The British had heard that arms and provisions were warehoused at the Barrett Farm, so, while searches continued in town, a contingent of Regulars was dispatched to check out the farm. They marched past what is today the Inn up the road to the bridge that would lead them there. So did I, although I didn’t fully realize until nearing the bridge that I was “marching” in historic footsteps. The town’s houses peter out after the first few blocks, and there’s already a bucolic sense even before reaching the area that’s purposely kept as rural parkland. I distinctly remember a pine scent in the air upon leaving town that seemed to lessen the heat of the afternoon, lighten one’s step, and add to the historic experience.


It was not more than a fifteen-minute walk to the Manse, followed by the turnoff, and I’d already felt I’d gained in the experience by walking and not riding. I stopped to look at the Manse, which is again what I call a Witness House, like the Hancock-Clarke in Lexington. It’s the last house on the road before the (former, historic) turnoff left to the bridge, and from the rear, it has a view of the bridge, meaning the residents saw it all.


The Old Manse, here seen from the road with the bridge beyond the wall to the right, was built just five years earlier, in 1770, by the Reverend William Emerson, whose family members did watch the events from the rear windows while he watched from the field below. But if you see another war-and-literary connection coming, you’re right, and threefold. Six decades later, his grandson Ralph Waldo Emerson lived here, where he wrote his 1836 pamphlet “Nature”, which initiated the movement of Transcendentalism (abolish slavery, equal rights for women, other reforms). Then, Emerson moved into town, and from 1842-1845 rented the house as a honeymoon home to Nathaniel Hawthorne and his bride. In this house Hawthorne wrote the oddly titled collection of stories “Mosses from an Old Manse”, using the Scottish term for minister’s house and giving the building its name. Then, to round out the literary trifecta, friend Henry David Thoreau created a vegetable garden there for the couple.


One then turns left around the Old Manse property and walks a minute or two down the path to the perfectly idyllic Old North Bridge on the Concord River. A setting doesn’t get more perfect than this. One needs a lot of imagination at Lexington Green; here one can easily picture events. The bridge itself is, of course, a reconstruction. The original was long ago swept away by floodwaters. The river has gone unspanned for periods, and there have been other bridge replacements, one, I’m told, an elaborately decorated Victorian bridge. But the current reconstruction, the fifth to cross the river, remains true to the original.


The Regulars, some 90-95 in number, arrived at the east (British) end of the bridge on their way to the farm, and did cross it to the west (colonial) side, but then the colonials, both Minutemen and other militia, totaling some 400, began to arrive from further west, and the British, outnumbered four to one, retreated strategically back across the bridge to the east side. It is very easy for the visitor to picture the confrontation across the bridge.


Just as the “Battle” of Lexington started by a quirk, a stray shot, the Battle of Concord (or of Concord’s North Bridge), started because of a mistake. Remember how close a walk from town the bridge is. At the time, smoke began to rise from town because of the burning of the contraband. The colonials saw the smoke and mistook it for the town being burned. Actually, there’s an anecdote quite to the contrary, about a stray ember flying onto the roof of the courthouse and a woman scolding the Regulars because of it, who then scrambled up onto the roof to put out the fire. Still, the colonial commander at the bridge, seeing the smoke, exhorted his men that they shouldn’t stand by while the British burned the town, and gave the command: FIRE!!


It was the first time ever that a colonial militia had ever received a command from an officer to fire on the British army--nothing like that had happened in Lexington--and a shooting foray across the river and bridge ensued. It lasted some 3-5 minutes, and resulted in the overwhelmed British force fleeing back into town, and then beyond. Watch this first of two videos; this is a video slideshow of Patriot’s Day 2009 at Concord’s North Bridge.


We need to talk about the three monuments at the bridge, the first two of which might confuse. On the “British” (east) side is the Obelisk, which was built in 1836 and dedicated on Independence Day, 4 July 1837. It’s on the “wrong” side, because at the time there was no bridge, and the “British” side was closer to town. It was in connection with this, the Obelisk, that Ralph Waldo Emerson, who at that point was just moving from the adjacent Old Manse to his new home in town, wrote his poem “Concord Hymn”, which included one of the most famous lines in English. It has four verses, and here is the first:

 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 shot heard round the world” is an often-quoted phrase, sometimes in trivial sports metaphors, and even in reference to the shot in Sarajevo in 1914 that killed Archduke Franz Ferdinand and started the Great War. But it’s clear that this original use shows just what shot Emerson meant. Those in Lexington might hint that it was that stray shot that started the shooting on the Green, and I for a while was misled by that, but it’s clear from the poem that it wasn’t some accidental stray shot, it was the command to FIRE! that was given in Concord at the North Bridge that he was referring to. The other verses are less important, but it’s still worthwhile to quote the second one:

 The foe long since in silence slept;
Alike the conqueror silent sleeps;
And Time the ruined bridge has swept
Down the dark stream which seaward creeps.

I like it because it evokes the Passage of Time, which all those interested in history want to experience: both sides in the conflict are dead, and even the bridge is gone, on its way to the sea, yet the event lives on in our minds (to say nothing of in reenactments!).


But the bridge was rebuilt, and at the centennial of the Battle in 1875, the famous Minuteman statue by renowned artist Daniel Chester French was erected, this time across the river on the “American” (west) side, since a bridge was there again. This is the distinguished statue, often confused with the one in Lexington, but here it IS a Minuteman in his three-cornered hat, and standing next to his plow, to show he’s ready to leave at a minute’s notice. Click to enlarge to inspect the fine bronze work and the work on the pedestal, but particularly to note what’s written there. Emerson’s words from four decades earlier, written to go along with the Obelisk (where they do NOT appear), are reproduced here instead, adding to the confusion between the two monuments. This is the statue whose image is reproduced on postage stamps and elsewhere, and which has become an American icon.


The third monument I find particularly poignant. Back on the British (east) side, along a stone wall, is quite appropriately the grave of two of the three British soldiers killed at the bridge. The grave is regularly maintained, and, at the time I was there, was decorated with two large and two small Union Jacks. Along with the date of the Battle, the monument reads:

 They came three thousand miles, and died
To keep the past upon its throne.
Unheard beyond the ocean tide
Their English mother made her moan.

I was of course curious where the third soldier was buried, and asked a park ranger, who explained, so, as I left the area for the fifteen-minute walk back to town and to the Inn, I inspected a strip of grass diagonally across the road from the Inn, and in the grass between the sidewalk and the curb was a small rock with a plaque on it that said: “Near this Site was Buried a British Soldier . . . Fatally Wounded at the North Bridge”. As simple as that. They must have carried him, wounded, from the bridge to across from the Inn, where he died, and was buried somewhere nearby. Again, I’d traced historic footsteps from the bridge back into town. There are other small markers such as this for other British fatalities all the way back to Boston.


But what do you note that’s missing from these monuments? There are no names, which tells a great deal. On the colonial side, all were locals, clearly identifiable if killed. All knew exactly why they were doing what they were doing. On the other side, it was only the British officers who were fully apprised of the politics and maneuvers of the events. It’s possible that these soldiers left Boston not knowing where they were going, nor why they were going there. The (to the officers) nameless footsoldiers were treated as cannon fodder. If a horse--or soldier--was killed, bury it/him and let’s move on. The families of fallen footsoldiers--often inductees--were not informed of deaths, since records were hardly kept, so, when a soldier didn’t come back, his “English mother” was “unheard beyond the ocean tide”.


There are records of the number of British soldiers participating in given battles and number of known deaths. And there is also a conspicuous number of those “missing”. They could be valid MIAs. Or, as some historians suspect, a number of them, given the circumstances, could be simply disillusioned Redcoats who simply abandoned the red coat and then blended into the crowds of colonials. While some Americans trace their ancestry back to participating colonials, there might be some who unwittingly trace their ancestry back to ex-Regulars who simply blended into the crowd.


Nicely complementing the first video, I found a second video of the Battle, plus other views. It waves the flag a little too much, but is well done. Note at:

 0:10 - the Obelisk (1836) on the British side and French’s Minuteman (1875) on the American side;
0:15 - the inscription on the Obelisk;
0:25 - French’s Minuteman;
0:30 - the British grave;
0:35 - Emerson’s poem for the Obelisk, but located on the Minuteman pedestal;
1:24 - another British memorial somewhere for unnamed soldiers;
2:39 - the capture site, giving due recognition to Dawes and Prescott as well as Revere;
2:59 - a sign giving due recognition to ALL the midnight riders

LITERARY CONCORD We’ve emphasized Concord’s 18C Battle history, and only passed over a bit of Concord’s 19C literary history some seven or eight decades later. It centered around the already discussed Transcendentalist writings of author, philosopher, lecturer, and poet Ralph Waldo Emerson, here in a photo c 1857, who moved into his newly purchased house in the south part of town (today opposite the Concord Museum), where he lived the rest of his life. He called the house, rather oddly, Bush. He entertained there the Alcotts and Thoreau, and it was a center for Transcendentalist meetings.


In 1841, writer Henry David Thoreau (here in an 1856 Daguerreotype) accepted Emerson’s invitation to move in with the family. He had grown up in Concord, and had worked in his father’s pencil factory, which he continued to do most of his adult life. He actually rediscovered the process to make a good pencil out of inferior graphite by using clay as the binder. He is, curiously, associated with pencils as well as with his writings, and is quoted as having said “Writing your name can lead to writing sentences. And the next thing you’ll be doing is writing paragraphs and then books.”


Thoreau’s writings were Transcendentalist in nature, and some years later, he spent two years living in a cabin he built in a woodland owned by his friend and mentor Emerson on Walden Pond, just south of Concord. “Pond” is Massachusetts-speak for what otherwise we’d call a lake, and Walden Pond today is in Walden Pond Reservation, a nature (p)reserve. There he wrote his classic Walden, a voyage of spiritual self discovery in nature. There is today a replica of the cabin, a National Historic Landmark, on Walden Pond, which we saw as part of our hasty visit to the area in 1969, when we walked around the lake to see it.


Thoreau’s writings influenced many public figures. Ghandi, JF Kennedy, ML King, and Leo Tolstoy all spoke of being influenced by his work. So did writers such as Proust and Hemingway as well as architect Frank Lloyd Wright and naturalists such as John Burroughs and John Muir. Thoreau was an early advocate of recreational hiking and canoeing, and he has thus had an influence on the creation of the national park system, the environmental movement, even the hippie revolution, so say nothing about the creation of India via Ghandi and the civil rights movement via King.


Down Lexington Road, past the site of the Prescott House, is first Orchard House, and then The Wayside. The Wayside is older, dating back to Minuteman days, and in 1845, the young Louisa May Alcott (here at around age 25 in 1857) and her family moved in, and they named the house Hillside. It was here that Louisa and her sisters lived many of the scenes that she later put into Little Women. They sold the house in 1852 to Nathaniel Hawthorne, who moved down from the Old Manse. The Hawthornes renamed the house The Wayside, noting that it stood so close to the road that it could have been mistaken for a coach stop.


The Alcotts later bought a property adjacent to The Wayside, which included an apple orchard, and they named it Orchard House. It was here that in 1868 she actually wrote her classic novel Little Women, loosely based on her family.


A stone stairway led up the ridge, and before the last few steps already loomed the Thoreau family grave (click to enlarge). All family members are listed, but the actual grave is at the small stone--find the one that says simply “Henry”. It was at this first stop that I found a particularly strong devotion. Many people leave pebbles, coins, and here--pine cones, to mark their visit (I left a pine cone at each stop). But at the “Henry” stone was also a cluster of 25-30 pencils, with dual meaning, I suppose. Someone was also impressed enough with Thoreau to have written a quote of his on a scrap of paper, left under a rock: “I went to the woods because I wished to live deliberately . . . and not when I came to die discover that I had not lived. H.D.T.”


Directly facing Thoreau across the path was the grave of Nathaniel Hawthorne; a few stops down was the large stone for the Alcott family, including a smaller one for Louisa May Alcott (note the pinecones; I also saw a pen there). Finally, a bit further, was the much larger, and very irregular stone for Ralph Waldo Emerson (note pebbles on top, and pinecones).


Coming down from Author’s Ridge I made sure I found the last grave I was seeking, that of the odd-man-out, the originator of the Concord grape, Ephraim Bull, with his lament “He sowed, others reaped.” Do you suppose that grapevine it shows bears sour grapes? To add insult to injury, they misspelled his first name.

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