While it’s not celebrated too widely outside of New England, Patriots’ Day (or “Patriot’s Day” if you live in Maine) is a big deal there, primarily in the state where the Battles of Lexington and Concord actually took place – Massachusetts. For anyone reading this from New England who isn’t aware: No, you’re not getting the third Monday in April off so you can stay home and watch the Boston Marathon.
Even before the Declaration of Independence was written, there were the Battles of Lexington and Concord – the true beginning of the American Revolution. To be sure, this is something that had been brewing for some time. There was the Boston Massacre, the Boston Tea Party, and the Intolerable Acts. But the Battles of Lexington and Concord marked the first shots fired between Patriots and Tories, beginning what would eventually lead to the independence of the American colonies from the British Empire.
While the battles began as a small skirmish, they quickly became a bona fide fight – and a bridge from which the American rebels could not walk back.
Increasing Tensions in the Massachusetts Bay Colony
By the time of the battles, the British occupying troops had already earned the nickname of “redcoats,” or even “devils” depending on who you spoke to. They had been occupying Boston since 1768, and due to forced quartering as well as increased resistance on the part of the colonists, the tensions between the natives and the occupying army were only growing with time.
Boston was to some degree under the control of General Thomas Gage, military governor of Massachusetts and the commander of a garrison of some 3,000 British troops stationed in the city. However, outside of the city was a whole other issue. Indeed, it was outside of the city where the rebel sentiment held the most sway. While it is often said that one-third of colonists were Tories, another third Patriots, and another third apathetic, the Patriots held the overwhelming majority of support among Massachusetts colonists outside of Boston.
Gage planned to assert central control over the more rural parts of the Massachusetts Bay Colony by using small strikes to confiscate the Patriot militias’ supplies. He had some success in doing this in advance of the Battles of Lexington and Concord in what were known as the Powder Alarms.
Still, due to the threat of Indian raids, every town in Massachusetts was required to have a militia. And these militias needed supplies. Disarming all of them seemed unlikely at best.
Confiscating the Colonial Arms
On April 14, 1775, the order came down from the central authority in London that General Gage was to confiscate the colonial arms. On the morning of April 18, Gage sent a mounted patrol of 20 men to intercept messengers and, perhaps most importantly, to find Samuel Adams and John Hancock. It was their search for the latter two men that tipped off the colonists that something bigger was afoot. This put the residents of the area on a higher alert than they otherwise might have been.
Lieutenant Colonel Francis Smith was ordered to go relieve the Concord militia of its arms and powder, but not to disturb the locals or their property. He did not give orders to arrest the rebel leaders for fear that this would spark a huge uprising.
The Patriots had largely been alerted to both the general plan (remove their arms and powder) and the specific plan (go after the Concord militia), and the Massachusetts Provincial Congress ordered the militias to resist the British troops with force.
On April 18, in preparation for the arrival of British troops, Paul Revere took his famous “midnight ride” to warn the colonists of the area that “the British are coming.” Indeed, the colonials had intercepted the transmission from London, and knew that April 19th would be the day of the raid, even before General Gage knew. The leading lights of the rebellion left the city of Boston and laid low to avoid an arrest.