It was on the morning of April 19th, 1775, that a ragtag line of men fell out upon the village common of Lexington. Farmers, shopkeepers, men, and boys—they formed part of the Massachusetts militia, under the leadership of Captain John Parker. Alerted by William Dawes and Paul Revere that “The Regulars are coming out!”, these men rallied to defend the stockpiles of arms collected over the preceding months and give dissident leaders Samuel Adams and John Hancock time to escape.
History does not tell us what was going through the mind of the forty-six-year-old Parker on that fateful morning. We can only conjecture. He was not a well man—indeed, he would die only a few months later of tuberculosis, never living to see the harvest of the seeds he sowed upon the Lexington Green.
As he stood there in the morning mists with his men with the light infantry of Major John Pitcairn marching up the road toward their position, Parker cannot have suffered any delusions as to the odds arrayed against him. The British army of the time was the finest the world had ever seen, hardened by their devastating victories in the Seven Years’ War scarce more than a decade earlier. A veteran himself, Parker had seen the might of British power displayed against Montcalm on the Plains of Abraham. He and his men were alone, for all intents and purposes—the Declaration of Independence would not be drafted for another year, and history gives us no indication that Parker desired war.
And yet he stood his ground, even as Pitcairn’s crack troops formed up in line of battle against him, issuing a simple, yet immortal order: “Stand your ground. Don’t fire unless fired upon, but if they mean to have a war, let it begin here.”
What followed, as a British officer rode forward to issue the imperious command, “Lay down your arms, you damned rebels!”—as the light infantry surged onto the green with bayonets fixed, is forever shrouded in history. By the time the smoke had cleared, eight colonists lay dead , including Parker’s cousin Jonas, their blood staining the green grass.
But the fire of liberty had been kindled, an unquenchable fire that would sweep the land and defy every attempt of a monarch to extinguish it.
Never underestimate the power of an individual willing to take a stand for his beliefs, even though it be in the face of overwhelming odds.