Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Lexington & Concord: Blood Spilled Between Brothers/Enemies

The Revolutionary War was a bloody conflict between men who had once been loyal to the same government. Over time, they had grown apart until it seemed as if they were not even speaking the same language. The truth is that they did speak the same language. But while they used the same words, those words started to have different meanings to the men and women on either side of the wide Atlantic Ocean.

If I were to teach based on passages from Robert A. Gross's The Minutemen and Their World, I might choose the following passages and propose prompts that required the following analysis:

The search-and-destroy operation was largely conducted with restraint – perhaps because British officers, appalled by the break-down of discipline and by the bloodshed at Lexington common, were determined to avoid further incidents. In the town center an officer demanded admission to Timothy Wheeler’s storehouse, where numerous casks of provincial flour lay. Wheeler readily let them in. Playing the ever-cooperative country bumpkin, Wheeler put his hands on one of his own barrels and explained, “This is my flour, I am a miller, Sir. Yonder stands my mill. I get my living by it… this… is my flour; this is my wheat; this is my rye; this is mine.” “Well,” he was told, “we do not injure private property.” Many Regulars were equally conscientious when they entered private homes. Famished after their long night’s march, they asked for refreshments and generally insisted on paying their hosts. Colonel Barrett’s wife, Rebecca, at first refused compensation: “We are commanded to feed our enemies.” But when the British officers threw money into her lap, she sourly accepted it. “This is the price of blood,” she said. (pg 121)

This demonstrates a tense camaraderie between the British and Americans. They came from societies with similar traditions, rituals, ethics, and even values. Although they felt as if their values had drifted farther and farther apart by the time the encounter in Concord occurred. Two examples from this excerpt are striking to me. Wheeler, the miller, demonstrates a keen knowledge of the value of private property to Americans and British citizens alike. He knew that his clear expression of ownership through work would be meaningful to the soldiers who had entered his place of business. If the British and Americans did not both hold private property dear, his polite but firm statement might not have been received so cordially. Rebecca Barrett serves “the enemy” in her home and initially refuses compensation. While Americans and British felt worlds apart, they were all Christians who subscribed to Christian values such as “feed our enemies.”

At the same time, there were clear differences between the values of the British and Americans, as demonstrated in this next excerpt.

The fighting grew fiercer and bloodier after the Redcoats left Concord. This was war as provincial Indian fighters had long known it: every man for himself. To the British accustomed to open field fighting, it was the action of “rascals” and “concealed villains,” as one put it, “making the cowardly disposition… to murder us all.” (pg 129)

While the British Redcoats viewed the Americans’ tactics as cowardly and villainous, the Americans had only been trained that way due to their fighting and sacrifice, in the name of the British Crown, in the French and Indian War in the two decades prior. Good solid fighting from a few years earlier constituted murderous acts as the British retreated from Concord.

There are more passages from the book that could certainly be used in the analysis, but in the interest of integrating primary sources as well, students should be directed to two broadsides available online:

Students can note the use of the black coffins as an image of death and murder. The same image was used in newspapers and other published accounts after the Boston Massacre as a way of inflaming American sentiment against the British. Also, the use of words like “bloody” and “runaway fight” seem to cast the Regulars as villains and the Minutemen as horoes.

The reader must acknowledge the use of the word “circumstantial” insinuates that this particular account of the events at Lexington and Concord is the most accurate and truthful. Also, the fact that the author chose to call it an “Attack… on his Majesty’s Troops” presumes that the British Regulars were the cause of the conflict. In fact, the title goes on to specifically blame “a Number of the People of the Province of Massachusetts Bay.”

Taken together, both scholarly and primary accounts indicate the two following conclusions about the people involved in the incidents at Lexington and Concord:

  • They were Christians who subscribed to essential values such as charity and generosity, and the importance of work ethic and earned property.
  • As the British and Americans economies and social structure developed through the 17th and 18th Centuries, they understood each other less and less.

Bibliography

Gross, Robert A. The Minutemen and Their World (American Century). New York: Hill and Wang, 2001.
“Bloody Butchery, by the British Troops: or, The Runaway Fight of the Regulars” (1775). TeachUsUSHistory.org: The American Revolution. http://www.teachushistory.org/Revolution/ps-bloody.htm (Accessed November 16, 2010).
“A Circumstantial Account of an Attack that Happened on the 19th of April 1775, on His Majesty’s Troops” (1775), TeachUsUSHistory.org: The American Revolution. http://www.teachushistory.org/Revolution/ps-account.htm (Accessed November 16, 2010).

Please Note: This reflection was completed as part of the author's participation in the History Connected program. Please see the History Connected Wiki or the History Connected Official Website for information on the federal grant that provided the opportunity.

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