Minute Men

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In New England, Liberty has an April Birthday
"The Shot Heard Around the World"

By Lorianne DiSabato

While the rest of America celebrates independence in July, here in New
we recognize that liberty has an April birthday.  

In high school, I was never interested in history: in fact, I think I slept through
most of my American history classes. But walking the dusty road leading to
Hartwell Tavern at the
Minute Man National Historical Park  in Lexington,
Massachusetts one afternoon gave me a different perspective on the events that
preserved its place in history.

For all the years I lived in and around Boston and Cambridge, I'd never
actually set foot on this protected portion of the "Battle Road" where American
militia clashed with British soldiers on April 19, 1775, an event that Ralph
Waldo Emerson later immortalized in his "
Concord Hymn" as "the shot heard
'round the world."

I didn't have enough time to walk the five-mile Battle Road Trail, but I did take
a quick stroll around Hartwell Tavern, the 18th-century home of Ephraim and
Elizabeth Hartwell. The Hartwells' home and tavern are surrounded by rolling
pastureland snaked with stone walls and wide-spreading maples:
quintessential New England countryside that makes for good sun-dappled

Walking this road in the 21st century, you can clearly imagine what it might
have been like to drive cattle along this same road in 1775; the pastured sheep I
saw as I drove down Route 2A could just as well been grazing there centuries
ago. This sun-dappled path with its fringe of trees and rock walls seems to
exist outside of time: it's a place where you'd feel content to live the rest of
your days and then ultimately, in the fullness of time, come to lie down
beneath a different sort of stone.

Realizing how peaceful and literally pastoral this landscape is, I began to
realize what it was that those early militia, the so-called Minute Men, must
have been fighting for. The Revolution surely wasn't about abstractions such as
taxes and tea; instead, the Revolution was about this lovely land that those
long-dead fighters had come to call their own.

Walking down that quiet sun-dappled path, I couldn't imagine it beaten by the
tramp of British soldiers' boots; for an army to despoil this quiet would have
been an abomination. The men who raised their hand from the plow to take up
arms were fighting for "country" in its most primitive sense: they were fighting
so the tramp of British boots would no longer haunt the dreams of their
sleeping babies or startle the cows who lay chewing their mid-summer cud in
tree-fringed pastures.

It took great courage, I suspect, for farmers, merchants, and common laborers
to take up arms against an organized army of their native countrymen. And yet
strolling these paths among towering trees and snaking stone walls, I realize
where they found such courage: they found it in these rocks, these trees, and
these rolling hills which had stood for so long, even then, in mute testimony to
nature's all-enduring power.

Like a mountain that can't be moved, those Minute Men stood firm, rooted in
their adopted country, defending their right to home and hearth with a
persistence that could not be denied. Some things (and some places) are worth
fighting for: a peaceful home, a humble hearth, and one's own quiet corner of
God's green earth being among them.

Closer to Home…

Since this walk, I've been itching to learn more about my own hometown’s
remnant of the Revolutionary War history, the
Wyman Tavern on Main Street
in Keene, NH.  

Built in 1762 by Captain Isaac Wyman, the building served as a tavern for some
40 years, during which time it hosted in 1770 the first meeting of the trustees of
Dartmouth College.   But Keene’s Wyman Tavern's chief claim to fame,
however, has to do with Keene's response to the Battles of Lexington and
Concord where the Minute Men of Keene, NH, who were 90 miles north of the
conflict, likewise heard the call to take up arms.

In an age before telegraph and telephone much less fax machines, cell phones,
and email, word of the conflict in Massachusetts quickly spread to New
Hampshire. According to Upper Ashuelot: A History of Keene, New
Hampshire, an anonymous rider immediately made the journey from Concord
to Keene to bring news, arriving either late in the evening on April 19 or early
the next morning.  

There was no highway to Keene in those days, so the messenger had to follow
a wooded trail marked by tree blazes beyond the end of the road in New

Upon reaching Keene, news of the Concord conflict spread rapidly: by April
20th, local diarist Abner Sanger noted that "Keene Town is in an Uproar. They
warn a Musture [sic]."

In slightly more-than-a-Minute Man fashion, an assembly of Keene's militia
met in front of the town Meetinghouse on the afternoon of April 21. Warned
that they would find few supplies on the way to Concord, the able-bodied men
of Keene were instructed to gather their own provisions before embarking to
Concord the next day.

On the morning of April 22, 1775, 29 men from Keene along with a handful of
men from nearby Gilsum gathered at Wyman's Tavern  to gather supplies
before setting out on foot toward Concord on the Boston Road (now Baker

Unimpeded by rain and muddy conditions, Keene's militia men reached
Lunenburg, MA by the afternoon of April 23; sometime the next day they were
joined by militia from nearby Walpole, NH who had taken longer to muster
both men and supplies. The leader of this Walpole contingent, Captain
Bellows, remarked that "Keene has shown a noble spirit" when he learned how
quickly his neighboring townsmen had gathered and set out to aid the
colonists in Concord. The militia from Keene, Gilsum, and Walpole reached
Concord on foot the afternoon of April 24, 1775 and were subsequently sent to
Cambridge for military exercises. Armed with the weapons and ammunition
they themselves had supplied, they had begun their on-the-job training as
citizen soldiers.

These days, the thoroughfare once known as the Boston Road is called Baker
Street: a barely-legible granite monument marks the head of this now-
residential street as the start of the Keene militia men's march to battle in
Concord. These days, you'll find elementary children walking to school on this
street, or occasionally you'll see a local college professor walking her dog. It
takes more-than-a-minute to win any battle, but even the mightiest revolution
starts with a single first step.

About the author:  Lorianne DiSabato, who lives in Keene, NH, is an adjunct
professor of English at Keene State College.  This story was excerpted from her
blog about her life in the Monadnock Region of New Hampshire,
Sign at Wyman Tavern, Keene, NH
The Wyman Tavern, Keene, NH
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