On April 19, remember the true sacrifices

By David Siskind
March 30, 2023

This April 19 will not be just another day.

April 19 will be the 248th anniversary of the first battle of the American Revolution. The day commemorates that fateful day back in 1775 when small groups of men and women in Concord, Lexington and other towns throughout Massachusetts placed their lives, homes and families at great peril and defiantly confronted the army of their king, the British Army – at the time, the strongest military force on the face of the globe.

We may all be familiar with the April 19, 1775 battles on Lexington Green and at Concord’s North Bridge, the latter immortalized by Emerson’s poetic tribute to the “shot heard round the world”. And perhaps we are familiar with the long list of oppressive political and economic measures that had been imposed on the fledgling “Americans” by their British rulers thousands of miles away – measures which had convinced the American colonists that, sadly, their only choices were to live like slaves under tyrannical rule or risk their lives to secure their freedoms.

But perhaps we are less acquainted with some of the real sacrifices that were made that day and how the lives of so many were changed forever. Consider the following small bits of history.

When the colonial militia marched down a small hill toward the British soldiers at the North Bridge, Captain Isaac Davis was at their lead. Davis was head of the Acton Minutemen. A gunsmith by trade, Davis had had the foresight to equip all the muskets of the Acton militia with bayonets. Since the American colonists didn’t know what would happen when they got nearer to the British soldiers – whether there would be an exchange of musket fire from a distance or up-close, hand-to-hand combat – Davis had been asked by Concord’s Colonel James Barrett, head of the colonial forces, to have his unit with its bayonet-equipped muskets take the lead. Davis assured Barrett, “I haven’t a man that’s afraid to go.” As events would unfold, gunfire marked the confrontation of the colonial and British forces. And Davis – the minuteman in the lead – was the first colonial fighter to fall, a victim of the fatal volley of musket balls fired by the British regulars. 

When Davis had left his house that morning, all four of his children were sick. Among the last words he ever spoke to his wife were, “Take good care of the children.” 

Earlier, around midnight, Paul Revere and William Dawes had reached the village of Lexington and brought the news that the British regulars were on the march from Boston. Pausing briefly, Revere and Dawes then set out to bring the alert to Concord, a key British objective, where. British intelligence knew the colonial forces stockpiled weapons. Shortly after leaving Lexington center, around 1 a.m. on April 19, Revere and Dawes crossed paths with Samuel Prescott. Prescott, a young doctor from Concord with seven siblings, was returning home after spending the evening courting his fiancee, Lydia Mulliken who lived with her widowed mother, four brothers and two sisters in a small house not far from Lexington Green. After being assured that Prescott was a “high son of Liberty,” Revere and Dawes allowed Prescott to ride with them on toward Concord.

Within a few miles, the trio was intercepted by a British patrol. Dawes – several yards in the rear – was able to turn his horse around and escape back to Lexington. Revere, forced to dismount, was arrested. Thus, the two men charged with getting the alarm to Concord had been successfully foiled by the British. But Prescott – knowing well the local terrain – was able to jump his steed over a low stone wall and flee through the woods. Prescott spread the alarm to Concord.

Soon after the Revolution broke out, Prescott went to sea aboard a privateer – the forerunner of the American Navy. The ship he was on was soon captured by the British Navy and Prescott was imprisoned under harsh conditions up in Halifax, Nova Scotia. He died of exposure about a year later.

Lydia, unaware of Samuel’s fate, waited eight years for her love to return. Eventually, after the Revolution ended, she abandoned hope of ever seeing Samuel again and married a different man.

On their retreat from Concord back to Boston, the British forces burned down a number of homes – among them, Lydia Mulliken’s.

After Samuel Prescott reached Concord with the news of the coming British invasion, his brother Abel assumed the duty of getting the warning to towns farther West. Abel returned to Concord in the afternoon, just as the British – still recoiling from their defeat at the North Bridge – were retreating. A British soldier spotted Abel and shot him. Four months later, at age 26, he succumbed to his wounds.

Isaac Davis, Sam and Abel Prescott, and Lydia Mulliken may not be familiar characters in American history books. Yet, they and their families – like several other families that day – made very real sacrifices in defense of their liberties and toward the cause of American independence.

From an overall perspective, the battles at Lexington and Concord were but small military skirmishes. Eight colonists, and no British regulars, were killed in Lexington. Two colonists, and three British soldiers, died at the North Bridge. But casualties grew greater as the day wore on and the British fought their way back to Boston against an attacking colonial force that, swelled by militias from towns all across Massachusetts, had grown to 4,000. By the time the sun set that April 19, 73 British regulars had been killed, 174 wounded and 26 were missing. For the colonists, 49 had been killed, 41 wounded and 5 were missing. 

The significance of the day was readily perceived by colonial leaders. John Adams, who traveled the next day by horseback from his home miles away to ride along the battlefields, declared, “The die is cast, the Rubicon crossed.” 

And George Washington, receiving news of the Massachusetts battles at his home in Mount Vernon, wrote to a friend, “The once happy and peaceful plains of America are now either to be drenched in blood or inhabited by slaves. What sad alternatives. But can a virtuous man hesitate in his choice?”.

The virtuous men and women of Concord, Acton, Lexington and other Massachusetts towns made their choice that April 19, and clearly, we are the beneficiaries of their decision. So as you go about your tasks this April 19, pause just a bit to salute their choice and honor the real sacrifices that were made.

And maybe even ask yourself, had you been alive that day, what choice would you have made.