How Patriots' Day Came to Be and Why You Should Celebrate It By Taking in a Reenactment or Two!

Long before either the Commonwealth of Massachusetts or the State of Maine (once a part of Massachusetts) observed the third Monday in April as Patriots' Day (or Patriot's Day if you're in Maine), the small town of Concord was observing every April 19th as Concord Day in honor of the anniversary of the 1775 battle that occurred in and around the town.  The citizens of Concord were so proud of their annual celebration that they suggested that the entire Commonwealth join in to celebrate Concord Day with them.

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Meanwhile, down the old Battle Road a few miles, the citizens of Lexington were celebrating Lexington Day on April 19th as they held that the war had actually begun on their town green long before any British troops marched to Concord and fired a single shot - never mind the "shot heard 'round the world" as Concord's favorite native son Ralph Waldo Emerson had opined in his epic poem "The Concord Hymn" which was sung at the dedication of Concord's battle monument on July 4th, 1837.  Naturally, Lexington suggested that the Commonwealth join them in the observation of Lexington Day on April 19th.

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When no one in any of the other 349 towns outside of Lexington or Concord seemed to give two hoots about either proposal, the two towns compromised and jointly proposed April 19th to be celebrated as Lexington AND Concord Day.  Though it was a good compromise it still wasn't received with any sort of enthusiasm and their proposal fell flat leaving the two towns to celebrate without the rest of the Commonwealth.

In 1893 the proposal took on a new life when Frederic Greenhalge, born in England and raised in Lowell where he worked in the textile mills before taking part in the Civil War then marching home to eventually become mayor of Lowell, was elected governor.  Even though he had his plate full with other governmental issues, shortly after he took office he ensured himself a lasting legacy when he proclaimed April 19th, 1894 to be Patriots' Day.

In spite of their lobbying, the proclamation wasn't made to celebrate either Concord or Lexington but instead the day was proclaimed to celebrate Liberty and Union.  Governor Greenhalge felt it was a fitting day to celebrate both as not only was April 19th the anniversary of the beginning of the war for Liberty in 1775 but on April 19th, 1861, a conflict that is regarded by historians to be the first bloodshed of the American Civil War took place in Baltimore, Maryland between Confederate sympathizers and members of the Sixth Massachusetts Militia who were on their way to Washington D.C. to be mustered into federal service as a regiment.  Twelve civilians and four soldiers were killed during the conflict including Corporal Sumner Henry Needham from Lawrence who is considered to be the very first Union casualty of the Civil War.

To Governor Greenhalge, it seemed only proper to honor both events and so it was that under Massachusetts General Laws, Part I, Title II, Chapter 6, Section 12J a day was set into place for the annual observance of Patriots' Day:
"The governor shall annually issue a proclamation calling for a proper observance of April nineteenth as Patriots’ Day, in commemoration of the opening events of the War of the Revolution and the struggle through which the nation passed in its early days."
Even though the day wasn't expressly set aside as a day to honor those first towns where the upstart Colonial militia took on the professionally-trained British Regulars in a fight for independence, on April 19th observances and re-enactments of these first battles of the American Revolution occurred annually at Lexington Green in Lexington and The Old North Bridge in Concord.

Colonial Militia Reenactors at the Tower Park Battle in Lexington

In 1969, the observed day for the holiday was changed to the third Monday in April, providing everyone with a three-day long weekend as well as making it the first day of public school vacation week in both Massachusetts and Maine. With an entire weekend to now celebrate, commemorate, and observe there's a wide variety of events that one can attend to relive the history that occurred in the Massachusetts countryside around the towns of Concord, Lexington, and Lincoln on April 19th, 1775.

Spectators and British Troop Reenactors at the Tower Park Battle in Lexington

On Saturday of the Patriots' Day Weekend, you can take part in and observe a number of Battle Road Trail events at Minute Man National Historical Park including drill and musket demonstrations, 18th century artillery demonstrations, a massed tactical weapons demonstration which runs over a half-mile of the original Battle Road, crafts, games and more. On Sunday there are observances and events in Arlington, Lincoln, and Lexington and on Monday, Patriots' Day itself, you can start out your day on a very early note by attending the Battle on Lexington Green at 5:00 a.m., follow it up with one of the annual pancake breakfasts in town, and then make your way to Concord for a Commemoration of the Battle at North Bridge at 8:00 a.m. followed by a Mourn Arms Ceremony at at the British Graves at the North Bridge at approximately 8:30 a.m. prior to the annual Concord Parade at 9:00 a.m.

Believe it or not, that's just a few of the scheduled events and activities in the area!  For a complete listing, visit Battle Road, a website that commemorates the Battles of Lexington and Concord and has all of the information you'll need to attend at least one or two of the local observances. If you get the chance, I highly recommend battling the crowds and attending at least one of the reenactments as they're very well done and can give you a new appreciation and respect for what it took for America to become an independent nation all those many years ago.

 Nathaniel and I visited the Battle Road Trail during last year's Patriots' Day on Saturday and then followed that up by watching a battle reenactment in the town of Lexington where we joined hundreds of other spectators in the natural amphitheater on Massachusetts Avenue across from the National Heritage Museum.

Spectators for the Tower Park Battle in Lexington

My best advice is to get there early in order to secure a parking space somewhere within fairly easy walking distance and then be prepared to be on your feet a lot during the actual battle reenactment as when the troops move, so does the crowd! Either that or you can bring a ladder along like some folks do so that you can see over the heads of all of the other spectators! Oh, and if you've got sensitive ears, you'll probably want some earplugs too as trust me, it can get loud once the cannons start firing and the guns start blazing!

Spectators at the Tower Park Battle in Lexington
American Cannons at the Tower Park Battle in Lexington

The Tower Park Battle is reenacted by the Lexington Minute Men and His Majesty's Tenth Regiment of Foot, American Division, and they do an absolutely fantastic job. Their uniforms are about as authentic as you can get as are their military drills and characterizations. I have to give them all major kudos along with a lot of respect and admiration for their dedication and pride in what they do and how they do it. They are all truly amazing!

British Troop Reenactors at the Tower Park Battle in Lexington Colonial Militia Reenactors at the Tower Park Battle in Lexington British Troop Reenactors at the Tower Park Battle in Lexington

Rather than post the overload of photos that I took during the battle and have you scrolling forever, I have put together a video photo montage arranged in chronological order and set it to some Revolutionary War music to try to make it just a little more authentic! Additionally, if you'd like to see the photos in a non-moving format, please visit my Patriots' Day 2012 gallery at SmugMug.

If you aren't able to make it to the Concord and Lexington area for this year's Patriots' Day Events, please do consider making it a priority for next year. It's a great time for young and old alike, most of the events are free of charge, and I'm sure you'll walk away with a new appreciation for what Patriots' Day is all about aside from the Boston Marathon and a home game for the Boston Red Sox of course! 

Copyright © - Travels With Nathaniel/Linda Orlomoski/Hawthorne Hotel. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from Travels With Nathaniel/Linda Orlomoski/Hawthorne Hotel is strictly prohibited.

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~ Nathaniel and Linda