The first shots of the Revolution, we are told, were fired at Lexington and Concord on April 19, 1775. But the blood of patriots had begun to stir long before then. Samuel Adams, called even in his own day “The Father of the American Revolution,” was stoking revolutionary fervor twenty years earlier.
Adams, primarily a pamphleteer and journalist, was quotable. Indeed, one of his quotes serves as the banner of Connecticut Commentary:
“If ye love wealth better than liberty, the tranquility of servitude better than the animating contest of freedom, go home from us in peace. We ask not your counsels or arms. Crouch down and lick the hands which feed you. May your chains set lightly upon you, and may posterity forget that ye were our countrymen.”
All the King’s men may have thought Samuel was hot, and he was. But he was a cool thinker and revolutionary plotter, as were most of the Fathers of the Republic -- and far seeing too:
“If ever a time should come, when vain and aspiring men shall possess the highest seats in Government, our country will stand in need of its experienced patriots to prevent its ruin.”
I have, thanks to William Hosley, a Connecticut preservationist determined to make a record of notable places in the state, access to a diary kept by Ezra Stiles, and an entrée dated September 1774 puts us on the revolutionary spot just before the “shot heard round the world’ was fired within sight of a home later owned by Nathaniel Hawthorne and his new bride. Before they reached their honeymoon home, Henry David Thoreau entered the property by stealth and planted a garden for the two lovebirds. They are all buried within a stone’s throw of each other in Sleepy Hollow Cemetery in Concord.
Mr. Stiles was riding to Norwich with “Mr. McNeil of Litchfield,” who gave Mr. Stiles, a tradesman, an eyewitness account of the revolutionary activity then occurring on the route he took from Springfield to Boston. Mr. Stiles, an itinerant preacher, kept meticulous notes:
“All along the whole track of about forty miles from Shrewsbury to Boston… the Women kept on making Cartridges & after equipping their Husbands bro’t them out to the Soldiers which in crowds passed along & gave them out in handfuls to one or another as they were deficient, mixing exhortations & tears & prayers & spiriting the men in such an uneffeminate Manner as even would make Cowards fight. He tho’t if anything the Women surpassed the Men for Eagerness & Spirit in the Defense of Liberty by arms. For they had no thoughts of the Men returning but from battle, for they all believed the Action commenced between the King’s troops & the Provincials. The Women under this Assurance gave up their Husbands and Sons &c to Battle & bid them fight courageously & manfully & behave themselves bravely for Liberty – commanding them to behave like Men & not like Cowards – to be of good courage & play the man for our people & for the cities of our God -- & the Lord do as seemeth him good. They expected a bloody Scene, but they doubted not Success & Victory.”
It is a stirring piece of prose. Those who want an honest answer to the question “Who won the Revolution?” should stick it in their wallets against the day when they may need courage and assurance. They will get it from women patriots who lined the route from Shrewsbury to Boston, whose love of Liberty was such that they could not “crouch down to lick the hand that fed them.” These ladies were not for chains.