J. L. BELL is a Massachusetts writer who specializes in (among other things) the start of the American Revolution in and around Boston. He is particularly interested in the experiences of children in 1765-75. He has published scholarly papers and popular articles for both children and adults. He was consultant for an episode of History Detectives, and contributed to a display at Minute Man National Historic Park.

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Sunday, March 13, 2011

“Where Did It Begin?” Panel, Old South, 17 March

This Thursday, 17 March, I’ll moderate a panel at the Old South Meeting House on the topic “Where Did It Begin?” This is part of a series of lunchtime events on the start of the Revolution organized by the Education Department of the Massachusetts Historical Society. (It’s mere coincidence that the panel occurs on Evacuation Day.)

The description for our event reads:

Early in the morning on April 19, 1775, the first shots of the American Revolution were fired at Lexington Green, causing the deaths of eight colonists. But the famous “shot heard ’round the world” refers to the battle hours later in Concord [Massachusetts!] where the first British blood was spilled. A panel of local historians, moderated by historical blogger J. L. Bell, will consider the question that has provoked spirited discussion and debate between the towns for 235 years.
That may sound like an invitation to rehash the feud between Lexington and Concord in the 1800s as each town claimed to be where the Revolutionary War began. But instead we’ll talk about what sort of towns those were, why war began on 19 Apr 1775, whether by other definitions it began before or after that date, and what role small unforeseen circumstances played in the grand historic events.

Joining me on the dais will be: The event begins at 12:15, and part of my job is to ensure we end at 1:00. Admission is $6, but free for members of Old South and the Massachusetts Historical Society.


Peter Fisk said...

Hmmmm ... "Where Did It Begin?" ... Good question. Let's ask Michele Bachmann what she thinks.

Charles Bahne said...

Stop the presses! We have a new contender for the honor of "where did it begin?" You need to expand your panel and bring in someone from New Hampshire.

Unknown said...

Dang...wish I could go! I have a prior commitment, sadly. I would have enjoyed this discussion.

J. L. Bell said...

I’m actually on record as suggesting that the war did start in New Hampshire. But not Concord, New Hampshire.

Charles Bahne said...

And yesterday's blog entry had a suggestion that it started in Vermont!

Todd And said...

Ambitious topic for a 45 minute panel -- good luck moderating! How much time will be spent defining "it"?

RFuller said...

I think it's important to define what differentiates the incidents in Lexington and Concord in 1775. Nobody admits to the incident in Lexington being started on purpose. This was a town not on the British plan, except to march through on their way to the military stores in Concord. Nor did Captain Parker or anybody else in Lexington ever admit to saying they were going to attack the British troops unilaterally.

Whatever happened was unplanned, but still ended with dead and wounded colonial militiamen. I hesitate to call it a “fight”, since according to their sworn depositions taken immediately after the incident, the wise colonists ran for their lives once the shooting started- it was more like the Tiananmen Square Massacre in Beijing in 1989 in its one-sidedness, shock and cover of near-darkness.

Concord, a few hours later, in broad daylight, was a different story. There, the colonists held a council of war among themselves, and decided, under the command of their elected militia leaders, to confront, and then, when ordered to do so, shoot back at their own government’s soldiers. That is the difference.

It could have happened differently, and elsewhere, but it did not. Emerson was not trying to disparage Lexington, but merely restate the facts poetically. Only first at Concord’s North Bridge, due to circumstances, were some of the Massachusetts colonists, not just from Concord, but also Acton, Lincoln, Bedford and other towns, able to strike a blow for freedom by united action.

But JL, I do take your and Ray Rapahel’s points, about when the revolution started. It is hard to differentiate exactly when it began. But the war, the utter last resort of any civilization to solve its problems, started on the Battle Road at Lexington AND Concord. That’s the best way to look at it.