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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Thursday, April 19, 2012

Ebenezer Stiles: “What sound is that”?

Yesterday I started quoting Ebenezer Stiles’s “Story of the Battle of Concord and Lexinton and Revear’s ride Twenty years ago,” written in 1795. The first stanzas described Paul Revere’s ride and the skirmish at Lexington.

Then there’s a break, and Stiles restarts his story with two iconic militiamen who would reappear in many other authors’ and artists’ portrayals of the day. It appears that Stiles was so carried away by the pathos of the scene he described that he lost his metre at the end of the second stanza.
Part Second
What sound is that said a ploughman strong
As he stoped his horse in the field
And looked to his wife who sat under the tree
She had brought him his morning meal.
What sound is that and he turned his ear
To list to the far off hum
By Heavens that’s a shot I hear
And that’s the sound of a drum

He reached his gun from the side of the plough
Where he kept it in case of need
And his powder horn he took from a bough
And his Horse became a steed
He turned to his wife she’d a tear in her eye
But she spoke like a matron of greace
As fondly he kissed her a last good bye
She bade to never spare the foe untill they craved for peace

He rode down the lane at a breakneck pace
So anxious was he for the fight
That he saw not a youth with an unshaven face
Who was running with all his might
To the scene of bloodshed carnage and woe
That the soldiers delt out with joy
His mother said go fight the foe
Although you’r my only boy

Go take thy Father’s gun she said
That he used in the Indian wars
And do not return untill they’r all dead
Or driven from off these shores
Be brave like him whose name you bare
Like him defend the right
Of snars and pitfalls my son beware
And keep thy scutcheon bright

Now the patriot captain’s voice
Is heard below the ridge
Fall in men quick we have no choice
We must defend the bridge
The little band despersed that morn
Now sweled to thrice their number
Stood no longer like the timed fawn
But a lion roused from slumber
Though starting with two individuals, Stiles quickly returned to treating all the provincial militiamen together as a single actor. In that last stanza, he even conflated the “little band” on the Lexington common with the men massed above the North Bridge at Concord later in the day.

TOMORROW: The clash at the bridge.

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