They came three thousand miles, and died
to keep the past upon its throne:
unheard beyond the ocean tide
their English mother made her moan.
For what seemed a long while, I stood in silent contemplation of these words inscribed on a granite block that marks the beginning of the American war for independence (below left in left side of photo). This solemn monument stands at the true birthplace of American nationhood -- North Bridge, Concord. I was strangely affected by the James Russell Lowell's verse cut into the stone face.
This tribute to the first two British soldiers killed on the day the revolutionary war started and buried where they fell stands in a quiet corner of this historic, pretty Massachusetts town. Two Union Flags flank the poignant memorial and its sun-dappled bed of pink busy-lizzies and red geraniums.
Looking at this peaceful scene -- the placid waters of Concord River, the green fields all around and the tall shading oaks, sycamore, and beech trees that line the river bank and dapple its waters with refreshing shade -- it is difficult to imagine that such a significant event took place here.
However, on April 19th 1775 the battle here was the powder keg which started the American war of independence. Concord resident and essayist Ralph Waldo Emerson called it "The shot heard 'round the world." But this first skirmish lasted less than an hour.
There are reminders though: a statue of a Minute Man, the revolutionary guerrilla. Over the bridge and on the ridge of a hill stands the land of Major Buttrick, the officer who ordered that the first shot be fired against the British.
His descendants' home is now the North Bridge Visitor Center and headquarters of the Minute Man National Historic Park. Here you will find a well-stocked book and souvenir shop, reconstruction of Concord life 250 years ago, and a video show of the causes of the War of Independence. The staff at the Center are experts in the war and often engage in re-enactments. They seem to know the answer to any question thrown at them.
The house stands in acres of well-kept, tidy lawns and flowerbeds, with vistas that include the Concord River and a large part of the surrounding countryside. It is a short walk up a gentle incline to the Center.
The original North Bridge fell into disuse and was torn down in 1793, and its first replacement was demolished in the late 19th century. But a town resident reassured me that the present bridge is a faithful replica of the original
A low, mournful train whistle echoed over the hill, reflecting yet disturbing my melancholia. That train whistle reminded me it was time to re-trace my steps into Concord town and the railway station.
The afternoon was cloudless and the intense sun made the walk into town long, hot and thirsty; my every step threw little eddies of dust around my ankles. As this dusty way merges itself into the tarmac of Monument Street, the heat is worsened by the intensity of the light reflected from the typical white painted clapperboard New England houses that line this long street. Only occasionally does deep pink, and terracotta paintwork relieve the glare.
In the distance I hear the grumble of a lawnmower, soon the tang of freshly mown grass relieves the dry still air. In front of each house is a long well tended lawn most of which are crowned by low white picket fences. Some of the lawns are graced by sycamore trees or rhododendron bushes, but in each lawn is planted a flag pole, in the balmy breeze, fluttering from nearly all of them are "star spangled banners".
But now I have to head back to the railway station. I savour this last moment of tranquility, because soon the peace of this historic town will give way to the throng and stress of modern Boston.
Photo: ©Richard Stevenson
Artwork: Hometown Websmith.
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