First shot of revolution fired

With the activities of the "Association Committees," a breach which had been slowly developing among the people widened to the irreconcilable stage. Many Americans had, for some time, favored greater caution in the resistance movement. For the most part these were opposed to British encroachment on American rights, but they favored discussion and compromise as the proper solution, rather than an open break. The composition of this group was heterogeneous. It included most of those of official rank (i.e. Crown-appointed officers of various sorts) ; many great and small Quakers and members of other religious sects opposed in principle to the use of violence; many merchants, especially from the middle colonies; and some discontented small farmers and frontiers-men from the interior section of the most southern colonies. The patriots, on the other hand, drew their support not only from the less well-to-do, but from many of the professional class, especially lawyers; most of the great planters of the south; and a not inconsiderable number of merchants.

The course of events after the passage of the Coercive Acts left the loyalists appalled and frightened. As a result, the King might well have effected an alliance with them and, by timely concession, so strengthened their position that the patriots would have found it very difficult to proceed with hostilities. But George III had no intention of making concessions. In September 1774, scorning a petition by Philadelphia Quakers, he wrote, "The die is now cast, the Colonies must either submit or triumph." This attitude cut the ground from under the loyalists or "Tories," as they were coming to be called. They now had nothing to offer their fellows but complete and abject surrender to the most extreme parliamentary claims. Moderates, therefore, had no choice but to support the patriots, now called the Whigs, since any other course would have meant the loss of all their liberties. Active persecution of the loyalists began. Millers refused to grind their corn; labor would not serve them; and they could neither buy nor sell. They were denounced as traitors, and committees published their names "sending them down to posterity with the infamy they deserve."

General Thomas Gage, an amiable English gentleman with an American-born wife, was in command of the garrison at Boston, where political activity had almost wholly replaced trade. A leading patriot of the town, Dr. Joseph Warren, wrote to an English friend on February 20, 1775: "It is not yet too late to accommodate the dispute amicably, but I am of the opinion that if once General Gage should lead his troops into the country with the design to enforce the late acts of Parliament, Great Britain may take her leave, at least of the New England colonies, and if I mistake not, of all America. If there is any wisdom in the nation, God grant it may be speedily called forth!"

But General Thomas Gage's duty was to enforce the Coercive Acts. News reached him that the Massachusetts patriots were collecting powder and military stores at the interior town of Concord, twenty miles distant. On the night of April 18, 1775, he sent a strong detail of his garrison to confiscate these munitions and to seize Samuel Adams and John Hancock who had been ordered sent to England to stand trial for their lives. But the whole countryside had been aroused and when, after a night of marching, the British troops reached the village of Lexington, they saw through the early morning mist a grim band of fifty minute-men-armed colonists-lined up across the common. There was a moment of hesitation, cries and orders from both sides and, in the midst of the noise-a shot. Firing broke out along both lines, and the Americans dispersed leaving eight of their dead upon the green. The first blood of the war for American independence had been shed.

The British pushed on to Concord where the "embattled farmers" at the bridge "fired the shot heard round the world." Their purpose partly accomplished, the British regiments began their return march, but all along the road, behind stone walls, hillocks, and houses, the militia arrived from village and farm and made targets of the bright red coats. Indeed so widespread was the response of the countryside in this first battle of the Revolution that when the weary column finally stumbled into Boston, the force of 2,500 men had suffered losses nearly three times those sustained by the colonists.