‘Twas The Nineteenth Of April In (18)75 — And The Centennial Was Coming Unstuck

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Plans for a suitable memorial in Concord had been available for some time but had received little attention. Ebenezer Hubbard had begun putting them together in 1836 when the town erected a monument on the east, or British, bank of the Concord River. Mr. Hubbard was eleven years old in 1793 when the old North Bridge was torn down, the road straightened, and the bridge rebuilt several hundred yards downstream. There was no access, therefore, from the west, or American, bank except through the pasture land of Stedman Buttrick. Thus, the east bank, still linked by a section of the old road to the new, was the logical, if not the sentimental, spot for a monument, and a stone obelisk had been erected. But Hubbard did not like the choice and made his feelings known year after year with the stubborn tenacity of an old bachelor.

He supported his opinions with a gift of six hundred dollars to Concord for the purpose of rebuilding the North Bridge to make the American shore accessible again. His gilt was duly accepted, but at the time of his death in October, 1870, the town had still taken no action on it. His will, however, provided the perfect answer to the question of what the town should do to celebrate the centennial. It read:

I order my Executor to pay the sum of one thousand dollars towards building a Monument in said town of Concord on the spot where the Americans fell, on the opposite side of the riyer from the present Monument, in the battle of the Nineteenth of April, 1775, providing my said Executor shall ascertain that said Monument first named has been built, or sufficient funds have been obtained therefor within five years after my decease; but in case my Executor shall have ascertained that said first named Monument is not built, nor sufficient funds obtained for that purpose within five years after my decease, then I order my Executor to pay over to Hancock, N.H. [where he was born], said sum of one thousand dollars.

Stedman Buttrick expressed his approval of this proposal by deeding to the town about a quarter of an acre containing the western abutment of the old North Bridge “for the purpose of erecting a Monument thereon, and for no other purpose, and on condition that the grantee shall make and forever maintain a fence around the same, and that a bridge shall be constructed across the river from the easterly side to pass to the above premises, and without any right of way over my land.”

Concord appointed a committee at its annual town meeting in March, 1872; it was to report to the next town meeting the following March on Hubbard’s bequest. The committee, in a report signed by its chairman, John S. Keyes, recommended its acceptance. The committee further proposed to place a statue of a Continental minuteman, cut in granite, on the American side of the river and to build a bridge for access to it from the east bank, the work to be completed and dedicated on the one-hundredth anniversary of the battle. A sum of $ 1,500 was to be raised to pay for the statue and its dedication.

“To do this worthily,” the report concluded, “let us avail ourselves of these bequests in the patriotic spirit that inspired the givers, and fully understand that if we, as a community, desire ever to do anything to make our battle-ground more memorable, this is the fittest occasion.” It was a long time coming, but Ebenezer Hubbard had his way at last.

The search for a sculptor began. There were many available, as the Civil War memorial statues in many New England towns still bear witness, but few of them were very good. The committee turned to May Alcott, Louisa May’s artistic sister, for advice. She suggested that Daniel C. French might be the right person. He was a Concord boy in his early twenties whose ambition to be a sculptor she had been encouraging. French came up with a small plaster model of a minuteman; the design was approved by the committee and by the town at a meeting in November, 1873. On his recommendation the material specified for the statue was changed from granite to bronze.

Soon afterward, Judge Ebenezer Rockwood Hoar, Concord’s representative in the 43rd Congress and the son of the Samuel who had been Lafayette’s host in 1824, persuaded that body to vote to Concord the gift of ten condemned brass cannons to supply the metal for the statue. The act was signed into law by President Ulysses S. Grant on April 22, 1874, and the cannons were shipped to the Ames Manufacturing Company in Chicopee, Massachusetts. Daniel French set up his studio on Bromfield Street in Boston to work on this, his first commission. The full-sized plaster model arrived at the Ames plant in the fall of 1874.

 

The pedestal for the statue was cut from the same great boulder of Westford granite that had yielded up the stone for the monument on the eastern bank. It was moved to Concord when the ground froze, and the work was finished during the winter. Carved on it is the first stanza of Emerson’s “Concord Hymn,” which had been written for the dedication of the first monument in 1836:

By the rude bridge that arched the flood, Their flaa to April’s breeze unfurled, Here once the embattled Jarmers stood, And fired the shot heard round the world.

On the reverse side, as if anyone could ever forget, the inscription reads: