"The Sparck of Rebellion"


On September 5 representatives from every colony except Georgia met in Philadelphia at what came to be known as the first Continental Congress. Radicals called for Samuel Adams’s trade embargo, while moderates led by John Jay of New York and Joseph Galloway of Pennsylvania supported a strongly worded protest. All agreed that some form of action had to be taken. On behalf of the radicals, Joseph Warren of Massachusetts introduced the Suffolk Resolves, declaring the Intolerable Acts to be in violation of the colonists’ rights as English citizens and urging the creation of a revolutionary colonial government. Much to his surprise, the resolves passed, if just barely. George III was infuriated at the whole business. To him, the very calling of the Continental Congress was proof of perfidy. “The New England governments are in a state of rebellion,” he told North.

Gen. Thomas Gage, the British commander and now Massachusetts governor, received orders to strike a blow at the New England rebels. Gage learned of their whereabouts and sent troops to seize them and then destroy the supply facility at Concord. But that night Boston silversmith Paul Revere rode the 20 miles to Lexington to warn the radical leaders and everyone else along the way that the British were coming. When British troops reached the town on April 19, 1775, they encountered an armed force of 70, some of them “minutemen,” a local militia formed by an act of the provincial congress the previous year. Tensions were high and tempers short on both sides, but as the Lexington militia’s leader, Capt. John Parker, would state after the battle, he had not intended to “make or meddle” with the British troops. In fact it was the British who were advancing to form a battle line when a shot rang out—whether it was from a British or colonial musket, no one knows to this day. At the time neither side realized it was the first blast of the American Revolution.

The lone shot was followed by volleys of bullets that killed eight and wounded 10 minutemen before the British troops marched on to Concord and burned the few supplies the Americans had left there. But on their march back to Boston, the British faced the ire of local farmers organized into a well-trained embryo army, which outnumbered the British five to one and shot at them from every house, barn, and tree. By nightfall total casualties numbered 93 colonists and 273 British soldiers, putting a grim twist on Samuel Adams’s earlier exclamation to John Hancock, “What a glorious morning for America is this!”

A declaration of independence was no longer a pipe dream but a revolutionary plan in the making. From the Tea Party to the bloody fields of Concord, the thirteen colonies had proved that direct action was the surest way to free themselves from British tyranny.