Called to Arms

Called to Arms

The home of Benjamin Locke is tucked into a busy suburban street in Arlington, Massachusetts. You’d have to look carefully to find the markers mentioning it is an historic landmark. But on the night of April 19, 1775, Paul Revere (and probably also William Dawes) would certainly have warned this house of the coming British. After all, Locke was the Captain of the Monotomy Minutemen.

At around 2:00 am, Captain Locke heard the British troops marching by his front door and made his way to Lexington where he faced the British at dawn on the town’s green. He faced the British again on their return from Concord, and is assumed to have been part of the fight at the nearby Jason Russell House.

In June, Locke fought in the Battle of Bunker Hill and it is said his musket grew so hot from firing that he had to wrap his handkerchief around it to continue firing, which he did.

The house, built in 1720, was eventually sold by Captain Locke to the Baptist Church (to which he belonged) to be used as their first meeting house. It is now a private residence.

A Place for Ideas

A Place for Ideas

Two days after Patriot’s Day, little remains of the flurry of holiday activities along the parade route in East Lexington, Massachusetts. The many flags and patriotic buntings which lined Massachusetts Avenue have been packed away until perhaps the Fourth of July. The only traces of a holiday celebration that I see from where I sit sketching are a plastic fork, a paper plate and a napkin on the ground by the historic Stone Building.

Almost all of the small village of East Lexington is historic. It developed separately from Lexington center where the “shot heard ’round the world” was fired. The early to mid 1800s were its heyday, led by the Robbins Family, who owned a successful fur dressing company producing capes, caps and muffs among other things. They, along with another manufacturer of fur dressings, Ambrose Morell, employed over 300 people at the height of their businesses.

The Robbins family not only brought prosperity to the village but also a worldly perspective. Eli Robbins (1786-1856) was very civic-minded and progressive in spirit. It was he who built Robbins Hall in 1833 as a combination public meeting hall and residence, a place to celebrate freedom of speech. The handsome Greek Revival structure played host to lyceum lectures (educational lectures of the period), religious services and speeches by Ralph Waldo Emerson, Julia Ward Howe and Henry David Thoreau to name a few. Abolitionism and temperance were topics of discussion.

The building was passed down through the family and eventually became known as the Stone Building. In 1892, it was sold to the town of Lexington and became a branch of the town’s public library. In 1997, the building was closed due to a serious flood problem.

Today, the building is listed in the National Register of Historic Places, but sits empty. The Stone Building is beautifully preserved on the outside and awaits the preservation of its interior. The trustees of the Lexington Library plan for it to become “The Lexington Heritage Center.” As a permanent space for public meetings, performances, exhibits and lectures, it will aim to preserve the mission of its creator, Eli Robbins.

Patriots Huddle

Patriots Huddle

In 1895, on the rocky ledge of a tiny hill in Lincoln, Massachusetts, a local farmer named John Lannon found a British sword when moving a boulder. He also found a flattened musket ball. The ledge, overlooking the road that Paul Revere rode, (and a short distance from where he was arrested), is now known as the site of “Parker’s Revenge.”

John Parker certainly wanted revenge and so did his cohorts. Parker was the Captain of the Lexington Militia and it was his men who confronted the British at dawn on their town’s green in what became known as the Battle of Lexington. Eight colonists were killed and ten were wounded that morning before the British marched off to Concord.

Gathering many of his men, including some of the injured, Captain Parker re-engaged the British later that day as they battled their way back to Boston in retreat. This time, the minutemen didn’t face their enemy in line-formation as they did earlier. Instead, they ambushed them from the rocky ledge located at a bend in the road. One shot knocked the British Colonel Smith off his horse with a hit to the thigh. The columns of Redcoats were stopped in their tracks, allowing the Lexington Militia to continue to fire from close range.

Eventually, the British drove the patriots away, but the delay in their forward progress allowed for another ambush just a few hundred yards down the road.

Walking the Battle Road on the weekend of Patriots Day, I too, came across a nervous band of patriots and not far from “Parker’s Revenge.” Turns out, it was the modern version of the Lexington Minute Men. I sat on a stone wall and sketched as the leader of the group prepared his men for a reenactment of the famous skirmish scheduled in a short hour’s time.

The commander showed impatience with his rag tag group. He was concerned the coordination of musket fire was sloppy. Over and over they practiced how the two rows of men should fire and reload. He was insistent they get it right before engaging in battle. Captain Parker would be proud.