Monday, April 15, 2013

Inner Monologue: A Love Letter to New England

EDT: I wrote this post a couple of weeks ago, and had it all ready to go for today when I got back from the Regency Weekend. Then the bombings in Copley Square happened. I debated posting this at all, but when you come down to it, I almost feel like I need to post it more. Later this week the blog will be back to normal with tons of Regency Weekend shenanigans, so stay tuned. My thoughts are with the families affected by today's events.

Very early in the morning of April 19th, 1775 the King's militia opened fire on a group of assembled farmers on the Lexington town common, who were trying to stop the troops from completing their intended arrests of rebel organizers Samuel Adams and John Hancock and raid on Concord munition supplies. The troops continued on to Concord, where they were met with a larger, more organized rebel force of militia from surrounding towns prepared to stop their search for the munitions stores. The colonial units and the King's army battled on the North Bridge, over the Concord River. The day marked the start of the American Revolution.

National Park Service map of troop movements to Lexington and Concord

Battle of Lexington, engraving by Amos Doolittle (1775)
Today (the Monday closest to April 19th), residents of Massachusetts (and some other parts of New England) remember our ties to the founding of the nation by celebrating Patriots' Day. This isn't a new tradition--in fact, perhaps the most famous part of the conflicts was immortalized (however romantically rather than accurately) by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow in his poem Paul Revere's Ride. I remember having the poem read to my third grade class by a man dressed as a member of the Lexington militia and talking to us about the revolution, and going to see the reenactments and parades (when I wasn't marching!).

Reenactors marching in the Lexington Patriots' Day Parade, from here

The poem, as you probably know, begins:

Listen my children and you shall hear
Of the midnight ride of Paul Revere,
On the eighteenth of April, in Seventy-five;
Hardly a man is now alive
Who remembers that famous day and year.

and continues on to describe Revere's journey, as romanticized in that charmingly inaccurate 19th century way. Longfellow concludes:

You know the rest. In the books you have read
How the British Regulars fired and fled,—
How the farmers gave them ball for ball,
From behind each fence and farmyard wall,
Chasing the redcoats down the lane,
Then crossing the fields to emerge again
Under the trees at the turn of the road,
And only pausing to fire and load.

So through the night rode Paul Revere;
And so through the night went his cry of alarm
To every Middlesex village and farm,—
A cry of defiance, and not of fear,
A voice in the darkness, a knock at the door,
And a word that shall echo for evermore!
For, borne on the night-wind of the Past,
Through all our history, to the last,
In the hour of darkness and peril and need,
The people will waken and listen to hear
The hurrying hoof-beats of that steed,
And the midnight message of Paul Revere.

Even though this isn't exactly what happened, it's the theme that we remember and celebrate. We remember the idealism and bravery of the colonists who supported a rebellion against King George because they believed in a better world (although I admit that is an oversimplification).  

spring pussy willows near my parents' house
Patriots' Day has long been one of my favorite holidays, because it is a celebration of Boston's heritage and one of the special times of year when everybody else gets excited about history too. (Or I like to think so...even though I know most people are actually excited about the Boston Marathon.) It is very difficult to go anywhere in MA without seeing signs of New England's age, even if they don't register. Stone walls instead of fences, "cowpath" narrow, windy, practically-circular streets, the normality of costumed tour guides and park service rangers chilling downtown, the plaques on houses signifying their historic status, the cobblestones, the "blue laws"...I'll stop. 

Pioneer Village: 1630, Salem
What I mean is that history is a part of the lifeblood of Boston (and New England in general) in a different way than in other regions of the country that I've been to. There is something so special about being able to go on a ridiculous bar crawl and be on a walking tour of the city at the same time, because the men who founded our country discussed their plans for a democracy over drinks in the same taverns. This probably also has to do with the fact that there are often people in 18th century attire hanging out when I've been in--and that's perhaps my favorite thing about Boston. We've embraced our history, we celebrate it, and bringing it to life is just another part of the scenery. I love being a part of that.

waving to a Swan Boat full of drag queens in the Boston Public Gardens. Nope, not even joking a little.
While I've loved living other places Boston will always have my heart, and its blatant expression of "history worship" (as Barbara so aptly put it) is a large part of that. The city is built on the strength of its community and the heights of its ideals, and maintained by the stubborn fortitude it takes to stick out a New England winter. Patriots' Day is a celebration of that to me.

Happy Patriots' Day, with love.

The Old State House, from the BU website

And because I love that 19th century romanticism, I'll leave you with Emerson's Concord Hymn, which sort of sums it up:

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

The foe long since in silence slept;
Alike the conqueror silent sleeps;
And Time the ruined bridge has swept
Down the dark stream which seaward creeps.
On this green bank, by this soft stream,
We set to-day a votive stone;
That memory may their deed redeem,
When, like our sires, our sons are gone.

Spirit, that made those heroes dare
To die, and leave their children free,
Bid Time and Nature gently spare
The shaft we raise to them and thee.

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