On A Heroic Day in A Heroic Land

Old North Church with the statue of Paul Revere in silhouette. Photo courtesy of Matt Conti.

The steeple of the Old North Church with the statue of Paul Revere in silhouette. Photo courtesy of Matt Conti.

“It was from that steeple, one hundred and forty-eight years ago to-night, that the signal-lanterns gleamed, warning the watchers on the Charlestown shore that the British troops were on the move toward Lexington and Concord. There seems no doubt that these lights were displayed by the sexton, Robert Newman. Probably he was assisted in entering the church by Captain John Pulling, Jr. Back of this activity and directing it was Doctor Joseph Warren, who was within three months to give his life for his country at Bunker Hill. He had two messengers that he despatched on this night to warn Hancock and Adams, who were at Lexington, and arouse the countryside to resist the advance of the hostile forces. One of these was William Dawes, whom he sent out over Boston Neck, and the other was Paul Revere. It was Revere who arranged for the display of the signals which, as it turned out, were unnecessary, because he himself coming directly from Doctor Warren was stealthily rowed across the river, almost under the British war-ships, to Charlestown. He had been one of the moving spirits in a band of mechanics at the North End, organized to watch and report on all British actions. He knew what was acting, as he himself said, but had he been intercepted in crossing, as he feared, the lanterns would have conveyed the correct message to his confederate, Colonel Conant, who was waiting and received him on his landing. It is because his ride on this night was the consummation of a long period of watching and working, largely under his immediate oversight, that Paul Revere rises to the plane of true heroism. It was his plan and preparation, as well as his execution of it, that gave him the authority in that eventful hour to speak

     ‘A word that shall echo forevermore!’

“And yet it was because his word was received and acted upon that he rose to so grand a place in history. He became a hero only because the land was filled with heroism” — Calvin Coolidge, speaking in 1923 on the events of April 18, 1775, that would lead to the Battles of Concord and Lexington the following day, this day two hundred and forty years ago, that launched from the legendary Old North Church in Boston.

Coolidge reiterates that what made these events so pivotal was the preparations taken day after day by courageous and faith-filled men and women, to take in their own hands the risks worth taking to warn of danger and oppose despotic forces when they mobilized. What made the patriots like Revere, Dawes and Prescott successful was not only that they made themselves ready when the time came to act, they found unflagging support among a people which loved their country, a land of heroism. If liberty is to remain here and tyranny is to checked in its march, we cannot assume that all we need is one Paul Revere to ride in and save us. Capture or worse awaits such a tactic, one individual at a time. If we intend to stop the advance of evil, that love and courage must be kindled anew in as many of us as possible. We have to become again, as Coolidge observed, a land of heroes.

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