By Nancy Spannaus
April 19, 2023—Today is Patriots’ Day, so-called because April 19 was the day in 1775 when a shooting war broke out between the American colonists in Massachusetts and the British Army at Lexington and Concord. Only six states celebrate this historic occasion today: Massachusetts (on the nearest Monday), Maine, Florida, Wisconsin, Connecticut, and North Dakota. The poet Ralph Waldo Emerson christened the day as “the shot heard round the world” in 1837, and the phrase has stuck.
The encounters at Lexington and Concord were indeed crucial points of escalation toward the American fight for independence from the British Empire. Yet, as leading patriot John Adams noted in later life, the Revolution was a process of a change in the minds of the people, which was advancing long before the hostilities occurred. He placed the change as occurring between 1760 and 1776.
A good case could be made for the process beginning long before that time. There is abundant evidence of widespread American unhappiness with imperial restrictions on their economic life, for example. Those restrictions included the Iron Act of 1750, which demanded that American iron production be restricted to the supply of pig iron and iron bars to the Mother Country. To quote Encyclopedia Britannica, “In the colonies the following were prohibited: the new establishment of furnaces that produced steel for tools, and the erection of rolling and slitting mills and of plating forges; the manufacture of hardware; and the export of colonial iron beyond the empire.” This measure was significant enough to receive special mention in Samuel Adams’ list of grievances in his call for Committees of Correspondence in November 1773.
Restrictions on credit and local currencies by the Crown and Parliament were also sources of colonial complaint.
Over the coming months, I’ll be providing more detailed background on the Road to Revolution in our country. However, I want to devote the rest of this post to two individuals from the Revolutionary era in Massachusetts. I chose these two men because they are among the few for whom we have surviving photographs. We can literally look into the past! (See the video.)
Samuel Sprague (1753-1844)
Samuel Sprague was born in Hingham, Massachusetts and was a mason by trade. The history books report that he was a participant in the Boston Tea Party (December 1773). Sprague was also a soldier of the Revolution, participating in the siege of Boston, and the battles of Trenton and Princeton.
The available muster rolls show Sprague’s first service occurring in May 1775, which might indicate that he was not involved in the Lexington-Concord encounters. But one cannot be sure.
Agrippa Hull, 1759-1848
Agrippa Hull is best known for his role as an aide to the Polish engineer Tadeusz Kosciusko, whom he worked with for six years. Hull was born free and at the age of 18, enlisted in the Patriot cause. In addition to helping Kosciusko in his crucial work, he assisted the medical corps.
After the war, Hull returned to Massachusetts, and eventually became a significant landowner. His association with politician and lawyer Theodore Sedgwick helped encourage Sedgwick to take one of the early “freedom suits” for enslaved blacks in Massachusetts. The case of Elizabeth Freeman, who had run away from her master due to cruel treatment, was based on the Massachusetts Constitution’s assertion that “all men are born free and equal,” and resulted in her being declared free.
There are, of course, thousands of men and women of all backgrounds who could be celebrated on this day. May we as a nation never forget their commitment to the highest ideals of the Revolution, a society based on the idea that “all men are created equal,” and willingness to fight for their realization, no matter how long it took.