MoboReader > Literature > The First Capture; or, Hauling Down the Flag of England


The First Capture; or, Hauling Down the Flag of England By Harry Castlemon Characters: 13322

Updated: 2017-12-01 00:02

It happened on the morning of the 9th day of May. The little village of Machias in the far away colony of Maine was lively enough as far as fishing towns go, but on this particular time it was in a regular turmoil. Men had jumped up leaving their breakfast half eaten and ran out bareheaded to gather round a courier, who, sitting on a horse that had his head down and his flanks heaving as if he were almost exhausted, was telling them of a fight which had occurred just twenty days before. There was nothing to indicate that the men were excited except their pale faces and clenched hands, but the looks they turned upon one another had a volume of meaning in them. What had the messenger to communicate that had incited such a feeling among those who listened to him? He was describing the battle of Lexington which had been fought and won by the patriots on the 19th day of April. We did not have any telegraph in those days, and the only way the people could hold communication with one another was by messengers, mounted on fleet horses, who rode from village to village with the news.

The courier was so impatient to tell what he knew that he could not talk fast enough, but the substance of his story was as follows:

General Gage, the commander of the British troops who were quartered in Boston about this time, had become a tyrant in the eyes of the people. When spring opened he had a force of three thousand five hundred men. Boston was the headquarters of the rebellion. He determined with this force to nip the insurrection in the bud, and his first move was to seize and destroy the stores of the patriots at Concord, a little village located about six miles from Lexington. To carry out this plan he sent forth eight hundred men under the command of Colonel Smith and Major Pitcairn with orders to "seize, burn and otherwise render useless" everything in the shape of munitions of war that they could find. He supposed he went about it secretly, but the ever-vigilant patriots were awake to all his movements. A watch was established at Concord, and everywhere the minute-men were ready with "burnished muskets, fixed bayonets, and well-filled cartouches."

They left Boston about midnight, but it so happened that the minute-men became aware of their expedition almost as soon as it was ready to start. Paul Revere was there and ready to undertake his famous midnight ride. No sooner was the trampling of soldiers heard than two lights were hung in the steeple of Christ Church in Charlestown. Paul Revere saw the lights, and he forthwith mounted his horse and started to carry the warning to every village in Middlesex.[1] The British did not see the beacon fire blazing above them, but marched away silent and still, arresting everybody that came in their way "to prevent the intelligence of their expedition being given."

As the day began to dawn in the east the British reached Lexington, and there they found a company of minute-men gathered on the green. To say that they were amazed at the sight would be putting it very mildly; but Major Pitcairn, after a short consultation with his superior officer, rode up and flourished his sword as if he meant to annihilate the minute-men then and there. His officers followed him and his troops came close behind him in double quick time. But the patriots stood their ground, and the redcoats shouted angrily at them-

"Disperse, you villains! Lay down your arms! Why don't you disperse, you rebels?"

But our men had not come out there to be dispersed by shouting. Utterly ignorant of the ways of civilized warfare they continued to hold their ground, and for a time it looked as though there was going to be bloodshed sure enough. Major Pitcairn did not care to come too close to them but wheeled his horse, discharged his pistol and shouted "Fire!" and the British obeyed him. The front rank fired, and when the smoke cleared away, seven men, the first martyrs of the Revolution, were found weltering in their blood. That was too much for the patriots. They did not suppose that the British were going to shoot them down like dogs. They scattered in every direction, and the redcoats, having nothing further to oppose them, kept on and destroyed the stores.

"Colonel, I don't like the way those rebels retreated," said Major Pitcairn, as he kept a close watch upon the neighboring hills. "They fell back as though they would come again."

"If they were soldiers we would know how to take them," replied Colonel Smith. "But being rebels, we have nothing further to fear from them."

Major Pitcairn, however, kept a bright lookout, and very soon he became uneasy at the rapidity with which the militia increased in numbers. He called the attention of his superior to it, and very shortly the latter gave the order to retreat; and it was not a moment too soon. The whole region flew to arms, for remember that Paul Revere had aroused to vigilance the inmates of every house he came to, and from every one there came a man or boy who was strong enough to handle a rifle, and hurried to the help of his countrymen. It seems that Colonel Smith had more to contend with than mere rebels. It appeared, too, that one who afterwards wrote about that battle was there to have seen it for he tells us in his poem:

"And 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-wings of the Past,

Through all our history to the last,

In the hours of our darkness, peril, and need,

Will the people waken to listen, to hear

The hurrying foot-beats of that steed,

And the midnight message of Paul Revere."

The minute-men gathered as if by magic. They did not come out and form themselves in line for the purpose of being shot down by the redcoats, but remembering their skulking habits which they learned while fighting the Indians, they hid behind trees, fences, and rocks, in front, flank, and rear, and poured so galling a fire upon the Britishers that if it had not been for reinforcements not one of those eight hundred men would ever have reached the city alive. As one of their officers expressed it: "the militia seemed to have dropped from the clouds," and the flower of that British army must have surrendered to those patriots if relief had not arrived. Their retreat was regarded as a defeat and a flight, and at every corner were heard the jeers and mockings of the people regarding that "great British army at Boston who h

ad been beaten by a flock of Yankees." At any rate the jubilee trumpet was sounded proclaiming "Liberty throughout all the land unto all the inhabitants thereof." The power of all the royal governors was broken, from Massachusetts to Georgia.

This was the substance of the news which was brought to Machias twenty days after the fight. The people were both astonished and angry-astonished to know that the British soldiers, who had been regarded as invulnerable, could be outdone with American bullets, and angry to learn that so many of their friends[2] should have been killed during their conflict with them.

"This thing has got to be settled now," said Zeke Lewis, turning away and flourishing his fists in the air. "That is too many of our men to go up after fighting those redcoats. Boston has been standing all the brunt of tyranny so far, and we had better join in. Now there's that-"

The man suddenly paused and looked about him. Almost every face he saw was that of a patriot, but there were a few who were known to be Tories, and it would not do to express his thoughts too freely before them.

"Go on, Zeke," said a friend at his elbow. "There's what?"

"When I get you fellows all by yourselves I will explain things to you," said Zeke, after holding a short consultation with a young man who stood close beside him. "There are too many Britishers here."

"Yes; and they ought to be shot down as those redcoats were at Lexington," said another.

Any one who had been there could easily have picked out the Tories by the expression of their faces. They were amazed by the news. British soldiers whipped by a mob! They would have been glad to deny it if they could, but there were too many stalwart sailors standing around whose opinions differed from their own, and they thought it would be the part of wisdom to keep their thoughts to themselves. They turned toward their homes, but they had plenty of opportunity to exchange ideas with one another.

The most of those who had listened to the messenger's news also turned away when he got through speaking and walked with their heads on their breasts and their eyes fastened thoughtfully on the ground. Among them was one, Enoch Crosby by name, who seemed to think that the world was coming to an end because the British soldiers had been fired upon; but he did not believe as the Tories did by any means. He was an American; he could not forget that.

Among all the boys of his acquaintance there was no one more loyal to King George than he was. His father had been an officer in the service of the crown before he died, and Enoch believed that a monarch who had been selected to reign over a country, was placed there by divine right. The people had nothing to do with it except to hold themselves in readiness to obey his orders. He had English blood in his veins, and, although he felt the soil of America under his feet, he had been, almost ever since he could remember, a good and loyal subject of Great Britain, and hoped some day to serve King George with his sword. To have all this thing wiped out in a day by a fight, was rather more than the boy could live up under.

But he was an American. It came upon him with a force sometimes that almost took his breath away. He could still be loyal to his sovereign and ready to smite hip and thigh any one who said anything against him, but his sailor's love of fair play would not let him stand by and see his neighbors imposed upon.

Enoch had been watching this thing for two years and all the while he felt the ropes of tyranny growing tighter. Ever since General Gage had taken up his quarters in Boston he had been growing more and more severe in his treatment of the patriots. The Stamp Act, the Boston Massacre, The Tea Party, and the conduct of his soldiers in destroying the ice on which the boys were accustomed to spend their half holidays-all these were galling to Enoch, and he hoped that the time would soon come when something would induce the King to do differently. But when Christopher Snyder was killed by Richardson for looking on at a mob who were engaged in throwing clods and stones at him, and Governor Hutchinson refused to sign Richardson's death warrant, it opened the eyes of Enoch and he began to see things in a plainer light. The man was put into prison, but at the end of two years was pardoned out by the King. Enoch found that it was necessary to fight in order to secure his rights, and it cost him a long and severe struggle to come to that conclusion. He was thinking about these things as he walked slowly homeward and went into the house. His mother, with snowy hair and steel-bowed spectacles, raised her eyes from her knitting, and one glance was enough to show her that something had gone wrong with Enoch.

If there was anybody on earth Enoch loved it was his mother. All her surroundings bore evidence to that fact. Enoch was a sailor-he had made a good many trips along the coast in little trading vessels-but when he was at home he was not idle. His mother had enough from the earnings of her husband to support her in as good a style as she cared to live; the raiment of herself and son was neat and comely, but that did not prevent her from sticking close to the New England maxim: "Those who do not work should not eat." She had plainly brought Enoch up with the same ideas, for when he was ashore he was always at work at something.

Mrs. Crosby did not go out to listen to the news the messenger had to bring, but Enoch went, and the face he brought back with him excited his mother's alarm at once. Like her son she had been waiting for this day, but she little dreamed that it would come so soon.

"What is it, boy?" she asked, dropping her knitting into her lap. "That man's horse seems to be near tired out. Has he come far?"

"He came from out west somewhere," said Enoch, dropping into the nearest chair. "But I don't know whether he came from Lexington or not."

"What should be going on at Lexington?" asked Mrs. Crosby; although something told her that the news the messenger brought was worse than any she had heard yet.

"They have had a fight out there," said Enoch, resting his head on his hands. "King George can make up his mind to one thing, and that is, he had better keep his men at home. The provincials whipped them because they destroyed property that did not belong to them."

"And they did have a fight sure enough?" said his mother.

"They had such a fight as they used to have with the Indians. They killed almost three hundred of them."

Mrs. Crosby settled back in her chair and looked at Enoch without speaking.

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