Living and serving in Lexington, Massachusetts–the Birthplace of the American Revolution–for six years, local history was on my radar all the time. Every April, the town had a re-enactment of the Battle of Lexington (fought on April 19, 1775) and thousands of people gathered around the Green to witness history come to life. There’s this great book called Paul Revere’s Ride by David Hackett Fischer that painstakingly recounts the events of the Battles of Lexington and Concord as well as individual stories of those Revolutionary days. Stories that you would never witness in a battle re-enactment because we just can’t go that deep into the cast of characters in 1775 in a live performance.
One of my favorite stories that Fischer tells is about a salt of the earth solider named Samuel Whittemore who was 78 years-old and badly crippled. As the British Regulars fought their way back to Charlestown after the Battles of Lexington and Concord, he stationed himself along the road in what is Arlington, Massachusetts today. He was armed with a musket, two pistols, and his old cavalry saber behind those stone walls. Patiently waiting for the right opportunity, Whittemore fired five shots with such speed and accuracy that a British detachment was sent to stop him. When they tried, he shot three more soldiers and was going for his saber when they finally brought him down. He miraculously survived fourteen wounds and ended up living to be 96 years-old! Fischer writes that Samuel Whittemore “populated a large part of Middlesex County with a progeny of Whittemores who are today as tough and independent as the sturdy old rebel who stood alone against a British brigade.”
Now I don’t share this story to glorify war and violence. Yet stories like Samuel Whittemore’s make us realize that there were many individual people playing many parts in those monumental days in the history of our country. And important events were happening before independence was even formally declared on July 4, 1776! We can observe with appreciation one elderly solider (who wasn’t physically able to be part of his local militia) stationing himself behind a stone wall to help the cause of liberty in the only way that he knew how. And we start to see how one person, just one person, can make a difference in their community.