AUGUST   2020


Friday, April 22, 2016


I have absolutely no sympathy for Anthony Comstock (above),  a man described by a biographer as having  “no conspicuous talents and...boundless energy”.   His brother's death from wounds suffered in the three days of slaughter at Gettysburg, compelled Anthony to join the Union Army. But chance sent the Connecticut farm boy far from the crucial battles around Richmond, and he spent a year of isolation and boredom guarding the backwaters of St. Augustine, Florida. Most of his fellow soldiers considered him a bible thumping prig, who instead of simply refusing it, pompously poured his daily whiskey ration out on the ground. And the great lesson this “religio-monomaniac” took from the war that ended slavery, was that his fellow soldiers were addicted to pornography.
By 1861 there were almost 3,000 photographers in Paris, and 200 schools teaching the skill in London. And from day one, a significant percentage of these technicians found taking “dirty pictures” very profitable. Shortly after Gettysburg, another smug priss, General Marsena Patrick, had boasted in his diary of “burning up a large quantity of obscene books, taken from the mails.” And it wasn't just pocket editions of “Fanny Hill”, and the “Libertine Enchantress” that he burned. There were also the “barrack favorites”, the “carte de visite” french postcards – nude photos of women, which went for twelve cents each, and “London and Paris Volupuarties” engaged in actual sex, for $3 a dozen ($9 for stereoscopic views). Comstock found himself drawn to these “deadly poisons” - as he called them - “cast into the fountain of moral purity.”
By 1868 the muscular Comstock was a menial worker in New York City, making $12 a week as a porter for a dry goods store. He was a man "devoid of humor, lustful after publicity, and vastly ignorant “ who, by his own admission, spent many lonely evenings fearing “for the souls of the young men” who roomed with him. He joined the Young Men's Christian Association, and became convinced he faced “some of the most insidious and deadly forces of evil” in America. A nation racked by continued violence inspired by four bloody years of war saw pornography as a low priority. But Comstock did not share that opinion.
He quickly attracted the attention of the President of the WMCA, Morris K. Jessup, who had made his fortune as a banker for railroad tycoons. Jessup interviewed Comstock in his Madison Avenue mansion and liked what he saw. They made an unlikely pair. Jessup stood over six feet tall, and was a philanthropist to many causes. Comstock was short and brutally single minded. But for forty years Jessup was supportive of Comstock, with money and political influence, even creating the New York Society for the Suppression of Vice for the Christian warrior, when others in the WMCA questioned his tactics. (It is interesting to note that of all the social reform movements of the late 19th century, the Comstock's “Society” was the only one with no women in positions of authority.) Comstock would admit in his diary, “ Only one man thinks as I do and that is Mr. Jessup.”
With Jessup's support Comstock successfully lobbied congress for the Comstock Law, the last act of a lame duck congress on 3 March, 1873,  which made it illegal to send “obscene, lewd, or lascivious" material through the mail. The act also created a job of Special Postal Inspector for Comstock, allowing him define as pornographic anything mentioning birth control or preventing venereal disease. In Comstock's view, “God has set certain natural barriers. If you turn loose the passions and break down the fear (of unwanted pregnancies or disease) you bring . . . disaster.” His first year the new Special Inspector, always dressed in his black frock, traveled 23, 000 miles on a free rail pass, looking for sin in America. And luckily, since his job depended on it, he found it everywhere, and 24 states passed their own versions of "his" law, collectively called the Little Comstock Laws.
In 1872 Comstock won national attention when he went after Victoria Woodhull (above). She was no common pornographer, but a feminist who had run her own Wall Street brokerage firm and her “Weekly” newspaper -  in which Victoria argued,”When woman rises... into the ownership and control of her sexual organs, and man is obliged to respect this freedom...then will woman be raised” To highlight the hypocrisy of men making decisions about birth control, the “Weekly” published details of an extramarital affair by one of her critics, popular Brooklyn minister Henry Ward Breecher. The same day the article appeared, Victoria, her husband and her sister were all arrested. Reporting the affair, said Comstock, was spreading obscenity. Comstock's belligerent theatrics in the court room so offended some members of the jury, they hung. Still, the trial only increased the popularity of both Comstock and Breecher.
Comstock claimed he convicted 3,500 people of distribution of pornography and destroyed 15 tons of obscene books, including medical text books that displayed female anatomy charts or mentioned abortion. To Comstock, woman’s health was far less important than their moral purity. He also burned novels written by D.H. Lawrence and Theodore Dreiser. Comstock even tried to close down a play by George Bernard Shaw, whom he called an “Irish smut dealer”. Of the first twelve people convicted of violating the Federal Comstock law, 5 were pardoned by President Ulysses Grant, who had signed the law. And of the 105 people arrested for violating Comstock's campaign against birth control,  all but 16 were found not guilty. In state courts Comstock fared much better.
He saw himself as “the weeder in God's garden”, but his critics saw him as “a first class Torquemada” and chief of America's “moral eunuchs.” In 1877 Comstock went after Massachusetts social activist Ezra Heywood for publishing a pamphlet about marriage called “Cupid’s Yokes”. The judge told the jury the pamphlet was too offensive to allow them to read it, and they sentenced Heywood to two years at hard labor in the Dedham jail. Six months later President Rutherford B. Hayes pardoned Heywood, but Comstock saw that as a challenge. He now persecuted Heywood, having him arrested four more times, once for reprinting two poems by Walt Whitman, and again for discussing a contraceptive device called the “Comstock syringe” . By the fourth arrest the sixty year old Heywood was broke and emotionally exhausted, and was convicted and sentenced to another two years of hard labor. This time there was no pardon. A year after he was released in 1892, Heywood died of tuberculosis he had contracted in jail. Comstock had won again.
Comstock boasted he had driven 15 people to suicide. His most famous victim was Ida Craddock, a free spirit and writer of fact based guides like “The Marriage Night” and “Right Marital Living”. After pleading guilty and receiving a suspended sentence in 1889, for to violating Illinois' Little Comstock Law, she was arrested under New York's version in 1892 and suffered three months in a workhouse. As she left that jail Comstock had her arrested again on Federal charges for the same offense. This time she was sentenced to five years at hard labor. And Comstock let her know, that as soon as she served that term, he intended on arresting her again.
The night before she was to enter prison, Ida Craddock put her head in the oven, turned on the gas jets, and then slit her wrists. In her public suicide note, Ida blamed her death on “This man, Anthony Comstock,...(who is) unctuous with hypocrisy...if the reading of impure books and the gazing upon impure pictures does debauch and corrupt and pervert the mind...(and) Anthony Comstock has himself read perhaps more obscene books, and has gazed upon perhaps more lewd pictures than has any other one man in the United States, what are we to think of the probable state of Mr. Comstock's imagination? ...The man is a sex pervert; he is what physicians term a Sadist...for nine long years I have faced social ostracism, poverty, and the dangers of persecution by Anthony Comstock..I beg of you, for your own sakes, and for the future happiness of the young people who are dear to you, to protect my little book...” Comstock insisted that her death was one of his proudest moments.
It was not Comstock's bullying, but his lack of self awareness that gradually weakened his grip on public morals. The final breaking point came in 1913 when Harry Reichenbach besieged Comstock with complaints about the Braun and Company gallery on west 46th street in Manhattan. The prig-in-chief found the sidewalk in front of the art gallery crowded with young men snickering and praising the beauty of a painting of a nude woman in the front window. Comstock stormed into the gallery and ordered the painting removed. The clerk, James Kelly, stammered, “But that is the famous “September Morn” by Paul Chabas”(above).  The work was famous, having won a medal of honor from the French Academy of Painting just the year before. Undaunted, Comstock replied, “There is too little morning and too much maid”, and threatened to arrest the gallery owner, Philippe Ortiz,  if the painting was not removed.
Defiantly, Mr. Ortiz kept the painting in his gallery's front window for another two weeks, removing it only after the crowds jamming his studio had bought out every print of it.  Twenty years later in his memoir, “Phantom Fame”, Reichenbach admitted he had staged the entire thing, including hiring the young men to ogle the painting, as a publicity stunt for the gallery. Comstock, who was not in on the joke, had behaved as boorishly and brutally as expected.
Comstock died suddenly on the evening of 21 September, 1915. His monument was that during World War One the United States was the only nation not to supply its soldiers with prophylactics.. Instead, under Comstock's insistence, the Army and Navy  lectured its soldiers on abstinence.  As a result the American Army and Navy discharged 10,000 men who had become infected with sexually transmitted diseases, the largest single cause of American causalities during the war. It would be another 18 years before birth control could be openly purchased in the United States. Shadows of Anthony Comstock's warped vision have distorted American education well into the 21st century, in states that refuse to offer high school students sex education, opting instead for preaching abstinence - which has proved no more effective today than it had in the 19th century.  It seems that every prig,  Anthony Comstock was convinced he was the savior of civilization. And yet no prig ever saves anything,  because they trade human lives for a tattered myth of morality.
- 30 -

Wednesday, April 20, 2016

BLOODY JACK Chapter Thirteen

I can almost feel the panic, over a century later, felt by those who responded to the murder on that Saturday morning, 6 September, 1888 . The sad back yard of the run down tenement on Hanbury Street was separated by less than a half mile and just a week from the dark lonely murder scene on Buck's Row. And it seemed obvious the same maniac had been responsible for both horrors. After the murder of Martha Tabrem, the newspapers had called for more lighting around private residences. And after Polly Nichols' murder the Coroner's jury, and the newspapers had called for more gas lights in the dark public corners of Whitechapel. But this poor woman, who ever she was, had been murdered and butchered in the full light of morning. Logic seemed to offer no solution for this horror. 
Like a blood stain soaking into the victim's worn clothing, the horror born in one man's tortured soul, was now being sucked up by every civilian gawker, uniformed constable and plain clothes detective in the Whitechapel division. It began to touch Inspector Joseph Luniss Chandler before six that morning as he watched two men running up Hanbury Street from the window of the Commercial Street Station (above) , and he felt the first faint sick feeling of what might be coming. He was the officer who responded at 6:02 am, to the men's report. Accompanied by several constables, Chandler arrived at 29 Hanbury to discover a crowd already jamming the narrow hallway. He ordered the hall cleared, sent an officer back to Commercial Street to fetch the ambulance cart and reinforcements, another to cover the body with cloth bags, and dispatched yet another constable to fetch Dr George Bagster Phillips, the Divisional Police Surgeon.
Over his 20 year career as a doctor, the modest Dr. Phillips had developed a "a brusque, quick manner", and a self assurance in his own judgement.  He stepped into the yard at about 6:20 that morning. Removing the covering bags, he noted the woman's “...left arm was placed across the left breast. The legs were drawn up, the feet resting on the ground, and the knees turned outwards.” The victim's face was swollen and bruised, and turned toward the fence. The tip of her swollen tongue was between her teeth, which seemed intact. But below the waist, “The body was terribly mutilated...”
He noted, "the body was cold except that there was a certain heat, under the intestines",  but he  took no temperatures. He added, "Stiffness of the limbs was not marked, but it was commencing…the blood had mainly flowed from the neck, which was well clotted. Dr. Phillips estimated the time of death to have occurred at least 2 or 3 hours earlier, or between 3:30 and 4:30 am. The doctor observed a handkerchief tied around the dead woman's throat. But below the cloth were two deep slashes, “...jagged and...right round the neck” On the fence next to the body he noticed what might be smears of blood. He thought the weapon which had created those cuts and the others below, might have been “a very sharp knife with a thin narrow least 6 to 8 inches in length”, perhaps a bayonet, a doctor's knife, or the kind of knife used in a slaughter house or by a butcher. But Doctor Phillips saw no evidence of a struggle in the yard, and he was certain the dead woman had come into the back yard under her own power.
At her feet, and between her legs, Dr. Phillips (above) saw a piece of muslin cloth, on which were an envelope corner, which had evidently been folded and used to carry 2 pills lying next to the paper. Next to them was a comb, still wrapped in paper. It occurred to Phillips the items had been placed there rather carefully, “that is to say, arranged there.” He also noticed a leather apron laying on the ground near a water faucet projecting from the rooming house wall. Inspector Chandler noted the items and collected them.
As soon as the ambulance cart (above) arrived, Dr. Phillips ordered the body be removed. The Bobbys lifted the mutilated corpse into a wicker coffin, which they used to carry the dead woman through the hall, out onto Hanbury Street. The doctor walked with the Bobbys pushing the ambulance cart to Brick Lane, then across to Montague Street, before turning east, followed by a crowd growing in numbers and agitation. They arrived at the Eagle street entrance to the Montague Street Mortuary a few moments before 7:00 am.
The gates locked the crowd outside (above), while the party waited for Robert Mann to unlock the shed. Once the body had been transferred to the examination table, Dr. Phillips issued specific instructions to the chastised attendant Mann that this body was not to be touched until he – the doctor - had returned to preform the autopsy. A few moments later, Inspector Chandler arrived, and issued identical instructions to Mann. Leaving Constable Barnes to keep an eye on the crowd at the Eagle Street gate, Dr. Phillips headed to the London Hospital to see patients, while Inspector Chandler returned to the Commercial Street station to begin preparing his investigation.
None of the warnings did any good, of course. Within two hours a lowly clerk at the Whitechapel Workhouse had dispatched two guardians (nurses' assistants) to the mortuary to wash all evidence off the body. Neither the staff nor population of the Work House understood that the offense in handling the corpse of Polly Nichols had not been that men had washed a woman's body, but that the body had been washed at all. But nowhere does it seem that any one bothered to explain that to them.
The London Daily News did its best to make up for not having a Sunday edition to report the murder and sell papers. Their report, on Monday, 10 September began, “On Saturday one more crime was added to the ghastly series of Whitechapel murders. Just before six that morning a woman was found murdered and mutilated at a lodging house in Hanbury street...The head...had been nearly severed from her body by one stroke of a sharp knife, and her mangled remains had been disposed about her in a way that suggested a delight in the slaughter for the slaughter's sake....inflicted nameless indignities on the dead body, indignity upon indignity, horror upon horror, and got clean away. The house teemed with life; it was near the hour of rising...yet no human being heard a cry or an alarm. The swiftness of it, the perfect mystery of it, are heightening effects of terror. The wildest imagination has never combined in fiction so many daring improbabilities as have here been accomplished in fact.”
That same day The Daily Telegraph reported, “Mrs. Fiddymont, wife of the proprietor of the Prince Albert public-house...half a mile from the scene of the murder, states that at seven o'clock yesterday morning...there came into...a man whose rough appearance frightened her. He had on a brown stiff hat, a dark coat, and no waistcoat...he asked for "half a pint of four ale."....there were blood-spots on the back of his right hand...his shirt was torn. As soon as he had drunk the ale, which he swallowed at a gulp, he went out... she slipped out the other door, and watched him as he went towards Bishopsgate-street...” The wild eyed mystery man was last seen heading for Halfmoon street.
The Telegraph then added, “A number of sensational stories are altogether without corroboration, such, for instance, as the tale that writing was seen on the wall of No. 29: "I have now done three, and intend to do nine more and give myself up." One version says some such threat as "Five - Fifteen more and I give myself up," was written upon a piece of paper that was picked up. There has also been a good deal said about "Leather Apron”,.....So much has been said of "Leather Apron" that, when it became known that a leather apron had been discovered in the yard, the people immediately associated it with the supposed culprit. There were three aprons, in fact, and they belonged to workmen, who have no connection with the case.”
The East End News described the murders as, “ distinctly outside the ordinary range of human experience that it has created a kind of stupor extending far beyond the district where the murders were committed...” The paper then added, “So many stories of "suspicious" incidents have cropped up since the murder, some of them evidently spontaneously generated by frantic terror, and... pointing in contrary directions, that....If the not speedily brought to justice, it will be not only humiliating, but also an intolerable perpetuation of the danger.”  The people of Whitechapel were beginning to see Leather Aprons on every street corner,
The London Evening News reported a conversation between “workmen” that seemed to hint at revolution brewing behind the slaughter. “But I want to know what the police is about?" This was met with the sneering observation of a companion, "Well, you must be a fool to ask a question of that sort. Why, the 'perlice' is too busy looking arter the changing of bus hosses in the West-end, and a-watchin' o' Trafalgar Square, to care what becomes of poor devils like us." The murmurs of approval which greeted this homely satire showed that the feeling towards the guardians of the peace is one of distrust...”.
The crimes were so horrible, the Daily Telegraph was eager for speculation, “It is a positive relief”, they wrote, “to escape from the fact to the theory of the crime.... No person could murder at these risks, and for these gains, with any sense of purpose in his acts as purpose is known to the sane. A monster is abroad. The murders defy all rules of motive...There was no more waste of effort than there is in the killing of a sheep. There could have been no more pity, or anger, or violent passion of any sort. The police have to find for us one of the most extraordinary monsters known to the history of mental and spiritual disease, a monster whose skull will have to be cast for all the surgical museums of the world. No other theory is admissible.”
Against such a loud and universal cry for relief, it seemed neither science nor religion, nor the Metropolitan Police, could explain the murderer, nor stop him.
- 30 -

Tuesday, April 19, 2016


I think Thomas Gage (above)  should have called the whole thing off, once the secret was out. And Lord knows it was out almost before General Gage ordered it be kept secret.  He had been a soldier since he was 21. He fought at Culloden, and in the Low Countries, and in 1754 his regiment served in what in America is called “The French and Indian War”.

It was in America, in December of 1758, at the age of 40, that Thomas Gage married the lovely Margaret Kremble (above), who was then barely 24 years old.  And it has been alleged that it was Margaret who helped give birth to American Independence. Rumors were that the lady betrayed Thomas' secrets to Paul Revere.  Gage thought she had.  After the disasters he complained to a fellow officer that, “I communicated my design to one person only…” And within weeks Margaret was shipped back to England. It is said the couple never spoke again. But, as romantic and tragic as their story might be, I doubt the American Revolution depended on this lady’s betrayal of her husband. Her family did not see themselves as ‘Americans” but as British citizens. Her brother served with the British Army through out the war. And, more importantly, the British were betrayed long before any orders that set Lexington and Concord in motion ever reached General Gage. Maybe the leak was the conservative government's political opponents in London, and maybe it was just impossible to keep any secrets in a city of 6,700 civilians, occupied by 6,000 soldiers and sailors and their dependents. And maybe the truth is, Britain had already lost the war for American independence before the first shot was fired on 19 April, 1775.
Seven months earlier, on 1 September 1774, General Gage had sent 260 lobster backs 3 miles up the Mystic River to Winter Hill, where they seized the largest supply of gunpowder in the colonies (above). The audacity of Gage's preemptive strike had infuriated thousands of colonists who gathered in Cambridge with their weapons. It was weeks before things calmed down and the angry farmers went home. Since then, Gage had canceled a number of similar expeditions, and pulled all his men back into Boston, abandoning the countryside except for an occasional reconnaissance mission. He had warned his London bosses, “if you think ten thousand men sufficient, send twenty; if one million is thought enough, give two; you save both blood and treasure in the end.” What he got, in late February, were orders to get on with disarming the colonists.
Gage didn’t receive his specific instructions from London until five days ahead of time,  on 14 April, 1775. But advance knowledge of British intentions was due to John Hancock’s business connections in London.
Hancock had made a fortune smuggling goods through Boston Harbor right under the noses of the English custom officials. And when those officials got too attentive, liberal application of tar and feathers discouraged any honest beurocrats. These profits ensured that Hancock had faster and more reliable connections with England than those of the English crown..
Gage's original plan had been to first arrest the two highest value leaders of the Committee of Safety still in Boston,  and the leading troublemakers - smuggler John Hancock and his cousin lawyer John Adams. Once they were safely locked up, Gage would dispatch a lightning strike to capture the largest remaining supply of colonist powder,  30 miles to the northwest,  in Concord. And expedition could hope to succeed only if security was tight and if the rebels were slow to react - as they would be with Hancock and Adams in custody.  But on Saturday, 8 April, 1775, the two rebels leaders slipped out of the city. Gage heard they had fled to a house Adams still owned in Lexington, and currently occupied by his cousin Lucy and her husband, Jonas Clarke, who was the Lexington village pastor. So round one went to the colonists. 
The following Monday, 10 April, Gage informed his senior officer, Lieutenant Colonel “Fat Francis” Smith (above), of his plan. Smith suggested a personal reconnaissance, and Gage agreed. So disguised as common travelers 42 year old Colonel Smith and 22 year old Sargent John Howe, who had made a previous reconnaissance, rowed across the Charles River to Cambridge, and started west on foot. After only six miles they stopped at a tavern for breakfast and information. But when Smith claimed to be looking for work, a black servant girl identified Smith by name, and omniously assured him that he would find plenty of work up the road. Shaken, Smith retreated to Boston, while Sergeant Howe continued on. He returned on Wednesday, 12 April, telling Gage the country was so alert it would take 10,000 men to reach Concord and capture the powder and arms the Sargent now confirmed were in Concord.
Three days later, on Saturday 15 April, several companies of grenadiers and light infantry were relieved of their regular duties so they could resole their shoes, change out their canteens, mend their uniforms, and have their muskets serviced. About noon, Royal Navy row boats were seen being gathered in the harbor. At the Green Dragon Tavern on Union Street, one of the rebel leaders remaining in Boston, silversmith Paul Revere, kept the Committee of Safety fully informed of all these preparations.
The road between Boston and Concord (above) must have been was so crowded with spies, rebel and loyalist, as to give the impression of a colonial traffic jam. But in the orders he prepared for Lieutenant Colonel Francis Smith, who would lead the  700 men 17 miles to Concord. “…where you will seize and destroy… all Military stores…”,  Gage never mentioned going after Hancock or Adams, or even searching Lexington for weapons.
But it did not matter. Long before the redcoats marched up what came to be called the "Battle Road" - which would later become Massachusetts Avenue -  all the military stores were already beyond his reach.
At nine in the morning, Tuesday, 18 April, patriots in Concord had moved their cannon and powder out of town. They already knew the British were coming soon. About noon that Tuesday,  John Ballard, a stable boy on Milk Street, reported that a British officer had said there “would be hell to pay, tomorrow”. About two that afternoon, British sailors sent ashore to purchase stores, were heard talking of preparations to row infantry across the Charles River to Cambridge after dark. Doctor Joseph Warren was told by a British officer patient of his that Hancock and Adams were the intended targets of the movement. 
Around seven that night twenty mounted British officers and sergeants, under the command of Major Edward Mitchell, rode out of Boston, across the Roxbury neck (above, bottom), and headed north. Their mission was to intercept any warning coming from Boston, and to report any movements on the roads. The timing of this mission was telling, since most mounted patrols out of Boston left after dawn and returned by dark. Just an hour later, in Lexington, militia commanders posted a guard at the the Reverend Clarke's house, to protect Adams and Hancock.
About ten that night, under an almost full moon, 700 infantry were formed up in their encampment on the Boston Common, and then marched to the edge of the Back Bay.  Boats rowed them across to the Cambridge farm of David Phipps, sheriff for Middlesex County, and a loyalist.. The soldiers had to wade ashore through knee high water.  Then, Lieutenant John Baker noted “we were halted in a dirty road and stood...waiting for provisions to be brought from the boats...” As the British infantry were stalled on the Concord road, Paul Revere was rowed across Boston Harbor to Charlestown (above), where he had stabled a horse. At about the same time tanner William Dawes managed to slip out of Boston via the Roxbury neck.
About 30 minutes after midnight on Wednesday, 19 April 1775, Paul Revere arrived at Reverend Clarke's house in Lexington. When the guards told him he was making too much noise, the volatile Revere yelled “Noise?! You'll have enough noise before long. The Regulars are out!” At that moment window shutters on the second floor flew open and a very awake John Hancock invited Revere inside. Within the hour, Revere was joined by William Dawes. Shortly there after these two, and a local doctor -  34 year old Samuel Prescott -  rode out to spread the alarm to Concord and beyond.  Just north of Lexington the three rebel riders ran into a detachment of Major Mitchell's scouts. Dawes and Revere were captured, but Prescott managed to jump his horse over a roadside fence and escape, taking the alert to Concord. Questioned, Revere told the British there were 500 armed men waiting for them on Lexington Green.
Meanwhile, still in the dark on the Phipps farm,  Colonel Smith's frustration was growing. It had taken the better part of an hour to get the march restarted, so Smith ordered 53 year old Major John Pitcairn to take the lead with 300 light infantry and marines, and force march until he had seized the bridges north of Concord.  Smith would follow with 400 Grenadiers. By the time Pitcairn started out it was after after two in the morning.  There were only about 2 hours of darkness left.  Musket shots and bell alarms were ringing all along the Concord road. Colonel Smith sent a messenger back to Boston, requesting reinforcements be dispatched to protect the return march.
Up the road in Lexington, about 80 militiamen answered the alarm bell, reporting to 45 year old militia Captain John Parker, a veteran of the famous Roger's Rangers. 
These militia were not minute men, as Lexington could not afford the expense of keeping even a handful of men ready to respond to a call to arms “at a minutes notice”. These men had gathered  at  Buckman's Tavern (background, above). And the roads into and out of Lexington were crowded with just about every hot head, rabble-rouser, drunk and trouble maker in Massachusetts Bay Colony.
Parker sent scouts down the road to Cambridge, then, as militiaman Ebenerer Monoe, recalled, “The weather being rather chilly, after calling the roll, we were dismissed, but ordered to remain within call of the drum. The men generally went into (Buckman's) tavern adjoining the common.” (above)  There, most fell asleep in chairs.
The sky had begun to lighten at about 4:15 that Wednesday morning when young Thaddeus Bowman galloped up to the tavern (above). He had been trapped behind Pitcairn's rapid advance, three miles down the road at “Foot of the Rocks.” opposite Pierce's Hill, but had managed to pass the British regulars by crossing fields. Bowman told Parker the regulars were just minutes out of Lexington, and Parker ordered his drummer, William Diman, to sound the “long roll” call to arms. 
Some 77 militiamen formed a line across the northwest corner of Lexington Green, with Bowman the last man on the right. It is claimed later that Parker told his men, “Stand your ground; don't fire unless fired upon, but if they mean to have a war, let it begin here.” But because he suffered from tuberculosis, Parker's voice was raspy and thin, and few of the militia would have been able to hear Parker,  if he had the breath to say anything.
In a soft half light, with a crisp chill in the air, it was approaching five in the morning. The sun has not yet risen over the horizon. But Pitcairn can see militia moving parallel to his march, and periodically even see muskets being fired to track his movements. In the past Major Pitcairn had said, “I have so despicable an opinion of the people of this country...I am satisfied they will never attack Regular troops.” But he now halted his men and ordered them to load their weapons and then fix bayonets. As Pitcairn dropped back to check the rear units of his command, forty year old Irishman Lieutenant Jesse Adair, ordered the 100 men in his command to “double step march” into Lexington.
Lexington Green is a triangle formed by the junction of the west trending Boston and Concord road, and the north trending Bedford road. At the apex of the triangle, where the Bedford Road meets the main road, and on the green, stands the village meeting house, or church. The line of Captain Parker's 70 militiamen were anchored on the Bedford Road, about 75 feet from the northwest base of the triangle. This put them well off the Concord Road, so as not to threaten the British regulars marching to Concord. Parker meant his little command as a statement of resolve, and nothing more. It made the last part of Parker's supposed statement suspect at best.
But as Leiutenant.Adair “quick marched” his command into Lexington,  the meeting house blocked his view of the militia.  And he failed to follow the left curve of the Concord road, but angled to the right, up the Bedford road.  After a few yards the militia, almost equal in size to his own command, was suddenly revealed on his left flank, behind the meeting house. Startled, Lt. Adair ordered his men onto the green and into a “firing line”. As they did so the regulars let off a self confidence inducing cry of “”Huzzah!”, as they had been trained to do. It took, probably from first sight to the regular battle line, less than a minute.
Major Pitcairn was leading the next three regular companies in line, and guided them in quick step, correctly, angling to the left - west bound on the Concord road. But as he cleared the meeting house, Pitcairn suddenly saw the militia, and also Adair's company, spreading quickly out onto the green in a line 30 feet in front of the militia. It looked as if a battle was about to begin.
Pitcairn (above) ordered his column to halt, and galloped across the green directly toward the American militia. As he came up behind their line, the Major drew his sword and began shouting desperately,  “Lay down your arms, you damned rebels! Disperse! Lay down your arms!” 
Captain Parker, seeing his men outnumbered, and likewise not wanting to start a war, ordered his men to disperse. Few heard him, but those that did turned and begin walking away. But it was at this instant that somebody fired yet another musket, which set off first a hundred others, and then five thousand and then fifty thousand more, over 8 bloody years of war. It was the famous or infamous “Shot heard 'round the world”.
Of the approximately 200 muskets actually on the Green that morning, almost every loaded weapon was British. The regulars had far better discipline than the militia, but were exhausted, having not slept for 24 hours, and were strangers in a strange land. Everybody was on edge, frightened and caught in an unanticipated crises Some folks in Lexington would later whisper that the first shot was fired by 18 year old Solomon Brown, who was not in the militia but whose home the British column had just passed. The young man had been up all night, playing spy and then soldier. Brown did later boast to a friend that he had shot an English officer, and pointed to a blood pool as proof.  But whether that was the first shot fired or not is sheer conjecture. Like so much of history, you have your choice of facts. And in the end it does not really matter. Both sides had been playing with fire for a decade. It was inevitable a flint would spark a conflagration. And in the almost light before dawn on Wednesday, 19 April, 1775, Lexington Green was as good a place as any for that to happen.
It took, probably, from first sight to first shot less than 90 seconds.  In that brief time there were eight American – from this instant we can call them that - eight American dead. One British regular was wounded, but by which side it is not clear. Major Pitcairn's horse was also wounded twice, but he was behind the American line, and those wounds were probably made by British lead.
Of the American dead - Robert Munroe and Isacc Muzzy were shot and killed on the Green. Samuel Hadley and John Brown (Solomon’s oldest brother) were shot and killed while leaving the Green. Jonas Parker was wounded and then bayoneted to death on the Green. Jonathan Harrington was shot on the Green but managed to crawl to his own front door before dieing. Caleb Harrington was shot and killed close to the church, and Ashahel Porter was shot while attempting to escape. Nine other colonists were wounded, one of them being Prince Esterbrook, a black man who had no freedom anyone was willing to fight for just yet. All this before Pitcairn had the drumer beat to quarters, bringing Adair's company back into formation, and ending the melee.
Pitcairn had never intended on stopping in Lexington, and even now did not pause here for long. He had the entire command give a cheer and fire a volley into the air, but that was more to empty their weapons than anything else. In his mind the Major must have been feeling the weight of the reports he would have to write, and the endless second guessing by his superiors, as after the “Boston Massacare” five years before. But his orders were to seize the bridges north of Concord, so as quickly as he could, and without more than a perfunctory search for Hancock and Adams, who had fled before the shooting started, Pitcairn put his men back on the road, marching for Concord, now in the full light of the morning sun.
It was a messy start to what would prove to be a very messy day. By its end some 20,000 rebels would be besieging General Gage’s 5,000 men in Boston. Gage’s reputation would be in tatters (as would his marriage), primarily because 100 printed copies of the colonists’ version of events on Lexington Green (and Concord Bridge which followed that afternoon) would arrive in London weeks before Gage’s official report. And it was America’s propaganda version of the “Battle of Lexington Green” that became history. Was it true? Did it matter?
What Lexington made as clear as daylight was that America was too big to be controlled by any outside force. And by 1775, that is just what Britain had become. What followed was 8 years of warfare, that killed 50,000 Americans and 25,000 Brits and their hired soldiers. But if he could have divorced himself from his obedience to orders - and his unfortunate wife -  Thomas Gage knew Britain had already lost her colonies, before the first redcoat had crossed the Charles River in the early hours of 19 April, 1775.  So the American Revolution, was a foregone conclusion.
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