The Man Who Fired The Shot Heard ’Round The World,
By Chuck Baldwin, April 16, 2015
This Sunday, April 19, is rightly identified as “Patriots’ Day.” In truth, April 19, 1775, should be regarded as important a date to Americans as July 4, 1776. It’s a shame that we don’t celebrate Patriots’ Day as enthusiastically as we do Independence Day. It’s even more shameful that many Americans don’t remember what happened on this day back in 1775. This was the day the “shot heard ’round the world” was fired. It was the day America’s War for Independence began.
Being warned of approaching British troops by Dr. Joseph Warren (who dispatched Paul Revere to Lexington and Concord with the news), Pastor Jonas Clark alerted his male congregants at the Church of Lexington that the British army was on its way to seize the colonists’ weapons and to arrest Sam Adams and John Hancock. Both men had taken refuge in Pastor Clark’s home with about a dozen of the pastor’s men guarding the house. Other men from the congregation (around 75-80 in number) stood with their muskets on Lexington Green when over 800 British troops appeared before them at barely the break of day.
According to eyewitnesses, British soldiers opened fire on the militiamen without warning (the British command to disperse and the British opening salvo of gunfire were simultaneous), immediately killing eight of Pastor Clark’s parishioners. In self defense, the Minutemen took cover and returned fire. These were the first shots of the Revolutionary War. Again, this took place on Lexington Green, which was located in the shadow of the church-house where those men worshipped each Sunday. The men that were guarding Adams and Hancock escorted them out of harm’s way shortly before the troops arrived. Without a doubt, the heroic efforts of Pastor Clark and his brave Minutemen at the Church of Lexington saved the lives of Sam Adams and John Hancock. And eight of those brave men gave their lives protecting two men who became two of America’s greatest Founding Fathers. But, mind you, Jonas Clark and his men are as important to the story of America’s independence as any of our Founding Fathers.
According to Pastor Clark, these are the names of the eight men who died on Lexington Green on that fateful April morning: Robert Munroe, Jonas Parker, Samuel Hadley, Jonathan Harrington, Jr., Isaac Muzzy, Caleb Harrington, and John Brown, all of Lexington, and one Mr. Porter of Woburn.
By the time the British troops arrived at the Concord Bridge, hundreds of colonists had amassed a defense of the bridge. A horrific battle took place, and the British troops were routed and soon retreated back to Boston. America’s War for Independence had begun.
Yes, ladies and gentlemen, these two elements of American history are lost to the vast majority of historians today: 1) it was attempted gun confiscation by the British troops that ignited America’s War for Independence, and 2) it was a pastor and his flock that mostly comprised the “Minutemen” who fired the shots that started our great Revolution.
With that thought in mind, I want to devote today’s column to honoring the brave preachers of Colonial America--these “children of the Pilgrims,” as one Colonial pastor’s descendent put it.
It really wasn’t that long ago. However, with the way America’s clergymen act today, one would think that preachers such as James Caldwell, John Peter Muhlenberg, Joab Houghton, and Jonas Clark never existed. But they did exist; and without them, this country we call the United States of America would not exist.
Caldwell was a Presbyterian; Muhlenberg was a Lutheran; Houghton was a Baptist; and no one really seems to know what denomination (if any) Jonas Clark claimed. But these men had one thing in common (besides their faith in Jesus Christ): they were all ardent patriots who participated in America’s War for Independence; and in the case of Jonas Clark, actually ignited it.
James Caldwell was called “The Rebel High Priest” or “The Fighting Chaplain.” Caldwell is most famous for the “Give ’em Watts!” story.
During the Springfield (New Jersey) engagement, the colonial militia ran out of wadding for their muskets. Quickly, Caldwell galloped to the Presbyterian church, and returning with an armload of hymnals, threw them to the ground, and hollered, “Now, boys, give ’em Watts!” He was referring to the famous hymn writer, Isaac Watts, of course.
The British hated Caldwell so much, they murdered his wife, Hannah, in her own home, as she sat with her children on her bed. Later, a fellow American was bribed by the British to assassinate Pastor Caldwell--which is exactly what he did. Americans loyal to the Crown burned both his house and church. No less than three cities and two public schools in the State of New Jersey bear his name today.
John Peter Muhlenberg
John Peter Muhlenberg was pastor of a Lutheran church in Woodstock, Virginia, when hostilities erupted between Great Britain and the American colonies. When news of Bunker Hill reached Virginia, Muhlenberg preached a sermon from Ecclesiastes chapter three to his congregation. He reminded his parishioners that there was a time to preach and a time to fight. He said that, for him, the time to preach was past and it was time to fight. He then threw off his vestments and stood before his congregants in the uniform of a Virginia colonel.
Muhlenberg was later promoted to brigadier-general in the Continental Army, and later, major general. He participated in the battles of Brandywine, Germantown, Monmouth, and Yorktown. He went on to serve in both the US House of Representatives and US Senate.
Joab Houghton was in the Hopewell (New Jersey) Baptist Meeting House at worship when he received the first information regarding the battles at Lexington and Concord. His great-grandson gives the following eloquent description of the way he treated the tidings:
“[M]ounting the great stone block in front of the meeting-house, he beckoned the people to stop. Men and women paused to hear, curious to know what so unusual a sequel to the service of the day could mean. At the first, words a silence, stern as death, fell over all. The Sabbath quiet of the hour and of the place was deepened into a terrible solemnity. He told them all the story of the cowardly murder at Lexington by the royal troops; the heroic vengeance following hard upon it; the retreat of Percy; the gathering of the children of the Pilgrims round the beleaguered hills of Boston; then pausing, and looking over the silent throng, he said slowly, ‘Men of New Jersey, the red coats are murdering our brethren of New England! Who follows me to Boston?’ And every man in that audience stepped out of line, and answered, ‘I!’ There was not a coward or a traitor in old Hopewell Baptist Meeting-House that day.” (Cathcart, William. Baptists and the American Revolution. Philadelphia: S.A. George, 1876, rev. 1976. Print.)
As I said at the beginning of this column, Jonas Clark was pastor of the Church of Lexington, Massachusetts, on April 19, 1775, the day that British troops marched on Concord with orders to arrest Sam Adams and John Hancock and to seize a cache of firearms. It was Pastor Clark’s male congregants who were the first ones to face-off against the British troops as they marched through Lexington. When you hear the story of the Minutemen at the Battle of Lexington, remember those Minutemen were Pastor Jonas Clark and the men of his congregation.
On the one-year anniversary of the Battle of Lexington, Clark preached a sermon based upon his eyewitness testimony of the event. He called his sermon, “The Fate of Blood-Thirsty Oppressors and God’s Tender Care of His Distressed People.” His sermon has been republished by Nordskog Publishing under the title, “The Battle of Lexington, A Sermon and Eyewitness Narrative, Jonas Clark, Pastor, Church of Lexington.” You can find the book here:
In the Introduction to the book, Gerald Nordskog writes this about Pastor Clark:
“As the pastor of the church at Lexington, he typically gave four sermons a week, written out and orally presented--nearly 2200 sermons in his lifetime. His preaching was vigorous in style, animated in manner, instructive in matter, and delivered with uncommon energy and zeal, with an agreeable and powerful voice. His sermons were rarely less than an hour, often more.”
Nordskog then quotes the Rev. William Ware, who wrote the following a little less than one hundred years after the Battle of Lexington:
“It can be regarded only as a singularly happy circumstance that, as Lexington was to be the place where resistance to the power of England was first to occur, and the great act of a declaration of war first to be made by the act of the people in the blood to be there shed, making the place forever famous in history, the minister of Lexington should have been a man of the principles, character, courage, and energy of Mr. Clark.
“It can be regarded he was eminently a man produced by the times--more than equal to them; rather a guide and leader. All his previous life, his preaching, his intercourse and conversation among the people had been but a continued and most effectual preparation for the noble stand taken by his people on the morning of the 19th of April, 1775. The militia on the Common that morning were the same who filled the pews of the meetinghouse on the Sunday morning before, and the same who hung upon the rear of the retreating enemy in the forenoon and throughout the day. They were only carrying the preaching of the many previous years into practice.
“It would not be beyond the truth to assert that there was no person at that time and in that vicinity--not only no clergyman but no other person of whatever calling or profession, who took a firmer stand for the liberties of the country, or was more ready to perform the duties and endure the sacrifices of a patriot, than the minister of Lexington.
“When the struggle actually commenced, the people were ready for it, thoroughly acquainted with the reasons on which the duty of resistance was founded, and prepared to discharge the duty at every hazard. No population within the compass of the Colonies were better prepared for the events of the 19th of April, than the people of Lexington; no people to whom the events of that day could more safely have been entrusted; none more worthy of the duties that fell to their lot; or who better deserved the honours which have followed the faithful performance of them. No single individual probably did so much to educate the people up to that point of intelligence, firmness, and courage, as their honoured and beloved pastor.”
Of course, Clark, Houghton, Muhlenberg, and Caldwell, were not the only ones to participate in America’s fight for independence. There were Episcopalian ministers such as Dr. Samuel Provost of New York, Dr. John Croes of New Jersey, and Robert Smith of South Carolina. Presbyterian ministers such as Adam Boyd of North Carolina and James Armstrong of Maryland, along with many others, also took part.
So many Baptist preachers participated in America’s War for Independence that, at the conclusion of the war, President George Washington wrote a personal letter to the Baptist people saying, “I recollect with satisfaction that the religious societies of which you are a member have been, throughout America, uniformly and almost unanimously, the firm friends to civil liberty, and the preserving promoters of our glorious Revolution.” It also explains how Thomas Jefferson could write to a Baptist congregation and say, “We have acted together from the origin to the end of a memorable Revolution.” (McDaniel, George White. The People Called Baptists. The Sunday School Board of the Southern Baptist Convention, 1918. Print.)
And although not every pastor was able to actively participate in our fight for independence, so many pastors throughout Colonial America preached the principles of liberty and independence from their pulpits that the Crown created a moniker for them: The Black Regiment (referring to the long, black robes that so many colonial clergymen wore in the pulpit). Without question, the courageous preaching and example of Colonial America’s patriot-pastors provided the colonists with the inspiration and resolve to resist the tyranny of the Crown and win America’s freedom and independence.