86: The Town that Taught Me Patriotism

86: The Town that Taught Me Patriotism

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: The Spirit of America

The Town that Taught Me Patriotism

Learn from yesterday, live for today, hope for tomorrow.

~Author Unknown

My father, who was not born in the USA, so loved America that he could not bear anyone speaking ill of it. I didn’t inherit his patriotism. It took a town to instill that virtue in me.

When I first moved a half-century ago from the western part of the state to Acton, Massachusetts, twenty-five miles west of Boston, my first impression of it was that it was a sleepy little semi-rural town where not much happened. As I became better acquainted with it — especially the more I found out about its history — the more I realized how wrong I was. A lot happened there, and learning about all those things has made me a more patriotic American.

Acton people were fully present for the events that led to the establishment of the United States as an independent nation. They shed their blood and died for the ideals we hold dear. Acton’s connection to those events could be seen all around, I came to find out, and that patriotism seeped into my being.

My first eye-opening experience came after I had finished some business at Town Hall and wandered across Main Street to the monument that stands on the common. As I walked around the tall granite obelisk, I saw what looked like grave markers set into the ground around it. Reading the inscription on each, I learned that they were the gravestones of three citizens of Acton — farmer and gunsmith Isaac Davis, blacksmith’s apprentice Abner Hosmer, and schoolmaster James Hayward. All three of them died as a result of their actions on the same day — April 19, 1775. Their deaths were at the hands of the King’s soldiers, who had marched into the countryside from Boston to confiscate arms and munitions the rebellious colonists were reported to have stored a few short miles from where I was standing.

Our first house in Acton was on High Street at the top of a rise. As I walked one day to the bottom of the hill, I noticed a sign on the house at the corner of High and Main Streets declaring that it was built in 1707. I discovered that this, the oldest house in Acton, was the home of Francis Faulkner, commander of the West Acton militia company.

On the night of April 18, 1775, Paul Revere, Samuel Dawes, and, later, Dr. Samuel Prescott, rode from Boston and Cambridge to alert the populace in the surrounding countryside that the Regulars were on the march. It is said that one of them, Dr. Prescott, alerted Captain Joseph Robbins of North Acton, leader of one of the militia companies in town, shouting “Captain Robbins! Captain Robbins! Up! Up! The Regulars have come to Concord! Rendezvous at old North Bridge quick as possible! Alarm Acton!”

With Concord just the next town over from Acton, this must have been unsettling news indeed. Captain Robbins immediately sent his thirteen-year-old son, John, to “alarm Acton.” Riding up to Major Faulkner’s house, the Robbins boy shouted from his horse that the King’s Regulars were on the march to Concord. Upon hearing this, Major Faulkner — still in his nightshirt — leaned out his second-story window and fired his musket three times, giving the prearranged signal to his West Acton Militia Company to muster at his house. From there, they marched to the Isaac Davis homestead to join other Acton militia and minuteman companies in the early morning light to prepare their ball and powder and sharpen their bayonets before marching to Concord’s North Bridge.

I was intrigued that the early history of our nation was so close to me seemingly everywhere I went in Acton. I decided to visit the Isaac Davis Homestead in the middle of town. Although the Davis house no longer stands on the site, if you stand at the homestead, you just might hear Captain Davis say to his wife, Hannah, as he did almost two-and-a-half centuries ago as he departed with his colonial soldiers that morning, “Take good care of the children.” Davis had a premonition that he might not return alive that evening, and indeed, he did not. He was the first to fall facing the Regulars across the old North Bridge. Every April 19th, in modern times, the citizens of Acton gather at the Isaac Davis homestead to march again the seven miles to the bridge where Captain Davis and his men confronted the King’s soldiers in 1775.

At the hill overlooking that bridge in Concord, you might again hear Captain Davis say, as he did before the battle, “I haven’t a man that is afraid to go,” when he volunteered to lead his Acton company to face the Regulars in what would be the first organized, armed colonial resistance to the King. It was there, in that fateful encounter, that the three men of Acton who are now buried at the base of the town monument lost their lives.

At the Daniel Chester French Minuteman statue on the other side of the old North Bridge, visitors can see a rendering in bronze of the citizen-farmer, his jacket lying across his plow, who dropped what he was doing to defend his home, his colony, and his ideals. And if visitors then go to the next town over, they will see, in a glass case back at Acton’s town hall, Isaac Davis’s wooden plow, which served as the model for the plow in the famous Minuteman statue. The plow was passed down through six generations of the family and then given to the town.

Is Acton proud of the role it played in the founding and preservation of the nation? You bet it is. Today, if you go into the Acton Memorial Library, which was donated to the town by a private citizen to commemorate the Acton men lost during the Civil War, you will see a wonderful exhibit of both Revolutionary War and Civil War artifacts. Among the former are the sword Captain Isaac Davis carried with him on April 19, 1775, his last day on earth; the powder horn James Hayward carried with him that day with a hole in it caused by a ball that went through it into his body; and the blood-stained hat that Abner Hosmer wore when he was shot and killed.

In a strange twist of fate, the first Union casualties of the Civil War were also men from the area, who were killed by a mob in Baltimore on their way to Washington to heed President Lincoln’s call for men to protect our nation’s capital. In a stranger twist of fate, the date they were killed was April 19, 1861, eighty-six years to the day their fellow citizens died to protect our liberty and begin our march to independence.

In learning the history of the little town I’ve called home for so many years, I have been captivated and inspired to a patriotism I did not know I possessed. I am so glad that I have been, and glad to call Acton, Massachusetts my home.

~Larry C. Kerpelman, Ph.D.

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