Lexington and Concord had been disasters for the British. Attacking the American militia at Lexington at dawn on April 19, they had killed a handful of patriots and moved on to capture military supplies stored at Concord. But Paul Revere, William Dawes and others had spread the alarm throughout the county and the Minutemen converged by the hundreds. Most of the weapons and ammunitions at Concord had been removed or hidden. The British soldiers destroyed some gun carriages and some barrels of flour, but little else was found.
Then things turned decidedly against them. The Concord Minutemen had fled the town at the approach of the superior British numbers, but had reformed beyond the river. Their numbers were being augmented by men arriving from neighboring communities. When the redcoats fired on them, the farmers returned fire and the War of Independence had begun. The British commander turned his men around and began an orderly withdrawal toward their base in Boston. But their retreat soon turned to a rout as American muskets began to harass their ranks from behind trees and stone walls. The proud British column was thrown into confusion as Minutemen swarmed along the path of their march. Finally, they met reinforcements and the remainder of their retreat to Boston was conducted in safety.
But then began the siege of Boston. The city was in British hands, though some of the residents remained. Now the question for the Americans was how to drive the redcoats out of the city?
The answer came from Fort Ticonderoga. Ethan Allen and his Green Mountain Boys had seized the fort from the British without firing a shot. Its 55 cannons had been brought by the ingenious American officer Henry Knox on ox-drawn sleds across the winter snow. Now, under cover of night, they were installed on the hills surrounding Boston. A perfect threat to convince the British commander to give up!
But there were obstacles, and one of them was John Hancock. Hancock was President of the Continental Congress. He was quite wealthy, and both his mansion home and most of his business property was located in Boston. They couldn’t bombard the city without making a pauper of one of the greatest of the Patriot leaders. Hancock must be consulted.
When asked what he thought of the plan, Hancock never hesitated. His personal interests must not interfere with the survival of the colonies in freedom. Bombard Boston if necessary, he said. He would take his chances with the rest of his American brethren who had property in the city.
As it turned out, it was not necessary. The guns were placed overnight and when the British woke up the next morning and saw their frowning muzzles pointing at them from heights which gave unimpeded access to their deadly missiles, they gave up the city. Arrangements were made to evacuate the city. General Washington agreed to let them go in peace and the British agreed not to burn the city.
John Hancock, great patriot and first signer of the Declaration of Independence, had been willing to kiss his wealth goodbye if necessary for the good of his country.
This story and many more are included in Profiles of Valor by Marilyn Boyer
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