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Plymouth Rock Foundation’s E-News – March, 2011
by Dr. Paul Jehle, Executive Director
Dorchester Heights & America
March 17 is well known to most Americans as St. Patrick’s Day. While this is an important day that commemorates some of the deepest Christian roots in our nation, another event took place on the same day in 1776 that helped set the stage for Independence. This drama is known as the fortification of Dorchester Heights, and a large monument preserves this amazing miracle. It is also known as the British Evacuation of Boston after they had laid siege to the town for over ten months following the battles of Lexington and Concord the previous year.
On June 15, 1775, two days before the battle of Bunker Hill, George Washington was commissioned by the Continental Congress as Commander in Chief of the Army. He arrived in Cambridge on the 2nd of July and surveyed the thousands of militia that had come from throughout New England. The autumn and winter dragged on with little activity, for both the British and the American militia simply “dug in,” and though the British were surrounded, they had little respect for the Militia that had pelted them along the roads of Lexington and Concord as well as finally subduing them at Bunker’s Hill.
Today, we have only a few statesmen that reflect this kind of stand for liberty. Many (from both major parties) want the enlarged government that far exceeds the Constitution to remain with its array of entitlements. States are facing bankruptcy and the same ideological battle throughout the Union, yet at the national level the problem is much more acute. Bankrupt is hardly the word we should use for it. We are heading for a precipice where the American dollar will no longer be respected or wanted globally – and then we will reap the consequences of our lawless sowing.
The impatience of the country to do something was obvious in 1776. So it is today. Though many were sent to Washington to seriously cut the reckless spending, only a few appear to take this situation soberly, and those who want the “status quo,” along with the media, openly mock those who want to govern within the constraints of the Constitution. In 1776, Faneuil Hall, the building known in Boston as the “cradle of liberty,” had been turned into a theater by the British. A play entitled The Blockade of Boston, written by the British, was to perform a satire on the Americans, portraying Washington as a drunken idiot dragging a rusty sword. It seems many Americans today would rather turn the cradle of liberty into a theater and be entertained rather than believe that a real ideological war is taking place.
On January 8, 1776, the night the play was to perform, Major Thomas Knowlton launched a surprise attack upon a British guard on Charlestown neck, taking prisoners. The British fired cannons upon the Militia to no avail, but the ladies and men in Faneuil Hall clapped, thinking it part of the program! Even when a player ran up on stage and shouted the Yankess were attacking, those in the audience simply laughed. Not until a British General said “to your stations” did they leave in shock!
On January 24, another providential event lifted the spirits of the Americans. Henry Knox, a 25 year old bookseller, came in to Boston having dragged 59 cannon, mortars, howitzers, lead and flint (over 60 tons) all the way from Fort Ticonderoga! This was the encouragement Washington needed, for once the Heights could be fortified, an advantage over the British might result in forcing them out of Boston. Washington then issued the following sober order on February 26:
“At this time of public distress, men may find enough to do in the service of God and their country, without abandoning themselves to vice and immorality… It is a noble cause we are engaged in; it is the cause of virtue and mankind; every advantage and comfort to us and our posterity depend upon the vigor of our exertions; in short, freedom or slavery must be the result of our conduct; there can, therefore, be no greater inducement to men to behave well.”
Where are the leaders of our republic who would issue such a challenge today? Can you imagine someone saying that we face an ideological battle over how to govern our nation to such a degree that we ought to cut out personal sin and needless entertainment and seriously ponder the noble cause we are engaged in for the preservation of our nation? Monday, March 4, 1776 began the fortifications of Dorchester Heights. At the same time that 300 wagons, 1,200 men and supplies arrived on the frozen hill where men would dig all night through 18 inches of frozen earth, a cannonade on the opposite side of town was kept up with the British to cover their actions. Are we being distracted by entertainment and sinful indulgence while the real work of digging through frozen earth awaits us?
The morning of March 5 brought a shock to the British! They simply couldn’t believe the Americans had done this in one night! An attempt to attack, like Bunker Hill, was foiled by the divine intervention of a storm and bad weather – all while the American fortifications were strengthened. Though they had prepared to evacuate for days, it was not until four in the morning on March 17 that the evacuation of British and Tories out of Boston began in earnest.
The British retreated hastily under the threat of burning Boston. By 10 AM, the British had left and were in their overloaded boats while the Americans entered Boston in triumph. On March 18 Washington entered Boston by a route later dubbed “Washington Street.” Upon seeing the desecration of the Old South Church which had been turned into a riding stable by the British, he is reported to have said “it is one thing for the British to attack our rights, but to give an affront to God Almighty, I fear for their souls.” Would to God our leaders would be as moved when Christianity is mocked and desecrated in our land today!
The Continental Congress, on the motion of John Adams, gave a unanimous thanks to General Washington, striking a gold medal in commemoration of the evacuation of Boston. Washington wrote a letter on April 18 thanking the Congress saying, “I beg you to assure them, that, it will ever be my highest ambition to approve myself a faithful Servant of the Public; and that, to be in any degree instrumental in procuring to my American Brethren a restitution of their just rights and Privileges, will constitute my chief happiness.” On one side of the medal is a bust of Washington as the “defender of liberty.” On the other side it says “for the first time the enemies are put to flight.” If our leaders today would have this kind of character and courage to preserve our rights and fulfill their oath to the Constitution rather than padding their financial security at our expense, they might deserve another medal in their honor to the glory of God!