Those are my boys, standing by the Old North Bridge in Concord, grimly determined to face down the Redcoats, and wondering when we can get some ice cream. The picture was taken a few years ago when we were spending the summer in Boston. In the background you can see Daniel Chester French’s statue of the Minuteman, on the base of which is inscribed Ralph Waldo Emerson’s famous lines:
By the rude bridge that arched the flood,
Their flag to April’s breeze unfurled,
Here once the embattled farmers stood,
And fired the shot heard round the world.
The battle of Concord took place two hundred and thirty seven years ago today. As it happens, one of my ancestors, James Joseph Byron, was the caretaker of the Old North Bridge and the battleground in the late nineteenth century. Like my great-great-grandmother, Ann Burns, whom I have discussed before, he was an Irish immigrant and had settled in Concord. She had been the cook for Emerson, though whether it was through his good graces that James Byron became custodian of the historic site I could not say. (That’s him late in life below, in a photo lifted from a genealogy written by my late cousin, Bobby Byron.)
When I had had my sons pose at the bridge for the photo at the top, I knew the Battle of Concord as a matter of American history only. I was not aware that it was also a part of our family history as well. I’m not sure the boys would have been too impressed, however, had I known to tell them.
Later that day, we had gone to watch a demonstration of a live musket firing. There was an elderly man in period dress who spoke in great detail about things like the route the British may have taken and the proper way to load a musket. When I think of him now, it seems to me that his lecture was probably much like one old James Byron might have given. I wonder if, long ago, little boys listening to him tugged on their father’s hand and asked, “Is he ever gonna shoot that thing, daddy?”