• The North Bridge, Concord MA.

    Minute Man

    National Historical Park Massachusetts

General History Questions

Minute Man company on parade

Why were the colonial soldiers called minute men?

According to Massachusetts colonial law, all able-bodied men between the ages of 16 and 60 were required to keep a serviceable firearm and serve in a part-time citizen army called the militia. Their duty was to defend the colony against her enemies; chiefly the Indians and the French.

The colonial militia sometimes fought side by side with British soldiers, particularly during the last French and Indian War in the 1750's and early 60's. However, as a result of the mounting tensions between Great Britain and her American colonies, that would soon change.

In October of 1774, following the lead of the Worchester County Convention, the Massachusetts Provincial Congress called upon all militia officers to resign their commisions under the old Royal Government and for new elections to be held. This effectively purged the officer corps of loyalists.

They also called upon the towns (most of which supported one or more companies of militia) to set aside a portion of its militia and form them into new, special companies called minute men.

Minute Men were different from the militia in the following ways:

  1. While service in the militia was required by law, minute men were volunteers.
  2. The minute men trained far more frequently than the militia. Two or three times per week was common. Because of this serious commitment of time, they were paid. One shilling per drill was average. Militia only trained once every few months (on average) and were paid only if they were called out beyond their town, or formed part of an expedition.
  3. Minute Men were expected to keep their arms and equipment with them at all times, and in the event of an alarm, be ready to march at a minute's warning - hence they were called "minute men."

 
The North Bridge

Was the "shot heard round the world" fired in Lexington or Concord?

The "shot heard round the world" is part of a line in "The Concord Hymn," written in the 1830's by writer / philosopher Ralph Waldo Emerson for the dedication of a monument at the site of Concord's North Bridge.

"Here once the embattled farmers stood,
and fired the shot heard round the world."

No one can dispute Lexington's claim to the first shots, and sadly, the first colonial casualties of the Revolutionary War. However the "shot heard round the world" is not a reference to the first shot.

Emerson's poem is definately referring to the fighting at the North Bridge, where colonial militiamen were first ordered to fire on British soldiers, thus committing treason. Here also the first British soldiers were killed.

However, in a larger sense, was Emerson actually referring to a musket shot? Some argue that the true "shot heard round the world" is not a physical musket shot, but the ideals of liberty and self-determination.

It was for the defense of these ideals that people all over New England were roused into action against the British in April of 1775.

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Did You Know?

minute man reenactors on Patriot's Day

Thousands of people visit Minute Man NHP during our Patriot's Day celebrations, held each year in April to mark the anniversary of the opening battle of the American Revolution.