Summary of Chapter 4: The Morning
There are seventy men and boys waiting on Lexington Green as the sky begins to lighten. Adam does not want to be left out of whatever will happen. The men joke and tell stories to keep their minds off the waiting, to stop from thinking about what could happen. Most have never been farther from home than Boston or Providence. Moses tries to prepare his son by putting his arm around him and warning him that if anything happens, he might have to shoulder a heavy burden. Adam understands this as “a gesture of real affection” (p. 78). The Reverend also acknowledges Adam as one of the “Cooper men” who “stand firmly” (p. 78). The Reverend carries no gun but stands with the men, encouraging them.
Adam stands with two boys his own age, one trying to sound boastful, and the other sick, having thrown up. Adam moves to be with his father, Cousin Simmons, the Reverend and Simon Casper, a veteran who had trained the Lexington men. Simon is dressed in an old uniform while the rest are in civilian clothes. Casper tells the men to cock their guns in readiness and Parker agrees. Moses Cooper, however, insists that the men not cock their guns for fear of an accident. The Reverend backs him up with an impassioned speech: “We have done no misdeeds . . . We are required to be firm and calm—but not to die” (p. 83). Moses believes they will prevent war: “This is our village and our land” (p. 83).
The Reverend privately tells Moses that Sam Adams and John Hancock were in Lexington this very night at his house. He sent them away because it was dangerous to the village. He does not understand what is happening or how things got started. He told them to go to Burlington.
The Reverend agrees to be the spokesmen for the village. He is unarmed. The rest of the men are in two lines across the green. The Reverend worries the army may just ignore them and march past to Concord. When the men begin to argue among themselves he gives them a talk, explaining, “We are not here by choice, but because our consciences dictate that we assert our primacy in the place of our homes and birth” (p. 87). The Reverend spells out the atrocities committed by the British in Boston. They must not let it happen in Lexington.
As the sun dawns, they hear shots and then the drums of the British army. Adam feels fear as they see the endless ranks of redcoats come into view. The soldiers stop on the green, and the commander, Major Pitcairn, orders, “Fix bayonets!” The redcoats create a wall across the common, and Pitcairn tells the villagers to disperse. They do not answer. Moses pulls the Reverend towards him to protect him, and suddenly a shot rings out, and Moses Cooper falls. Adam runs away with all the other men on the green, and there is chaos. He sees Samuel Hodley with blood pouring over him, and Hodley falls down dead. Adam vomits. Jonas Parker is run through with a bayonet. The soldiers chase Adam, but he hides in a smokehouse, crying and throwing up.
His brother Levi finds him in the smokehouse and tells him what happened. Granny and Sarah and Levi ran out on the green and found Moses dead. A redcoat came over to help them, but Granny spit in his face. Levi tells the names of the dead. The two brothers comfort each other. Granny sent the message for Adam to stay in the woods till the soldiers leave. Levi goes home and leaves Adam alone with his fear.
Commentary on Chapter 4: The Morning
The unpreparedness of the colonials and their belief that there would be no violence is personified in the characters of Moses Cooper and the Reverend. They are the most idealistic and eloquent and persuade the others of their peaceful intent. It is not actually known who fired the first shot that day, but Fast paints a picture of the innocent villagers trying to defend their land. The author shows, however, the frightening reality of war, how violence can escalate out of anyone’s control or intention. The British may have thought to scare the villagers into compliance without any idea they were stirring up a full war. The colonials, here and even later under General Washington, were a ragged and untrained lot, badly outnumbered. Fast shows that it is the idea of freedom that moves the simple farmers to stand up for themselves.
While the ideals are presented sympathetically, Fast does not glamorize war. He shows the horror in the young boys vomiting when they see their neighbors die in front of their eyes. He does not make the British complete villains either, showing the compassion of a redcoat soldier towards the Coopers, and later, Adam feels sympathy for the soldiers. War is a nasty business that seems to have a life of its own. As the Reverend says, he does not know how things got started.
The skill of the author in showing the Lexington men reasoning about their rights in meetings, and contrasting that with the consequences of their ideas playing out in actuality, brings to life not only this period of history, but war in general. War may be fought over ideas, but in itself, it is irrational and usually unpredictable, no matter how carefully planned. Once begun, though, as the Reverend points out, “Easier to let the devil out of the bottle than to persuade him back inside” (p. 84).
The Reverend is afraid when Sam Adams and John Hancock visit Lexington just ahead of the army. They are there because it is not safe to return to Boston. He does not want them to endanger the village. They have already had a long interaction with the British in Boston, as the Reverend hints.
Adam is trapped somewhere between adolescence and manhood in this scene. He sees his father die and runs away in fear. He hides. When his brother comes, however, he has to become the father figure for him and reassure him. Adam still has not completely made his transition, and is in a state of shock at this point.