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Patriots' Day


Image: A.H. Ritchie

David is in Boston to run the marathon on Monday. Yesterday was organized as tightly as a military maneuver – with prayer, a precisely timed run, extra carbs, the provision of supplies, the preparation of his uniform (the numbered bib), and an expedition to map the route. It's enough to drive anyone who is not a runner to distraction. But all this is oddly appropriate because the Boston Marathon was begun in 1897 to celebrate Patriots' Day, which was also a military maneuver but not so meticulously planned, being the improvisational beginning of the American Revolution.

British subjects in America had a number of reasons for rebelling, but New Yorkers writing to London put it best - We are "born to the bright inheritance of English freedom", and we will fight for it if we have to, they warned. .

In 1775 Parliament secretly ordered Governor Gage to enforce the Coercive Acts. In April, in Boston, Gage ordered 700 soldiers to destroy the Americans' weapons depot in Concord, Massachusetts.

Learning of the plan, Doctor Joseph Warren sent riders, including Paul Revere, to warn Concord and Lexington. As they sounded the alarm "in every Middlesex village and farm," church bells pealed and drums beat, calling Americans into action.

At dawn on April 19, fifty militiamen faced the British advance guard on Lexington Green. They were fathers and sons. The youngest was 18. The oldest was 63. It was reported that the commanding officer rode up and shouted, "Lay down your arms, you damned rebels, or you are all dead men. Fire!"

The 'shot heard 'round the world' ignited the American Revolution. Eight Americans were killed and ten were wounded. At Concord, the Americans stood their ground, then broke with military convention, and began sharp-shooting "from behind each fence and farmyard wall," forcing British soldiers into a bloody retreat back to Boston.

Patriots' Day celebrates this history.

But why celebrate Patriots' Day with a marathon anyway? It's not because Pheidippides ran to Marathon – he didn’t. He ran 150 miles to Sparta for help against the invading Persians. To defend their families, their homes and their freedom the Athenians raced 26 miles to stop the Persians at Marathon. Incredibly, they did. As soon as the battle was over, that same day, they turned round and raced the 26 miles back to Athens to prevent the Persian Navy from landing and taking their city and their democracy.

So running a marathon is a fine way to celebrate the defence of freedom and Patriots' Day. Crowds - half a million people - line the route, cheering the runners on.