April 19, 1775, should be regarded as important a date to Americans as July 4, 1776. It’s a shame that we don’t celebrate it as enthusiastically as we do Independence Day. It’s even more shameful that many Americans don’t even remember what happened on this day back in 1775. For the record, historians call this day, “Patriot’s Day.” More specifically, it was the day that the shot was fired that was heard ’round the world. It was the day America’s War for Independence began.
Being warned of approaching British troops by Dr. Joseph Warren, Pastor Jonas Clark and his male congregants of the Church of Lexington (numbering 60-70) were the ones that stood with their muskets in front of the Crown’s troops (numbering over 800), who were on orders to seize a cache of arms which were stored at Concord and to arrest Sam Adams and John Hancock (who were known to be in the area, and who had actually taken refuge in Pastor Clark’s home).
According to eyewitnesses, the king’s troops opened fire on the militiamen almost without warning, immediately killing eight of Pastor Clark’s parishioners. In self defense, the Minutemen returned fire. These were the first shots of the Revolutionary War. This took place on Lexington Green, which was located directly beside the church-house where those men worshipped each Sunday. Adams and Hancock were not taken. They owed their lives to Pastor Clark and his brave Minutemen–albeit eight of those men gave their lives protecting Adams and Hancock.
According to Pastor Clark, these are the names of the eight men who died on Lexington Green: Robert Munroe, Jonas Parker, Samuel Hadley, Jonathan Harrington, Jr., Isaac Muzzy, Caleb Harrington, and John Brown, all of Lexington, and one Mr. Porter of Woburn.
By the time the British troops arrived at the Concord Bridge, hundreds of colonists had amassed a defense of the bridge. A horrific battle took place, and the British troops were routed and soon retreated back to Boston. America’s War for Independence had begun!
Yes, ladies and gentlemen, these two elements of American history are lost to the vast majority of historians today: 1) it was attempted gun confiscation by the British troops that ignited America’s War for Independence, and 2) it was a pastor and his flock that mostly comprised the “Minutemen” who fired the shots that started our great Revolution.
With that thought in mind, I want to devote today’s column to honoring the brave preachers of Colonial America–these “children of the Pilgrims,” as one Colonial pastor’s descendent put it.
It really wasn’t that long ago. However, with the way America’s clergymen act today, one would think that preachers such as James Caldwell, John Peter Muhlenberg, Joab Houghton, and Jonas Clark never existed. But they did exist; and without them, this country we call the United States of America that would not exist.
Caldwell was a Presbyterian; Muhlenberg was a Lutheran; Houghton was a Baptist; and no one really seems to know what denomination (if any) Jonas Clark claimed, although one historian referred to Clark as a Trinitarian and a Calvinist. But these men had one thing in common (besides their faith in Jesus Christ): they were all ardent patriots who participated in America’s War for Independence, and in the case of Jonas Clark, actually ignited it.
James Caldwell was called “The Rebel High Priest” or “The Fighting Chaplain.” Caldwell is most famous for the “Give ’em Watts!” story.
During the Springfield (New Jersey) engagement, the colonial militia ran out of wadding for their muskets. Quickly, Caldwell galloped to the Presbyterian church, and returning with an armload of hymnals, threw them to the ground, and hollered, “Now, boys, give ’em Watts!” He was referring to the famous hymn writer, Isaac Watts, of course.
The British hated Caldwell so much, they murdered his wife, Hannah, in her own home, as she sat with her children on her bed. Later, a fellow American was bribed by the British to assassinate Pastor Caldwell–which is exactly what he did. Americans loyal to the Crown burned both his house and church. No less than three cities and two public schools in the State of New Jersey bear his name.
John Peter Muhlenberg
John Peter Muhlenberg was pastor of a Lutheran church in Woodstock, Virginia, when hostilities erupted between Great Britain and the American colonies. When news of Bunker Hill reached Virginia, Muhlenberg preached a sermon from Ecclesiastes 3 to his congregation He reminded his parishioners that there was a time to preach and a time to fight. He said that, for him, the time to preach was past and it was time to fight. He then threw off his vestments and stood before his congregants in the uniform of a Virginia colonel.
Muhlenberg later was promoted to brigadier-general in the Continental Army, and later, major general. He participated in the battles of Brandywine, Germantown, Monmouth, and Yorktown. He went on to serve in both the US House of Representatives and US Senate.
Joab Houghton was in the Hopewell (New Jersey) Baptist Meeting House at worship when he received the first information regarding the battles at Lexington and Concord. His great-grandson gives the following eloquent description of the way he treated the tidings:
“[M]ounting the great stone block in front of the meeting-house, he beckoned the people to stop. Men and women paused to hear, curious to know what so unusual a sequel to the service of the day could mean. At the first, words a silence, stern as death, fell over all. The Sabbath quiet of the hour and of the place was deepened into a terrible solemnity. He told them all the story of the cowardly murder at Lexington by the royal troops; the heroic vengeance following hard upon it; the retreat of Percy; the gathering of the children of the Pilgrims round the beleaguered hills of Boston; then pausing, and looking over the silent throng, he said slowly, ‘Men of New Jersey, the red coats are murdering our brethren of New England! Who follows me to Boston?’ And every man in that audience stepped out of line, and answered, ‘I!’ There was not a coward or a traitor in old Hopewell Baptist Meeting-House that day.” (Cathcart, William. Baptists and the American Revolution. Philadelphia: S.A. George, 1876, rev. 1976. Print.)
As I said at the beginning of this column, Jonas Clark was pastor of the Church of Lexington, Massachusetts, on April 19, 1775, the day that British troops marched on Concord with orders to arrest Sam Adams and John Hancock, and to seize a cache of firearms. It was Pastor Clark’s male congregants who were the first ones to face-off against the British troops as they marched through Lexington. When you hear the story of the Minutemen at the Battle of Lexington, remember those Minutemen were Pastor Jonas Clark and the men of his congregation.
On the One Year Anniversary of the Battle of Lexington, Clark preached a sermon based upon his eyewitness testimony of the event. He called his sermon, “The Fate of Blood-Thirsty Oppressors and God’s Tender Care of His Distressed People.” His sermon has been republished by Nordskog Publishing under the title, “The Battle of Lexington, A Sermon and Eyewitness Narrative, Jonas Clark, Pastor, Church of Lexington.”
Order the book containing Clark’s sermon at:
Of course, these four brave preachers were not the only ones to participate in America’s fight for independence. There were Episcopalian ministers such as Dr. Samuel Provost of New York, Dr. John Croes of New Jersey, and Robert Smith of South Carolina. Presbyterian ministers such as Adam Boyd of North Carolina and James Armstrong of Maryland, along with many others, also took part.
So many Baptist preachers participated in America’s War for Independence that, at the conclusion of the war, President George Washington wrote a personal letter to the Baptist people saying, “I recollect with satisfaction that the religious societies of which you are a member have been, throughout America, uniformly and almost unanimously, the firm friends to civil liberty, and the preserving promoters of our glorious Revolution.” It also explains how Thomas Jefferson could write to a Baptist congregation and say, “We have acted together from the origin to the end of a memorable Revolution.” (McDaniel, George White. The People Called Baptists. The Sunday School Board of the Southern Baptist Convention, 1918. Print.)
More of the article here: http://chuckbaldwinlive.com/home/archives/4790