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.
Ralph Waldo Emerson “Concord Hymn”
Concord, Massachusetts is the home of two revolutions. One with muskets and the other with quills. One gave Americans their freedom and the other gave Americans their voice.
On April 19, 1775, 400 minutemen who were farmers and men living in the area lined up on the west side of the Old North Bridge. 400 men untrained for war facing 700 soldiers of the King’s army. It was a protest against a government unanswerable to its people. They didn’t know how long the war would last, that thousands would die over the next eight years, or that 240 years later there would be 50 united states and Old North Bridge would be a sacred place of peace. The war began with “Fire! For God’s sake, fire!” and the British fired first with a “shot heard round the world” that started a revolution. On that day the world’s most powerful army panicked and ran.
Across the bridge, where the Redcoats stood, is a marker with a simple, beautiful poem.
Grave of British Soldiers
They came three thousand miles and died
To keep the past upon its throne:
Unheard beyond the ocean tide.
Their English mother made her moan.
April 19, 1775
The second revolution began 60 years later when Louisa May Alcott, Nathaniel Hawthorne, Ralph Waldo Emerson and Henry David Thoreau, four of America’s greatest writers, lived close together in the small town. They stirred an intellectual awakening with their stories, poems, and philosophy of simplicity, individual liberty, transcendentalism and equality. They wrote Little Women, The Scarlet Letter, “Walden,” “Nature” and the “Concord Hymn.”
The Alcott home where Louisa May wrote Little Women is on Lexington Road that runs past many of the events leading up to the first shots on the war. Ralph Waldo Emerson lived in a while colonial house close by. Nathaniel Hawthorne’s home, Old Manse, has views of the Old North Bridge, and Thoreau’s Walden pond is now a 335-acre state reservation. The four authors are buried close together on Author’s Ridge in Sleepy Hollow Cemetery in the center of town.
Signs point the way to the ridge and Thoreau’s grave is a small stone that simply says, “Henry.” It is surrounded by pens, pencils, crayons and highlighters.
“Do we dare call this the land of the free? What is it to be free of King George and continue to be slaves of King Prejudice? What is to be born free and not to live free? What is the value of any political freedom, but as a means to moral freedom?”
Henry David Thoreau, “Life Without Principle”
Hawthorne’s grave is across the path with a red plastic rose, a broken pencil and a few stones and pennies.
“The world has seen no grander movement that that of our Revolution.. The people to a man, were full of a great and noble sentiment. It is marvelous to see how many powerful writers, orators, and soldiers started up just at the time when they were wanted… all made to unite in the one object of establishing the freedom and independence of America.
Nathaniel Hawthorne, “The Whole History of Grandfather’s Chair”
Surrounded by the graves of his wife and daughter, Emerson’s resting place is marked by granite. The family plot is chained off and there are few pens or mementos at his grave.
“Our day of dependence, our long apprenticeship to the learning of other lands draws to a close. The millions that around us are rushing into life cannot always be fed on the sere remains of foreign harvests. Events, actions arise, that must be sung, that will sing themselves. We will walk on our own feet, we will work with our own hands, we will speak our own mind.”
Ralph Waldo Emerson, “The American Scholar”
Louisa May Alcott’s grave is a more personal shrine of the pencils and flowers with an American flag and a U.S. veteran marker because she cared for sick and wounded Union soldiers during the Civil War. A letter of appreciation is left under a rock and a small, red composition book is filled with notes of people who have stopped by.
“I am so glad you did all those amazing things like writing Little Women. It is an amazing book. I wish you were alive now.”
“Louisa, Thank you for not letting me grow up too quickly.”
“There are many Beths in the world, shy and quiet, sitting in corners till needed, and living for others so cheerfully that no one sees the sacrifices till the little cricket on the hearth stops chirping, and the sweet, sunshiny presence vanishes, leaving silence and shadow behind.”
Louisa May Alcott, Little Women
Their voices defined a new country and gave it a conscience and a culture. Their words can still provide identity and inspiration today. Especially today. Here are some of their quotes.
“It is a curious subject of observation and inquiry, whether hatred and love be not the same thing at bottom. Each, in its utmost development, supposes a high degree of intimacy and heart-knowledge; each renders one individual dependent for the food of his affections and spiritual life upon another; each leaves the passionate lover, or the no less passionate hater, forlorn and desolate by the withdrawal of his object.”
Nathaniel Hawthorne, The Scarlet Letter
“The purpose of life is not to be happy. It is to be useful, to be honorable, to be compassionate, to have it make some difference that you have lived and lived well.”
Ralph Waldo Emerson
“Painful as it may be, a significant emotional event can be the catalyst for choosing a direction that serves us – and those around us – more effectively. Look for the learning.”
Louisa May Alcott