Jonathan Salem Baskin

Ink Shot

Today, a shot was heard around the world.

When the American Revolution became a shooting war at Lexington and Concord on this day in 1775, the information war had been raging already for weeks. The British commander General Gage has received his orders five days earlier, but the colonial militia had been warned by sources in London of the impending attack weeks prior. So when British surveyors were seen checking the roads to Concord, all of the militia’s supplies (along with their leaders John Hancock and Sam Adams) were moved to safety. When Gage’s troops fanned out in Concord on the night prior to the attack to stop militia messengers from warning one another of his plans, it only served to warn anybody who didn’t already know he planned to attack. When Paul Revere went on his ride, it was to let everyone in Lexington know they might get to see action, too.

The colonists’ planning paid off, as they inflicted heavy causalities on the British at both skirmishes, though the British were able to locate some of the militia’s weapon stores (they had spies of their own, so they knew where to look). By the next day, 20,000 soldiers “spontaneously” appeared and surrounded the British in Boston, ready to continue the fight. Within the week the Massachusetts Provincial Congress collected sworn testimonies from participants in the battle that painted the British as the aggressors on an unsuspecting, peace-loving colony, then put the reports on a ship to London that was faster than the one General Gage used for filing his official report. It was this shot — the American propaganda campaign — that was printed in London newspapers and became the accepted story, inspiring fellow colonists to take up arms in defense of their emergent nation and, 62 years later, inspired Ralph Waldo Emerson to write:

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.