Independence Day—or, The Fight For Jason Russell’s House

Every 4th of July, it is appropriate to remember the 19th of April, 1775, when the fighting began at Lexington and Concord. The British were marching on Concord to confiscate the colonials’ F-15s—I mean cannon—and were met on the green at Lexington by a detachment of minutemen under John Parker. British Major John Pitcairn shouted an order: “Lay down your arms, you damned rebels!” But, as luck would have it, that was the precise moment at which the Americans stopped taking orders from the British.

The British pressed on to Concord, but the F-15s had already been hidden and the British never found them. They did manage to set the town decently well on fire before being driven back, and they were attacked all along the road as they retreated towards Boston. By 5:00 p.m. the battle had gone off and on for 12 hours and the British were approaching Menotomy (Arlington today). It was here, around and inside the Jason Russell House, that the fiercest fight of the entire day was about to take place.

The British sent flanking parties along their main column to clear and burn colonial houses on the road. A company of minutemen had set up a breastwork in Russell’s yard from which to fire on the British retreat. The flanking unit attacked the Americans from behind, and 20 or so minutemen ran to the house. 

Jason Russell, a 59-year-old farmer lame in one leg, had started off earlier in the day with his wife and children for the safety of a neighbor’s house on a high hill. But, after seeing them part of the way, Russell left his family and returned alone to his house. And while it may be that he changed his mind because his leg prevented him from walking the full distance, the evidence suggests that he simply refused to abandon his house—“An Englishman’s house is his castle,” a neighbor recalled him answering at the suggestion that he flee to safety.

Russell was with the American militia and ran to his house with them. He was shot in the back and fell at his own doorstep, and the British stormed inside. The walls, floors and staircases were splintered with bullet holes and the fighting that followed was all within bayonet range.  The British also shot at the neighbor who had tried to warn Russell away. He stumbled and fell between some logs as bark from the bullet strikes flew all around him, but was unhurt.

Russell’s wife returned to the house to find her husband and 11 fallen Americans laid out on the floor of the kitchen. The blood, she said, was “almost ankle deep.” Russell had been shot twice and stabbed 11 times. He and the men who defended the house were buried together, without coffins, their grave marked by an obelisk which records them as “being among the first to lay down their lives in the struggle for American Independence.” 

Of the 50 Americans who died that day, 12 were killed there. History preserves—and we ought to know—their names. In addition to Russell, they are Jason Winship, Jabez Wyman, John Bacon, Amos Mills, Jonathan Parker (unrelated to the militia captain), Nathan Chamberlain, William Flint, Thomas Hadley, Abednego Ramsdell, Elias Haven, and Benjamin Pierce.

The house may be an unimportant little building in and of itself, but the thing is: the British never did take it. It was never burned, unlike so many houses along the road. The British weren’t able to burn it. And the Jason Russell House still stands today, with bullet holes in its staircase, as a reminder. It is an unimposing, modest, and therefore perfect symbol of American defiance in the face of what should have been overwhelming force.

It was no haphazard decision that brought those men to the fray. The militia from Danvers came 16 miles across open country, which they covered in just four hours, running half the way. My own many-times-great grandfather, Elias Haven, came 14miles from Dedham. He was 29. Others came from Lynn, Needham, and Salem.

They woke up as Englishmen and died as Americans. They transformed the Englishman’s castle into the first American house, at great personal cost. They evidently thought the cost of staying home would have been greater. They ran for miles with their muskets, and many of them died, but America was born.

I note all of this to illustrate how difficult it can be for a government—even a global power like the former British Empire—to gauge correctly the point at which a people devoted to freedom have been pushed as far as they are willing to go.

Now consider our current situation. Every news item that refers to Trump makes sure to say that his claims about election fraud are false and disproven. So if you question that, you’re a dangerous lunatic and a conspiracy theorist. But the media hasn’t convinced anyone. They’ll be shocked to learn that you can’t change someone’s mind just by telling him he’s not allowed to disagree. Americans who believe the election was fraudulent still do and always will. (They’re right.)

For the moment, the Biden regime seems confident and almost cocky, “perched on their dizzy pinnacles of power” behind their barbed-wire fences and soldiers. They feel they have consolidated their position, and have cowed the population through their abuse of the January 6 protestors. They feel they can flex their muscles a little more and show us what they really want to do. That’s why calls for unity have been speedily replaced with a new war on “domestic terrorism.”

Americans for the most part wish only to be left alone. We have historically taken a live-and-let-live approach, and we don’t appreciate the intrusion of government into our daily affairs. If the British had stayed in Boston that April 19, the war would not have begun, at least not on that day. And who knows what would have happened had the British been content to govern with a lighter touch.

In 2021, Americans still wish to be left alone on their farms and in their houses to pursue their livelihoods. A status-quo government is likely to be accepted, however grudgingly, by the large percentage of Americans who believe the election was subverted and stolen. A government that intrudes aggressively on American freedoms, however, will run very quickly into the limitations of its power.

About Dan Gelernter

Dan Gelernter is a columnist for American Greatness living in Connecticut.

Photo: Photo by Hulton Archive/Getty Images

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