Monday, February 15, 2010

Monument: The Minuteman, Concord

Switching gears a bit, I'll be focusing on some of the minutemen statues in the area.

The first and arguably most famous statue is the minuteman statue at the Concord North Bridge. According to the Minuteman National Park discussion, the statue is not of Isaac Davis. The Park says: [I]t represents a (generic) farmer who leaves his plow and picks up his musket to defend his land and liberty. However, when French was researching the statue, he did make sketches of some of the descendants of Isaac Davis of Acton (killed at the Bridge).

However, according to a number of authorities (and local tradition), it is generally understood to be a statue of Captain Isaac Davis of Acton. As he was among the first to fall at the Bridge, after leading the Acton Minutemen at the head of assembled troops, Davis's courage and leadership certainly merited recognition.

This statue was sculpted by then-Concord resident, Daniel Chester French. An Exeter, New Hampshire, native, French came to Concord to study sculpting. In 1872, the Concord town meeting commissioned the statue for the centennial celebration in the next April. French was given the honor to create the art work - his very first statue of this size. He worked on the monument for two years.

The statue was unvieled on April 18, 1875, before an assembly of townspeople and honored guests, including President Ulysses S. Grant and Ralph Waldo Emerson. The statue was very well received as it signaled a romantic realism that was new to American art. French did not attend the unveiling as he was in Europe.

As one can readily see, with an open shirt and rolled up sleeves, this minutemen is ready to fight in the weather of mid-May - not the 40+ degree of the weather on April 19, 1775. But romance has its purpose as well.

The statue includes a plough, signifying that it was farmers who left their fields to fight for their country. Of course, Isaac Davis was a blacksmith, not a farmer. Somewhat interestingly, a later statue of a minuteman created by H.H. Kitson for the town of Framingham did have an anvil next to the patriot.
The Concord Minuteman statue is one of the more well-known symbols of the Commonwealth. That was evidenced recently by the inclusion of the statue on the Massachusetts state quarter issued by the United States Mint in 2000.

The statue also serves as the symbol for the National Guard.

Daniel Chester French went on to sculpt many notable statues across the country, most notably the figure of the seated Abraham Lincoln at the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, D.C. French's life and works are commemorated at his summer home, Chesterwood, in Stockbridge, Massachusetts. Chester's final resting place is in the Sleepy Hollow Cemetary in Concord, Massachusetts, not far from his statue of "The Minuteman".

This statue may be seen just across the North Bridge at the Minuteman National Park in Concord. Parking is readily available.


  1. There are at least two reasons for Daniel Chester French portraying the Minute Man in the loose shirtsleeve clothing as he did.

    First was, ignorance. He, as were most, just wasn't as knowledgable about material culture of 1775 as we try to be today. He merely assumed that the clothing given him by various local families, held for decades in attics and trunks, was from 1775, or, more likely, close enough. But the cut of the waistcoat is 1790s at the earliest, the button holes and pockets being all wrong for the 1770s, and the breeches show no loose seat (ripe for an Elvis Presley-style split in the seat, if he bends over). The shirt collar and cuffs are too wide, and the gaiters on his legs just look a tad too military, for a farmer out in the fields, getting ready to heed the call to action. In his Apollo Belviderean pose, he is about to pick up his coat, and put it on, but that's the part everybody forgets. Folks back then didn't wander around in their shirtsleeves- they dressed for the occasion, not the weather. It's not the squeamishness and prudery of the Victorians, it's rather the simple subsuming of the individual into the whole of society by showing respect for each other by dressing properly. Remember when folks still wore suits on trains, planes and in courts? Same reasons.

    The hat is flat on top, with an oval shape. That was very unusual for 1775, when hats were blcked using round forms, at least in circumference. It is also cocked on the wrong side for military use, since muskets were carried usually on the left shoulder in military units of this era, unlike the "right shoulder arms" of the American Civil War era. Otherwise, his shouldered musket would knock against his hat brim. He should probably be shown wearing a wide brimmed, uncocked hat, or more common, a cocked hat, later known in the 19th century as a "tricorne". There is no shade for the sun with this hat the figure wears. Did French use it so that the eyes's determination may be more easily seen, and not hid under the brim of a hat in the sun?

    Second, the desire of 1875-era viewers to see the Minute Men and the rest of America's founders in a romantic, masculine light, with the flaws and roughness of the previous century wiped away. Remember, the USA had undergone a terrible trial in the Civil War, and the desire of the war-weary American people to look forward, while looking simultaneously dreamily at an inspiring history, trimmed and tailored to be more relevant and easier to digest, in order to learn from, was very strong.

    Even later, in the twentieth century, when, before the nation's Bicentennial, many reestablished town militia and minute companies, mostly set up as ceremonial groups and not historical reenactors, chose to imitate French's- and Kitson's- romanticized militiamen in clothing, since the scupltors, especially French, caught the fire, spirit and resolve these groups wished to celebrate.

  2. Thanks for the interesting facts Roger. However, Davis did have a plow, it is on display in the Action Town Hall offices. His family donated it to the town. I think people of that era often were jacks of many trades and although Davis was a blacksmith - I would think that he also probably planted crops too. I don't know a lot about Davis - but I read he was a gunsmith. Maybe he was all three, gunsmith, blacksmith and farmer. I think his men were the only ones who had bayonets, a result of Davis being a gunsmith and this was part of the reason for him leading the advance to the North Bridge.

  3. Maybe he wore the gaiters as the militia had been drilling in anticipation of an uprising and there was much dissatisfaction with the King. A revolt had been brewing for many years and was at a high-point. So the entire countryside was in a military state of war. Also, not 100% sure, but didn't Davis serve in the French and Indian war. I know many of the patriot leaders had fought in the French and Indian war.