Commentary on the Modern Black Regiment
Quotes from chapter 7 of:
One Nation Under God, 10 Things Every Christian Should Know About the Founding of America
by: Dr. David C. Gibbs Jr. President Christian Law Association,
with Jerry Newcombe ©2003
Published by the Christian Law Association, P.O. Box 4010, Seminole, Florida 33775-4010 www.christianlaw.org
“… take away your exactions from my people, saith the Lord God.” Ezekiel 45:9b
Many of the clergy in the American colonies, members of the Black Regiment, “preached liberty.”
The colonial pulpit was a major source of strength and inspiration both before and during the Revolutionary War for Independence. In particular, the ministers of New England played a pivotal role in calling for independence and for Godly resistance to British tyranny. At least twice a year, and always around the time of local election days, the clergy would preach an election sermon on the state of political affairs.
The seventh thing every Christian should know about the founding of America is that many of the clergy in the American colonies “preached liberty.” The pulpits of New England were especially important in helping to bring about independence. Long before the general population understood the threat to American liberty, some colonial ministers saw what was coming and boldly spoke out about it from their pulpits.
Because of the color of their robes, these patriotic clergy were known as the Black Regiment. Other colonials, who were organized to protect their towns from the British at a moments notice, were called Minutemen. They were generally laymen from a particular local church, led by their minister or deacon who conducted military drills after Sunday services. Rev. Jonas Clark is a good example of the Black Regiment. He was in charge of the Minutemen in Lexington who were attacked in the first conflict of the Revolutionary War.
The Puritan Pulpits
Another example of the Black Regiment was Dr. Samuel Cooper, minister of the Brattle Street Church in Boston. He was a friend of Samuel Adams, Benjamin Franklin, and John Adams. One of his faithful parishioners was John Hancock. Like so many in the Black Regiment, he was a Harvard graduate.
Dr. Cooper summarized the sentiments of the Black Regiment when he echoed Jeremiah 6:14 in his election sermon at Boston in 1780 during the War: “Peace, peace, we ardently wish; but not upon terms dishonorable to ourselves, or dangerous to our liberties; and our enemies seem not yet prepared to allow it upon any other.”
George Bancroft describes these clergy patriots, whom he calls the “memorable divines” of New England, as a key to uniting their congregations in defense of liberty:
“From the sermons of memorable divines, who were gone to a heavenly country leaving their names precious among the people of God on earth, a brief collection of faithful testimonies to the cause of God and his New England people was circulated by the press, that the hearts of the rising generation might know what had been the great end of the plantations, and count it their duty and their glory to continue in those right ways of the Lord wherein their fathers walked before them.”
Their successors in the ministry, all pupils of Harvard or Yale, true ministers to the people, unequaled in metaphysical acuteness and familiarity with the principles of political freedom, were heard as of old with reverence by their congregations in their meeting-houses on every Lord’s day, and on special occasions of fasts, thanksgivings, lectures, and military musters. Elijah’s mantle being caught up was a happy token that the Lord would be with this generation, as he had been with their fathers. Their exhaustless armory was the Bible, whose scriptures furnished sharp words to point their appeals, apt examples of resistance, prophetic denunciations of the enemies of God’s people, and promises of the divine blessing on the defenders of his law.
“Two important concepts stand out in this description. For members of the Black Regiment, defending liberty was the same as defending God’s law. Secondly, these sermons were published and circulated throughout the colonies in the press greatly magnifying their impact.”
Many Americans understand that the very first settlers of New England were devout Christians. However, we are generally led to believe that, by the time of the founding era, whatever faith there had been was long since evaporated.
There is a nugget of truth in this analysis in the sense that as prosperity began to grow in the colonies, many second and third generation believers did abandon the faith, at least inwardly. George Whitefield had reported when he first visited Boston in 1740: “It has the form of religion kept up, but has lost much of its power.”
Secular historians often play down the role of the Great Awakening in preparing the colonists for independence. Probably for much the same reasons, they almost universally ignore the Black Regiment, those ministers up and down the American coast who played such a significant role in stirring the souls of the colonists to liberty.
Members of the Black Regiment had a great deal to say about the tyranny of the king and Parliament. Rev Jonathan Mayhew, minister of West Church in Boston, preached a sermon in 1765 after learning of King George’s Stamp Act, in which he declared that the king had thus forfeited his rightful authority over his American subjects. Rev. Mayhew reasoned:
“The king is as much bound by his oath not to infringe the legal rights of the people, as the people are bound to yield subjection to him. From whence it follows that as soon as the prince sets himself above the law, he loses the king in the tyrant. He does, to all intents and purposes, un-king himself.”
“The prominence of ministers in the political literature of the period attests to the continuing influence of religion during the founding era.”
Dr. Donald S. Lutz, political science professor
“The scriptures cannot rightly be expounded without explaining them in a manner friendly to the cause of freedom.”
Rev. Charles Turner, Duxbury, Mass.
As far back as the Magna Carta in 1215 and the Glorious Revolution of 1688, with its subsequent Bill of Rights (1689), English citizens had extracted more rights from their monarchs than any other people on earth. The New England clergy were well aware of these rights and regularly reminded their congregations of them.
Rev. Phillips Payson of Chelsea, Massachusetts, was another bold servant of God who led his laymen as Minutemen. There had been numerous times during the war effort when God Himself had seemed to intervene. About three years into the War for Independence, during a time when the hand of God was clearly favoring the Americans, General George Washington acknowledged that fact in a letter to fellow Virginian Thomas Nelson, Jr., one of the signers of the Declaration of Independence.
Washington pointed out in this letter, written on August 20, 1778: “The hand of Providence has been so conspicuous in all this, that he must be worse than an infidel that lacks faith, and more than wicked, that has not gratitude enough to acknowledge his obligations.”
In expressing these sentiments, the father of our country was echoing a message delivered earlier in 1778 by a member of the Black Regiment. Rev Payson had preached in an election sermon in Boston: “We must be infidels, the worst of infidels, to disown or disregard the hand that has raised us up such benevolent and powerful assistants in times of great distress.” Both the clergyman and the General understood that the Americans were not fighting alone. It seemed obvious that God was on their side or rather that they were on God’s side in the fight for liberty.
Watchmen on the Walls
Those clergy in the Black Regiment during the founding era can be likened to the watchmen on the wall described by the prophet in Ezekiel 3:17-21. The watchman would look down at all who were entering the gates of the walled city and warn the citizens if necessary Rev. Franklin P. Cole, a modern-day pastor who studied at Oxford University, wrote about the New England clergy and the role they played in our War for Independence:
“The New England minister of the Revolutionary era was a watchman on several walls. He was a guardian of education. Practically all the Puritan clergy had been educated at Harvard or Yale; the most influential of them having their Master’s or Doctor’s degree. In 1764, of the fifty-two settled Congregational ministers in New Hampshire, forty-eight were college graduates.”
Rev. Cole points out that colonial ministers were generally well-rounded in their studies, not merely learned in theology: “Contrary to popular opinion of the present day, many of the ministers of the Revolutionary period were interested in other fields of knowledge besides theology.”
In addition to quoting from and expounding on the Bible, the Black Regiment would also sometimes quote from John Locke, John Milton, Algernon Sydney, Baron Montesquieu, and Samuel Butler. Milton and Butler were Puritans. Locke wrote The Reasonablness of Christianity. Sydney was a friend of William Penn and a professing Christian who set forth his governmental ideals in a treatise, Discourses Concerning Government, that greatly influenced political thought in 18th century America. The writings of Baron de Charles Louis de Secondat Montesquieu contain many pro-Christian sentiments. For example, in his The Spirit of Laws, Montesquieu wrote: “We shall see that we owe to Christianity, in government, a certain political law, and in war a certain law of nations benefits which human nature can never sufficiently acknowledge.”
The Founding Fathers quoted from these same sources, and also quoted frequently from Sir William Blackstone, an Englishman who documented the Christian basis of British common law in his popular series of Commentaries on British common law. Blackstone sold more of his Commentaries in the colonies during the 1770s than he did in England.
Political science professor Donald S. Lutz, author of The Origins of American Constitutionalism, discusses the major impact of the Bible on the decision to separate from England:
“When reading comprehensively in the political literature of the war years, one cannot but be struck by the extent to which biblical sources used by ministers undergirded the justification for the break with Britain, the rationale for continuing the war, and the basic principles of Americans’ writing their own constitutions.”
“The road to American freedom was paved in large part by the pulpits of New England Sermons from the colonial era helped to shape the American understanding that “resistance to tyranny is obedience to God.”
D. James Kennedy and Jerry Newcombe, What If Jesus Had Never Been Born?
“The minister was usually the best educated man in his community.”
Franklin Cole, They Preached Liberty
Election Day Sermons
Elections were held in most colonies, and certainly in New England, every year. This democratic practice was an outgrowth of the Reformation’s emphasis on the sinfulness of man. Rev. Cole discusses the election sermons preached by the Black Regiment.
It was in the so-called “Election Sermons” of Massachusetts, Connecticut, New Hampshire, and Vermont that the ministers expressed themselves most fluently on the subject of civil government. According to the Rev William Gordon of Roxbury, an historian of the Revolution: “Two sermons have been preached annually for a length of time, the one on general election day, the last Wednesday in May, when the new general court has been used to meet, according to charter, and elect counselors for the ensuing year, the other, some little while after, on the artillery election day, when the officers are re-elected, or new officers chosen. On these occasions political subjects are deemed very proper, but it is expected that they be treated in a decent, serious, and instructive manner… The sermon is styled the Election Sermon and is printed. Every representative has a copy for himself and generally one or more for the minister or ministers of his town. As the patriots have prevailed, the preachers of each sermon have been the zealous friends of liberty; and the passages most adapted to promote the spread and love of it have been selected and circulated far and wide by means of newspapers.”
And, of course, the Scriptures were the source for these election sermons, which were then printed in the newspaper and given a wide circulation, thereby spreading the love of liberty drawn from the Bible. Today’s newspapers would be more likely to report favorably on the political views of the latest “pop” singer or actress than of the local ministers.
No Fairweather Friends of Liberty
Rev. Cole makes the point that these ministers of the Black Regiment were friends of liberty both in season and out of season; they were patriots whether conditions were favorable or unfavorable. Such faithfulness was in stark contrast to some in the merchant class who were sometimes friends of liberty and sometimes friends of the British. Rev. Cole explains:
“With the powerful New England merchants the case was different. They were conscious of their liberties only when their prosperity was threatened. When the Townshend Acts of 1767, laying duties on tea, lead, glass, etc., were passed, the merchants were vocal in their annoyance. But when the Acts were repealed, they were prepared to bury the hatchet with England, but to wield another against Sam Adams and his confederates who were “disturbing the peace.” A few years later, however, when Lord North in 1773 granted the East India Company the monopoly on the transportation of tea to America, the merchants again stood with the “hundred percent patriots.” Thus in the decade preceding the Revolution economic fortune or misfortune determined for the merchant class their convictions regarding political liberty.”
In contrast to these merchants, the New England clergy were pro-freedom, come what may:
“They rejoiced with the lawyers and tradesmen when the Stamp Act was repealed; in fact, practically every pulpit rang with “the good news from a far land.”… The ministers before and during the Revolution stood, with few exceptions, near the center of liberty’s wall. They were, as a group, neither radical nor reactionary in their political philosophy.”
One Massachusetts clergyman, Abraham Keteltas, declared in 1777:
“The most precious remains of civil liberty the world can now boast of, are lodged in our hands…. [This war is] the cause of truth, against error and falsehood. . . the cause of pure and undefiled religion, against bigotry, superstition, and human inventions. . . . In short, it is the cause of heaven against hell — of the kind Parent of the universe against the prince of darkness, and the destroyer of the human race.”
“There is probably no group of men in history, living in a particular area at a given time, who can speak as forcibly on the subject of liberty as the Congregational ministers of New England between 1750 and 1785.”
Franklin R Cole
“Witness a great, if not the greatest, part of the known world who are now groaning, but not murmuring, under the heavy yoke of tyranny!”
Rev. Jonathan Mayhew
The Black Regiment was so powerful in 1774 before the War began that when the people of Massachusetts wanted their royalist pro-British governor, Thomas Hutchinson, to call for a day of fasting and prayer, he refused because he feared what might be said in the pulpits on such a day. He observed that, “the request was only to give an opportunity for sedition to flow from the pulpit.”
Beyond New England
Although there were many in the Black Regiment from other colonies and other regions, it was the New England pulpit in particular to which this honorary title is given. These clergy were by far the most active in preaching liberty; but beyond New England, the Black Regiment had other faithful members like Rev. Sam Davies of Virginia. John Adams observed, “The Philadelphia ministers `thunder and lighten every Sabbath’ against George 5th’s despotism.” And, in speaking of his native Virginia, Thomas Jefferson observed, “Pulpit oratory ran like a shock of electricity through the whole colony.”
Rev. Sam Davies, a minister in Hanover County; Virginia, preached a powerful sermon against cowardice during the War. He asked: “Is it not our duty, in the sight of God, is it not a work to which the Lord loudly calls us, to take up arms for the defense of our country?”
Rev. Jonathan Mayhew (1720-1766) was one of the most profound thinkers in the Black Regiment and one of the greatest New England friends of liberty. He was a graduate of Harvard and served West Church in Boston from 1747 until his death in 1766, a full decade before the Declaration of Independence was written.
Rev. Mayhew was the quintessential clergyman of the Black Regiment. Early on, he saw the inevitability of American independence for righteousness’ sake. He preached against British tyranny as a sin from which the people under its oppression had an obligation to rebel. For example:
“The people know for what end they set up, and maintain, their governors; and they are the proper judges when they execute their trust as they ought to do it when their prince exercises an equitable and paternal authority over them; when from a prince and common father, he exalts himself into a tyrant when from subjects and children, he degrades them into the class of slaves; plunders them, makes them his prey, and unnaturally sports himself with their lives and fortunes.”
Rev. Mayhew knew that the power of government was invested in the people. He also knew that the consent of the governed was more important than the petty whims of magistrates who lose their authority to rule over the people when they become tyrants. Such radical preaching played a major role in the drive for independence. Franklin Cole regrets that Rev. Mayhew is little known in America today:
“It is regrettable that Jonathan Mayhew is not better known and more rightfully honored by our generation. For he was an inspired, courageous pioneer, not only in his theological thought, but also in his convictions regarding civil and religious liberties.” Robert Treat Paine, a signer of the Declaration of Independence and one-time attorney general of the United States, called Mayhew “The Father of Civil and Religious Liberty in Massachusetts and America.”
As early as 1749, Rev. Mayhew preached a sermon expressing his disagreement with a proposal in the British Parliament, which was intended to impose upon all the American colonies membership in the Episcopal (or Anglican) Church. Such a move would have been disastrous, turning back the clock on much of the American experience. All the hardships the Pilgrims, Puritans, Quakers, Presbyterians, and Huguenots had endured to escape religious persecution in the Old World would have been for naught had England imposed such a requirement on America.
Rev. Mayhew was among the first to see the lethal consequences to Christian freedom that such a parliamentary directive would have had. So, as the British Parliament was discussing the possibility of imposing the Church of England as the State Church in America, Rev. Mayhew preached a message entitled, “Concerning Unlimited Submission to the Higher Powers, to the Council and House of Representatives in Colonial New England.” In that message, preached on January 30, 1750, his Scripture passage was Romans 13:1-7; but Rev. Mayhew did not instruct his flock to submit to a tyrant king. He believed there was a time and a place to discuss politics from the pulpit:
“It is hoped that but few will think the subject of it an improper one to be discoursed on in the pulpit, under a notion that this is preaching politics, instead of Christ. However, to remove all prejudices of this sort, I beg it may be remembered that “all Scripture is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness.” Why, then, should not those parts of Scripture which relate to civil government be examined and explained from the desk, as well as others?”
“And while I am speaking of loyalty to our earthly Prince, suffer me just to put you in mind to be loyal also to the supreme RULER of the universe, by whom kings reign, and princes decree justice.”
Rev. Jonathan Mayhew
“… it is no easy matter to deceive or conquer a people determined to be free.”
Rev. Phillips Payson, election sermon, Boston, 1778
Because the Word of God addresses all of life, including politics, Rev. Mayhew concluded that politics is an appropriate topic for the pulpit:
“It is evident that the affairs of civil government may properly fall under a moral and religious consideration…. For, although there be a sense, and a very plain and important sense, in which Christ’s kingdom is not of this world, his inspired apostles have, nevertheless, laid down some general principles concerning the office of civil rulers, and the duty of subjects, together with the reason and obligation of that duty… [I]t is proper for all who acknowledge the authority of Jesus Christ, and the inspiration of his apostles, to endeavor to understand what is in fact the doctrine which they have delivered concerning this matter.”
Civil tyranny is usually small in its beginning, like “the drop of a bucket,” till at length, like a mighty torrent, or the raging waves of the sea, it bears down all before it, and deluges whole countries and empires.
Rev. Mayhew served as another watchman on the wall, warning about this encroachment on liberty. He preached a radical message:
“To say that subjects in general are not proper judges when their governors oppress them, and play the tyrant and when they defend their rights, administer justice impartially, and promote the public welfare, is as great treason as ever man uttered;
tis treason, not against one single man, but the state against the whole body politictis treason against mankind
tis treason against common sense;tis treason against God. And this impious principle lays the foundation for justifying all the tyranny and oppression that ever any prince was guilty of.”
It was little wonder that the royalist Massachusetts Governor Thomas Hutchinson referred to the clergymen as “seditious.” Jonathan Mayhew was left alone.
Rev. Samuel West, who graduated from Harvard in 1754 and served as a Congregational minister in Dartmouth, Massachusetts, helped John Adams to write the Constitution of Massachusetts, which although not the first, is the oldest continuing constitution in the world. Rev. West also served on the Massachusetts committee to consider the adoption of the United States Constitution. In an election sermon, West once preached:
“Unlimited submission and obedience is to none but God alone… And to suppose that he has given to any particular set of men a power to require obedience to that which is unreasonable, cruel, and unjust, is robbing the Deity of his justice and goodness.”
In July 1776, the same month the Declaration of Independence was signed, Rev. West spoke out in Boston, concerning the Revolution:
“Our cause is so just and good that nothing can prevent our success but only our sins. Could I see a spirit of repentance and reformation prevail throughout the land, I should not have the least apprehension or fear of being brought under the iron rod of slavery; even though all the powers of the globe were combined against us. And though I confess that the irreligion and profaneness which are so common among us gives something of a damp to my spirits, yet I cannot help hoping, and even believing, that Providence has designed this continent for to be the asylum of liberty and true religion.”
“Our cause is just.”
Slogan of the Minutemen
Rev. John Peter Muhlenberg
In one of the most dramatic moments of the American War for Independence, in a Lutheran church in Virginia, the pastor, Rev. John Peter Muhlenberg, preached from Ecclesiastes 3:1-8: “To every thing there is a season, and a time to every purpose under the heaven:… A time to love, and a time to hate; a time of war, and a time of peace.” As Rev Muhlenberg concluded his sermon, he said: “In the language of Holy Writ, there [is] a time for all things, a time to preach and a time to pray, but those times have passed away… there is a time to fight and that time has now come!”
He then tore off his clergy robe in front of the startled congregation. Under his robe, Rev. Muhlenberg was dressed in the uniform of a Continental Army officer. He declared his intentions to leave the ministry for the duration of the War in order to serve in the cause of American liberty George Bancroft tells us: “[T]he congregations of Germans, quickened by the preaching of Muhlenberg, were eager to take up arms.” This dramatic moment in American history is commemorated by a statue of Muhlenberg that still stands in the US. Capitol Rotunda.
William J. Federer tells us what happened next: “That afternoon, at the head of 300 men, he marched off to join General Washington’s troops, becoming colonel of the 8th Virginia Regiment. He served until the end of the war being promoted to the rank of Major-general.”
Rev. Muhlenberg’s method of recruiting troops was far more dramatic than most, but it is symbolic of the significant role the church and the clergy played in the American Revolution.
The Minutemen were so named because they could fight at a minute’s notice. Often the Minutemen were recruited by their pastor or by the head deacon of their church. It was the pastor or deacon who led them in their military drills. The church was customarily located in the center of town and was usually the hub of society: So when conflict began to break it was only natural that the church would continue to be at the center of the activity.
In 1774, the Congress of Massachusetts, recognizing that a significant portion of the colony’s military was comprised of Minutemen, commissioned them with this stirring challenge:
“The eyes not only of North America and the whole British Empire, but of all Europe, are upon you. Let us be, therefore, altogether solicitous that no disorderly behavior, nothing unbecoming our characters as Americans, as citizens and Christians, be justly chargeable to us.”
Although the Minutemen were poorly equipped volunteers, they used a unique and effective form of warfare for their day. Wars in the late 1700s were customarily fought by lining up armies in columns in the open field and shooting at one another until one or both of the armies retreated. During the Revolutionary War, the British army would line itself up; but the Minutemen, instead of lining up against them in the open field, chose rather to hide behind trees or bills and fight with whatever they could find. Because they had so few guns, the Minutemen were often forced to rely on sticks and rocks to wage their battles against the British army.
The story is told that when the War for Independence was over and America had become a nation, one British general was asked what he had feared most during the war.
“Was it General Washington?”
The general replied, “No, General Washington was a great leader, but I did not fear him the most.”
Was it the Continental Army, Washington’s fighting troops?
He replied, “No, they were fine fighters, but I did not fear them the most.”
“The weather? The large American cities? The diverse Terrain? The French navy?”
The general replied, “No, I did not fear any of those things the most. The thing that I feared most during the war was the Minutemen. Those crazy soldiers were improperly armed and barely clothed, but the American Minutemen did not know the meaning of the word ‘retreat.’ If you ever wanted to gain a victory over the Minutemen, you had to kill them all because they never quit.”
While this conversation is somewhat modernized, it represents the soul of the Revolution and, hopefully, the soul of those who still stand for freedom to practice a Biblical faith in America.
Lexington and Concord
Perhaps the most famous Minutemen of all were those from the Lexington Church, whose leader was Pastor Jonas Clark of the Black Regiment. The battles that began on April 19, 1775, in Lexington and Concord sparked the American War for Independence. It was on that date that British soldiers first fired on the Minutemen outside their church in Lexington, Massachusetts. Colonists in what was to become Kentucky were so impressed with the bravery of these Americans in the Bay State that they named one of their own cities Lexington in their honor.
April 19, 1775, was the day the shot was fired that was heard around the world, the shot that ignited the lamp of liberty a lamp that has since burned around the globe.
Throughout the night of April 18, Paul Revere had made his famous midnight ride, warning, “The British are coming! The British are coming!” The Redcoats were marching to the sleepy little village of Lexington because two of the greatest early patriots of liberty could be found there Samuel Adams and John Hancock. These two men were being entertained in the home of Rev Jonas Clark, minister of the church in Lexington.
At that time, Lexington was a small town with a population of about seven hundred. The British were also interested in that area because they were planning to seize a cache of gunpowder being stored in the neighboring town of Concord. George Bancroft tells us what happened in the wee hours of April 19:
“At two in the morning, under the eye of the minister [Rev. Jonas Clark], and of [John] Hancock and [Samuel] Adams, Lexington common was alive with the minute-men; and not with them only, but with the old men, who were exempts, except in case of immediate danger to the town. The roll was called, and, of militia and alarm men, about one hundred and thirty answered to their names. The captain, John Parker, ordered every one to load with powder and ball, but to take care not to be the first to fire”
Speaking of the Lexington Church in Massachusetts, Bancroft observed, “How often in that building had they, with renewed professions of their faith, looked up to God as the stay of their fathers and the protector of their privileges!” For a century and a half, Christians had been stepping over that parade ground on their way to church for worship. Now they were there defending their right to continue to worship freely.
Bancroft adds: “The ground on which they trod was the altar of freedom, and they were to furnish the victims.” When the two parties the well disciplined British Army and the ragtag assembly of church men encountered each other, it became very clear that the Americans were hopelessly outnumbered, so Captain Parker commanded his men to depart. But before they could do so, the battle began.
In the melee that followed, seven Americans were killed; both the old and the young, and nine were wounded one sixth of those fighting on the Lexington green. This battle was a turning point for America. Other patriots saw how the Lexington Green was red “with the innocent blood of their brethren slain.”
The British, who lost far more men in this first battle, then marched on to Concord. Among the colonial dead left at Lexington were several old men who could easily have gone quietly to their graves in the comfort of their own homes at some future time. Instead, they chose to defend their homes and paid the ultimate price for liberty. This was the sacrificial world of the Minutemen.
Jonas Clark, the minister at Lexington, who lost many of his congregation on the town green that fateful day, said this of the marauding British troops:
“And this is the place where the fatal scene begins! They approach with the morning light; and more like murderers and cutthroats, than the troops of a Christian king, without provocation, without warning, when no war was proclaimed, they draw the sword of violence, upon the inhabitants of this town, and with a cruelty and barbarity, which would have made the most hardened savage blush, they shed INNOCENT BLOOD… Yonder field can witness the innocent blood of our brethren slain! There the tender father bled, and there the beloved son!”
As Sam Adams examined the field that morning, he proclaimed: “Oh, what a glorious morning is this!” He was not rejoicing in these deaths, but was rejoicing because he knew such a carnage would only hasten the day of complete American independence from Great Britain. On that same day, the British and Americans exchanged gunfire in nearby Concord. Bancroft notes a spiritual dimension to that battle as well:
“The people of Concord, of whom about two hundred appeared in arms on that day, derived their energy from their sense of the divine power. This looking to God as their sovereign brought the fathers to their pleasant valley, this controlled the loyalty of the sons; and this has made the name of Concord venerable throughout the world.”
When word of these battles spread to towns near and far, other Minutemen came pouring in from many places to help their brethren in Lexington and Concord. As an example, George Bancroft notes: “The men of Dedham, even the old men, received their minister’s blessing and went forth, in such numbers that scarce one male between sixteen and seventy was left at home.” The Dedham minister was another member of the Black Regiment, encouraging his congregation to fight for liberty.The church was clearly the hub of colonial society during our nation’s fight for independence.
“From this day will be dated the liberty of the world”
Rev. Jonas Clark, Commentary on the Battle of Lexington, April 19, 1776
There were other Minutemen headed by the clergy during a battle between his parishioners and the British troops, Rev. James Caldwell turned over his church hymnals (full of the hymns of Isaac Watts) when the Minutemen ran out of wadding for their muskets. Running out of wadding was as bad then as running out of bullets would be today. Rev Caldwell did not hesitate to sacrifice these hymnals, tearing out the pages and handing them to the American soldiers, saying, "Giveem Watts, boys! Give `em Watts!” The Minutemen, and Watts, won that battle.
There is much more that could be said about the Black Regiment. Whole books have been written about their influential sermons. Dr. Ellis Sandoz of Louisiana State University has compiled a two-volume set of Political Sermons of the American Founding Era, 1730-1805. Dr. Harry Stout, a professor at Yale University, researched Black Regiment sermons that had never been published, and issued his book, The New England Soul.
We have seen that the seventh thing every Christian should know about the founding of America is that the Black Regiment, and especially the New England clergy along with their faithful Minutemen, helped to provide the moral and spiritual, as well as the actual, force needed for America to choose liberty and achieve it. As John Wingate Thornton once put it, “To the Pulpit, the Puritan Pulpit, we owe the moral force which won our independence.”