Newburyport has a lot to be proud of when it comes to this momentous day of celebration. It was here that George Whitefield, leader of the Great Awakening Movement, began his ministry to push the concept of God-given rights, which would be penned in just a few years later after his death by Thomas Jefferson in that momentous statement,
“they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.–That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed.”
Citizens, who in times past would have bowed their knee to their King, now believed the government should source its power from the people. This powerful belief of “In God we trust” emblazoned the citizens of Newburyport to go to war to secure those rights as given by God. In privateering, thousands went to sea empowered by such a principle and as many as 1,200 died giving the ultimate sacrifice. On land, Newburyport featured prominently in the Battle of Lexington, Concord, April 19th, 1775. Volunteers who hastily assembled at Market Square travelled rapidly down to assist the beleaguered minutemen at these key battles. It was in large part the Newburyport militia that harassed the British as they struggled to return to the safety of Boston. Not only were they key at the first two towns but also participated in a major affront at Arlington. Because of their participation, our local National Guard unit is one of the few units in the country that can display the Lexington-Concord battle streamer.
Ever since those momentous battles, our local engineering battalion has been known as “sappers”. If you want to hear more about our patriotic unit and what it means to be a sapper, please look at this exhaustive history of their achievements.
According to the marble memorial that is located in the front right part of the Old South’s sanctuary; the very first division of the Continental Army was formed from the members by Major Ezra Lunt on April 23rd, 1775 right after they returned from the battle, marking the very first division of the Continental Army which would eventually become the U.S. Army.
And as if some would think that war was the only thing inspired by the belief in God-given rights, shortly after the war, our Theophilus Parsons, supported by prominent men in Ipswich and Newburyport, began to codify these basic rights, and it was Parsons who first coined the phrase, “Bill of Rights” and insisted it be listed up front in the world’s first constitution, the Massachusetts Constitution of 1780. He later helped to be the author of three major amendments in the National Bill of Rights.
This concept of God-given rights is the first principle of an American Patriot and as it may be alien to many of the secularists and atheists in our city today; Newburyport’s 18th century citizens, many hardy merchants and mariners, understood it all too clearly and were willing to die for it without hesitation.
Though today, the Marathon Race may gain the limelight; it ought to be a duty for every Newburyporter to visit the Minuteman National Park in Lexington and see how previous citizens of this little city literally changed the world.
PS. Castagna Construction did a great job renovating our local militia’s facility. I just wished they had restored the exterior which is still very drab and hides the major significance of our local battalion!