Skip to comments.Keeping history alive [Reenactors at Lexington, MA]
Posted on 02/02/2006 3:21:23 AM PST by Pharmboy
Despite fighting and being wounded in nearly 30 battles, Charles Price Jr. is still going strong.
The Lexington resident takes part in the annual re-nactment of the historical battle against the British that kicked off the American Revolution.
In the early morning hours of April 19, 1775, His Majesty's Tenth Regiment of Foot marched to Concord, where word had it the troublesome Colonials were hoarding stores of gunpowder and ammunition.
That mission would take them through Lexington, where the town's minute men were armed and waiting.
Of the Lexington Minute Men who responded to Paul Revere and William Dawes' midnight warning and the sound of the alarm bell that morning, one face in particular stood out among the rest. African-American slave Prince Estabrook had appeared on the town's Battle Green to help repel the marching Redcoats.
Two-hundred years after that battle, retired electrical engineer Price took on the honor of portraying the historical hero, for the past three decades donning breeches and tricorn hat in answering that call.
The Minute Men's stand against the British that morning marked a significant first line in the sand for the eventually successful American Revolution. Unfortunately for the Lexington fighters, it was a line the British forces were then all too willing and able to cross.
Seventy-seven local Colonials stood in the way of a Regulars force of 700 by some accounts.
"It's not too difficult to see who wins this battle," said Price. "We got beat up. We got chased right off the Green. After they blasted the Lexington Minute Men, they moved on to Concord."
When all was said and done, eight minute men were killed and 10 wounded in the battle. But despite the resounding defeat, the event marked the Colonials' first attempt at armed resistance of the British, and cemented their rightful place in the birth of the American Revolution.
Of the eight African-Americans on the minute men's roster, said Price - slaves and free men among them - Estabrook was the only one who reported for duty that morning. His reasons for appearing on the Battle Green are unknown, as is much about his life.
"He was the only black man out there in that confrontation," said Price. "There's no records or anything to say why he would be out there - we just know he was there."
Estimates put Estabrook's birth at sometime around 1740, which would have made him about 35 at the Lexington battle. Assuming the role of the slave/soldier in 1976 and now in his 70s, Price has been doing it almost as long as the authentic Estabrook was alive at that time.
"I took on the role of Prince Estabrook, and I've been playing that role ever since."
A book about Estabrook was authored in 2001 by Alice Hinkle, which features none other than a battle-ready Price on its cover and his exploits within its pages.
Every minute man who showed on the Green on that 1775 morning is portrayed in the annual battles, with every stand-in learning by heart "who they were, what they did," said Price. "We know exactly who was there." But "Sometimes," he added, "the records are every fragmentary."
That has been a troublesome part of Price's annual portrayal of Estabrook, as the Minute Men are required to know as much as possible about their alter egos.
"There's little written about him prior to the war," said Price. "Everybody can tell you whose character they play. We take that very seriously."
The muskets used by the replica revolutionaries are the real deal. Each of the modern Minute Men owns and maintains an authentic version of the weapon, as well as a set of colonial clothing for the re-enactments.
"Musket safety is stressed to the maximum," said Price. "They're lethal weapons. They fire."
The "Brown Bess," a common musket model used by Regulars and Colonials at the time, is a mainstay of the modern Minute Men's arsenal. The gun wasn't very reliable past 50 yards, which made battles of the period a more intimate, whites-of-their-eyes affair.
"So you're pretty close," said Price. A French firearm was also in use, but Price said the British model is the more common. "I prefer the Brown Bess, myself," he said.
"The British had the best army in the world and the best equipment. There was no question about that," he added, a fact that made the numerically inferior Minute Men's stand - and Estabrook's - so remarkable.
Monthly meetings are also part of Minute Man membership, as are a handful of rehearsals per year for the re-enactments.
The Minute Men discuss "company business" at the meetings, said Price - as in acompany of soldiers. It has already held one practice drill this year, preparing its members for the Patriots Day skirmish in April.
"And so by the time the big day gets here, we're ready," said Price.
The battles are planned with military discipline down to the last detail, from the Battle Green location of the two forces to the soldiers who were injured or killed in the real battle. Estabrook himself was wounded in the left shoulder during the fight.
His wounds become Price's every year during the re-enactment, as the Minute Men faithfully follow in the footsteps of their characters.
"I get wounded gloriously every year," he said.
But after 30 years of battles, Price has achieved more than that. He's played a major role in keeping Estabrook's legacy, spirit, and the public's fascination of those historic events going strong.
"Everybody has an interest in this part of history," said Price, "and the interest stays alive."
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"Prince Estabrook, Slave and Soldier" (Carter G Woodson Award Book)
This book sounds interesting. This was a comment from someone who bought the book at Amazon:
"This book should be required reading for American history buffs and students. Hinkle sifted through Lexington's past and managed to find enough of Prince Estabrook to give us a peek into his life as a slave and a revolutionary soldier more than 200 years ago."
Every American should take at least one chance to visit the Lexington Common on Patriot's Day. You have to get there early - just before sun-up - because the confrontation occurs at dawn. But it's well worth it.
Here's the historic timeline from PBS American Experience:
An American scout reports that the British are half a mile from Lexington. On Lexington Green, Captain Parker and 77 of his minute men stand in wait.
["Stand your ground. Don't fire unless fired upon. But if they mean to have a war, let it begin here!"-- Captain John Parker, leader of the Lexington militia]
Battle of Lexington. April 19,1775 The British and the rebels face each other across the Green. Parker orders a retreat, but a shot rings out, leading to a full volley from the British. Both sides are engaged as the Colonists flee. Eight Americans are killed and ten wounded.
The British arrive at Concord and begin searching the town for weapons. The minute men watch from positions above the town, aware they are currently outnumbered but gaining troops each moment.
Spotting smoke in the town, 400 minute men descend from their positions towards town via the North Bridge. Confronting a small group of British soldiers at the bridge, the minute men are fired upon and return fire, killing three British and wounding nine others. Two minute men are killed and four are wounded.
Now numbering more than a 1000, the minute men race to meet the British at Meriam's Corner. There, the Americans open a relentless attack as the British retrace their path towardsLexington and the safety of Boston.
Captain Parker and his Lexington minute men avenge their fallen comrades in a second clash when the British regulars return to their town.
By the time the British reach Menotomy (now Arlington, Massachusetts), the American ranks have grown to more than 1900 men. The fighting here will claim about half of all the lives lost that day.
Ironic that the British Regulars of then have been replaced by the Mass State Police, City/Town Police, D.A.s and other authorities now, and they attempt to do the same thing.
"they attempt to do the same thing."
Oh, all in the name of the public good, etc. Can't have an armed populace, they get too uppity.
"Ironic that the British Regulars of then have been replaced by the Mass State Police, City/Town Police, D.A.s and other authorities now, and they attempt to do the same thing."
Sounds to me like you need to have another Lexington/Concord.
The official name for the annual commemoration is "Battle Road". The schedule for this year's event can be seen at
And, yes, you are correct about the French muskets. They arrived only after the war had already started. It is possible, however, that there may have been a couple of old pieces that had been captured during the French and Indian War.
There are several re-enactments of the 1781 battles this year, including Guilford Court House and Yorktown. If you wish, I can provide links.
And great to hear from you again!
These are the major events planned for 2006. Some have links; some don't.
225th Anniversary of the Battle of Guilford Court House, Greensboro, SC, March 18-19
Washington-Rochambeau Weekend, Platt Farm, Southbury, CT, June 16-18
225th Anniversary of the Battle of Green Spring Williamsburg, VA, July 15-16
225th Anniversary of the "Grand Forage", Ward Pound Ridge Reservation, NY, July 22-23
225th Anniversary of the Siege of Yorktown, Yorktown, VA., October 19-22
The Southbury and Ward Pound Ridge events should be rather large (by AWI re-enacting standards) even though no battles were actually fought on these sites.