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Battling the lobsterbacks at Lexington

By Ariel Wittenberg

Section: Arts

April 23, 2010

BETTER DEAD THAN RED: Actors reenacted the Battle of Lexington Monday morning.
PHOTO BY Ariel Wittenberg/The Hoot

I shuddered when I saw the Red Coats. Though more than 200 years shielded me from physical harm, the mere sight of their lobsterbacks made me shiver as I watched the battle re-enactors march onto the Lexington Battle Green Monday morning.

I knew that their muskets were loaded with blanks; that the soldiers were actors and that anyone they “shot” today would miraculously be revived as soon as the battle ended. But all I could think of as they crossed the Green was Paul Revere’s echo telling me “the British are coming, the British are coming.”

It was a visceral reaction, and one I had not been expecting. Up until that moment I associated the word “British” more with The Beatles and crumpets than battles and musket balls. I had come to the Green to witness a reenactment, not to experience a 235-year-old fear I had never before harbored.

I wasn’t the only one with less than pleasant thoughts for the British regiments. Earlier, as my friends and I waited in the dark for the battle to begin, we came across a man reenacting a colonist for the Lexington Historical Society who wandered around in character giving spectators the history of the day.

His character was a man visiting from Andover to sell apples who happened to witness the battle. Like all characters played by the Historical Society that day, the apple peddler had actually existed, and our re-enactor refused to break from his duty to indulge our questions about event setup or modern-day Lexington.

But then we asked him how the re-enactors chose sides.

“How do you decide who’s British?” we asked, expecting that they drew straws or alternated between colonists and Red Coats every year.

“We don’t,” he said.

Every year the Lexington Minute Men import their enemy in the form of troupes of British regiment-specific re-enactors from around the country. While Lexington natives will dress and act as Red Coats for other Historical Society events leading up to April 19, Lexington residents refuse to fight their countrymen.

As I watched the reenactment unfold before me, I was reminded of something else our re-enactor friend told me: It wasn’t the British I had momentarily feared.

In 1775, there were 13 colonies—not states—making soldiers on both sides of the fight British by nationality. In fact, Paul Revere probably warned that the Red Coats or Regulars were coming, not the British.

But the myth still lives on, and my fear was a part of it.

Just as growing up in America had made me think of Red Coats as “the British”, or “the other,” it also made me cringe at the sight of the uniforms.

These weren’t just re-enactors marching toward us, they were tyrants, opponents to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.

Everyone else felt it too, and this common enemy our culture had created united us as we watched our Founding Fathers retreat.

We were at Fenway Park for a Red Sox-Yankees game and everyone was rooting for the home team. The spectators heckled the Regulars when the firefight began and booed as one Red Coat kicked a fallen “injured” patriot. Across the Green I could see through the gun smoke a sign that read, “boil the lobsterbacks.”

And then, as soon as the battle started, it was over. We were back in the 21st century, where Britain was our closest ally and battles happened in faraway places.

As my friends and I walked away from the Green and toward our car discussing where to go for an early breakfast, we came upon a regiment of Red Coats.

My friends rushed up to one of them, asking to pose for a picture with the re-enactor. I stayed behind, instead opting to take the snapshot.

After all, it was Patriots’ Day. Fraternizing with the enemy just didn’t seem right.

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