LEXINGTON – Before he disappeared in a thick cloud of musket smoke Monday morning, Bill Poole channeled Captain John Parker with gusto.
The reenactor, dressed in Colonial garb, was portraying Parker for the first time this year, having been elected to the top role by his fellow Lexington Minutemen.
As the British regulars, decked out in lobster red, marched onto the Lexington Green, Poole stood between the King’s troops and Poole’s ragtag band of locals.
“Steady, men! Steady, men!” he exhorted. “Stand your ground! Do not fire unless fired upon!”
Minutes later came a shot. Then a barrage of musket fire.
The Battle of Lexington Green transpired Monday as it always does. The British regulars advanced, a lopsided battle of sorts broke out, eight Minutemen died, the British troops marched on — and thousands of spectators, their heads full of history, headed to a pancake breakfast at surrounding churches.
But for Poole, who declined to give his age (saying he stopped counting “a long time ago”), Monday was unique. Although he is a veteran of more than a dozen battle reenactments by his count, this time he played the role of captain.
Just after midnight, not long after Paul Revere galloped past to cries of delight from watching children, Poole showed no nervousness about his debut six hours later.
“We all love history,” he said in an interview. “Trying to convey it to children, to adults, is fun.”
He said he was fascinated by how the depictions of the Colonial fighters had changed over time.
“In the first depiction, they’re all running away. In the second depiction, there are a couple of them firing,” he said. “And in the last one, they are all there, big muscles, everybody firing right back at the regulars.”
Poole said that with a historical battle like Lexington’s, each generation sees it through a different prism.
One of the many onlookers was 9-year-old Napoleon, standing in a prime viewing spot on the field with his father, Henry Cañas. First-time battle-watchers, they had biked in the dark from Arlington and arrived at the center of the Green about 4 a.m.
Onlookers who arrived at the Green later — when a bell began to ring incessantly at 5:30 a.m. or when a musket shot was fired off at 5:58 a.m., or as the Minuteman company got in formation at 6 a.m. — found few good viewing spots, instead having to climb trees, onto ladders, and on parents’ shoulders for a clear look at the action.
After the battle, Napoleon said the reenactment was well worth the chilly trek. He described it with a single word: “great.”
The April 1775 battle was the first skirmish of what would become the American Revolution.
The British soldiers continued marching to Concord, where they encountered greater resistance. Then they retreated to Boston, suffering casualties along the way. The American Colonies declared independence from Britain the next year.
As throngs of onlookers, many dragging stepladders, slowly made their way to breakfasts and back home, Poole walked along the green towards the iconic statue of the Minuteman.
A few onlookers cheered him, telling him he did a good job.
Poole smiled and waved.