LEXINGTON — The date of April 19, 1775 springs illustriously from the calendar, as every schoolchild learns, when eight colonists were killed here in the early-morning skirmish that began the Revolutionary War.
But what of March 31, 1713?
It is little known that on that day, the town officially became Lexington.
On Sunday, the town paid tribute to its 300th anniversary with a special Patriots Day parade featuring scores of drum corps and fife players, proud bearers of black and gold tricorns (and occasional lilac fur-trimmed versions), and hundreds of fluttering American flags held aloft under gray skies that turned sunny as the nearly three-hour affair proceeded down Massachusetts Avenue.
“It’s a number I can’t even really relate to,” said Judy Zola a Lexington resident of 21 years. “Three hundred years sounds so long.”
To be sure, 300 years in this corner of the nation isn’t the stuff of records. Plymouth, founded in 1620, has 93 years on Lexington.
But for newcomers in the town and longtime residents alike, the achievement is a significant one. The anniversary was marked on March 31 with hours of bell ringing and ongoing commemoration events were planned for this year, including Sunday’s parade, a time-capsule closing, and a concert, both in May.
And on Monday, the reenactment of the Battle at Lexington will commence at 5:30 a.m., as usual.
“I just wish every community could do this for some celebration,” said Diane Biglow, one of hundreds of residents who helped organize the tercentenary events.
Up and down Massachusetts Avenue, traditional garb abounded, with many a man in a waistcoat and breeches and women with aproned fronts. Fried dough and Italian sausage were plentiful, but at First Parish in Lexington, Colonial-styled offerings were in high demand. The fish chowder sold out in the church’s basement shortly after noon, and the Patriot’s Lunch — Boston-styled baked beans, brown bread, baked brown-sugar ham, and coleslaw — was selling fast at $9 a plate.
CVS showcased photos of past town anniversaries in its windows, one featuring the Daniel Harrington house — now gone — decked out in bunting for the town’s centennial. A sign tacked to a tree on the Colonial house’s lawn notified revelers, “Horses Taken Care of Here.”
Still, in a town known the world over for a major historical event — one that launched the birth of a country — highlighting the town’s founding has been a challenge.
“One of the worst things that ever happened to the rest of Lexington history is April 19th,” said Sam Doran, an 18-year-old member of the Lexington Historical Society and the Lexington Minutemen, whose family came to Lexington by way of Brookline in 1893.
The story of Lexington’s founding owes to inconvenience.
In the late 17th century, Lexington was a part of Cambridge, then known as Cambridge Farms. Its families were required to attend church in Cambridge, or in another nearby town.
But rough roads made the trip arduous and in 1682, 30 families petitioned the General Court for a separate parish. The request was denied, and denied again in 1684.
In 1691, the request was made yet again and this time granted, according to “Lexington Through the Years,” a collection of essays written by the late S. Lawrence Whipple and edited by Doran.
The next year, the town’s first meeting house rose on the town green.
The town officially came into being in 1713, “when Provincial Governor Joseph Dudley so decreed,” according to Whipple.
The name of the town remains a subject of debate.
One theory holds that Dudley named the town after his friend Robert Sutton, otherwise known as Lord Lexington. Another theory goes that the name comes from Laxton, a town in England that was also known as Lexington.
Doran said that Laxton was the hometown of a large landholder in Lexington.
Whipple offered no preference for either theory.
“Over the years considerable controversy has been generated about the origin of the name Lexington, and at this late date, we’re not about to muddy the already turbid waters,” he wrote.Sarah Schweitzer can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.