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Determining the Facts

Reading 4: The Minute Man Statue

For the nation’s 1876 centennial celebration the town of Concord wanted to commemorate its role in the nation’s birth. Ebenezer Hubbard, a Concord resident, had died recently and left in his will a thousand dollars to the town. He wanted the town to use his money to commission a memorial for the spot where the Americans fell on April 19, 1775. A prominent Concord resident, John S. Keyes, suggested that a local sculptor and family friend named Daniel Chester French create “a model for a large figure for a monument on the hill where the minute men assembled for the Concord fight.” The town set up a committee in 1872 and gave the committee a year to decide what form the monument should take. The committee’s report to the town suggested it “procure a statue of a Continental Minute Man, cut in granite, and erected on a proper foundation.” The committee also recommend that the design include the first stanza of Ralph Waldo Emerson’s Concord Hymn on its base:

By the rude bridge that arched the flood,
Their flag to April’s breeze unfurled;
Here once the embattled farmers stood,
And fired the shot heard round the world.1

The committee decided that 25-year-old French should make the statue after the committee approved of his model. He worked on his small scale model from April to June in 1873 and the committee approved of his design. The city formally awarded the commission to French in November. This was French’s first full scale statue and he drew inspiration from classical antiquity’s Apollo Belvidere, a sculpture to the Greek god Apollo. French admired the stance and incorporated it into his statue. The Minute Man figure’s right knee is flexed, with the right foot pushing off the ground, and the left leg is slightly flexed, with the left foot planted firmly on the ground. This position suggests forward motion.
 
French worked on the full-scale model in 1874. He sculpted and prepared the figure for delivery to the foundry, the place where bronze sculptures are cast. The final bronze figure was unveiled on April 19, 1875 at a ceremony attended by President Ulysses S. Grant. The statue depicts an “ideal figure,” which is a statue that represents an idea.

French’s ideal figure was a local farmer-citizen-patriot, responding to the call to action. In the figure’s right hand he holds his musket. His left hand rests on the handle of his plow. His gaze is intense and focused straight ahead of him. The minute man’s coat is draped across the plow. The plow relates directly to the idea of a farmer dropping his work at a minute’s notice heading off to defend himself and his community. Clearly, the accurate treatment of the plow, the coat, and the musket enhances the willingness of the militiaman to leave his work and join the impending fight, yet these details do not harm the pose. The sculptor used these details to make the figure’s identity clear. Local legend has it that French modeled the plow on that of Captain Isaac Davis, of the Acton Company. Davis died during the fight with the British at the bridge, therefore he was the first American officer to die in the War for Independence. For an inexperienced artist, The Minute Man is a work of exceptional power and spirit.

Questions for Reading 4

1) Why did residents of Concord want to erect a statue to commemorate the fight at the North Bridge?

2) What items does French use to convey the image and ideals of the minute men? What does each item mean?

3) How successful do you think Daniel Chester French was in conveying the idea of the minute man? Why?

4) Would you have chosen a different theme or symbolism? Why or why not?

 

Reading 4 was adapted from several primary sources including Journey Into Fame: The Story of Daniel Chester French (1948) by Margaret French Cresson, The History of American Sculpture (1903) by Lorado Taft, Sacred Ground: Americans and Their Battlefields (1991) by Edward T. Linenthal, and Michael Richman’s Daniel Chester French: An American Sculptor (1976) by The National Trust for Historic Preservation.

1 Emerson, Ralph Waldo. Early Poems of Ralph Waldo Emerson. New York, Boston, Thomas Y. Crowell & Company: 1899.

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