One afternoon in April, 1689, Sir Edmund Andros and his favorite councillors assembled the red-coats of the Governor’s Guard and appeared in the streets of Boston.
Hearing the march and the drums, a crowd of people made their way to King street. Some feared that Sir Edmund Andros intended to strike terror by a parade of military force. The situation between the crowd and the soldiers was tense. Then, from amidst the crowd, a voice cried out, “Oh! Lord of Hosts, provide a Champion for thy people!”
Suddenly there was seen the figure of an ancient man, who seemed to have appeared from nowhere. The strange old man walked alone down the center of the street, to where Andros and his soldiers advanced.
“Who is this gray patriarch?” people wondered. “Whence did he come?”
A tremulous enthusiasm seized upon the multitude. The gray patriarch, so dimly seen and wearing ancient garb, could only belong to some old champion of the righteous cause, whom the oppressor’s drum had summoned from his grave.
In awe of the venerable man, the soldiers halted their advance. Governor Andros, perceiving he had been brought to an unexpected halt, rode forward on his horse. The snorting beast seemed about to press against the hoary apparition, but he for his part blenched not a step. Instead he cast his stern eye on Sir Edmund Andros.
One would have thought that the dark old man was chief ruler there, and that the Governor and Council, with soldiers at their back, representing the whole power and authority of the Crown, had no alternative but obedience.
“Are you mad, old man?” demanded Sir Edmund Andros, in loud and harsh tones. “How dare you stay the march of King James’s Governor?”
“I have staid the march of a King himself, ere now,” replied the gray figure, with stern composure. “I am here, Sir Governor, because the cry of an oppressed people hath disturbed me in my secret place.”
“And what speak ye of James?” continued the gray apparition. “By tomorrow noon his name shall be a by-word in this very street, where ye would make it a word of terror. Back, thou that wast a Governor, back! With this night, thy power is ended – tomorrow, the prison! – back, lest I foretell the scaffold!”
Whether it was that the oppressor was overawed by the look of the Gray Champion, or that Sir Andros perceived peril in the threatening attitude of the people, it is certain that he gave back, and ordered his soldiers to commence a slow and guarded retreat.
But where then was the Gray Champion? Some later soberly affirmed the old man had faded from their eyes, melting slowly into the hues of twilight.
(Acknowledgement to “The Gray Champion”, by Nathaniel Hawthorne.)