Most of you have grown up hearing the famous Henry Wadsworth Longfellow poem about the midnight ride of Paul Revere that starts out:
“Listen my children and you shall hear
Of the midnight ride of Paul Revere,
On the eighteenth of April, in Seventy-five;
Hardly a man is now alive
Who remembers that famous day and year…”
The poem depicts Revere’s ride as Paul riding alone through the towns between Boston, Lexington and Concord calling out ‘the British are coming.’ The poem says that Revere’s ride was successful as he reached his destination of Concord.
While it’s a great epic and historic poem, it is filled with errors that many people are not aware of.
In early April, 1775, the British ordered General Thomas Gage, the Crown’s Governor of Massachusetts, to seize all weapons, gun powder and musket balls that American militia and patriots could possibly get their hands on.
On this day, April 18, 1775, Gage gave orders to the British troops to march to Lexington and Concord for two purposes: seize the munitions and to arrest the Samuel Adams and John Hancock who were considered to the be leaders of the American insurgents.
The American patriots put a plan in motion to alert Adams and Hancock when the British troops began to march and by what route there were taking. At the time, the Old North Church was the highest point in Boston. If the British took the route of the Boston Neck, one lantern would be hung in the steeple of the Old North Church. If the British crossed the Charles River and marched from Cambridge, two lanterns would be hung in the steeple.
Unlike the poem, Paul Revere was not the only rider to warn Adams and Hancock. William Dawes was also prepared to ride to Lexington and Concord.
The British troops crossed the Charles River, prompting the hanging of two lanterns in the church steeple. Revere and Dawes took different routes in case one of them were captured. Revere was rowed across the Charles River and then loaned a horse by a patriot friend. Dawes rode the route through the Boston Neck.
There were British sentries along both routes, so both riders did their best to travel quietly and undetected. Although the poem claims that Revere was shouting ‘the British are coming’ as he rode, in fact Revere never called out for fear of being captured by British centuries or Tories (colonists loyal to the British) who also stood guard. As Revere and Dawes rode out, a number of other patriots also rode out to warn the militia between Boston and Concord of the approaching British troops.
Revere arrived in Lexington to warn of the approaching British. A very short time later, Dawes arrived. The two men then left Lexington together heading to Concord to warn Adams and Hancock. On the way, they encountered a young patriot named Samuel Prescott who decided to join Revere and Dawes.
However, before they could reach Concord, they encountered a British patrol. Revere was captured. Dawes escaped but lost his horse in the process, forcing him to walk back to Lexington. Young Prescott also managed to escape the British patrol and was the one who rode on to Concord where he warned Adams and Hancock.
The British patrol questioned Revere for several hours before finally releasing him as they heard the warning shots being fired at the Minutemen militia.
Perhaps Longfellow should have written about the midnight rides of Revere, Dawes and Prescott who turned out to be the only one to complete the mission to warn John Adams and John Hancock of the approaching British?
Sources for the above includes: Paul Revere’s Ride; Revere and Dawes warn of British attack; The Real Midnight Ride; The Real Story of Revere’s Ride; The Real Story of Paul Revere’s Ride; Myths and Facts of Paul Revere’s Ride; 10 Things You May Not Know About Paul Revere; The Truth About Paul Revere | America: Facts vs. Fiction;