The Midnight Ride of Paul Revere

“Listen children and you shall hear/The midnight ride of Paul Revere.” So begins a
famous poem penned by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow. The poet’s rendition of events,
while not historically accurate, is a great contribution to American folklore. Paul
Revere’s life was colorful, however, and facts alone make for interesting history.

Paul Revere was a man of many trades. This father of sixteen worked a part-time dentist
and once owned a hardware and home goods store. His most constant work though was
with metal, and his work was highly praised. Revere cast cannons and bells, made silver
teacup collections, and engraved the first Massachusetts state currency. He also produced
the copper sheeting that covers the Massachusetts State House dome.

To many, however, Revere is best known for one night spent as a Pony Express rider. He
was a midnight messenger right before decisive Revolutionary War battles in Concord
and Lexington. On the night of April 18, 1775, Paul Revere and militia member William
Dawes were dispatched from Boston. Dr. Joseph Warren, the chief executive of the
revolutionary Massachusetts government, ordered the men to warn John Hancock and
Samuel Adams of the British army’s advancement across the Charles River. Warren
feared that the British would arrest Hancock and Adams and capture their cache of
weapons.

Revere and Dawes were sent out in different directions; if either were caught, the
message of an impending British invasion might still reach patriot leaders. They also had
a back-up plan in case both men were caught. Revere instructed Robert Newman, who
worked at the Old North Church, to communicate with lanterns. One lantern placed in the
steeple would alert colonists to a land-route invasion; two would signal that the British
were advancing “by sea” across the Charles River. As Revere set out on his midnight
ride, Newman and Captain John Pulling briefly shone two lanterns from the Old North
Church.

Contrary to Longfellow’s poem, the riders did not shout, “The British are coming!” as
they rode to Lexington; doing so could have easily brought their capture. Furthermore,
the colonists themselves were British! However, Revere did pass the news to colonists
along his route. Eyewitnesses reported the actual quote to be, “The regulars are coming
out!”

Both Paul Revere and William Dawes arrived in Lexington without being captured. They
met John Hancock and Samuel Adams at the Hancock-Clarke residence, which was
Hancock’s boyhood home. Hancock and Adams proceeded to update their battle plans.
Meanwhile, Revere and Dawes decided to head to Concord where the weapons were
being stored. A doctor named Samuel Prescott came along for the ride.

The three men were detained en route to Concord. Prescott and Dawes escaped, and
Dawes carried on to Concord. Paul Revere, however, was detained for several hours.
King George’s troops then escorted him toward Lexington at gunpoint – but before they
arrived in the city, sounds of gunshots led his captors away. Revere was abandoned
without a horse. He walked back to Lexington and arrived in time to see the Battle on
Lexington Green.

Revere’s warning allowed the revolutionary militia to defeat the British troops in
Concord. His role in the important midnight ride was not well-known until Longfellow
published “The Midnight Ride of Paul Revere” in 1861, more than forty years after
Revere’s death. Today parts of Revere’s famous route are marked with signs reading
“Revere’s Ride”.

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