We have included the story of Paul Revere because this story embodies the essence of the beginning of the American Revolutionary War. Revere’s ride, culminates in The Shot Heard Round the World. it is said that John Hancock and Samuel Adams, in hiding, heard the musket shots from Lexington on April 19, 1775. Adams exclaimed, “What a glorious morning for America!”
In 1774 and the Spring of 1775 Paul Revere was employed by various committees of the Massachusetts government as an express rider to carry news, messages, and copies of resolutions as far away as New York and Philadelphia. On the evening of April 18, 1775, Paul Revere was sent for by Dr. Joseph Warren and instructed to ride to Lexington, Massachusetts, to warn Samuel Adams and John Hancock that British troops were marching to arrest them. After being rowed across the Charles River to Charlestown by several associates,
Paul Revere borrowed a horse from his friend Deacon John Larkin. While in Charlestown, he verified that the local “Sons of Liberty” committee had seen his pre-arranged signals. (Two lanterns had been hung briefly in the bell-tower of Christ Church in Boston, indicating that troops would row “by sea” across the Charles River to Cambridge, rather than marching “by land” out Boston Neck. Revere had arranged for these signals the previous weekend, as he was afraid that he might be prevented from leaving Boston). On the way to Lexington, Revere “alarmed” the country-side, stopping at each house, and arrived in Lexington about midnight. As he approached the house where Adams and Hancock were staying, a sentry asked that he not make so much noise. “Noise!” cried Revere, “You’ll have more noise than this before long. The regulars are coming out!” After delivering his message, Revere was joined by a second rider, William Dawes, who had been sent on the same errand by a different route. Deciding on their own to continue on to Concord, Massachusetts, where weapons and supplies were hidden, Revere and Dawes were joined by a third rider, Dr. Samuel Prescott. Soon after, all three were arrested by a British patrol. Prescott escaped almost immediately, and Dawes soon after. Revere was held for some time and then released. Left without a horse, Revere returned to Lexington in time to witness part of the battle on the Lexington Green.
The Midnight Ride of Paul Revere
Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, 1860
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.
He said to his friend, —
“If the British march By land or sea from the town to-night,
Hang a lantern aloft in the belfry-arch
Of the North-Church-tower, as a signal-light, —
One if by land, and two if by sea;
And I on the opposite shore will be,
Ready to ride and spread the alarm
Through every Middlesex village and farm,
For the country-folk to be up and to arm.”
Then he said good-night, and with muffled oar
Silently rowed to the Charlestown shore,
Just as the moon rose over the bay,
Where swinging wide at her moorings lay
The Somerset, British man-of-war:
A phantom ship, with each mast and spar
Across the moon, like a prison-bar,
And a huge, black hulk, that was magnified
By its own reflection in the tide.
Meanwhile, his friend, through alley and street
Wanders and watches with eager ears,
Till in the silence around him he hears
The muster of men at the barrack-door,
The sound of arms, and the tramp of feet,
And the measured tread of the grenadiers
Marching down to their boats on the shore.
Then he climbed to the tower of the church,
Up the wooden stairs, with stealthy tread,
To the belfry-chamber overhead,
And startled the pigeons from their perch
On the somber rafters, that round him made
Masses and moving shapes of shade, —
Up the light ladder, slender and tall,
To the highest window in the wall,
Where he paused to listen and look down
A moment on the roofs of the town,
And the moonlight flowing over all.
Beneath, in the churchyard, lay the dead
In their night-encampment on the hill,
Wrapped in silence so deep and still,
That he could hear, like a sentinel’s tread,
The watchful night-wind, as it went
Creeping along from tent to tent,
And seeming to whisper, “All is well!”
A moment only he feels the spell
Of the place and the hour, the secret dread
Of the lonely belfry and the dead;
For suddenly all his thoughts are bent
On a shadowy something far away,
Where the river widens to meet the bay, —
A line of black, that bends and floats
On the rising tide, like a bridge of boats.
Meanwhile, impatient to mount and ride,
Booted and spurred, with a heavy stride,
On the opposite shore walked Paul Revere
Now he patted his horse’s side,
Now gazed on the landscape far and near,
Then impetuous stamped the earth,
And turned and tightened his saddle-girth;
But mostly he watched with eager search
The belfry-tower of the Old North Church,
As it rose above the graves on the hill,
Lonely, and spectral, and somber, and still.
And lo! as he looks, on the belfry’s height,
A glimmer, and then a gleam of light!
He springs to the saddle, the bridle he turns,
But lingers and gazes, till full on his sight
A second lamp in the belfry burns!
A hurry of hoofs in a village-street,
A shape in the moonlight, a bulk in the dark,
And beneath from the pebbles, in passing, a spark
Struck out by a steed that flies fearless and fleet:
That was all! And yet, through the gloom and the light,
The fate of a nation was riding that night;
And the spark struck out by that steed, in his flight,
Kindled the land into flame with its heat.
He has left the village and mounted the steep,
And beneath him tranquil and broad and deep,
Is the Mystic, meeting the ocean tides;
And under the alders that skirt its edge,
Now soft on the sand, now loud on the ledge,
Is heard the tramp of his steed as he rides.
It was twelve by the village-clock,
When he crossed the bridge into Medford town.
He heard the crowing of the cock,
And the barking of the farmer’s dog,
And felt the damp of the river-fog,
That rises when the sun goes down.
It was one by the village-clock,
When he rode into Lexington.
He saw the gilded weathercock
Swim in the moonlight as he passed,
And the meeting-house windows, blank and bare,
Gaze at him with a spectral glare,
As if they already stood aghast
At the bloody work they would look upon.
It was two by the village-clock,
When be came to the bridge in Concord town.
He heard the bleating of the flock,
And the twitter of birds among the trees,
And felt the breath of the morning-breeze
Blowing over the meadows brown.
And one was safe and asleep in his bed
Who at the bridge would be first to fall,
Who that day would be lying dead,
Pierced by a British musket-ball.
You know the rest. In the books you have read
How the British regulars fired and fled, —
How the farmers gave them ball for ball,
From behind each fence and farmyard-wall,
Chasing the red-coats down the lane,
Then crossing the fields to emerge again
Under the trees at the turn of the road,
And only pausing to fire and load.
So through the night rode Paul Revere;
And so through the night went his cry of alarm
To every Middlesex village and farm, —
A cry of defiance, and not of fear, —
A voice in the darkness, a knock at the door,
And a word that shall echo forevermore!
For, borne on the night-wind of the Past,
Through all our history, to the last,
In the hour of darkness and peril and need,
The people will waken and listen to hear
The hurrying hoof-beat of that steed,
And the midnight-message of Paul Revere.
Paul Revere’s Ride
The primary goal of the British regulars was to apprehend the leaders of the opposition, Sam Adams and John Hancock. There secondary goal was, to disarm the populace along the way.
Here’s the whole story of Paul Revere’s ride:
Revere confronted 2 British regulars manning a road block as he headed north across Charlestown Neck. As he turned around, the regulars gave chase and he eluded them. He then continued on to Lexington, to the home of Jonas Clarke where Sam Adams and John Hancock were staying. There, his primary mission was fulfilled when he notified Adams and Hancock that “The Regulars are coming out!” (he never exclaimed, “The British are coming”. This would have made no sense at the time since they considered themselves British).
Revere and Dawes then headed for Concord and came across Doctor Prescott who then joined them. They decided to alarm every house along the way.
Just outside of the town of Lincoln, they were confronted by 4 Regulars at another road block. They tried unsuccessfully to run their horses through them. Prescott, who was familiar with the terrain, jumped a stone wall and escaped. Revere and Dawes tried to escape and shortly into the chase they were confronted by 6 more regulars on horseback. Revere was surrounded and taken prisoner. Dawes got away as they were taking Revere into custody.
The British officers began to interrogate Revere, whereupon Revere astonished his captors by telling them more than they even knew about their own mission. He also told them that he had been warning the countryside of the British plan and that their lives were at risk if they remained in the vicinity of Lexington because there would soon be 500 men there ready to fight. Revere, of course, was bluffing.
The Regulars had Revere remount his horse and they headed toward Lexington Green, when suddenly, they heard a gunshot! Revere told the British officer that the shot was a signal “to alarm the country!”. Now the British troops were getting very nervous.
A few minutes later, they were all startled to hear the heavy crash of an entire volley of musketry from the direction of Lexington’s meeting house and then the Lexington town bell began clanging rapidly! Jonathan Loring, a Lexington resident captured earlier, turned to his captors and shouted “The bell’s a’ ringing! The town’s alarmed, and you’re all dead men!”
The British officers then talked urgently among themselves and decided to release their captives so as they would not slow their retreat.
Something to note: The purpose of the British road blocks was to prevent the colonists from communicating with each other outside of their towns. Their primary mission to capture Hancock and Adams, they thought, was top secret.
The town bell was actually ringing to alert the Lexington Company of Militia to assemble on the town common because the British regulars were on the march. It was a general alarm, not an alarm of an imminent threat.
The heavy crash of an entire volley of musketry was the result of a group of men discharging their guns prior to entering the tavern – many of the taverns at that time prohibited their patrons from entering with loaded weapons and the only way to unload a musket is to discharge it.
For additional reading we recommend the book: Paul Revere’s Ride by David Hackett-Fisher.