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Hero on horseback: modern cynics downplay Paul Revere's accomplishments, but he deserves ample credit for his famous midnight ride and his many other contributions to the cause of liberty.

Shortly after passing the Charlestown neck, the narrow base of a peninsula jutting out into Boston harbor, the 40 year-old messenger on horseback spotted two mounted men through the darkness. They were hiding under a tree just up the road. As the rider got closer, the light from the rising moon revealed the men were uniformed British soldiers. They had been placed as a roadblock to slop patriot intelligence from getting to Lexington and Concord.

The rider, Boston's Paul Revere, had been warned just hours before by his friend Richard Devens that nine or ten mounted British soldiers had been spotted going down the road to Lexington earlier that night.

Revere had rowed across the Charles River to Charlestown earlier that evening with his friends Thomas Richardson and Joshua Bentley. He then waited for a pre-arranged signal from the belfry of the Old North Church.

The alarm that had set off the American War for Independence could arguably be said to have been spread by officials of the Old North Church. Revere had borrowed his horse from church member Deacon Larkin. And the church sexton, Robert Newman, had raised the two lamps in the church steeple as a prearranged sign that the British would move by sea rather than march up the Charlestown neck.

Revere's mission was more important than that of any other man that evening. Only he could bring specific news of the British maneuvers to Samuel Adams and John Hancock. William Dawes had left an hour earlier, at 10 o'clock. But Dawes, dispatched by patriot leader Dr. Joseph Warren, only carried general news warning Hancock and Adams that the British were likely to make some military move to capture them. Dawes didn't know any of the specifics of the British movements.

Spotting the two soldiers blocking his path, Revere quickly turned his horse around, headed back toward the Charles town neck, and took the Mystic Road northbound into Medford. The British soldiers pursued him; one attempted to overtake him on the road, and the other tried to cut him off by taking a shortcut through a bog.

Deacon Larkin's horse was too fast for the soldier in direct pursuit. "The [other] one who chased me, endeavoring to cut me off, got into a clay pond ...," Revere later re-called in a letter to his friend Rev. Jeremy Belknap. "I got clear of him and went through Medford."

Stopping briefly in Medford, Revere awakened the militia captain before galloping farther west on the road to Lexington.

Revere arrived in Lexington ahead of Dawes, even though Dawes had left an hour earlier. He stopped at Rev. Clark's house, where Adams and Hancock had bedded for the night. The commander of the eight men guarding the house stopped Revere, telling him that he should not make so much noise lest he awaken the two patriot leaders, who "had just retired" for the night. Revere replied: "Noise! You'll have noise enough before long. The [British] regulars are coming out."

The Boston silvermaster was admitted inside, despite the suspicions of the rural militia guard. He told Adams and Hancock everything that had happened that night, and then inquired about Dawes.

When Dawes finally arrived about half an hour later, the two riders resolved to continue to Concord, further spreading the alarm. "I told them [Adams and Hancock] of the 10 officers that Mr. Devens met," Revere later wrote, "and that it was probable we might be stopped before we got to Concord; for I supposed that after that night, they had divided themselves and ... had fixed themselves in such passages as were most likely to stop any intelligence going to Concord."

Revere, Dawes and a third rider they met along the road, Dr. Samuel Prescott, galloped down the countryside to Concord, alerting every home along the way. About half way to Concord, Revere encountered another British roadblock. Riding ahead of Dawes and Prescott, who had stopped at a house to awaken the people inside, Revere noticed two, then four, British soldiers. As Revere shouted to warn Dawes and Prescott, the soldiers moved to surround him. Prescott remounted his horse and was soon alongside Revere. The two tried to run the roadblock, which by that point consisted of six mounted British soldiers. Prescott, who knew the landscape best, managed to escape by turning left and jumping his horse over a low stone wall. Revere, however, turned right towards some woods, but "just as I reached it, out started six officers, seized my bridle, put their pistols to my breast, [and] ordered me to dismount."

The British officers quizzed Revere on his errand, and the patriot openly admitted he had alarmed the whole countryside to the imminent British deployment. He even tried to bluff his way out of captivity by claiming that soon "I should have 500 men" where they stood, as a result of the alarm. Though one of the British officers countered the bluff by claiming that they would soon have 1,500 men there, they were noticeably intimidated. And when the British forced Revere to ride back toward Lexington Green, the sound of the militia firing their guns into the air to alert others panicked the British officers into releasing him. Revere walked into town--the British soldiers had taken his horse--and removed a trunk of John Hancock's papers just as the British troops arrived.

Mounted Messenger--and More

A number of modern-day teachers and cynics have derogated Revere's accomplishments by portraying him as a glory hogging midnight jockey--and not a very good one at that, since he was the only one of the three riders that night who got caught. They claim, or imply, that Revere merely got fame for the ride because Henry Longfellow wrote his poem about Paul Revere, rather than about the other two riders who weren't captured. But not only had Revere accomplished the most important part of his mission--alerting Adams and Hancock--before being captured that night, he had earlier performed countless other valuable acts for the patriot cause.

Before his famous midnight ride, Revere had already proven to be the most reliable rider lot the Massachusetts Committee of Correspondence. He had personally brought the important Suffolk Resolves down to Philadelphia during the first Continental Congress in September 1774, making the arduous trip from Milton, Mass., in just six days. As a result, the Continental Congress, previously eager for reconciliation with the king, adopted the resolutions, proclaiming: "no obedience is due from this province to either or any part of the acts above-mentioned, but that they be rejected as the attempts of a wicked administration to enslave America.... [And] we are indispensably obliged to take all proper measures for our security."

Earlier still, in December 1773, he had brought news of the Boston Tea Party to New York's Sons of Liberty, setting in motion the patriotic resistance that forced British tea to be turned out of New York harbor. And he brought news to Portsmouth, New Hampshire's Committee of Safety that a large British force was being sent to Fort William and Mary. The local militia reacted to that news, as well as news of the gunpowder importation ban, by going into the lightly defended fort ahead of the British force and seizing about 100 barrels of gunpowder for colonial purposes. Militia members used this gunpowder on Charlestown's Breed's Hill--within several hundred yards of where Revere had ridden earlier that summer--during the battle of Bunker Hill.

More importantly for the engagements at Lexington and Concord, Revere had ridden to Lexington three days earlier--on April 16, Easter Sunday--to alert local militias and prepare them for action that appeared imminent. As many as 3,500 militia members from nearly 40 towns responded to the call to arms as a result of Revere's groundwork.

In addition to his numerous rides, Revere had assisted the patriotic cause in other ways. He had drawn some of the best-known and most effective engravings against the British occupation for Boston newspapers. And he had been active in the Sons of Liberty and several other sub-units of the organization such as the North End Caucus.

Riding Into History

The result of Revere's ride is now history. The Lexington militia exchanged fire with the British regulars, resulting in eight militia deaths and ten more injured. Though the British had only one soldier wounded at Lexington, the skirmish became the first shots fired in the War for Independence. The British column pressed on, but turned back after a spirited skirmish on Concord's North Bridge. The British column of nearly 2,000 men began a retreat that became a running battle and did not end until the bloodied British column reached Charlestown.

British Lt. Barker noted that "the country was an amazingly strong one, full of hills, woods, stone walls, etc., which the rebels did not fail to take advantage of, for they were all lined with people who kept an incessant fire upon us." The redcoats suffered 72 men killed, plus about 200 wounded, which was about three times the losses suffered by the patriot militiamen that day.

More significantly, the embattled farmers had fired the "shot heard round the world"--the opening salvo in a long war that would free the American colonies from the yoke of the British Empire and culminate in the rise of a new nation conceived in liberty. But the "shot heard round the world" might never have been fired without the mobilizing efforts of Paul Revere.
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Article Details
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Title Annotation:struggle for freedom
Author:Eddlem, Thomas R.
Publication:The New American
Date:Feb 23, 2004
Words:1573
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