On this day in 1774, Paul Revere makes a furious ride to warn colonists that the “British are coming!” Okay, so it wasn’t that ride. Revere’s famous midnight ride was still four months in the future. Instead, this little-known ride was made from Boston to New Hampshire—and it was made in the middle of the day.
The clashes in New Hampshire, historian David Hackett Fischer notes, “were truly the first blows of the American Revolution, four months before the battles of Lexington and Concord.”
Relations between Great Britain and her American colonies had been strained for quite a while. But in October 1774, King George III and his ministers made things even worse: They imposed a ban on the exportation of arms and ammunition to North America. They also ordered royal officials to secure the arms that were already in the colonies.
Tensions were high, and things moved quickly after that.
Patriots in Boston heard that British vessels were headed to Fort William and Mary, in New Hampshire. It was thought (erroneously) that two regiments of British regulars were headed to secure the large stash of arms and ammunition in the fort.
The timing couldn’t have been more inconvenient for Revere. He’d just become a father: His son was only 6 days old. Moreover, the weather had left the roads a frozen, slushy mess. It was a dangerous time of year for a long horseback trip over nearly 60 miles of such terrain, but Revere was determined to carry the warning. He set off for New Hampshire early on December 13.
By the end of the day, he was in New Hampshire, reporting his news to the Portsmouth Committee of Correspondence. A fife and drum paraded through the town early on December 14, calling the militia to action. By mid-day, 400 militia had gathered, prepared to attack Fort William and Mary before the British Regulars arrived.
That garrison was guarded by only 6 men. Unsurprisingly then, it fell quickly, and the colonists carried away about 100 barrels of gunpowder. “The logistics of overtaking a woefully undermanned fort were not daunting,” historian Christopher Klein says of the attack, “but the sheer brazenness of the mission, and its dire consequences, should have given the men some pause. . . . storming the fort ‘was the highest act of treason and rebellion they could possibly commit.’”
But it seems they had not yet had enough.
Word had been spreading around the New Hampshire countryside. By the morning of December 15, more than 1,000 colonists were gathered, prepared to assault the fort—again. This time, they secured the fort’s muskets and some of the cannon.
British reinforcements wouldn’t arrive until it was much too late. In the meantime, Governor Wentworth blamed the entire episode on Paul Revere. Before he’d arrived, Wentworth wrote, “all was perfectly quiet and peaceable here.”
Perhaps Longfellow should have written a poem about Paul Revere and his wintry ride to New Hampshire in the days before Christmas 1774.
Christopher Klein, The Midday Ride of Paul Revere (Smithsonian.com; Dec. 12, 2011)
David Hackett Fischer, Paul Revere’s Ride (1994)
Letter from Governor Wentworth to Governor Gage (Dec. 14, 1774) (reprinted HERE)
Letter from John Cochran to Governor Wentworth (Dec. 14, 1774) (reprinted HERE)
Stephen P. Halbrook, The Founders’ Second Amendment: Origins of the Right to Bear Arms (2008)