This Day in History: Paul Revere makes his famous ride
On this day in 1775, Paul Revere makes his famous ride. I am so sorry to tell you that he did not really yell “the British are coming!” as he rode. But he did accomplish one important goal: He warned Samuel Adams and John Hancock that British soldiers were coming to arrest them.
He’d intended to continue on to Concord, warning those townspeople about British movements so weapons and stores could be secured. Unfortunately, his ride was interrupted.
Massachusetts had been in turmoil for quite a while. The British had even dispatched soldiers to the colony and appointed a military governor. Their tasks? Enforce the Coercive Acts and suppress rebellion among the colonists.
Patriots formed a committee to keep an eye on the British soldiers and to gain intelligence about their movements. Revere himself later said that the committee was very careful to keep its existence a secret. “[E]very time we met,” he wrote, “every person swore upon the Bible, that they would not discover any of our transactions, But to Messrs. Hancock, Adams, Doctors Warren, Church, & one or two more.”
One Saturday night in April 1775, committee members noted unusual movements among the British boats and soldiers. They figured something was afoot. By April 18, the movements of the soldiers were becoming even more suspicious. Dr. Joseph Warren sent for Paul Revere at about 10:00 p.m. He asked Revere to take off immediately for Lexington. Revere was to warn Hancock and Adams about the soldiers; it was believed that they were about to be arrested.
Warren had already dispatched another man, William Dawes, with the exact same message. The two men took different routes. The logic was that, if the same message traveled by two different routes, then surely at least one of the messengers would arrive safely.
Revere had previously helped to arrange for a signaling system, just in case a warning could not be delivered in person. If the British were coming “by Water, we would shew two Lanthorns in the North Church Steeple; & if by Land, one, as a Signal.” He ensured that this signal would be sent, then he set off on his journey. Two friends rowed him across the Charles River. On the other side of the river, he was able to get a horse and set off at about 11:00 p.m.
Soon after he took off, by his own account, he “saw two men on Horse back, under a Tree. When I got near them, I discovered they were British officer. One tryed to git a head of Me, & the other to take me. I turned my Horse very quick, & Galloped towards Charlestown neck, and then pushed for the Medford Road. . . . I got clear of him . . . .”
Revere arrived in Lexington in time to warn Hancock and Adams. Then he and Dawes set off for Concord to help secure the weapons and supplies there. They were soon joined by another rider, Dr. Samuel Prescott. Unfortunately, the trio was stopped by British officers. Prescott and Dawes escaped, but Revere did not. One of the British officers, Revere later wrote, “Clapped his pistol to my head, called me by name, & told me he was going to ask me some questions, & if I did not give him true answers, he would blow my brains out.”
Revere ended up getting away when one of the British soldiers needed his horse. Although then on foot, he managed to get back in time to see part of the Battle on Lexington Green.
The story will continue April 19 with the “shot heard round the world”!
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David Hackett Fischer, Paul Revere’s Ride (1994)
Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, Paul Revere’s Ride
Letter from Paul Revere to Jeremy Belknap (circa 1798) (copy can be found here)
Paul Revere House website: The Real Story of Paul Revere’s Ride