This Day in History: The man who finished Paul Revere’s ride
On this day in 1751, Samuel Prescott is born in Massachusetts. He is best known for riding with Paul Revere during the early morning hours of April 19, 1775. In fact, when Revere was captured by the British, Prescott was the one who finished the last leg of the ride.
In other words, the little-known Prescott, not Revere, warned Concord that the British were coming!
As the story goes, Prescott was in Lexington on April 18, courting his fiancé, Miss Lydia Mulliken. He left her family’s home in Lexington quite late, intending to return to his home in Concord. A romantic start, isn’t it? Unfortunately, not every historian is sure that Prescott was actually courting Lydia. Either way, Prescott was on the road from Lexington to Concord in the early morning hours of April 19.
At about that time, Paul Revere and another rider, William Dawes, were also just leaving Lexington. They’d delivered their warning to Samuel Adams and John Hancock. Now, they were moving on to Concord, intent on securing the weapons and supplies in that town.
Revere and Dawes soon ran into Prescott. What made them trust the young doctor? Revere simply wrote that they “were overtaken by a young Docter Prescot, whom we found to be a high Son of Liberty.” The trio decided that they “had better allarm all the Inhabitents till we got to Concord.” Dr. Prescott was in full agreement, noting that people in the area “knew him, & would give the more credit to what we said.”
Unfortunately, the Patriot party ran into British officers. Revere was briefly captured. Dawes got away, but his horse took fright and ran off. He ended up walking back to Lexington. In the meantime, Prescott escaped and continued to Concord to deliver the warning. Revere later reported, simply, that the “Docter jumped his Horse over a low Stone wall, and got to Concord.”
Dr. Prescott continued the errand begun by Revere and Dawes with great success. Historian David Hackett Fischer recounts that he “spread the word through Lincoln and Concord, making an effort to awaken ministers, militia officers, and the family networks of outlying hamlets. He also recruited other couriers, in the same way that Revere and Dawes had recruited him.”
The word spread like wildfire!
When Prescott finally stopped at his own home, he woke up his brother Abel and recruited him to the cause as well. Reportedly, he then continued on to the town of Acton, carrying news of the British advance.
I wish I could report a happy ending for the Prescott brothers, but I can’t.
Abel Prescott was shot by a British guard as he returned home from his ride that night. He ended up with a serious infection that proved mortal.
Not too long afterwards, Samuel Prescott joined the Continental Army as a surgeon. He was later captured by the British as he served aboard a New England privateer. If Lydia was, indeed, his fiancé, she waited for years for him to come home before finally marrying someone else in the 1780s. However, it is believed that Prescott died, still a prisoner, in 1777.
He never lived to see America win the fight that began with his midnight ride in April 1775.
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Charles J. Caes, Legend of the Third Horseman: Life and Times of Dr. Samuel Prescott, the Man Who Finished the Midnight Ride of Paul Revere (2009)
Michael Ryan, Concord and the Dawn of Revolution: The Hidden Truths (2007)
David Hackett Fischer, Paul Revere’s Ride (1994)
Letter from Paul Revere to Jeremy Belknap (circa 1798)
Michael M. Greenburg, The Court-Martial of Paul Revere: A Son of Liberty and America’s Forgotten Military Disaster (2014)