March 5, 2024
The Midnight Ride of Paul Revere

The Midnight Ride of Paul Revere

“Listen children and you shall hear/The midnight ride of Paul Revere.” So begins a famous poem penned by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow. The poet’s rendition of events, while not historically accurate, is a great contribution to American folklore. Paul Revere’s life was colorful, however, and facts alone make for interesting history.

Paul Revere was a man of many trades. This father of sixteen worked a part-time dentist and once owned a hardware and home goods store. His most constant work though was with metal, and his work was highly praised. Revere cast cannons and bells, made silver teacup collections, and engraved the first Massachusetts state currency. He also produced the copper sheeting that covers the Massachusetts State House dome.

To many, however, Revere is best known for one night spent as a Pony Express rider. He was a midnight messenger right before decisive Revolutionary War battles in Concord and Lexington. On the night of April 18, 1775, Paul Revere and militia member William Dawes were dispatched from Boston. Dr. Joseph Warren, the chief executive of the revolutionary Massachusetts government, ordered the men to warn John Hancock and Samuel Adams of the British army’s advancement across the Charles River. Warren feared that the British would arrest Hancock and Adams and capture their cache of weapons.

Revere and Dawes were sent out in different directions; if either were caught, the message of an impending British invasion might still reach patriot leaders. They also had a back-up plan in case both men were caught. Revere instructed Robert Newman, who worked at the Old North Church, to communicate with lanterns. One lantern placed in the steeple would alert colonists to a land-route invasion; two would signal that the British were advancing “by sea” across the Charles River. As Revere set out on his midnight ride, Newman and Captain John Pulling briefly shone two lanterns from the Old North Church.

Contrary to Longfellow’s poem, the riders did not shout, “The British are coming!” as they rode to Lexington; doing so could have easily brought their capture. Furthermore, the colonists themselves were British! However, Revere did pass the news to colonists along his route. Eyewitnesses reported the actual quote to be, “The regulars are coming out!”

Both Paul Revere and William Dawes arrived in Lexington without being captured. They met John Hancock and Samuel Adams at the Hancock-Clarke residence, which was Hancock’s boyhood home. Hancock and Adams proceeded to update their battle plans. Meanwhile, Revere and Dawes decided to head to Concord where the weapons were being stored. A doctor named Samuel Prescott came along for the ride.

The three men were detained en route to Concord. Prescott and Dawes escaped, and Dawes carried on to Concord. Paul Revere, however, was detained for several hours. King George’s troops then escorted him toward Lexington at gunpoint – but before they arrived in the city, sounds of gunshots led his captors away. Revere was abandoned without a horse. He walked back to Lexington and arrived in time to see the Battle on Lexington Green.

Revere’s warning allowed the revolutionary militia to defeat the British troops in Concord. His role in the important midnight ride was not well-known until Longfellow published “The Midnight Ride of Paul Revere” in 1861, more than forty years after Revere’s death. Today parts of Revere’s famous route are marked with signs reading “Revere’s Ride”.