On this day, April 18, 1775, during the American Revolution, the British advancement by sea begins. It is then that Paul Revere and William Dawes rode from Charleston to Lexington at midnight warning that “the regulars (British) are coming!” In the days before April 18, Revere had instructed Robert Newman, the sexton of the North Church, to send a signal by lantern to alert colonists in Charlestown as to the movements of the troops when the information became known, in what is well known today by the phrase “one if by land, two if by sea,” meaning that one lantern in the steeple would signal the army’s choice of the land route while two lanterns would signal the route “by water” across the Charles River. After crossing the Charles River by rowboat and slipping past the British warship HMS Somerset at anchor, Revere safely landed in Charlestown and rode to Lexington, avoiding a British patrol and later warning almost every house along the route. He then rode through present-day Somerville, Medford, and Arlington, warning patriots along his route, many of whom set out on horseback to deliver warnings of their own.
I cannot tell you how excited I was to see this particular historical event listed for today. The reason for this is because I am an avid history buff, enthusiast, student, life-long learner, and lover of the American Revolutionary War Era. Therefore, the subject of Paul Revere’s ride is truly a fascinating one for me. There are just so many interesting and intriguing details to about this dramatic night. Oh, how I dearly would have loved to have been present for his historic event.
If I had been there, perhaps I could have witnessed Dr. Joseph Warren as he participated on this infamous night. Dr. Warren was an American doctor who played a leading role in American patriot organizations in Boston during the early days of the American Revolution. He is the man who organized the midnight ride. On the afternoon of April 18, 1775, Warren received information that there was troop movement of the British army. It was he who sent Paul Revere and William Dawes on their midnight ride to warn the Massachusetts Provincial Congress, then sitting in Concord, the site of one of the larger caches of the patriot military supplies. After receiving the warning, the Concord residents began moving the military supplies away from the town. I wonder how he felt. Was he worried about the safety of these two men whom he was sending out, perhaps to their very deaths? He had hardly any time to ponder this because the very next day, Warren slipped out of Boston and during that day’s Battle of Concord and Lexington, he coordinated and led militia into the fight alongside William Heath as the British Army returned to Boston. It was during this battle that he was nearly killed, and later he became the head of the Provincial Congress. Proving himself to be a true hero thereafter, he died in the Battle of Bunker Hill.
Dr. Joseph Warren was a true patriot.
And could you just imagine being Robert Newman, the sexton of the North Church on that historic night? Just picture it. You are Newman, just settling down for a good night’s rest. Perhaps you just finished reading a passage in the New Testament of the Bible. Suddenly you receive a message that the regulars (the British are called the regulars instead of the British because even the American colonists were British) were coming by sea. You know that it is up to you to climb the stairs into the steeple of your church where you must light and then hang two lanterns in order to alert the back-up riders in Charlestown about the movements of the British. As you light each lantern, are your hands trembling with apprehension and fear at the knowledge that perhaps you could be arrested for treason? Or are they steady and sure with the confidence and pride of patriotism?
Robert Newman was another true patriot.
Finally, what would it have been like to be Paul Revere himself? Revere was a silversmith, and although he is most famous for his midnight ride, a little known fact about him is that in 1800 he became the first American to successfully roll copper into sheets for use as sheathing on naval vessels.
With regards to the American Revolution, Paul Revere was a member of the Sons of Liberty, which was a group of militants. It is therefore not surprising that he was a ringleader in the Boston Tea Party of December 16, 1773, when colonists (some disguised as Indians) dumped tea from the Dartmouth and two other ships into the harbor. This occurred after the passage of the Tea Act which authorized the British East India Company to ship tea (of which it had huge surpluses due to colonial boycotts organized in response to the Townshend Acts) directly to the colonies, bypassing colonial merchants.
Then on April 18, 1775, Dr. Joseph Warren sent Paul Revere on his midnight ride to warn the colonial militias about the British troop movements. Imagine the scene. First of all, total secrecy was required. There was no shouting of the phrase: “The British are coming! The British are coming!” According to eyewitness accounts, the phrase which was used was: “The Regulars are coming out.”
Let me map out his route for you:
- 1. Revere crosses the Charles River by rowboat and lands in Charlestown.
- 2. He rides through Somerville, Medville, and Arlington, warning patriots along the route.
- 3. He arrives in Lexington around midnight and Dawes arrives to meet him a half-hour later.
- 4. He and Dawson continued along the road to Concord accompanied by Samuel Prescott.
- 5. They are detained by a British roadblock in Lincoln.
- 6. Prescott jumped his horse over a wall and escaped into the woods; he eventually reached Concord.
- 7. Dawes also escaped, though he fell off his horse not long after and did not complete the ride.
- 8. Revere was captured and questioned by the British soldiers at gunpoint. He told them of the army’s movement from Boston, and that British army troops would be in some danger if they approached Lexington, because of the large number of hostile militia gathered there. He and other captives taken by the patrol were still escorted east toward Lexington, until about a half mile from Lexington when they heard a gunshot. The British major demanded that Revere explain the gunfire, and Revere replied that it was a signal to “alarm the country.” As the group drew closer to Lexington, the town bell began to clang rapidly, upon which one of the captives proclaimed to the British soldiers: “The bell’s a’ringing! The town’s alarmed, and you’re all dead men!” The British soldiers gathered and decided not to press further towards Lexington but instead to free the prisoners and head back to warn their commanders. The British confiscated Revere’s horse and rode off to warn the approaching army column. Revere walked to Reverend Jonas Clarke‘s house, where John Hancock and Samuel Adams were staying. As the battle on Lexington Green unfolded, Revere assisted Hancock and his family in their escape from Lexington, helping to carry a trunk of Hancock’s papers.
Can you imagine how he must have felt when he was given his mission to carry his message to the patriots? Was he excited to be part of the American dream? Or was he terrified? Perhaps there was a mixture of both emotions in his heart as he rode on that fateful night. I can only imagine how Paul Revere must have felt with the cold night wind blowing against his face and through his hair. If I try hard enough, I can hear his horse’s hooves pounding on the ground as he races down the road, going up and down the hills, and galloping across the meadows and fields, snorting with each frigid breath that he takes in and out. And Revere’s heart must have been pounding in tandem, as he willed his horse to ride faster and harder with each gallop so that he could reach his destination sooner, his urgency apparent in each command given to his mount. And then – to be captured. Did he feel as though he had been a success or a failure? I wonder.
But I know that Paul Revere was one of the most courageous Americans ever. He was tantamount to the success of the American Revolutionary War effort.
Paul Revere was by all definitions a true patriot.
QUOTE OF THE DAY: “LISTEN, my children, and you shall hear of the midnight right of Paul Revere, on the eighteenth of April in seventy-five; hardly a man is now alive, who remembers that famous day and year . . . ” ~ from “Paul Revere’s Ride” by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow
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