On April 18, 1775, Paul Revere, a Boston silversmith embarked on his legendary journey from Charleston to Lexington, Mass., warning colonists that the British were coming.
After the Boston Tea Party the British authorities closed Boston Harbor and regular Army British soldiers were garrisoned in Boston at the colonist’s expense. These were regular soldiers often referred to as the “King’s Soldiers” and the move was very unpopular with the public especially with those colonists that favored independence. The army was under constant surveillance by patriot groups and there were rumors rampant that the army was planning some sort of action against the patriots up to and including the arrest of John Hancock and Samuel Adams who were at Lexington, Massachusetts at the time.
Prior to the night of April 18, 1775, Paul Revere and William Dawes (Dawes was a tanner and was active in Boston’s militia) were instructed by Dr. Joseph Warren to ride to Lexington to warn Hancock and Adams of the impending movement by the British Army. Revere instructed the sexton of the Old North Church to light one lantern in the steeple if the army was going to move by land or two lanterns if the army was going to go by sea, meaning crossing the Charles River into Charlestown. This system was devised to alert the citizens of Charleston in the event that Revere and Dawes were captured by the British.
On the night of April 18, 1775, the British Army made its move. They started their long march to Lexington by crossing the Charles River and entering Charlestown. From there they would proceed to Lexington. At 11PM, Revere began his now famous ride by crossing the Charles River to Charlestown to begin his ride to Lexington to warn Hancock and Adams. William Dawes was sent the long way around by land via the Boston Neck to commence his ride to Lexington.
Revere began his ride towards Lexington warning fellow patriots of the impending arrival of the British Army. Thereupon other riders commenced traveling throughout Middlesex County warning other patriots of the army’s impending arrival. By the end of the night there were over forty riders spreading the word. Contrary to popular myth Revere never uttered the words “the British are coming!” That would have been a dangerous thing to do since at this point everyone still considered themselves British subjects. Independence was only advocated by those considered rebels at this point, most notably Samuel Adams. What Revere actually stated was “the Regulars are coming out!” Revere arrived in Lexington around midnight. He proceeded to the house where Hancock and Adams were staying. Dawes arrived about a half hour later.
After warning them, Revere and Dawes decided to head towards Concord where the patriot’s arms were hidden from the British. On the way to Concord, both Revere and Dawes were stopped by British troops at a roadblock. Dawes managed to escape but he fell off his horse and was unable to complete his ride. Revere was detained and questioned by British officers. After this transpired he was escorted at gunpoint back to Lexington. At daybreak just as Revere and the British officers were approaching the Lexington meeting house, shots were heard. The officers became alarmed and at this point they commandeered Revere’s horse and headed towards the shots which appeared to come from the direction of the meeting house. Revere who was horseless headed through a cemetery and a series of pastures to the house where Hancock and Adams were staying. As the Battle of Lexington was being waged, Revere helped Hancock and Adams escape along with their personal belongings including a chest of Hancock’s papers.
There have been a number of myths associated with Paul Revere’s famous ride mostly due to the Longfellow poem which sections of it were memorized by American schoolchildren throughout the years. The poem alludes to the fact that Revere was the only rider, this is incorrect. In fact there were several riders (both men and women) dispatched to warn the patriots of the impending arrival of the British Army.
Henry Wadsworth Longfellow’s poem, The Midnight Ride of Paul Revere, was accepted for many years as a historically accurate account of the ride of Paul Revere. Further investigation into the actual events has proven that the poem was a gross exaggeration of the event.
The rides of Revere and Dawes were successful because they were able to warn other patriots and these other groups who were able to set up successful guerrilla operations that harassed the British Army when they marched back to Boston after the Battle of Lexington and Concord was completed. The patriots were able to repulse the British at Concord largely due to the advance warnings of the midnight riders.
Without these midnight rides, Hancock and Adams may have very well had been arrested and the American Revolution would have ended even before it began.
This picture is of the Paul Revere Statue in North End, Boston, which was made by Cyrus Dallin and unveiled on September 22, 1940.