The midnight ride of Paul Revere is one of the legendary stories of the American Revolutionary War that occurred on the evening of April 18, 1775 just before the Battles of Lexington and Concord. Paul Revere and William Dawes rode to alarm the minutemen of British movement and to remove the rebel leaders Samuel Adams and John Hancock from Lexington to safety. Much has been written about this ride and much of it is false. Before I get into discussing the actual ride and all of its interesting dynamics I feel the need to debunk three myths.
Paul Reveres Ride Facts: Myths
Myth #1: Paul Revere Did Everything by Himself
Many people believe that Paul Revere saw the lanterns, jumped on a horse, and quickly rode through the countryside alarming the patriot forces. This is a myth that took root in Longfellow’s poem about Paul Revere. The fact is that Paul Revere was one of 40 riders that night.
Myth #2: Paul Revere shouted the British Are Coming!
Another myth that comes from Longfellow’s poem is that he shouted through the streets that the British Are Coming! It is hard to believe that this myth was ever believed. This was a secret mission and there were scores of British guards patrolling the streets of Middlesex County that night. If he would have been shouting through the streets the British would have heard and a captured him. Also, not everyone in Boston supported the patriots which meant that alarming them would do more harm then good.
Myth #3: Paul Revere Alarmed Concord
One of the most outrageous myths is that Revere made it to Concord. Shortly after reaching Lexington Paul Revere met up with Dr. Samuel Prescott. A British patrol saw Paul Revere, William Dawes, and Samuel Prescott and began chasing them. Revere was captured shortly after and never made it close to Concord. Dr. Samuel Prescott was one of the men responsible for alarming Concord.
Paul Reveres Ride Facts: The Story Leading Up To The Midnight Ride
The Midnight Ride of Paul Revere begins in Boston with a gentleman named, Joseph Warren. Dr. Warren had received vital information from what many believe a secret source about a secret British mission under General Thomas Gage. Gage had not told anyone about his plan except for his wife Margaret Kemble Gage. Although it cannot be proven, some suggest that Gage’s own wife Margaret was the spy who leaked the information to Dr. Joseph Warren.
Paul Revere developed a “lantern” system in which he would tell other riders/leaders about the British movement. The place he chose to show the lanterns was the Old North Church. Revere knew of two men who were supporters of the patriot cause and had access to the building. In the afternoon of April 18, 1775 Paul Revere recruited John Pulling and Robert Newman. The two would be responsible for the lanterns at the Old North Church. This would serve as one of the first triggers of the alarm.
Paul Reveres Ride Facts: The Midnight Ride
Once the Patriots learned that the British Regulars were on the move the alarm riders mobilized. Dr. Joseph Warren quickly summoned two riders to carry a message from him to the patriot leaders, John Hancock and Samuel Adams. The message warned the two leaders of the British movement and suggested that the British planned to capture Hancock and Adams. Paul Revere and William Dawes would carry the message. Paul Revere would take the northern route out of Boston, while Dawes would take the southern route.
William Dawes was a tanner and staunch patriot supporter whose work often took him the southern route. He was not as influential or as well-known to the people of Middlesex County as Paul Revere, but the British guards most likely did know him. Which made him the best person for the job. He had a longer route than Revere and he rode on a slower horse. His route would take him through the cities of Roxbury, Brookline, Cambridge, Menotomy, and Lexington.
Paul Revere would take the northern route. His route began in Boston. He sailed across Charlestown Neck and avoid the British warship, Somerset. Once across he was redirected due to British sentries patrolling the area. He was redirected to Medford. Once in Medford he triggered Dr. Martin Herrick and other riders. Revere then rode though Menotomy and alarmed the town, triggering other couriers as well. From there he went to Lexington and met up with John Hancock, Samuel Adams and William Dawes. Once Revere and Dawes reached the Clarke Parsonage where John Hancock and Samuel Adams were hiding they discussed and decided based on the information before them that the British capture of Hancock and Adams was a second objective. The primary objective was to capture the military cache in Concord. the midnight ride continued when Revere and Dawes left the parsonage and rode off to warn Lincoln and Concord.
Just outside of Lincoln they overtook another man who would become a major player in this midnight ride, Dr. Samuel Prescott. Prescott was out late that night due to courting an attractive young woman named Lydia Mulliken. Dawes and Revere conversed with him for a short time and came to learn that he was a “high son of liberty.” Prescott agreed to help spread the alarm. Shortly after the discussion outside of Lexington, Revere noticed a shadow of two British soldiers. The two shadows noticed the riders and rode towards them. Dawes, Revere, and Prescott, believing they could win, turned their horses towards the British and readied for a fight. Quickly the two British shadows turned into eight British guards and the riders quickly tried to get away. Prescott and Revere quickly galloped into the shadows. Prescott’s horse leaped a stone wall and got away, unfortunately Revere’s horse, tired from riding all night, was tired and was overtaken. Paul Revere’s ride looked to be over when he was captured, but Prescott would continue forward. In all the confusion William Dawes rode in the opposite direction of Revere and Prescott. He did manage to escape, but his horse became frightened, threw him off its back, and rode off. Dawes, now bruised and horseless retired for the night. Dawes and Revere’s ride were over, but Samuel Prescott would pick up where they left off.
Dr. Samuel Prescott rode into Lincoln and alarmed the militia commander and then rode into Concord. In Concord, he warned the town and recruited another key player in Paul Reveres ride, his brother Abel Prescott who was also a doctor. The two men, with many other unknown riders rode off and alerted the rest of the countryside. Prescott went beyond Concord and warned Acton and Stow. His brother Abel would alert the towns of Sudbury and Framingham, thus completing a full circle around Boston.
Paul Reveres Ride Facts: Online Resources
- Wikipedia – Paul Revere
- Paul Revere House – Real Story of the Ride
- Boston Discovery Guide – Paul Revere’s Real Story
- Journal of the American Revolution – Other Riders
- The History Junkie’s Guide to Colonial America
- The History Junkie’s Guide to the American Revolutionary War
- The History Junkie’s Guide to the Battles of Lexington and Concord