Postcard History: Paul Revere’s Ride

By Carla Charter

“Listen my children and you shall hear, of the Midnight Ride of Paul Revere”-Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

The Midnight Ride of Paul Revere on April 18 and 19, 1775 is a well-known part of history, the details of the famous ride, may not be quite as familiar however.  Most of the events that happened during that ride, were documented in accounts, written by Revere himself. “Revere wrote several accounts of what he did, which provide 90% of the evidence of what happened,” according to Patrick Leehey, Research Director at the Paul Revere House in Boston.

The signal at the Old North Church, which was to alert the Patriots that the British were on the move,  had been arranged ahead of time by Revere as well.  “The Patriot leaders and underground knew that the British were going to make raids into the countryside to capture powder and ammunition, Leehey said. He knew that if the time came when he would not  be able to leave Boston, the lanterns would signal the Patriots across the river in Charlestown that the troops had left and which way they were going, one if by land and two if by river.

Who set the signals in the church steeple is still contested. Revere said a friend did it, probably not naming the person to prevent his capture “My guess it was the sexton in the Old North Church., Robert Newman, “ Leehey said.  One of the original lanterns may still be in existence at Concord Museum. “People doubted it was one of the real lanterns but their chain of provenance is pretty good,” he continued.

At the time of the famous ride Revere was married to his second wife Rachel and had children. His first wife she died two years or so before the Revolutionary War broke out, probably from complications of childbirth, which was common at that time. Revere eventually had 16 children. Out of the 16, only 11 survived.

Revere was working as a Silversmith at the time of his famous raid. He knew all of the Patriot leaders in Boston, some quite well, some were his customers.  He’d been doing work for the Committee of Safety and the Committee of Correspondence, which were important Patriot groups in Boston at the time. He had served as a messenger for them at least since the summer of 1773 and maybe even before, Leehey said.

Revere doesn’t say why he threw his lot in with people opposing government policies and he kept no diary so there is no way to know for sure. “It’s fairly easy to guess. Many of his customers were the wealthy of Boston who were affected by taxes and the change in the way the taxes were collected affected Revere’s business. He also may have just disagreed with the government policies,” Leehey continued.

Dr. Joseph Warren sent for Revere and dispatched him, telling him to stop at both Lexington and Concord. Concord was where the military stores were. Revere was probably given a handwritten message for John Hancock and Samuel Adams, who were staying in Lexington, to let them know what was going on and that the British Army may be on their way to arrest them, although they weren’t. William Dawes was also dispatched by Warren to the same locations along a different route in case one of the two riders didn’t make it. “No one knew at the time that this would provoke the War of Independence. Revere looked at it as one more ride, though it was obvious the situation was deteriorating,” Leehey said.

Dawes and Revere arrived in Lexington, Revere said they refreshed themselves, which Leehey continued, probably meant they had something to eat and drink. They decided to ride on to Concord to be sure the military stores had been hidden away.

In between Lexington and Concord, the pair met Samuel Prescott who was headed home after visiting his fiancé. Prescott offered to join them as he knew all of the people on the road between Lexington and Concord. He could vouch for Revere and Dawes, if they were stopped by the British, which eventually they were. British patrols along this route were in search of deserters and had an order to stop anyone riding toward Concord. They had no orders to hold anyone.

Revere and Prescott were stopped and arrested by a British patrol half way between Lexington and Concord. Dawes was separated at the time from Prescott and Revere.  He saw the others stopped and headed back toward home.

Prescott said he and Revere were brought into a meadow. At one point, while there, Prescott said ‘Put On’ which meant scatter. Prescott was able to escape and alarm the militias in Lincoln and Concord. Revere was recaptured, questioned and threatened with his life, Leehey said.  A gun was put to Revere’s head and was told you had better tell the truth.  In not so many words, Revere replied “I am going to tell you the truth. Nine hundred militia will be here pretty soon. You people missed your aim.” Leehey continued. It was a bluff, Revere knew better. Eventually the British headed back toward Lexington. They released Revere but confiscated his horse.

There is a legend, Leehey continued, that Dawes was chased by several British soldiers and ran into a barnyard somewhere and hid in the barn.  When the mounted British arrived, Dawes yelled out “Boys we’ve got a few here” and the British left.

Paul Revere’s silver is displayed at the Paul Revere Museum in Boston as well as at the Boston Museum of Fine Arts and the Worcester Art Museum. The American Antiquarian Society in Worcester also has a large collection of his engravings.  Revere’s furniture can also be seen at the Revere Museum as well as at the Museum of Fine Arts.

Longfellow’s poem about Revere’s Ride was written in 1860. The poem however was not written to commemorate the ride but instead written as a way to warn that the American Union was in serious danger of dissolving.

Send me a postcard, wherever you are in New England. Maybe I will tell the story behind the postcard. Postcards can be sent to Carla Charter, 125 Willis Rd. Phillipston, Ma. 01331