According to American Mythology, Paul Revere jumped onto a horse on April 18, 1775 and rode into the night, shouting “The British are coming!” But did Paul Revere’s Ride actually happen?
The Story of Paul Revere’s Ride
According to American mythology, Paul Revere’s ride was a solo one. He and other colonists knew the British were preparing to attack. So, he waited in Charleston for a signal from signal lanterns. One lantern in the Old North Church’s steeple would indicate a land invasion, two would mean a sea-based attack. He saw two lanterns and then rode through Medford, Lexington, and Concord to warn everyone, “The British are Coming!”
It’s a good story. One that has become a significant part of American history. It’s also severely flawed and in some respects, completely incorrect.
Paul Revere’s Ride: American History or American Mythology?
Interestingly enough, Paul Revere was little known for almost a century after his now-famous ride. Then in 1860, Henry Wadsworth Longfellow penned a famous poem entitled Paul Revere’s Ride. Longfellow was an abolitionist and wanted to convince his fellow northerners to take military action to keep the Union intact. As such, he deliberately romanticized his work in order to create a legend out of Revere.
“Listen, my children, and you shall hear
Of the midnight ride of Paul Revere,
On the eighteenth of April, in Seventy-Five;
Hardly a man is now alive
Who remembers that famous day and year.” ~ Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, Paul Revere’s Ride
The truth as you might expect, is a bit more messy. The British Army was in Massachusetts that evening. They planned to disarm the colonists by seizing a weapons cache in Concord. They also planned to arrest the leaders of the budding American rebellion, including John Hancock and Samuel Adams.
Joseph Warren, president of the Massachusetts Provincial Congress, learned of the plan. He sent two riders, Paul Revere and William Dawes, to Lexington to warn Adams and Hancock. They were to alert colonial militias along the way.
Revere and Dawes rode to Lexington, delivering warnings to every house they passed. Other riders, perhaps as many as 40 of them, raced into the night to spread the message. No one shouted, “The British are coming!” Indeed, most of the colonists considered themselves British. The entire rebellion was about the colonists standing up for what they considered to be true British values.
According to Revere, the exact message was, “The Regulars are coming out,” with the Regulars referring to the Regular Army. And since the operation was a secret, it’s unlikely anyone actually shouted out the message.
Guerrilla Explorer’s Analysis
Eventually, Revere and Dawes reached Lexington. They delivered the warning and picked up a third rider named Samuel Prescott. They proceeded to ride onto Concord. However, British troops spotted them in Lincoln. Revere was captured and questioned. Prescott jumped his horse over a wall and escaped. Dawes also escaped but later fell off his horse. Fortunately, Prescott reached Concord in time to warn the colonists. The next day, the British Army attacked. The Battles of Lexington and Concord raged. And out of that dust emerged the beginnings of a new country, the United States of America.
“‘Tis all very well for the children to hear
Of the midnight ride of Paul Revere;
But why should my name be quite forgot,
Who rode as boldly and well, God wot?
Why should I ask? The reason is clear—
My name was Dawes and his Revere.” ~ Helen F. Moore, The Midnight Ride of William Dawes