The real Paul Revere Story.—The Midnight Ride of April 18, 1775

Paul ReverePaul Revere is in the news again, after all this time — because of some comments by Sarah Palin that seem to be at odds with popular history.

Unfortunately, our popular history, the things we think we know about what has happened, all too often isn’t quite right.  In this instance, there is some measure of truth to what Palin said — Paul Revere did tell British troops that he had warned the countryside that the troops were on the way to take their arms.  With weapons pointed at his head, he told them what he had done, told them before the first shots were fired at Lexington.  But, of course, British officers were not about to believe that the militia, the colonial civilian mob, could best the regular redcoat troops. They continued on their way to Lexington, with Revere as a prisoner, not letting him go until after the first shots were fired.


The Midnight Ride


From The True Story of Paul Revere, His Midnight Ride, His Arrest and Court-Martial, His Useful Public Services by Charles Ferris Gettemy, 1905, Little, Brown, and Company, Boston

Boston was in a ferment during the winter of 1774-1775. The long series of grievances endured from the mother country had led to the adoption of the Suffolk Resolves in September. In October the Provincial Congress was organized, with Hancock as president; a protest was sent to the royal governor remonstrating against his hostile attitude, and a committee of public safety was provided for. In February this committee was named, delegates were selected for the next Continental Congress, and provision was made for the establishment of the militia. Efforts made by royal governors to seize the military stores of the patriots and to disband the militia had proved futile, and the fire of opposition to the indignities heaped upon the people by the Crown was kept alive by secret organizations. “Sons of Liberty” met in clubs and caucuses, the group which gathered at the Green Dragon Tavern being the most famous. They were composed chiefly of young artisans and mechanics from the ranks of the people, who, in the rapid succession of events, were becoming more and more restive under the British yoke.

None of these patriots chafed more impatiently or was more active in taking advantage of each opportunity that offered to antagonize the plans of the royal emissaries than Paul Revere, now aged forty. In the early months of 1775 he was one of a band of thirty who had formed themselves into a committee to watch the movements of the British soldiers and the Tories in Boston. In parties of two and two, taking turns, they patrolled the streets all night.

Finally, at midnight of Saturday, the 15th of April, the vigilance of these self-appointed patrolmen was rewarded. It became apparent then that something unusual was suddenly occurring in the British camp. One of the English officers wrote in his diary:

“General Orders. ‘The Grenadiers and Light Infantry in order to learn Grenadiers. Exercise and new evolutions are to be off all duties ’till further orders.’ This I suppose is by way of a blind. I dare say they have some thing for them to do.”1

But the movement did not serve to blind the vigilant and suspicious patriots. “The boats belonging to the transports were all launched,” says Revere in his narrative, “and carried under the sterns of the men-of-war. (They had been previously hauled up and repaired.) We likewise found that the grenadiers and light infantry were all taken off duty. From these movements we expected something was to be transacted.” The following day, Sunday, the 16th, Dr. Warren despatched Revere to Lexington with a message to John Hancock and Samuel Adams.

This ride of the 16th has never received much attention. It is not famed in song and story, and Revere himself alludes to it only incidentally. He probably made the journey out and back in the daytime, jogging along unnoticed, and not anxious to advertise the purpose of his errand. Yet there can be no doubt that, in its relation to the portentous events which followed three days later, it was at least of as great importance as the more spectacular “midnight ride ” of the 18th. The movement of the British on the night of the 15th aroused the suspicion of the patriots, of whom Warren was chief, who had remained in Boston. They meant to him one thing, — an intention to send forth soon an expedition of some sort. The most plausible conjecture as to its object, even had there been no direct information on the subject, suggested the capture of Hancock and Adams at Lexington, or the seizure of the military stores at Concord, or both.

The Hancock-Clarke Parsonage, Lexington, MassachusettsThe two patriot leaders, upon whose heads a price had been fixed by King George, were in daily attendance upon the sessions of the Provincial Congress at Concord; but they lodged nightly in the neighboring town of Lexington, at the house of the Rev. Jonas Clarke, whose wife was a niece of Hancock. It was of the utmost importance that they and the Congress be kept fully informed of what was transpiring in Boston. But when Revere called upon Hancock and Adams in Lexington on Sunday, he found that Congress had adjourned the day before to the 15th of May, in ignorance, of course, of the immediate plans of the British. It had not done so, however, without recognizing ” the great uncertainty of the present times, and that important unforseen events may take place, from whence it may be absolutely necessary that this Congress should meet sooner than the day aforesaid.”2 The delegates indeed had scarcely dispersed before the news brought by Revere aroused such apprehension that the committee which had been authorized to call the convention together again met, and on Tuesday, the 18th, ordered the delegates to reassemble on the 22d at Watertown. Meantime, the Committees of Safety and Supplies had continued their sessions at Concord. Friday, the 14th, it had been voted:

“That the cannon now in the town of Concord, be immediately disposed of within said town, as the committee of supplies may direct.”

But on Monday, the 17th, with John Hancock, to whom on Sunday Revere had brought information of the preparations being made in Boston for the expedition of the British, the Committees of Safety and Supplies, sitting jointly, voted:

“That two four pounders, now at Concord, be mounted by the committee of supplies, and that Col. Barrett be desired to raise an artillery company, to join the army when raised, they to have no pay until they join the army; and also that an instructor for the use of the cannon be appointed, to be put directly in pay.”

It was also voted:

“That the four six pounders be transported to Groton, and put under the care of Col. Prescott.

“That two seven inch brass mortars be transported to Acton.”

On the 18th the committees continued their preparations in anticipation of the descent of the British upon the stores. Numerous votes were passed, providing for a thorough distribution of the stock of provisions and ammunition on hand; a few of these may be cited to tell the graphic story:

“Voted, That all the ammunition be deposited in nine different towns in this province; that Worcester be one of them; that Lancaster be one, (N.B. Col. Whitcomb is there); that Concord be one; and, that Groton, Stoughtonham, Stow, Mendon, Leicester and Sudbury, be the others.

“Voted, That part of the provisions be removed from Concord, viz: 50 barrels of beef, from thence to Sudbury, with Deacon Plympton; 100 barrels of flour, of which what is in the malt house in Concord be part; 20 casks of rice; 15 hogsheads of molasses; 10 hogsheads of rum; 500 candles.

“Voted, That the vote of the fourteenth instant, relating to the powder being removed from Leicester to Concord, be reconsidered, and that the clerk be directed to write to Col. Barrett, accordingly, and to desire he would not proceed in making it up in cartridges.

“Voted, That the musket balls under the care of Col. Barrett, be buried under the ground, in some safe place, that he be desired to do it, and to let the commissary only be informed thereof.

“Voted, That the spades, pick-axes, bill-hooks, shovels, axes, hatchets, crows, and wheelbarrows, now at Concord, be divided, and one third remain in Concord, one third in Sudbury, and one third at Stow.

“Voted, That two medicinal chests still remain at Concord, at two different parts of the town; six do. at Groton, Mendon, and Stow, two in each town, and in different places; two ditto in Worcester, one in each part of the town; and, two in Lancaster, ditto; that sixteen hundred yards of Russia linen be deposited in seven parts, with the doctor’s chests; that the eleven hundred tents be deposited in equal parts in Worcester, Lancaster, Groton, Mendon, Leicester, and Sudbury.”

The transporting of the six pounders to Groton and the brass mortars to Acton carried an inference and a message of its own. It helps to account for the presence at the fight at Concord Bridge, on the 19th, of the minute men from these and other towns who could not readily have covered the distance within so short a time, had their information been due solely to Revere’s alarm of the night before. But that the blow might be expected at almost any moment, Revere’s tidings, brought on Sunday, made quickly apparent to the committees in session at Concord on Monday, two days before it fell.

Many interesting stories have been handed down in tradition, and some of them have been treated by local historians with far more seriousness than they deserve, seeking to explain how it happened that the patriots should know so well the plans of the British on the night of the 18th of April. One of these tales runs to the effect that a groom at the Province House, who happened to drop into a stable near by on Milk Street, was told by the stable-boy that he had overheard a conversation between Gage and other officers; “There will be hell to pay to-morrow,” the jockey ventured to predict. It is alleged that this significant conversation was speedily repeated and carried to Paul Revere, who enjoined silence, and remarked to his informant: “You are the third person who has brought me the same information.”3 Another story has it that the great secret was revealed by an incautious sergeant major in Gage’s army quartered in the family of an Englishman, Jasper by name, who was secretly sympathetic toward the rebel cause, and who kept a gunsmith’s shop in Hatter’s Square, where he worked for the British. Jasper is said to have repeated what he had gathered from the British officer to Colonel Josiah Waters, one of the patriot leaders, who promptly made the facts known to the Committee of Safety.4

But the most romantic theory that has been advanced to account for the foreknowledge possessed by the patriots relative to the British movements on the night of April 18 is based upon a statement of an early historian of the Revolution,5 that “a daughter of liberty, unequally yoked in point of politics, sent word by a trusty hand to Mr. Samuel Adams residing in company with Mr. Hancock at Lexington about thirteen miles from Charlestown, that the troops were coming out in a few days.” According to De Fonblanque, General Gage “was an amiable, well-meaning man of no military or administrative capacity, and of a weak character. Among other complaints made against him was that of being so completely under the influence of his wife (the daughter of a colonist, Mr. Peter Kemble, president of the council of New Jersey) as habitually to confide to her his loyal projects and correspondence with the ministry, which she, it was alleged, as habitually confided to his enemies.”6 Stedman, the British historian of the Revolution, who was one of General Gage’s commissioners in Boston, says7:

“Gen. Gage on the evening of the 18th of April told Lord Percy that he intended to send a detachment to seize the stores at Concord, and to give the command to Col. Smith who knew that he was to go but not where. He meant it to be a secret expedition, and begged of Lord Percy to keep it a profound secret. As this nobleman was passing from the general’s quarters home to his own, perceiving eight or ten men conversing together on the Common, he made up to them, when one of the men said:

“‘The British have marched; but will miss their aim.’

“‘What aim?’ said Lord Percy.

Why,’ the man replied, ‘the cannon at Concord.’

“Lord Percy immediately returned on his steps, and acquainted Gen. Gage, not without marks of surprise and disapprobation of what he had just heard. The general said that his confidence had been betrayed, for that he had communicated his design to one person only beside his lordship.”

These statements of Gordon, De Fonblanque, and Stedman were dovetailed together by Samuel A. Drake, the historian,8 who contended that in all probability it was Mrs. Gage who divulged the information to the patriot leaders of the proposed expedition to Lexington and Concord. He thought it highly improbable to suppose that “Gen. Gage, who had used so much caution that he did not communicate his intentions to those officers whose co-operation was essential, until the moment arrived for their execution, would have foolishly divulged them to some other officer or civilian.” Drake continues:

“But Gordon says intelligence was sent to Samuel Adams several days before the intended movement took place. That ‘one other person’ must have been deep in the general’s confidence; some one nearer than his most trusted officers; some one in high station, too, for the secret has been kept for a century. It is certainly brought very near the general’s person by his own declaration, made in a moment of extreme surprise and mortification. So far as known the general never divulged the name of the person who betrayed his confidence. He may have had strong reasons for his silence.”

This notion of Drake’s that “the daughter of liberty whose name should be honored by every American at least, might have been no other than the wife of the British general-in-chief,” was combated at once9 by William W. Wheildon of Concord, whose researches into the local history of the time are exhaustive. He pointed out that the intended movement toward Lexington and Concord had been contemplated for weeks, and was a matter of common knowledge and gossip in Boston, being looked for daily, so that the only information relative to it which remained to be divulged was the precise time set by Gage for putting the project into execution. The fact that the grenadier and light infantry companies had been taken off duty under pretence of learning some new exercises was itself sufficient to warn the Bostonians, and make them suspicious that preparations were at last actually under way for something unusual. Wheildon contends that though Mrs. Gage was an American by birth, there is no reason whatever to suppose that she was a “daughter of liberty” in any sense of the term then in use in Boston. She had married in 1758, seventeen years before, and long before the “Sons” or “Daughters” of Liberty were heard of; she had resided chiefly in England and Canada, and was in English society and politics till March, 1774; all her personal interests were British, and she undoubtedly loyally sympathized with her husband’s efforts to sustain the government of the King in the interest of peace. The expression used by Gordon, “unequally yoked in politics,” cannot fairly be said to apply to her, while it might easily apply to the wives of numerous Tories. We have, moreover, only the authority of Gordon for this insinuation against Mrs. Gage, and it may have had no more foundation in fact than ordinary street rumors such as are always plentiful in turbulent times. Wheildon believed Stedman’s story to be untrue, if for no better reason than that it is inconceivable that Gage was not urged to undertake the expedition by those about him, and that therefore his officers knew somewhat, at least, of his plans. This writer cites evidence to show that the movement was expected, was provided for, and that the only information of value to be communicated was as to when the troops should start. He continues:

“This was the secret that Gage kept to himself and Gordon says, ‘When the corps was nearly ready to proceed upon the expedition, Dr. Warren, by a mere accident, had notice of it just in time to send messengers over the neck and across the ferry on to Lexington, before the orders for preventing every person’s quitting the town were executed.’

“From what has been said, it is apparent that any message of the purport of that given by Gordon, if sent to Sam Adams, was wholly unnecessary and superfluous, for, in addition to the above proceedings, indicating what was expected on account of taking the troops to be employed off duty and the launching of the boats, a message of warning was sent to Hancock and Adams at Lexington on Sunday, the 16th. And it was upon the strength of this message, and no other, that the committee of safety acted in the distribution of the stores and ammunition at Concord; this is distinctly shown by the proceedings of the committee on the Monday morning before and after Hancock joined them.”10

It is really of no importance whether these stories are true or not. The deductions from them are quite superfluous. If they prove anything they reflect upon the intelligence and common-sense of the citizens of Boston by creating an assumption that the patriots must have had some direct and specific information from inside the British camp in order to be forewarned of the expedition, and that without such information the country between Boston and Concord could not have been properly alarmed. But Warren and his lieutenants, the members of the Committee of Safety, and the patrolmen of the Sons of Liberty were not a set of blockheads. Every move of the British military was watched with hawk-eyed vigilance. The Somerset, man-of-war, was moved from the position she had been occupying out into the Charles River, so as to be able to cover with her guns the ferry-ways. 11 There could be but one interpretation placed on this, — that it was intended to guard against the very thing which happened, namely, successful communication between the Boston patriots and their colleagues in the country. It was, in short, impossible for the British to make an unusual stir such as was involved in the preparations for moving eight hundred troops out of Boston without that fact becoming instantly noised all over town. It is equally absurd to suppose that any one could have thought under the circumstances that the most likely destination of the troops was not Lexington and Concord. It is not at all necessary to invest this affair with any mystery, and to imagine that a stable-boy, an imprudent British sergeant-major, or the talkative wife of the commander of the King’s forces divulged a great secret which could have been no secret to men of average wit and powers of observation, especially when such men were on the qui vive of suspicion and expectancy.

No one can familiarize himself with the temper of the Boston populace on that April night, and with the character and personality of Paul Revere, and not appreciate that in the whole town none was in a better position than he to know what the plans of the British were. He was in the thick of everything that was taking place. “On Tuesday evening, the 18th,12” he writes,  “it was observed that a number of soldiers were marching toward the bottom of the Common,” which meant that they were to be transported across the river to Charlestown or Cambridge, instead of making the long march around by way of Boston Neck. No need of any lanterns being hung out in a church spire to inform him whether the red-coats were going by land or by sea! He knew all about this long before he got into his row-boat that night. But let him tell his own story:

The Old North Church, Boston, MassachusettsAbout ten o’clock, Dr. Warren sent in great haste for me, and begged that I would immediately set off for Lexington, where Messrs. Hancock and Adams were, and acquaint them of the movement, and that it was thought they were the objects. When I got to Dr. Warren’s house,13 I found he had sent an express by land to Lexington — a Mr. William Dawes. The Sunday before, by desire of Dr. Warren, I had been to Lexington, to Messrs. Hancock and Adams, who were at the Rev. Mr. Clark’s. I returned at night through Charlestown; there I agreed with a Colonel Conant and some other gentlemen, that if the British went out by water, we would show two lanthorns in the North Church steeple and if by land, one as a signal; for we were apprehensive it would be difficult to cross the Charles River, or get over Boston Neck. I left Dr. Warren, called upon a friend, and desired him to make the signals. I then went home, took my boots and surtout, went to the north part of the town, where I kept a boat; two friends rowed me across Charles River a little to the eastward where the Somerset man-of-war lay. It was then young flood, the ship was winding, and the moon rising. They landed me on the Charlestown side. When I got into town, I met Colonel Conant and several others; they said they had seen our signals. I told them what was acting, and went to get me a horse; I got a horse of Deacon Larkin.”

Revere has thus made it quite plain that the signals were agreed upon for the benefit, not of himself, who could have no possible need for them, but of the waiting patriots on the Charlestown shore, who, when they should see the light or lights, might be trusted to carry the news to Lexington and Concord in the event of no one being able to cross the river or get through the British lines by the land route over Boston Neck. From the spot where Revere landed on the Charlestown shore the steeple of Christ Church was plainly visible, yet he does not mention seeing the signals, though taking pains to record that others had seen them. Certainly curiosity could have been his only motive for looking for the lights, and the fact that he makes no minute of seeing them may well be taken as evidence that the lanterns had already been displayed and withdrawn ere he reached the Charlestown shore. The arrangement, he says, was that “we would show” the lanterns, not that they would be hung out and left for an indefinite length of time; moreover, his friends, when he jumped out of his boat, said that they “had seen” the signals. If they were still visible, what more natural than that Revere’s attention should be called to them as a matter of curiosity, and that in that event he should have mentioned it in his very circumspect narrative? We know that the lights were not displayed for Revere’s benefit, and, when we take into consideration all the circumstances and the language of Revere’s narrative, it is scarcely reasonable to suppose that Revere himself ever saw the signals.

In view of all these facts, for which Revere himself is our chief authority, we perceive that Longfellow drew liberally from his imagination when he penned the lines:

Meanwhile, impatient to mount and ride,
Booted and spurred, with a heavy stride
On the opposite shore walked Paul Revere.
Now he patted his horse’s side,
Now gazed at the landscape far and near,
Then, impetuous, stamped the earth,
And turned and tightened his saddle-girth;
But mostly he watched with eager search
The belfry-tower of the Old North Church,
As it rose above the graves on the hill,
Lonely and spectral and sombre and still,
And lo! as he looks, on the belfry’s height
A glimmer, and then a gleam of light!
He springs to the saddle, the bridle he turns,
But lingers and gazes, till full on his sight
A second lamp in the belfry burns!

Revere’s story is to the effect that as soon as he could procure a horse he started upon his journey without further delay. “While the horse was preparing,” he says, “Richard Devens, Esq., who was one of the Committee of Safety, came to me, and told me that he came down the road from Lexington, after sundown, that evening; that he met ten British officers, all well mounted and armed, going up the road. I set off upon a very good horse; it was then about 11 o’clock, and very pleasant.” Devens himself left a memorandum of his experiences on that evening.14 Says he:

“On the 18th of April, ’75, Tuesday, the committee of safety, of which I was then a member, and the committee of supplies, sat at Newell’s tavern, [the records of the committee say Wetherby’s] at Menotomy. A great number of British officers dined at Cambridge. After we had finished the business of the day, we adjourned to meet at Woburn on the morrow, — left to lodge at Newell’s, Gerry, Orne and Lee. Mr. Watson and myself came off in my chaise at sunset. On the road we met a great number of B.O. [British officers] and their servants on horseback, who had dined that day at Cambridge. We rode  some way after we met them, and then turned back and rode through them, went and informed our friends at Newell’s. We stopped there till they came up and rode by. We then left our friends, and I came home, after leaving Mr. Watson at his house. I soon received intelligence from Boston, that the enemy were all in motion, and were certainly preparing to come out into the country. Soon afterward, the signal agreed upon was given; this was a lanthorn hung out in the upper window of the tower of the N. Ch. [North Church] towards Charlestown. I then sent off an express to inform Messrs Gerry &c, and Messrs Hancock and A., [Adams] who I knew were at the Rev. Mr. [Clark’s] at Lexington, that the enemy were certainly coming out. I kept watch at the ferry to watch for the boats till about eleven o’clock, when Paul Revere came over and informed that the T. [troops] were actually in the boats. I then took a horse from Mr. Larkin’s barn, and sent him. I procured a horse and sent off P. Revere to give the intelligence at Menotomy and Lexington. He was taken by the British officers before mentioned, before he got to Lexington.” 15

Thus we have seen that Dr. Warren sent two messengers out to Lexington that night, — Revere and Dawes, — and that for fear both of them might be captured, an arrangement had been made to notify other patriots in Charlestown by displaying lanterns from the North Church spire. Had misfortune therefore befell the specially commissioned messengers, there can be no doubt that others would have carried the tidings out through the Middlesex villages, arousing the inhabitants, and warning Hancock and Adams at Lexington. To say this in the interest of the sober truth of history is no disparagement of the services rendered the cause of liberty by Revere on that famous night. To him probably belongs the credit for possessing the foresight which suggested and arranged for the display of the signal lights, while Dr. Warren’s prescience is seen in his despatching of Dawes with the important news to Lexington and his subsequent sending of Revere on the same errand by a different route, thus providing against the contingency of Dawes’ capture. All of these safeguards together proved in the event to have been unnecessary; yet all served their purpose, though any one without the others would have sufficed. Each of the actors in this little curtain-raising performance, preceding the first act in the great drama of the Revolution to be played next day on Lexington Green and at Concord Bridge, executed his part well, with courage, skill, intelligence, and patriotism.

To return to the story of Revere’s ride. Mounted on Deacon Larkin’s horse, he set off to alarm the country, but had not gone far on the road through Charlestown when he discerned just ahead of him two British officers. He turned quickly, and, though pursued, made good his escape, passing through Medford and up to Menotomy (now Arlington). “In Medford,” he records, “I awaked the captain of the minute men; and after that, I alarmed almost every house, till I got to Lexington.” This quite agrees with the stirring lines of the poet:

A hurry of hoofs in a village street,
A shape in the moonlight, a bulk in the dark,
And beneath, from the pebbles, in passing, a spark
Struck out by a steed flying fearless, and fleet:
That was all! And yet, through the gloom and the light,
The fate of a nation was riding that night.

The incidents in connection with the alarming of Hancock and Adams at the Rev. Mr. Clark’s house, and the other episodes of that night and the early dawn which brought bloodshed with it, have been preserved for posterity by the narratives of three contemporary witnesses and participants,— the Rev. Jonas Clark (at whose house Hancock and Adams were lodging), the reminiscences of Dorothy Quincy, who was also staying at Mr. Clark’s, and Revere’s own account. Besides these there is a collection of depositions of the survivors of the battle of Lexington, taken some years after the event. One of the most interesting of these depositions was that of William Monroe, an orderly sergeant in Captain Parker’s company of minute-men.16 He says he learned early in the evening of the 18th that British soldiers had been seen on the road from Boston, and continues:

“I supposed they had some design upon Hancock and Adams, who were at the house of the Rev. Mr. Clark, and immediately assembled a guard of eight men, with their arms, to guard the house. About midnight, Col. Paul Revere rode up and requested admittance. I told him the family had just retired, and had requested that they might not be disturbed by any noise about the house.

“‘Noise!’ said he, ‘you ‘ll have noise enough before long. The regulars are coming out.’

“We then permitted him to pass.”

A year after the battle the Rev. Mr. Clark preached a sermon17 commemorative of the event, and prepared for publication in connection therewith “a brief narrative of the principal transactions of that day.” He told the story in this fervid fashion:

“On the evening of the eighteenth of April, 1775, we received two messages, the first verbal,18 the other by express in writing from the Committe of safety, who were then sitting in the westerly part of Cambridge, directed to the Honorable John HANCOCK, Esq; (who, with the Honorable SAMUEL ADAMS, Esq; was then providentially with us) informing, ‘that eight or nine officers of the king’s troops were seen, just before night, passing the road towards Lexington, in a musing, contemplative posture; and it was suspected they were out upon some evil design.’

As both these gentlemen had been frequently and even publicly threatened, by the enemies of this people, both in England and America, with the vengeance of the British administration: — And as Mr. Hancock in particular had been, more than once, personally insulted, by some officers of the troops, in Boston, it was not without some just grounds supposed, that under cover of the darkness, sudden arrest, if not assassination might be attempted by these instruments of tyrrany!

“To prevent anything of this kind, ten or twelve men were immediately collected, in arms, to guard my house, through the night.

“In the meantime, said officers passed through this town, on the road towards Concord: It was therefore thought expedient to watch their motions, and if possible make some discovery of their intentions. Accordingly about 10 o’clock in the evening, three men, on horses, were dispatched for this purpose. As they were peaceably passing the road towards Concord, in the borders of Lincoln, they were suddenly stopped by said officers, who rode up to them, and putting pistols to their breasts and seizing their horses bridles, swore, if they stirred another step, they should be all dead men! — The officers detained them several hours, as prisoners, examined, searched, abused and insulted them; and in their hasty return (supposing themselves discovered) they left them in Lexington. — Said officers also took into Custody, abused and threatened with their lives several other persons; some of whom they met peaceably passing on the road, others even at the doors of their dwellings, without the least provocation, on the part of the inhabitants, or so much as a question asked by them.

“Between the hours of twelve and one, on the morning of the NINETEENTH OF APRIL, we received intelligence, by express from the Honorable JOSEPH WARREN Esq; at Boston, that a large body of the king’s troops (supposed to be a brigade of about 12 or 1500) were embarked in boats from Boston, and gone over to land on Lechmere’s-Point (so-called) in Cambridge: And that it was shrewdly suspected, that they were ordered to seize and destroy the stores, belonging to the colony, then deposited at Concord, in consequence of General Gage’s unjustifiable seizure of the provincial magazine of powder at Medford, and other colony stores in several other places. . . .”

More than forty-seven years after the battle of Lexington she who was Miss Quincy in 1775 was a guest at a little dinner party in Boston given by Mr. Stephen Codman. Left a widow by John Hancock, she had married again, and her second husband, Captain Scott, was now also deceased. Madame Scott on this occasion entertained the party with many reminiscences of her first husband and the revolutionary period, and one of the other guests, General William H. Sumner, was so impressed with the importance of preserving what she said that he resolved, before going to bed that night, to jot down an account of what fell from her lips. He wrote in part19 as follows:

“Mrs. Scott, at this time [April, 1775] was a young maiden lady of the name of Quincy, to whom Mr. Hancock was paying his suit. Mrs. Hancock, the aunt of the Governor and the widow of his uncle Thomas Hancock (as lady-like a woman as ever Boston bred, she observed) was her particular friend and protectress, (her mother being dead,) was also at Lexington, at the same house. She observed that Dr. Warren sent out a message in the evening that they must take care of themselves, and give the alarm through the country, for Gen. Gage had ordered a force to march that night to Concord, to destroy the stores. Paul Revere, Esq., brought the message, and arrived there about 12 o’clock.” 20 1

But let us follow Revere’s adventures after his rousing of Hancock and Adams at the Clark house in his own language:

Pasture where Paul Revere was taken“After I had been there about half an hour Mr Dawes arrived, who came from Boston, over the neck; we set off for Concord, & were overtaken by a young gentm named Prescot, who belonged to Concord, & was going home; when we had got about half way from Lexington to Concord, the other two, stopped at a House to awake the man, I kept along, when I had got about 200 yards ahead of them; I saw two officers as before, I called to my company to come up, saying here was two of them (for I had told them what Mr Devens told me, and of my being stoped) in an instant, I saw four of them, who rode up to me, with their pistols in their hands, said G__d d___n you stop if you go an inch further, you are a dead Man,’ immeaditly Mr Prescot came up we attempted to git thro them, but they kept before us, and swore if we did not turn into that pasture, they would blow our brains out, (they had placed themselves opposite to a pair of Barrs, and had taken the Barrs down) they forced us in, when we had got in, Mr Prescot said put on, He took to the left, I to the right towards a wood, at the bottom of the Pasture intending, when I gained that, to jump my Horse & run afoot; just as I reached it, out started six officers, seized my bridle, put their Pistols to my Breast, ordered me to dismount, which I did: One of them, who appeared to have the Command there, and much of a Gentleman, asked me where I came from; I told him, he asked what time I left it, I told him, he seemed surprised said Sr may I have your name, I answered my name is Revere, what said he, Paul Revere; I answered yes; the others abused much, but he told me not to be afraid, no one should hurt me; I told him they would miss their aim. He said they should not, they were only awaiting for some deserters they expected down the Road; I told him I knew better, I knew what they were after; that I had alarmed the country all the way up, that their Boats were catch’d aground, and I should have 500 men there soon; one of them said they had 1,500 coming: he seemed surprised and rode off into the road, and informed them who took me, they came down immeaditly on a full gallop, one of them (whom I since learned was Major Mitchell of the 5th Reg.) Clapd his Pistol to my head, and said he was going to ask me some questions, if I did not tell him the truth, he would blow my brains out. I told him I esteemed myself a Man of truth, that he had stopped me on the highway, & made me a prisoner, I knew not by what right; I would tell him the truth; I was not afraid; He then asked me, the same questions that the other did, and many more, but was more particular; I gave him much the same answers; he then Ordered me to mount my horse, they first searched me for pistols, when I was mounted the Major took the reins out of my hand, and said by G___d Sr you are not to ride with reins I assure you; and gave them to an officer on my right, to lead me, he then Ordered 4 men out of the Bushes, & to mount their horses; they were countrymen whom they had stopped, who were going home; then ordered us to march. He said to me ‘We are now going towards your friends, and if you attempt to run, or we are insulted, we will blow your Brains out.’ When we had got into the Road they formed a circle, and ordered the prisoners in the centre, & to lead me in the front. We rid towards Lexington, a quick pace; They very often insulted me calling me Rebel &c. &c. after we had got about a mile, I was given to the Serjant, to lead, he was Ordered to take out his pistol, (he rode with a hanger,) and if I ran, to execute the major’s sentence; When we got within about half a mile of the meeting house, we heard a gun fired; the Major asked me what it was for, I told him to alarm the country; he ordered the four prisoners to dismount, they did, then one of the officers dismounted and cutt the Bridles, and saddels, off the Horses, & drove them away, and told the men they might go about their business; I asked the Major to dismiss me, he said he would carry me, lett the consequence be what it will. He then Ordered us to march, when we got within sight of the meeting House, we heard a Volley of guns fired, as I supposed at the tavern, as an alarm; the Major ordered us to halt, he asked me how far it was to Cambridge, and many more questions, which I answered; he then asked the Serjant, if his horse was tired, he said yes; he Ordered him to take my horse; I dismounted, the Serjant mounted my horse; they cutt the Bridles & Saddle of the Serjants horse, & rode off, down the road. I then went to the house where I left Mess Adams and Hancock, and told them what had happined, their friends advised them to go out of the way; I went with them, about two miles across road: after resting myself I sett off with another man to go back to the Tavern; to enquire the News; when we got there, we were told the troops were, within two miles. We went into the Tavern to git a Trunk of papers, belonging to Col. Hancock, before we left the House, I saw the ministeral Troops from the Chamber window, we made haste, & had to pass thro’ our Militia, who were on a green behind the meeting house, to the number as I supposed, about 50 or 60. I went thro them; as I passed I heard the commanding officer speake to his men to this purpose, ‘Lett the troops pass by, & don’t molest them, without They begin first.’ I had to go a cross Road, but had not got half Gun shot off, when the Ministeral Troops appeared in sight, behinde the Meeting House; they made a short halt, when one gun was fired, I heard the report, turned my head, and saw the smoake in front of the Troops, they imeaditly gave a great shout, ran a few paces, and then the whole fired. I could first distinguish Iregular fireing, which I supposed was the advance guard, and then platoons, at this time I could not see our Militia for they were covered from me, by a house at the bottom of the Street.” 21

This was the “battle” of Lexington, — fifty provincials exchanging a few shots with eight hundred of the King’s troops, who then marched on to Concord, only to find, after a bloody encounter, that the most valuable of the stores they had come to seize or destroy had, thanks to the timely warning of Paul Revere three days before, been already removed to places of safety.

On the day following these events Revere was permanently engaged by Dr. Warren, president of the Committee of Safety as a messenger to do the outdoors business for that committee.22 We have no record up to this time of Revere having rendered other than gratuitous service in the long journeys he took in behalf of the patriot cause, being content with the satisfaction of having performed a duty to his country. Whether he had now reached the conclusion, as we are well aware some of the other men whom history has written down as heroes did, that even patriotic service has a commercial value that the state should recognize, it may be unbecoming to pass judgment; but this we know, that henceforth he proposed to charge for his messenger service. He appears to have been prospering in his business at this period, and, no. doubt, he felt that he was not called upon to neglect it, with the large family he had to support, for the public service without some financial recompense. From the promptness with which his bill was audited, we may assume that his employers did not quarrel with this point of view. But that they thought he was disposed to value his labors too highly is also evident, for they reduced his charge for riding as a messenger from the amount asked, five shillings, to four shillings, a day. This bill, one of many such documents preserved in the archives at the State House in Boston, is faded by time, but the handwriting of Revere and the endorsement on the back, with the signatures of James Otis, Samuel and John Adams, and the other members of the Council in approval, stands out clear and distinct.

Paul Revere's Bill for Messenger Service

The comments of the Council upon the original bill as made out by Revere show the care with which the expenditures were guarded. Revere evidently did not, when he first submitted this bill, indicate the purpose for which the “impressions” printed by him and charged up to the colony was intended, so a memorandum was made at the bottom of the bill calling attention to the fact that only the printing of money for the use of the army would be paid for. Doubtless inquiry developed that Revere’s charge was in accordance with this understanding, though he had neglected to so itemize it; and the explanatory words, “Soldiers Notes,” were added afterward. The record of the appropriation made to cover the bill, after the total had been reduced to ten pounds, four shillings, is inscribed on the back of the original, and is to this effect:

“In the House of Representatives, August 22d 1775. Resolved that Mr. Paul Revere be allowed & paid out of the publick Treasury of this Colony ten pound four shilling in full discharge of the within account.”

This document was promptly sent up to the Council for concurrence, being signed by James Warren, Speaker, and Samuel Adams, Secretary. The Council concurred and the back of the paper bears the indorsement of the councillors: James Otis, W. Sever, B. Greenleaf, W. Spooner, J. Winthrop, T. Cushing, John Adams, Saml Adams, Joseph Gerrish, John Whetcomb, Jedh Foster, Eldad Taylor, M. Farley, J. Palmer, S. Holten.

The Diary of a British Officer in Boston in 1775. Atlantic Monthly, April, 1877, p. 398.
2Journal of the Second Provincial Congress, p. 146.
3Drake’s Old Landmarks, p. 243.
4 The story was published over the signature “C. C.” — supposed to be Miss Catherine Curtis — in the New England Historical and Genealogical Register for 1853 (Vol. 1, p. 139). The writer says that Colonel Waters “often told this story years after, to his then young friend, Joseph Curtis who is still [1853] living.”
5William Gordon, D. D., The History of the Rise, Progress, and Establishment of the Independence of the United States of America, etc., Vol. 1, p. 309.
6 Political and Military Episodes in the latter half of the 18th Century, Derived from the Life and Correspondence of the Rt. Hon. John Burgoyne, p. 116.
7 History of the American War, p. 119
8 Letter in the Boston Sunday Herald, July 6, 1879
9 Boston Sunday Herald, July 13, 1879
10 Wheildon dismissed De Fonblanque’s aspersions upon Mrs. Gage as an unworthy fling of Burgoyne’s biographer, “quite in keeping with the quality of his herd.”
11 Salem Gazette, April 18, 1775.
12 Revere’s narrative; first published as a letter to Jeremy Belknap, Secretary of the Massachusetts Historical Society, in 1798. See the Society Collections, Vol. 5, pp. 106-112. The narrative was republished in 1878, Proceedings, Massachusetts Historical Society, Vol. 16, pp. 371-376.
13 On the site of the present American House, on Hanover Street.
14 This was brought to light and first published in Richard Frothingham’s Siege of Boston. See edition of 1896, p. 57.
15 This is a curious error of Devens’. “Concord” should of course be substituted in this sentence for “Lexington.”
16 Phinney’s History of the Battle of Lexington, published in 1825, p. 33.
17 The complete title of the pamphlet edition runs: “A Sermon preached at Lexington, April 19,1776. To Commemorate the MURDER, BLOODSHED, and Commencement of Hostilities, between Great Britain and America, in that Town, by a Brigade of Troops of George III, under Command of Lieutenant-Colonel SMITH, on the Nineteenth of April, 1775. To which is added A Brief NARRATIVE of the principal Transactions of that Day. By JONAS CLARK, A. M. Pastor of the Church in Lexington.”
18 Paul Revere was without doubt the bearer of the verbal message; the message in writing was probably the same referred to by Richard Devens as having been sent by him. Revere apparently arrived first, but had he been waylaid we here have evidence that Hancock and Adams would have received due warning of the approach of the British.
19 General Sumner’s memoranda was not published for many years afterward. It appeared in the New England Historical and Genealogical Register for April, 1854 (Vol. 8, pp. 187-191).
20 General Sumner’s narrative, while it has no more to say of Paul Revere, is interesting enough to quote further here:

“Mr. Hancock [he continues] gave the alarm immediately, and the Lexington bell was rung all night; and before light about one hundred and fifty men were collected. Mr. H. was all the night cleaning his gun and sword, and putting his accoutrements in order, and was determined to go out to the plain by the meetinghouse, where the battle was, to fight with the men who had collected, but who, she says, were but partially provided with arms, and those they had were in most miserable order; and it was with very great difficulty that he was dissuaded from it by Mr. Clark and Mr. Adams, the latter clapping him on the shoulder, said to him, ‘that is not our business; we belong to the cabinet.’ It was not till break of day that Mr. H. could be persuaded that it was improper for him to expose himself against such a powerful force; but, overcome by the entreaties of his friends who convinced him that the enemy would indeed triumph, if they could get him and Mr. Adams in their power; and finding, by the enquiries of a British officer (a forerunner of the army), who asked where Clark’s tavern was, that he was one of their objects; he, with Mr.

Adams, went over to Woburn, to the Rev. Mr. Jones, I think she said. The ladies remained and saw the battle commence. Mrs. Scott says the British fired first, she is sure. This was a point much contested at the time, and many depositions were taken to prove the fact that the British were the actual aggressors. One of the first British bullets whizzed by old Mrs. Hancock’s head, as she was looking out of the door, and struck the barn; she cried out, What is that? they told her it was a bullet, and she must take care of herself. Mrs. Scott was at the chamber window looking at the fight. She says two of the wounded men were brought into the house. One of them, whose head was grazed by a ball, insisted that he was dead; the other, who was shot in the arm, behaved better. The first was more scared than hurt.

“After the British passed on towards Concord, they received a letter from Mr. H. informing them where he and Mr. Adams were, wishing them to get into the carriage and come over and bring the fine salmon that they had had sent to them for dinner. This they carried over in the carriage, and had got it nicely cooked and were just sitting down to it, when in came a man from Lexington, whose house was upon the main road, and who cleared out, leaving his wife and family at home, as soon as he saw the British bayonets glistening as they descended the hills on their return from Concord. Half frightened to death, he exclaimed, ‘The British are coming! the British are coming! my wife’s in eiamily now.’ Mr. H. and Mr. Adams supposing the British troops were at hand, went into the swamp and staid till the alarm was over.

“Upon their return to the house, Mrs. Scott told Mr. H. that having left her father in Boston, she should return to him to-morrow. ‘No, madam,’ said he, ‘you shall not return as long as there is a British bayonet left in Boston.’ She, with the spirit of a woman, said,1 Recollect Mr. Hancock, I am not under your control yet. I shall go in to my father to-morrow;’ for, she said, at that time I should have been very glad to have got rid of him, but her aunt, as she afterwards was, would not let her go. She did not go into Boston for three years afterwards; for when they left this part of the country, they went to Fairfield, in Connecticut, and staid with Mr. Burr, the uncle of Aaron Burr, who was there. Aaron, she says, was very attentive to her, and her aunt was very jealous of him, lest he should gain her affections, and defeat her purpose of connecting her with her nephew. Mr. Burr, she said, was a handsome young man, of very pretty fortune, but her aunt would not leave them a moment together, and in August she married Mr. H., and went on to Philadelphia, to the Congress, of which Mr. H. was President at the time she married him.”

21 This account is from Revere’s manuscript found in the family papers, and is supposed to have been written in 1783, eight years after the events recorded occurred. In 1798 Revere sent a revised account to Jeremy Belknap, secretary of the Massachusetts Historical Society, as noted on a preceding page. The revised account is the one best known and usually quoted, but it is not so complete in its detailed narration of Revere’s adventures in the latter part of the night of April 18-19 as the original, while the latter is less complete than the letter to Belknap with respect to the preparations for the ride.
22Narrative letter to Jeremy Belknap.


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