Monday, June 06, 2011

Paul Revere's Ride

by Gregg Chadwick

Paul Revere 1734-1818
The Boston Massacre (The Bloody Massacre)
9 7/8" x 8 1/2" Engraving, hand colored 1770
Boston Museum of Fine Arts

"We live in an age where, on every level, it is considered a sin to be wrong. From advertisers to kids on the playground to the world of corporate PR to politicians, the all-too-common wisdom is to defend the indefensible. That's what Palin is doing and that is what her renfields on Wikipedia are doing, and that's sad, because as anyone remotely successful in Silicon Valley can tell you, without owning our mistakes we cannot learn from them and without learning, we cannot win."
- Curt Hopkins in Read, Write, Web

I love to read history. Scores of books line my studio walls and the past is never far from my thoughts. Museums have been a favorite haunt of mine since childhood. Peering through glass at ambered papers and tattered journals never fails to remind me of the great divide between what happened and what we know. Each year historians gather new evidence from primary sources and measure what we think we understand in light of this new evidence. History is a living pursuit that sheds light on who we are and what we value. It is one thing to nudge historical understanding a bit forward with new evidence. But misrepresenting current historical consensus about Paul Revere's ride in 1775 is unhelpful.

What is the current thinking on Paul Revere's ride to to warn Samuel Adams and John Hancock that British troops were marching to arrest them?

We know that Paul Revere was an ardent revolutionary who was active in political and civic organizations in Colonial Boston. In 1770, Paul Revere created an emotional hand colored engraving of the Boston Massacre. On March 5,1770, five men were shot to death in Boston by panicked British troops. Preceding the gunfire a crowd of Bostonians taunted a sentry standing guard at the city's customs house. When British soldiers reinforced the sentry's position, chaos ensued and shots were fired into the crowd.

An astute, if not conniving businessman, Paul Revere borrowed the features of a drawing by artist Henry Pelham to produce his own engraving of the event which he labeled The Bloody Massacre. Revere's engraving was quickly produced, advertisements for the prints appeared in Boston newspapers three weeks after the shootings. Eventually Henry Pelham's produced his own version but Revere's engraving was already selling at high volume. Eventually a third engraving of the Boston Massacre was offered for sale by Jonathan Mulliken. Interestingly, except for minor differences - including Paul Revere's engraved signature on his print, all three prints share the same composition and characters.

John Adams, whose cousin Sam Adams was warned by Paul Revere on his midnight ride five years later, expressed in his memoirs that acting as the defense lawyer for the British soldiers accused of murder in the Boston Massacre trial in 1770 was "one of the most gallant, generous, manly, and disinterested actions of my whole life, and one of the best pieces of service I ever rendered my country."

When Revere's depiction of the Boston Massacre came out, he had already been in the Colonial military service since 1756 and was later promoted to the rank of lieutenant colonel in 1776. As an express rider for the Boston Committee of Correspondence and the Massachusetts Committee of Safety Paul Revere carried messages and copies of resolutions as far as New York City and Philadelphia. Paul Revere's role as a courier came to a head on his midnight ride on April 18, 1775.

Grant Wood (American, 1892–1942)
The Midnight Ride of Paul Revere
1931. Oil on Masonite. 30 x 40 in.
The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York.

On the evening of April 18, 1775, Dr. Joseph Warren told Revere to ride to Lexington, Massachusetts, and warn Samuel Adams and John Hancock that British troops were marching to arrest them. Contemporary accounts tell that, "After being rowed across the Charles River to Charlestown by two associates, Paul Revere borrowed a horse from his friend Deacon John Larkin. While in Charlestown, he verified that the local "Sons of Liberty" committee had seen his pre-arranged signals. (Two lanterns had been hung briefly in the bell-tower of Christ Church in Boston, indicating that troops would row "by sea" across the Charles River to Cambridge, rather than marching "by land" out Boston Neck. Revere had arranged for these signals the previous weekend, as he was afraid that he might be prevented from leaving Boston)."

William Monroe, a sergeant in Captain Parker's company of minute-men, stood guard outside the home of Reverend Clark where Samuel Adams and John Hancock had sought shelter. His account of Pul Revere's arrival is interesting:

"Early in the evening of the 18th, British soldiers had been seen on the road from Boston.
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"

After Paul Revere had warned Hancock and Adams he was detained by British troops. Revere's account of the event is riveting:

"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 gentlemen 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 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 God damn 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. Precot 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.) Clap (doug d) 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 center, & 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 saddles, 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 for 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 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 go 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 ministerial 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.'"

Paul Revere rang no bells, nor fired a weapon. He was fortunate to be let go by the British patrol. Paul Revere's ride was heroic and did inspire artworks that carried his actions into the heroic realm of myth. But we don't need to turn his stealthy journey into a rabble rousing cowboy adventure. On his ride Paul Revere didn't need to carry a gun, he was armed with courage and intelligence.

John Singleton Copley
Portrait of Paul Revere
35"x 28.5" oil on canvas 1768
Museum of Fine Arts, Boston

Stephen Colbert on the Colbert Report Reenacts Revere's Ride Complete With Bell and Musket

Listen my children and you shall hear
Of the midnight ride of Paul Revere,
To warn the Brits, or what? Oh, dear
I cannot think, it’s not quite clear…

I have it now! And I will tell:
He rode, he shot, he rang the bell,
He told the Brits to go to hell
Defiant, proud and shooting swell.

Through the country dark he road
Through fair New Hampshire, so we’re told,
Through field and street, he was right bold
His rifle clutched, a vise-like hold.

“We armed, we’re armed!” he shouted wide,
He rang that bell as he did ride,
He shot the dark from side to side,
Uh, wait, I think that, uh, I lied

-Elizabeth Ash (With Apologies to Henry Wadsworth Longfellow )

Paul Revere's Ride

Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

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.
He said to his friend, "If the British march
By land or sea from the town to-night,
Hang a lantern aloft in the belfry arch
Of the North Church tower as a signal light,--
One if by land, and two if by sea;
And I on the opposite shore will be,
Ready to ride and spread the alarm
Through every Middlesex village and farm,
For the country folk to be up and to arm."

Then he said "Good-night!" and with muffled oar
Silently rowed to the Charlestown shore,
Just as the moon rose over the bay,
Where swinging wide at her moorings lay
The Somerset, British man-of-war;
A phantom ship, with each mast and spar
Across the moon like a prison bar,
And a huge black hulk, that was magnified
By its own reflection in the tide.

Meanwhile, his friend through alley and street
Wanders and watches, with eager ears,
Till in the silence around him he hears
The muster of men at the barrack door,
The sound of arms, and the tramp of feet,
And the measured tread of the grenadiers,
Marching down to their boats on the shore.

Then he climbed the tower of the Old North Church,
By the wooden stairs, with stealthy tread,
To the belfry chamber overhead,
And startled the pigeons from their perch
On the sombre rafters, that round him made
Masses and moving shapes of shade,--
By the trembling ladder, steep and tall,
To the highest window in the wall,
Where he paused to listen and look down
A moment on the roofs of the town
And the moonlight flowing over all.

Beneath, in the churchyard, lay the dead,
In their night encampment on the hill,
Wrapped in silence so deep and still
That he could hear, like a sentinel's tread,
The watchful night-wind, as it went
Creeping along from tent to tent,
And seeming to whisper, "All is well!"
A moment only he feels the spell
Of the place and the hour, and the secret dread
Of the lonely belfry and the dead;
For suddenly all his thoughts are bent
On a shadowy something far away,
Where the river widens to meet the bay,--
A line of black that bends and floats
On the rising tide like a bridge of boats.

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 he 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.

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;
And the spark struck out by that steed, in his flight,
Kindled the land into flame with its heat.
He has left the village and mounted the steep,
And beneath him, tranquil and broad and deep,
Is the Mystic, meeting the ocean tides;
And under the alders that skirt its edge,
Now soft on the sand, now loud on the ledge,
Is heard the tramp of his steed as he rides.

It was twelve by the village clock
When he crossed the bridge into Medford town.
He heard the crowing of the cock,
And the barking of the farmer's dog,
And felt the damp of the river fog,
That rises after the sun goes down.

It was one by the village clock,
When he galloped into Lexington.
He saw the gilded weathercock
Swim in the moonlight as he passed,
And the meeting-house windows, black and bare,
Gaze at him with a spectral glare,
As if they already stood aghast
At the bloody work they would look upon.

It was two by the village clock,
When he came to the bridge in Concord town.
He heard the bleating of the flock,
And the twitter of birds among the trees,
And felt the breath of the morning breeze
Blowing over the meadow brown.
And one was safe and asleep in his bed
Who at the bridge would be first to fall,
Who that day would be lying dead,
Pierced by a British musket ball.

You know the rest. In the books you have read
How the British Regulars fired and fled,---
How the farmers gave them ball for ball,
>From behind each fence and farmyard wall,
Chasing the redcoats down the lane,
Then crossing the fields to emerge again
Under the trees at the turn of the road,
And only pausing to fire and load.

So through the night rode Paul Revere;
And so through the night went his cry of alarm
To every Middlesex village and farm,---
A cry of defiance, and not of fear,
A voice in the darkness, a knock at the door,
And a word that shall echo for evermore!
For, borne on the night-wind of the Past,
Through all our history, to the last,
In the hour of darkness and peril and need,
The people will waken and listen to hear
The hurrying hoof-beats of that steed,
And the midnight message of Paul Revere.

More at:
Sarah Palin – “Paul Revere Warned…The British?”
Bio of Paul Revere: Metropolitan Museum of Art
Wikipedia in Tug-of-War Over Palin's Version of Revolutionary War

Paul Revere House, North Square, North End
Paul Revere House, North Square, North End
(The Paul Revere House, built circa 1680, is located at 19 and 21 North Square, Boston)

photographic print : salted paper circa 1898
Boston Public Library, Print Department


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