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.
Thus say the familiar words of the Henry Wadsworth Longfellow poem commemorating the mission of silversmith Paul Revere to warn his fellow patriots of the movement of British troops.
Longfellow’s words are poignant and inspiring, but what is “the rest of the story?”
Throughout 1774 and Spring of 1775, Paul Revere was hired by the Boston Committee of Correspondence and the Massachusetts Committee of Safety to serve as an “express rider,” an 18th-century mailman of sorts. Revere’s job was to carry information — news, letters, dispatches, copies of proposed resolutions — to dispersed patriots throughout New England and as far away as New York and Philadelphia.
This day, April 18, Dr. Joseph Warren notified Revere that he was to ride to Lexington, Massachusetts, and alert local patriot leaders Samuel Adams and John Hancock that British regulars were marching to arrest them.
Having crossed the Charles River by a boat rowed by two associates, Revere arranged to secure a horse on loan from his friend, John Larkin. Once mounted and prepared, Revere rode over to meet with members of the Charlestown Sons of Liberty to double-check their understanding of the signals they had agreed upon the weekend prior for communicating British troop movement: Two lanterns would be hung in the bell tower of Christ Church in Boston if the troops were advancing across the Charles River; one lantern would be hung if the Redcoats were marching “by land” across Boston Neck.
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Images: Paul Revere Statue in North End, Boston (left); Portrait of Paul Revere by John Singleton Copley (right)