Paul Revere's Ride

    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 Charlestownshore,
    Just as the moon rose over the bay,
    Where swinging wide at her moorings lay
    The Somersett, 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.

    Henry Wadsworth Longfellow (1807-1882)

Fighting in the American Revolution started with the famous "Shot heard round the world" on April 19th, 1775 at Lexington, Massachusetts. The battle wore on that day with the British defeat at the bridge at Concord and their retreat to Boston. A Boston silversmith was one of the men who warned the militia of the British sortie from Boston. Paul Revere’s Ride and the subsequent fighting went on to be immortalized in American history by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow. Characterized by familiar themes, melodious and clear language, easily grasped ideas; it’s far from "hardly a man is still alive" who remembers it simply because of the very thoroughness that has ingrained itself into the public consciousness that has given lie to the irony of opening verse - nearly every American now alive, and a good part of the rest of the English speaking world, 'remember that famous day and year', or at least the events that took place. This charming and powerful verse was first published entitled The Landlord's Tale in 1863 in Longfellow’s Tales of a Wayside Inn

The first battle of the American Revolution and the important role that silversmith, engraver and patriot Paul Revere played is related in The Life and Public Services of Samuel Adams by William Wells:

    Paul Revere had agreed to give the signal to the colonists across the Charles River by placing a lantern in the North Church Steeple.

    If the British went out by water, he would display two lanterns in the North Church Steeple, and if by land, one, as a signal that the news might be conveyed to Lexington, should the communication with the peninsula be cut off. Having instructed a friend to that effect, he was rowed across the Charles River. It was the young flood, the ship was winding and the moon rising. Landing in Charleston, Revere found that his signal had been understood. He then took a horse, and rode toward Lexington.

    After several adventures on the way, in which he narrowly escaped capture, he reached the house of Mr. Clark about midnight and gave the alarm. He was just in time to elude the vigilance of the British in Boston; for Earl Percy, having accidentally ascertained that the secret was out, gave orders to allow no person to leave the town. Revere found the family at rest, and a guard of eight men stationed at the house, for the protection of Adams and Hancock. He rode up, and requested admittance, but the Sergeant replied that the family before retiring had desired that they not be disturbed by any noise about the house. ‘Noise!,’ replied Revere, ‘ you’ll have noise enough before long. The Regulars are coming out.’ He was then admitted.
    (America Providential History)

Revere’s efforts as a courier for the revolutionary cause made him a legend. While still a young man he acquired a name for himself among the Boston aristocrats with his finely crafted and elegant silverware. His most famous engraving depicting the 1770 Boston Massacre , put him in the spotlight as an anti British propagandist. He took part with other patriots in the Boston Tea Party in 1773. When the fighting began, he carried the messages for the area revolutionaries. It was the historic ride on the night of April 18, 1775, made by Revere and two others from Boston to Concord to warn of the approaching British military. Henry Wadsworth Longfellow did employ a bit of poetic license in the infamous ballad because history records say that British scouts detained Revere en route.

In 1774 and the spring of 1775 Paul Revere was employed by the Boston Committee of Correspondence and the Massachusetts Committee of Safety as an express rider to carry news, messages, and copies of resolutions as far away as New York and Philadelphia:

    After delivering his message, Revere was joined by a second rider, William Dawes, who had been sent on the same errand by a different route. Deciding on their own to continue on to Concord, Massachusetts, where weapons and supplies were hidden, Revere and Dawes were joined by a third rider, Dr. Samuel Prescott. Soon after, all three were arrested by a British patrol. Prescott escaped almost immediately, and Dawes soon after. Revere was held for some time and then released. Left without a horse, Revere returned to Lexington in time to witness part of the battle on the Lexington Green.
Longfellow deftly captured the spirit of these patriots in his narrative verse composed of couplets and quatrains. Written in 1860, he starts with an invitation to his audience with the famous first line :
Listen, my children, and you shall hear
Written in anapestic tetrameter the author meant to suggest the galloping of a horse, continuing with the greatest of evocative descriptions in a flowing meter above all a good storytelling. The scenes flow along in the unbroken narrative; action and description combine in an unfolding smooth tapestry of images that perfectly parallels the course of the ride.

From Longfellow’s journal entry dated April 5, 1860 he wrote:

    ‘Go with Sumner to Mr H -- -, of the North End, who acts as a guide to the `Little Britain' of Boston. We go to the Copps Hill burial ground and see the tomb of Cotton Mather, his father and his son; then to the old North Church, which looks like a parish church in London. We climb the tower to the chime of bells, now the home of innumerable pigeons. From this tower were hung the lanterns as a signal that the British troops had left Boston for Concord.'
The following day Mr. Longfellow set up his ballad of Paul Revere's Ride, then on the 19th made mention in his journal:
    `I wrote a few lines in Paul Revere's Ride; this being the day of that achievement.'
"It is possible,” authorities discuss in Memorial History of Boston, III( 101). “that Mr. Longfellow derived the story from Paul Revere's account of the incident in a letter to Dr. Jeremy Belknap, printed in Siege of Boston(pp. 57-59) that tells the story primarily from the memorandum of Richard Devens, a friend and associate to Paul Revere's .” With its publication Mr. Longfellow's poem elicited a rather long and drawn out debate both as to who actually hung the lanterns and the church from which the signals were hung.

Today’s critics consider the author’s work commonplace and trite in ideas, didactic in style, lacking in real lyric and superficial at best. In spite of all this criticism his poetry remains popular to this day primarily for its simplicity in theme and style and for his technical expertise. Sonnets and other lyrics written by Longfellow remain among the finest in American poetry; Hiawatha, The Wreck of the Hesperus, Evangeline, and Paul Revere's Ride. Two years after his death in 1884 Longfellow was the first American to be recognized and honored with the placing of a memorial bust in Poets' Corner of Westminster Abbey in London.


The Atlantic Monthly; January 1861; "Paul Revere's Ride," by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

The Landlord’s Tale, Paul Revere’s Ride:

Mark A. Belies & Stephen K. McDowell, America Providential History, 4th Printing, (Virginia: Providence Foundation, 1994), p.138.

The Paul Revere House:

Public domain text taken from The Poets’ Corner:

CST Approved.

Paul Revere's Ride


Saltpeter, Paul, and Merry Adventures


Suck on "The Lemon Tree" King George III... I mean, suck on the Liberty Tree!

Without Paul Revere, the U.S. Constitution as we know it might not exist – or so David Hackett Fischer, author of Paul Revere’s Ride, would have the reader believe. Fischer uses Revere as a springboard for reviewing in depth the events that led up to the American Revolution, greatly magnifying Revere’s role in the events in the process. The book covers in extreme depth the years leading up to the war, up until the Battle of Lexington and Concord and the subsequent aftermath. In doing so, Fischer provides a colorful account of the Revolutionary era, with anecdotes galore and plentiful usage of period terminology, with colonists wearing “homespun” stockings (p. 266) and British officials sneering at the mention of Paul Revere’s (or, as he was sometimes referred to, "P:- R:-") name in their correspondences. All in all, the book does an excellent job describing the times, bringing the tumultuous world to life in the reader’s imagination, even if some of the accounts are marred slightly by a few of Fischer's biases.

(For non-Americans and other ignorant folks who are scratching their heads right now wondering who Paul Revere was, I'll give you this brief description from Wikipedia: "Paul Revere was an American silversmith and a patriot in the American Revolution. He was glorified after his death for his role as a messenger in the battles of Lexington and Concord, and Revere's name and his "midnight ride" are well-known in the United States as a patriotic symbol. In his lifetime, Revere was a prosperous and prominent Boston craftsman, who helped organize an intelligence and alarm system to keep watch on the British military." (Wikipedia) If that doesn't suffice, you can read the equally swell E2 writeup on the topic.

So, how does Paul Revere’s Ride handle the topic of Mr. Revere himself? Well, it is safe to say that Fischer is slightly pro-Revere. Revere is, after all, the star of the book, with Fischer's aim being to glorify Revere's role in the Revolutionary era. Fischer does well to thoroughly debunk the myth of Paul Revere as the legendary “solitary midnight rider” of lore. With a painstaking attention to detail, Fischer reveals how Revere was in fact just one rider in a large network of couriers that crisscrossed the countryside with astonishing quickness the night the British marched on Lexington and Concord. Still, Fischer gamely tries to establish Revere as the center, or focal point, of this loose coalition of messengers, but why this should be true is left unclear. Revere certainly did not create the system single-handedly. It is true that Revere organized the famous light signal in the Old North Church steeple that served as a warning mechanism (“one if by land, two if by sea”) for Patriots that the British military was advancing upon the colonists, and that he personally took a hand in making sure the lanterns were in place on that fateful night. Revere deserves a small space in American history for his role. Beyond that, however, Revere’s importance remains questionable despite Fischer’s best arguments.

Why, for example, was it necessary that Revere himself inform Samuel Adams and John Hancock, (two of the most significant leaders of the American Revolutionary movement) of the advancement of the Regulars, except to confirm for Revere his own assumed importance? Undoubtedly, another courier, of which there were many , could have handled that task just as well as Revere. If Revere was so important to the Patriot cause, why risk having him captured by British sentries, who were patrolling the roads in large numbers that night? Also, curiously, Adams and Hancock only had a few words with Revere before sending him off as they deliberated on more important matters, a strange way to treat as important of a mover in the Revolutionary movement, as Fischer claims Revere is. It makes Revere seem like he was just an ordinary messenger. Perhaps, as retribution, Fischer later claims that Hancock died in 1793 “never having realized the promise of his early career,” a rather judgmental accusation to offhandedly make.

Later, after the Revolutionary War was well underway, Revere would complain that his allies had betrayed him by not giving him a more prestigious military post. Perhaps, perchance, it could be that his intellect was not as appreciated as much in Revere's time as both Revere and Fischer would have liked. For example, at the Committee of Safety at Hastings House, set up by the Patriots after the Battle of Lexington and Concord, Revere was recommended for “outdoor work,” which Fischer tries to explain away by claiming without evidence that it had something to do with Revere’s poor hygiene at the time, a consequence of his constant traveling. The end result would appear to be that, again, Revere was not viewed as important in the decision making process.

Ultimately, what Revere seems to have been most appreciated for was his zeal. It was a trait that seemed to oftentimes put him at the epicenter of major events, such as when he helped hide a trunk of very important Patriot documents just as the Regulars were marching on Lexington, or when he helped dump tea into the harbor at the Boston Tea Party. He was undoubtedly valued for his ability to motivate the “rabble” and was so well-liked by everyone that it made him a logical choice for organizing Patriot groups for rebellious activities. However, he was not really an intellectual and was not a part of the Patriot think-tank, which made him easily replaceable. To compensate for this, Fischer tries too hard to establish the importance of Revere in the overall arc of events, subsequently overstating his importance. While Revere was a valued contributor to the Patriot movement, he was not one of the people who shaped its course.

Fischer more successfully and accurately debunks other myths in the book, however. One example has Fischer firmly making it known that the British soldiers were not referred to as “the British” by the colonists (as most colonists still called themselves British or Englishmen at the time), but as Regulars, meaning that Revere's famous cry of "the British are coming" never really happened, at least in those words. Another example has Fischer reveal that contrary to popular belief, British officials were not as merciless and disrespectful of human rights as the myths would have people believe. Thomas Gage, the crown-appointed governor of Massachusetts, through both his actions and his own words and the words of his subordinates, is painted as respectful of commonly perceived laws and human rights almost to a fault, "the common rights of mankind" as he called it, to the point where it actually hurt the British cause against the insubordinate Patriots. Gage allowed the colonists to ridicule British imperial authority in the press and for colonists to assemble in town meetings to discuss and plan acts of sedition. That is far from the more repressive image modern Americans have. In fact, Gage liked America and its citizens well enough, initially, that he married an American and appeared ready to spend the rest of his days in North America before war broke out.

Truly, though, if there is one thing Fischer can not be faulted for, it is his extreme reliance on facts and for the plethora of insightful anecdotes he shares throughout the book. The anecdotes Fischer uses are the crown jewels of the book, allowing him, for example, to describe in vivid detail what happened during the Battles of Lexington and Concord almost shot for shot at certain points, even down to what individual soldiers were thinking. An almost unintentionally humorous example, in the manner of gallows humor, would be when Fischer shares a story about a Minuteman and a Regular both going to drink from a well at the exact same moment in time during the middle of a battle. Upon each realizing who the other was, they both declared the other person a “dead man” and shot and killed each other almost simultaneously. One can almost smell the gunpowder and see the blood streaming from the unfortunate soldiers, a credit to Fischer’s riveting writing style. The colorful language of the book, at times mimicking and taking humor in the differences between Bostonian and British accents (Revere pronouncing the word charter as "chaa-taa", and Gage as "chawh-tawh"), for instance, keeps what could otherwise have become a dry text consistently engaging. His notes, list of sources, and appendices at the end of the book is so long it could practically be considered an individual book in and of itself. What can only be argued, at times, is Fischer’s interpretation of the facts. Regardless, Paul Revere’s Ride, notwithstanding the author’s own slant on the events, is a scholarly and insightful work that will serve as an invaluable aid to researchers and enthusiasts for decades (or, maybe, even centuries) to come.

So, while it is questionable whether Revere’s influence amongst mechanics truly played a pivotal role in getting the U.S. Constitution accepted, as Fischer asserts at one point, or whether if Revere had not existed another equally zealous courier and ringleader (of which there were many) would have taken his place, the book’s importance is not. Fischer's work provides both valuable insight into the life of Paul Revere and the whole Revolutionary era and makes for titillating reading. In the words of a Los Angeles Times reviewer found on the back of the book, Paul Revere’s Ride is “a tale of adventure and intrigue so vivid and so colorful that it sometimes read like a thriller rather than a historical monograph.”

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