From Paul Revere’s Ride, by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow (1807-1882)
As described in the explanatory note accompanying this online version of Longfellow’s classic poem:
On April 18, 1775, Paul Revere set out on his now famous ride from Boston, Massachusetts to Concord, Massachusetts. Revere was asked to make the journey by Dr. Joseph Warren of the Sons of Liberty, one of the first formal organizations of patriotic colonists. The purpose was to warn Samuel Adams, John Hancock (who were also members of the Sons of Liberty) and the other colonists that the British were preparing to march on Lexington.
Revere was taken by boat across the Charles River to Charleston, where he then borrowed a horse from a friend, Deacon John Larkin. Revere and a fellow patriot, Robert Newman, had previously arranged for signals to be given (lanterns in the tower of the North Church) so Revere would know how the British had begun their attack. This is where the famous phrase “one if by land, two if by sea” originated. While in Charleston, Revere and the Sons of Liberty saw that two lanterns had been hung in the North Church tower, indicating the British movement. Revere then left for Lexington.
On his way to Lexington, Revere stopped at each house to spread the word that the British troops would soon be arriving. Sometime around midnight, Revere arrived at the house of Reverend Jonas Clark, where Hancock and Adams were staying, and gave them his message. Soon after Revere’s message was delivered, another horseman sent on a different route by Dr. Warren, William Dawes, arrived. Revere and Dawes decided that they would continue on to Concord, Massachusetts, where the local militia had stockpiled weapons and other supplies for battle. Dr. Samuel Prescott, a third rider, joined Revere and Dawes.
On their way to Concord, the three were arrested by a patrol of British officers. Prescott and Dawes escaped almost immediately, but Revere was held and questioned at gunpoint. He was released after being taken to Lexington. Revere then went to the aid of Hancock and Adams, whom he helped escape the coming seige. He then went to a tavern with another man, Mr. Lowell, to retrieve a trunk of documents belonging to Hancock. At 5:00 a.m., as Revere and his associate emerged from the tavern, they saw the approaching British troops and heard the first shot of the battle fired on the Lexington Green. This gunshot of unknown origin, which caused the British troops to fire on the colonists, is known as “the shot heard round the world.”
Many believe Longfellow’s account of the Midnight Ride is inaccurate because he portrays Revere as a lone rider alerting the colonists. Longfellow also fails to mention that Revere was captured by British soldiers before he reached Concord. However, the literary creation of a folk hero named Paul Revere was inspiring to many, and the poem still reminds people of all ages what it means to be a patriot.
Additional background and reasonably accurate reviews of the events of the evening of April 18, 1775 are available in “Following the Midnight Ride of Paul Revere,” by Rich Grant, published on April 7, 2013, and “Longfellow’s Works: Paul Revere’s Ride,” a Maine Historical Society website.