Today is the anniversary of Paul Revere’s “midnight” ride in 1775. It has mythic status in contemporary US popular consciousness largely because of the boost it was given by Longfellow’s poem, which is full of factual errors (yet is treated as real history). Propaganda displacing truth is nothing new. Note that the ride occurred in 1775, not the legendary year of 1776, and marked the real beginning of the Revolutionary War – over a year prior to the Declaration of Independence.
Revere was born in the North End of Boston on December 21st, 1734, according to the Old Style calendar then in use, or January 1, 1735, in the modern calendar. His father, a French Huguenot, born Apollos Rivoire, came to Boston at the age of 13 and was apprenticed to the silversmith John Coney. By the time he married Deborah Hitchborn, a member of a long-standing Boston family that owned a small shipping wharf, in 1729, Rivoire had anglicized his name to Paul Revere. Their son, Paul Revere, was the third of 12 children and eventually the eldest surviving son. At 13 he left school and became an apprentice to his father. The silversmith trade afforded him connections with a cross-section of Boston society, which would serve him well when he became active in the American Revolution. Although his father attended Puritan services, Revere was drawn to the Church of England. Revere eventually began attending the services of the political and provocative Jonathan Mayhew at the West Church. His father did not approve, and as a result father and son came to blows on one occasion. Revere relented and returned to his father’s church, although he did become friends with Mayhew, and returned to the West Church in the late 1760s.
Revere’s father died in 1754, when Paul was legally too young to officially be the master of the family silver shop. In February 1756, during the French and Indian War (the North American theater of the Seven Years’ War), he enlisted in the provincial army. Possibly he made this decision because of the weak economy, since army service promised consistent pay. Commissioned a second lieutenant in a provincial artillery regiment, he spent the summer at Fort William Henry at the southern end of Lake George in New York as part of an abortive plan for the capture of Fort St. Frédéric. He did not stay long in the army, but returned to Boston and assumed control of the silver shop in his own name. On August 4th, 1757, he married Sarah Orne (1736–1773). They had eight children, but two died young, and only one, Mary, survived her father.
When British Army activity on April 7th, 1775, suggested the possibility of troop movements, Joseph Warren sent Revere to warn the Massachusetts Provincial Congress, then sitting in Concord, the site of one of the larger caches of Patriot military supplies. After receiving the warning, Concord residents began moving the military supplies away from the town. One week later, on April 14th, general Gage received instructions from secretary of state William Legge, earl of Dartmouth (dispatched on January 27th), to disarm the rebels, who were known to have hidden weapons in Concord, among other locations, and to imprison the rebellion’s leaders, especially Samuel Adams and John Hancock. Dartmouth gave Gage considerable discretion in his commands. Gage issued orders to lieutenant colonel Francis Smith to proceed from Boston “with utmost expedition and secrecy to Concord, where you will seize and destroy… all Military stores…. But you will take care that the soldiers do not plunder the inhabitants or hurt private property.” Gage did not issue written orders for the arrest of rebel leaders, as he feared doing so might spark an uprising.
Between 9 and 10 p.m. on the night of April 18, 1775, Joseph Warren told Revere and William Dawes that the king’s troops were about to embark in boats from Boston bound for Cambridge and the road to Lexington and Concord. Warren’s intelligence suggested that the most likely objectives of the regulars’ movements later that night would be the capture of Adams and Hancock. They did not worry about the possibility of regulars marching to Concord, since the supplies at Concord were safe, but they did think their leaders in Lexington were unaware of the potential danger that night. Revere and Dawes were sent out to warn them and to alert colonial militias in nearby towns.
In the days before April 18th, Revere had instructed Robert Newman, the sexton of the North Church, to send a signal by lantern to alert colonists in Charlestown as to the movements of the troops when the information became known. In what is well known today by the phrase “one if by land, two if by sea”, one lantern in the steeple would signal the army’s choice of the land route while two lanterns would signal the route “by water” across the Charles River (the movements would ultimately take the water route, and therefore two lanterns were placed in the steeple). Revere first gave instructions to send the signal to Charlestown. He then crossed the Charles River by rowboat, slipping past the British warship HMS Somerset at anchor. Crossings were banned at that hour, but Revere safely landed in Charlestown and rode to Lexington, avoiding a British patrol and later warning almost every house along the route. The Charlestown colonists dispatched additional riders to the north.
Riding through present-day Somerville, Medford, and Arlington, Revere warned patriots along his route, many of whom set out on horseback to deliver warnings of their own. By the end of the night there were probably as many as 40 riders throughout Middlesex County carrying the news of the army’s advance. Revere did not shout the phrase later attributed to him (“The British are coming!”): his mission depended on secrecy, the countryside was filled with British army patrols, and most of the Massachusetts colonists (who were predominantly English in ethnic origin) still considered themselves British. Revere’s warning, according to eyewitness accounts of the ride and Revere’s own descriptions, was “The Regulars are coming out.” Revere arrived in Lexington around midnight, with Dawes arriving about a half-hour later. They met with Samuel Adams and John Hancock, who were spending the night with Hancock’s relatives (in what is now called the Hancock–Clarke House), and they spent a great deal of time discussing plans of action upon receiving the news. They believed that the forces leaving the city were too large for the sole task of arresting two men and that Concord was the main target. The Lexington men dispatched riders to the surrounding towns, and Revere and Dawes continued along the road to Concord accompanied by Samuel Prescott, a doctor who happened to be in Lexington “returning from a lady friend’s house at the awkward hour of 1 a.m.”[Ahem!!!]
Revere, Dawes, and Prescott were detained by a British Army patrol in Lincoln at a roadblock on the way to Concord. Prescott jumped his horse over a wall and escaped into the woods; he eventually reached Concord. Dawes also escaped, though he fell off his horse not long after and did not complete the ride. Revere was captured and questioned by the British soldiers at gunpoint. He told them of the army’s movement from Boston, and that British army troops would be in some danger if they approached Lexington, because of the large number of hostile militia gathered there. He and other captives taken by the patrol were still escorted east toward Lexington, until about a half mile from Lexington they heard a gunshot. The British major demanded Revere explain the gunfire, and Revere replied it was a signal to “alarm the country”. As the group drew closer to Lexington, the town bell began to clang rapidly, upon which one of the captives proclaimed to the British soldiers “The bell’s a’ringing! The town’s alarmed, and you’re all dead men!” The British soldiers gathered and decided not to press further towards Lexington but instead to free the prisoners and head back to warn their commanders. The British confiscated Revere’s horse and rode off to warn the approaching army column. Revere walked to Rev. Jonas Clarke’s house, where Hancock and Adams were staying. As the battle on Lexington Green unfolded, Revere assisted Hancock and his family in their escape from Lexington, helping to carry a trunk of Hancock’s papers.
In 1861, over 40 years after Revere’s death, Henry Wadsworth Longfellow made the midnight ride the subject of his poem “Paul Revere’s Ride” which opens:
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
Longfellow’s poem is not historically accurate, but the inaccuracies were deliberate. Longfellow had researched the historical event, using such works as George Bancroft’s History of the United States, but he changed the facts for poetic effect. The poem was one of a series in which he sought to create American legends including The Song of Hiawatha (1855) and The Courtship of Miles Standish (1858). Longfellow was successful in creating a legend: Revere’s stature rose significantly in the years following the poem’s publication. In the process, however, Longfellow seriously undervalued and underrated the complex early warning system that the New England militias had in place (of which Revere was one part), and made it seem that Revere single-handedly aroused the countryside. My rule is always: CHECK YOUR FACTS!!!
In my post on the battles of Lexington and Concord that followed from Revere’s ride, https://www.bookofdaystales.com/lexington-and-concord/ I noted that colonial cooks in New England typically used British cookbooks, but by the late 18th century, strictly North American books were gaining in popularity. In particular, American Cookery, Or The Art Of Dressing Viands, Fish, Poultry And Vegetables, And The Best Modes Of Making Pastes, Puffs, Pies, Tarts, Puddings, Custards And Preserves, And All Kinds Of Cakes, From The Imperial Plumb To Plain Cake. Adapted To This Country, And All Grades Of Life, by Amelia Simmons (1796) was an important resource because its recipes used North American ingredients. She is described as “an American orphan,” and it is noted that the book was “published according to act of congress.” Most of the recipes are gargantuan, but can be cut down to modern household size.
This recipe for poultry seems reasonable enough:
To smother a Fowl in Oysters.
Fill the bird with dry Oysters, and sew up and boil in water just sufficient to cover the bird, salt and season to your taste—when done tender, put into a deep dish and pour over it a pint of stewed oysters, well buttered and peppered, garnish a turkey with sprigs of parsley or leaves of cellery: a fowl is best with a parsley sauce.
This chicken pie seems impossible, however. SIX chickens (not to mention a pound and a half of butter)?
A Chicken Pie.
Pick and clean six chickens, (without scalding) take out their inwards and wash the birds while whole, then joint the birds, salt and pepper the pieces and inwards. Roll one inch thick paste No. 8 and cover a deep dish, and double at the rim or edge of the dish, put thereto a layer of chickens and a layer of thin slices of butter, till the chickens and one and a half pound butter are expended, which cover with a thick paste; bake one and a half hour.
Or if your oven be poor, parboil, the chickens with half a pound of butter, and put the pieces with the remaining one pound of butter, and half the gravy into the paste, and while boiling, thicken the residue of the gravy, and when the pie is drawn, open the crust, and add the gravy.