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This Day in History, 1775

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.

Henry Wadsworth Longfellow (1807-1882)


Of course, Longfellow got it wrong. Revere made it to Lexington, but not to Concord; the British picked him up. Dawson was the one who warned Concord, and he isn't even mentioned.

And the Musketmen weren't so hot, either. Guerilla methods were considered wrong back then (shooting from trees & walls, a trick learned in the French & Indian war from the 'savaes'). In Lexinton, most of them had assembled after midnight, and retired to a local tavern to drink. By 5am on the 19th, when the Redcoats came by, the ones left were pretty drunk; the 55 men stood in a staggered line to look like more people. It's likely the Americans shot first (the 'shot heard 'round the world') before the Brits decimated them.

I'm originally from Lexington, MA.
Yeah, I know the poem isn't entirely accurate. However, I figured someone like you would come around and correct it for anyone else who chooses to read the entry. :-) (I couldn't resist posting the poem.)

And it's William Dawes, not Dawson, who warned Concord. Although in "The Tipping Point," Malcolm Gladwell points out previous sources that show that Revere was able to get more people alerted, although he was cut off in his ride well before Dawes.

Dawes, of course!

One should not reply to LJ after 5 hours sleep, or else one gets Family Feud mixed up with the American Revolution.
Not Dawes, Prescott. Dawes and Revere were both caught, and only Prescott made it through to Concord. But "the midnight ride of Samuel Prescott" doesn't scan as well as "Paul Revere", and is more difficult to rhyme, so he missed out on the fame he deserved.

Though if the main purpose of the army raid was to capture Adams and Hancock, then Revere is the one who found them in Lexington and warned them, and the ride from Lexington to Concord was just an afterthought.

Nope. Revere was captured. Dawes and Prescott escaped, but Dawes lost his horse and had to walk home. Prescott only rode from Lexington to Concord. Dawes was sent off first, but Revere got to Lexington first.

In addition to warning Adams and Hancock, the purpose was to rouse the minutemen to prepare for an arms seizure at Concord.
I was going to defend Longfellow by stating that it's easier to rhyme with the name Revere than Dawes(Dawson),.. but he only rhymes it twice anyways,.. and with the same word! (hear).

Listen my children about the cause
Of the midnight ride of William Dawes,
On the eighteenth of April, in Seventy-five;
Hardly a man is now alive
Who remembers that famous day and year.
*sigh* "I miss being in MA and getting today off and going to the reenamctment" said the former Lexingtonian. People in NYC have no idea what today is... and I of course work up going "but today is a HOLIDAY!!!".
Yeah, but imagine growing up in Queens and getting Brooklyn-Queens Day off from school until 6th grade -- then going to school in Manhattan, where they've never heard of Brooklyn-Queens Day and think you're making it up.
Here is Chicago, the students get Casimir Pulaski Day off.
One interesting point that, I believe it was Malcolm Gladwell made in The Tipping Point is that, although Paul Revere got less far than either Prescott or Dawes, he actually did more to mobilize the troops -- because everybody KNEW him. He didn't make it far before getting picked up, but when he rode through town warning people, everybody went, "Oh my! Paul Revere says that the Redcoats are attacking! We should do something!" While when Prescott and Dawes rode through town, everybody went, "Oh my! There's some lunatic riding through town and yelling something! We should go back to sleep!"

December 2016

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