- Historic Sites
The Man, the Myth, and the Midnight Ride
April 1977 | Volume 28, Issue 3
On Saturday, the fifteenth, Joseph Warren, the leading Son of Liberty then left in Boston, conferred with Revere. Clearly, the British were planning a strike at the stores at Concord. But they might also choose to arrest Sam Adams and John Hancock, who were staying in Lexington at the parsonage of a Hancock cousin-in-law, the Reverend Jonas Clark, partly because Boston was too hot for them, and partly because they were soon to leave for Philadelphia. Someone should warn them.
On the next day, Revere did just that. It is not clear whether he rode by land over the Neck, concocting some story to tell the British sentries, or whether he went by water across the wide mouth of the Charles River emptying into the bay. What is certain is that he delivered his message, and that the Concord minutemen began to hide their cannon and powder. He then came back to Charlestown and spoke with Colonel Richard Conant ofthat town’s militia. He said that as soon as the Boston intelligence network knew exactly when, how, and in what strength the British were coming, they would hang the famous “Lanthorns” in the easily visible belfry of Christ Church (which only came to be called the North Church some years after the Revolution). One lantern if the British marched by land over the Neck; two if they came by boats across the Charles Riveras well. That way, even if Gage sealed the town tight, someone in Charlestown would see the sign and spread the word.
Despite Longfellow, the two lanterns were not signals to Paul Revere, waiting “booted and spurred” in Charlestown. They were from him, intended to do the job of alerting if he could not.
On Tuesday afternoon, the eighteenth, Gage sent a patrol of officers out to guard the roads and block messengers. But they were not to give away their purpose. He also had the man-of-war Somerset moved into the river’s mouth to guard against any water crossing. By eight that evening he had his picked companies falling in, with full field equipment, on the Common, which then ran to the water’s edge, and boats gathered at the foot of it to ferry them over. By ten o’clock, Doctor Warren’s spies had full details, and he sent for Revere “in great haste.” Warren told him that William Dawes already had been sent over the Neck toward Lexington, and that Revere should go as well, to tell Hancock and Adams that the hunt was on.
Revere immediately made contact with the sexton of Christ Church, aß-year-old Robert Newman, whose brother was the church organist. Newman slipped through the dark streets, noiselessly let himself into the church, and hung the two lanterns, for a brief time, in the steeple. Then, to avoid possible encounters with curious onlookers, he crawled out of a back window onto a roof, and thence got down to the ground and crept home.
Revere, meanwhile, went to his house, got his boots and cloak, and then went to find Thomas Richardson and Joshua Bentley, two friends who would serve as his oarsmen. Revere simply says that he had a boat in “the North part of the Town,” and that they made their way to it. But there are two charming traditional tales. One is that Revere suddenly realized he had forgotten to bring rags to muffle the oars. So either Richardson or Bentley led them to a house where one of them had a sweetheart, and stopped beneath the window. There was a signal, some muffled conversation, and then a flannel petticoat—“still warm,” the legend says enticingly—fluttered down. The other story, preserved by the grandchildren of one of Revere’s sons-in-law, is that Paul had forgotten his indispensable spurs, but luckily had been followed by his little dog. So he attached a note to the animal’s collar and sent him home, and in a short while, back he came with the spurs, tied around his neck by Rachel.
In any case, around ten-thirty the rowers got their boat, somehow unnoticed, past the menacing dark bulk of the Somerset , despite the fact that “It was then young flood, the Ship was winding, and the moon was Rising.” On the Charlestown side Revere met Conant, who told him that the signals had been received. He also spoke to Richard Devens, who had seen nine of Gage’s officers—later, Revere changed it to ten—riding up toward Concord, and warned him to watch out. Revere told them “what was Acting, and went to git me a Horse.” He got one from “Deacon Larkin"—John Larkin—and remembered in the 1790*8, with the true pleasure of a horseflesh enthusiast, that it was “very good.” Around eleven, with the night “very pleasant,” he began to ride the twelve miles to Lexington, which he would cover in an hour.