- Historic Sites
The Man, the Myth, and the Midnight Ride
April 1977 | Volume 28, Issue 3
He started up the road that led directly to Lexington, but had not gone far before he saw two mounted men approaching him. In the moonlight he recognized the holsters and cockades of British officers. Swinging around, he galloped back to a fork in the road, shaking off his pursuers in the process. Then he took another branch leading across the Mystic River to Medford. He awakened the captain of the minutemen there, then went on to Menotomy (now Arlington), recrossed the Mystic, and continued to Lexington, giving the alarm at “almost every House.” When he arrived at the parsonage, it was to find an eight-man guard around it, arid a sleepy Jonas Clark, who stuck his head out of the window but did not recognize the silhouetted rider. Clark said that he had no wish to disturb Adams and Hancock, who had retired, and especially the two ladies who were with Hancock, his Aunt Lydia and his sweetheart (and later wife), Miss Dolly Quincy. He reproached Revere for making noise, at which point, according to an account of 1825, Revere shouted : “Noise ! You’ll have noise enough before long. The Regulars are out.” At that, Hancock, who was not asleep, recognized the voice outside and called, “Come in, Revere, we are not afraid of you .”
So in went Revere to say that nearly a thousand redcoats were on the way (and indeed, at that very moment they were reassembling from the boats in the Cambridge marshes). He was surprised to find that William Dawes was not there, and feared that he had been captured. But in half an hour, Dawes arrived. They both sat down to eat and drink something, and then it was decided that they should go on to see that word had gotten to Concord. As they rode off, they were overtaken by a Dr. Samuel Prescott, who had been out late, courting. It turned out that he was both a Son of Liberty and a resident of Concord, and he volunteered to join them in giving the alarm to the inhabitants on the way to the town.
And then the plans unravelled. While Dawes and Prescott were talking to someone at a house, Revere suddenly saw two officers ahead of him. Prescott rode up to join him. Dawes, who disappears from Revere’s account, may have bolted away then. It turned out that he was later thrown from his horse, so even Dawes did not finish the ride. The British shouted at Revere, “God damn you, stop. If you go an inch further, you are a dead man.” Suddenly there were four Britishers, surrounding the two with drawn guns and directing them into a roadside pasture. As they got in, Prescott hissed to Revere, “ Put on! ” They wheeled their horses in opposite directions and galloped hard. Prescott leaped a low stone wall—and did finally get to Concord with the word. But Revere, trying to reach a wood at the pasture’s edge, was not so lucky. From it burst six other officers, who drew pistols and told him to get down.
The commander of the party seemed “much of a Gentleman.” He said, “Sir, may I crave your name.” “Revere,” was the answer. “What!” he said. “Paul Revere?” Revere’s reputation was known to any intelligent Briton who had been billeted in Boston for some months.
A brief comedy ensued. The four British officers, sticking to their cover story, told Revere that they were merely looking for deserters. Revere allowed himself a bit of gloating. He said he knew better, but they would “miss their Aim.” He had aroused the towns, and soon five hundred Americans would be there. One of the British answered that his side had fifteen hundred on the way, and so, in mutual bluffing, the two parties stood there at the beginning of a war. But Revere’s news had upset the British. The gentlemanly officer rode up to the group on the road, and a moment later down came Major Edward Mitchell of the 5th Regiment, at a full gallop and in a rage. He clapped his pistol to the courier’s head and said he wanted truthful answers, or Revere’s brains would be scattered in the dirt. Nothing daunted, the silversmith answered that he “esteemed” himself “a Man of truth,” and was not afraid. For good measure, he demanded to know by what right a peaceable citizen was detained on the highway.
Mitchell pressed a few questions, then had Revere searched for arms and ordered him to mount. As he did so, he took his bridle; but Mitchell jerked it from him. “By God Sir, you are not to ride with reins. ” So, despite a promise not to make any further runs for it, Revere was led, first by an officer and then by a “Serjant” with orders to shoot at the first false move. Mitchell then surprised Revere by ordering four mounted men out of concealment in the bushes. They were locals whom the patrol had earlier stopped. The whole group now rode at a “prittie smart” pace (one hears Revere’s Yankee twang in the words) toward Lexington. Several officers vented their anger and frustration on Revere, calling him “damned Rebel, &c., &c.” One said to him, “You are in a damned critical situation.”