- Historic Sites
The Man, the Myth, and the Midnight Ride
April 1977 | Volume 28, Issue 3
But it was the British whose problems were critical. Within a half mile of Lexington, with dawn smells invading the chill air and the moon waning, they heard the sound of shots. The major asked Revere what it meant, and Revere told him with immense satisfaction that it was a signal volley “to alarm the Country.” Mitchell was furious, but helpless. He now had no time to lose in rejoining his main force, or he would himself be the surrounded quarry. Prisoners would only slow him down, so he ordered the saddles and bridles cut from the local men’s horses and drove them off before releasing the captives. Revere’s “very good” mount had caught Mitchell’s eye, however. He looked at the small and tired horse of the sergeant leading Revere, and spoke a quick command. Revere got down and the sergeant replaced him on Deacon Larkin’s beast, who thereupon disappeared, an equine draftee into His Majesty’s forces. The sergeant’s horse was stripped of its gear and sent with a slap into the night, and then the British rode off, leaving Revere to trudge back in darkness to the parsonage, probably arriving around three or four in the morning.
There he found arguments in full cry. Hancock was polishing up his sword and cleaning his pistol, ready to fight alongside the minutemen. Sam Adams was trying to persuade him to spare himself for more important responsibilities. Dolly wanted to return at once to Boston, and they were working to convince her that it would be safer to wait. Finally caution carried the day. Dolly and Aunt Lydia stayed put, and Hancock and Adams started out in a chaise for Woburn. Revere accompanied them for a couple of miles, then returned with John Lowell, Hancock’s clerk, to see how close the British were, and to “git” the trunkful of papers. While carrying it through the militia ranks he did hear commander Parker say words to the effect of: “Lett the Troops pass by and do not molest them without they bigin first.” Then there was the shot, the ensuing roar of volleys, and Revere and Lowell “made off with the Trunk.”
The famous ride was over. But Revere’s life was not. He still had more than half of it to live—forty-three years and three weeks exactly, and he would make every moment of them count for something useful.
In the immediate aftermath of Lexington, Paul dared not return to Boston. He was suddenly one of the sad creations of civil conflict, a refugee. For a few weeks there was an informal exchange of populations: countryside Tories fleeing into Boston to seek the protection of the king’s army, and Boston “Patriot” families escaping from the town. Gage, hard pressed to feed the population, willingly let them go provided they took no firearms or merchandise with them. Sometimes his under-officers added conditions of their own. Rachel Revere came out with all the children (except fifteen-year-old Paul, left to keep an eye on things) early in May. But first she had to “give” some veal and beef, two bottles of beer, and one of wine to the sergeant who made out the official passes. With her came furniture and clothes which Revere badly needed, especially “linen and stockings.” Still a conscientious head-of-household, Revere arranged to have a Tory, Isaac Clemmens, run the shop “if he is a mind … to do so” (he was), and promised to send his mother and sisters, if they stayed in the occupied zone, “all the cash and other things in my power. ”
To keep that promise took much effort. Revere made do by charging Massachusetts five shillings a day for his services as an express rider, plus expenses, which included a shilling a day for the board of a horse. He also engraved and printed the new paper money which the state issued. For a year he lived in Watertown, a few miles up the Charles. It was a small capital-in-exile whose one hundred houses had trouble sheltering crowds of Bostonians. But in the spring of 1776 the British evacuated Boston (taking with them over a thousand Tories—Americans expelled from their homeland, as they saw it, for choosing the side of law and order). And Revere and others came back to reweave their old lives. One of the first, sad things that Revere did was to identify the body of Joseph Warren, dug up from Bunker Hill, where he had fallen during the battle of the previous June, by recognizing the two false teeth he had wired into the doctor’s mouth.
Then Revere entered the army. He did not get a commission in Washington’s forces, as he apparently desired, but in the home guards that remained to protect Massachusetts after younger men had gone southward. “I did expect,” he wrote to John Lamb, an old friend in April, 1777, “before this to have been in the Continental Army, but do assure you, I have never been taken notice of, by those whom I thought my friends, [and] am obliged to be contented in this States service.” Then he added an astringent note. “I find but few of the Sons of Liberty in the army.”