- Historic Sites
Rebels And Redcoats
Participants describe the opening of the American Revolution
February 1957 | Volume 8, Issue 2
The tension between American colonists and English rulers had at last reached the breaking point. British troops held Boston, and their commander, General Thomas Gage, believed the time had come to put some sort of curb on the rebellious colonial leaders. On an April day in 1775 he sent out a detachment of soldiers to take action against what seemed clearly a rebellious movement.
That touched it off. In the days and weeks that followed, the names of previously obscure places and men found a lasting place in the American legend—Lexington and Concord, Paul Revere and Joseph Warren, Ticonderoga and Bunker Hill—and one of the great turning points in human history was reached.
The story of those crucial days in the spring of 1775 has been told many times, but never more graphically than in the new book Rebels and Redcoats by George F. Scheer and Hugh F. Rankin. By going to letters and diaries written by the American and British leaders and soldiers themselves, these authors have given their narrative a dramatic immediacy which makes the familiar story seem new and gives it almost a contemporary flavor.
AMERICAN HERITAGE presents the opening chapters of Rebels and Redcoats, which will presently be issued in book form by the World Publishing Company.
Lexington, April 19, 1775
No one knows who knocked on the door of Paul Revere’s house, jammed between the Holyokes’ and the Barnards', on Boston’s North Square. It was night, about ten o’clock. The date was Tuesday, the eighteenth of April, 1775.
When the door opened, letting light into the shadows under the second-story overhang, the messenger must have whispered a name: Dr. Warren.
Moments later, brawny Mr. Revere was hurrying along the dark cobbles toward fashionable Hanover Street. It did not take him long to reach Dr. Joseph Warren’s, where he was probably admitted by the Doctor himself. The Doctor was 34, tall and fair and blue-eyed, rather handsome. He was genial and kind and always dapper, with much charm of manner. He was a good doctor and extremely popular with Boston’s 15,000 citizens. Recently he had come to be recognized as third only to violent Samuel Adams and zealous John Hancock as a political leader of the radical Whig party. He was as much a marked man as they in the eyes of the British, and at the moment in even greater personal danger.
When the Provincial Congress of Massachusetts had adjourned in Concord last Saturday, Adams and Hancock had not dared return to Boston, but had taken residence in the comparative safety of Lexington, twelve miles away, at the home of Hancock’s kinsman, the Reverend Jonas Clark. There, until they should depart for the Continental Congress in Philadelphia next month, they felt secure from the colony’s military governor, who might at any time during the existing tension decide to snatch up the rebel leaders. Warren, however, ignoring muttered threats of hanging, had returned to town to serve as a link between them and the Whigs in Boston. Suddenly a time for action had come, and he had summoned Paul Revere.
On the face of it, Dr. Warren and Paul Revere seemed unlikely associates. Burly, forty-year-old Revere was the town’s most gifted artificer, a ruddy-faced, plain man with a wide, generous mouth, a substantial, flaring nose, and quizzical brows arching over warm, dark eyes. His blunt, capable hands had fashioned the most beautiful silver pieces in America, and that spring, in his oft-exercised role of surgeon-dentist, he had contrived and fitted for Dr. Warren two artificial ivory teeth. His skill, good taste, and sensibility ordinarily would not have been sufficient to break down the social barrier that existed between the world of the mechanic and the circle of the wellborn, Harvard-bred Joseph Warren, but between these two had grown a genuine affection, born of political rebellion and bonded by common cause and common peril.
That there was something special about the man Revere his nominal social superiors recognized; they accepted him graciously into the exclusive Long Room Club, made up of Harvard graduates, scholars, and men of affairs. The friendship of Revere and Warren had grown apace with their radicalism. More and more Warren had come to rely upon the judgment and abilities of his friend Revere, who worked closely with the Whig committees, mostly doing what he loved—“outdoor work” he called it—riding courier from the Boston committee to others as far away as Philadelphia.
During the past winter, about thirty mechanics, most likely all North Enders and friends of Revere, had formed themselves into a vigilance committee to keep an eye on the activities of the Tories and the movements of the British troops quartered in the town. Ever since General Thomas Gage, a plain, sensible man, had returned from England in the spring of 1774 as the colony’s first military governor, supported by nearly 4,000 regular troops “to keep order,” the Whigs had been expecting him to take some sort of punitive action against them and their leaders. In pairs the mechanics patrolled the streets all night.