- Historic Sites
Rebels And Redcoats
Participants describe the opening of the American Revolution
February 1957 | Volume 8, Issue 2
Not only the Whig leaders were in jeopardy, but also a certain valuable cache in the town of Concord, about seventeen miles to the northwest. There, with typical New England prudence and foresight, the radicals already had stockpiled and concealed against the day of need muskets and cannon, musket balls and cartridges, hundreds of barrels of gunpowder, reams of cartridge paper, spades, axes, medicine chests, tents, hogsheads of flour, pork, beef, salt, boxes of candles, wooden spoons, dishes, canteens, casks of wine and raisins, and other supplies for war.
On Saturday night, April 15, three nights ago, the patrolling mechanics began to suspect that General Gage meant to move his troops, perhaps in a raid on the party chiefs and the supplies at Concord. The rowboats which belonged to the British naval ships anchored in the harbor had previously been hauled up for repairs, but about midnight they were all launched and moored under the sterns of the men-of-war. The surreptitious launching of the boats reminded the patrol that Gage’s crack grenadier companies, his biggest men, his heavy-duty troops, and the light infantry companies, his fast active troops trained as flankers, had been detached from their regiments earlier in the day on undesignated special duty. The two facts together suggested that something was astir.
When the General marched his troops into the country for exercise, it was usually from the southward across Boston Neck and through the hamlet of Roxbury, or northward across the Charles River by ferry and through Charlestown. He would know that any expedition through these towns was sure to be detected. Was he now shrewdly planning to move troops swiftly one night by boat across Back Bay to East Cambridge and steal a march on the unsuspecting patriots by lonely country lanes that led into the road to Concord?
Nothing more happened that Saturday night, the fifteenth.
On Sunday morning, sent by Dr. Warren, Paul Revere rode to Lexington to warn Sam Adams and John Hancock that Gage soon might make a sudden march to seize both them and the Concord stores.
Riding back to Boston, Revere wondered if Gage, when he marched, would post extra guards at the Charlestown Ferry and the town gates on Boston Neck to prevent couriers from leaving Boston to alert the countryside. So he turned toward Charlestown. From there, across the broad mouth of the Charles, Boston was plainly visible, its steeples pricking the sky. Revere hunted up Colonel William Conant, a high Whig, and several “other gentlemen” and with them he arranged signals: If General Gage should leave Boston by water, Revere would show two lanterns in the North Church tower; if the redcoats marched over Boston Neck and out of town by land, he would show one lantern. He himself would endeavor to reach Charlestown with details, but if he should fail, the lanterns would tell the Colonel what warning he must send into the countryside.
Monday, the seventeenth, dreary and threatening rain, and this Tuesday, the eighteenth, showery but turning clear and cold, were taut with rumors. Many of the British regulars were billeted in private houses. Profane, honest, likable old Major John Pitcairn of the marines was quartered almost next door to the Reveres in North Square. Officers of the Royal Irish and the 43rd were in Back Street close by. Scarcely a house with an extra bed but quartered one or more of His Majesty’s troops. And it was obvious to anyone that they were going on active duty.
So by ten o’clock at night, when the unknown messenger brought Dr. Warren’s summons to North Square, Paul Revere was waiting for it. What took place at Dr. Warren’s house that Tuesday night is Revere’s own recollection: … Dr. Warren … begged that I would immediately set off for Lexington, where Messrs. Hancock and Adams were, and acquaint them of the movement and that it was thought they were the objects …. I found he had sent an express by land to Lexington, a Mr. William Dawes …. I left Dr. Warren, called upon a friend and desired him to make the signals. I then went home, took my boots and surtout, went to the north part of the town, where I had kept a boat. Two friends rowed me across Charles River, a little to the eastward where the Somerset man-of-war lay. It was then young flood, the ship was winding, and the moon was rising. They landed me on the Charlestown side. When I got into town I met Colonel Conant and several others. They said they had seen our signals. I told them what was acting and went to get me a horse. I got a horse of Deacon [John] Larkin. While the horse was preparing, Richard Devens, Esquire, who was one of the Committee of Safety, came to me and told me that he came down the road from Lexington after sundown that evening, that he met ten British officers, all well mounted and armed, going up the road.
The British patrol, muffled in their long blue cloaks, had asked Devens where “Clark’s tavern” was, leading him to suspect that the men knew that Adams and Hancock were at Clark’s but were unaware that Clark’s was a parsonage, not a public house. Devens had sent a warning to the Reverend Jonas Clark that the patrol evidently was seeking his residence and his guests.
Revere mounted Deacon Larkin’s horse and, with Devens’ warning of the British troop in mind, spurred through slumbering Charlestown and out over Charlestown Neck, with the Mystic on his right and the Charles glistening on his left. It was now about eleven o’clock. The night was chill but pleasant, and the moon shone bright.