- Historic Sites
Rebels And Redcoats
Participants describe the opening of the American Revolution
February 1957 | Volume 8, Issue 2
Through the desolate salt marshes, clay pits, and scrub, where the smell of the sea rose strong and rank, Revere bore left, taking the short road through Cambridge to Lexington. He came in sight of the awesome gibbet where the mummified body of Captain Codman’s Mark, who had conspired in poisoning his master, had hung in chains for twenty years as a warning against insurrection. The sandy road narrowed where it approached woods. Suddenly, Revere saw two horsemen ahead, close in the shadow of a spreading tree. He was near enough to recognize their British holsters and cockades. One started toward him, and the other trotted up the road to head him off. Revere spun short about, raked his horse’s flanks, and “rode upon a full gallop for Mystic Road.” Over his shoulder he saw his pursuer’s heavy charger stumble into a clay pond.
“I got clear of him,” Revere told later, “and went through Medford, over the bridge, and up to Menotomy. In Medford I awakened the captain of the minutemen. And after that I alarmed almost every house till I got to Lexington.”
Lexington was a cluster of pleasant, roomy country houses, where the road from Boston forked left to Concord and right to Bedford. On the triangular village common stood a big, barnlike meetinghouse with an awkward detached wooden belfry in the yard. Across the road was John Buckman’s popular tavern, strangely alight at this late hour, while the large dwellings on the other side of the green slept quietly in the moonlight.
Revere flanked the common and turned down the Bedford Road about a quarter of a mile to Clark’s rambling frame house, snuggled in a grove of trees.
To his surprise, he found a militia guard at the door! Earlier in the evening, a townsman returning from the Boston market had told Orderly Sergeant William Munroe of the Lexington minutemen that he had seen the patrol of British officers on the road. The Sergeant, sensitive to the temper of the day, assumed they were out for no good; he guessed that the important visitors at Clark’s, for whom he as militia officer felt responsible, might be the object of a raid. To protect them from molestation, he posted himself and eight other minutemen around the parsonage as a guard.
When Revere trotted up and demanded entrance, Sergeant Munroe said the family had retired. Adams and Hancock had settled down for the night, asking Munroe not to disturb them by any noise in the yard.
“Noise!” shouted Revere. “You’ll have noise enough before long. The regulars are coming out!”
John Hancock heard the commotion in the yard and recognized Revere’s hearty voice. From the house he called, “Come in, Revere. We are not afraid of you!”
Both Hancock and Sam Adams ushered him in, eager to know what tidings had brought him to their door at midnight. His news shattered the peace of the household. John Hancock’s formidable old aunt and his fiancée, pert, pretty Dorothy Quincy, were also guests of the minister and his wife. They all crowded noisily about Revere, while frail, dandified John theatrically proclaimed he would take up a gun and join the Lexington minutemen if they opposed the British march. Sam Adams tried to persuade him not to act foolishly, but Hancock was insistent; somewhere in this compulsive fervor was the key to one of Hancock’s weaknesses as a revolutionary.
Revere, who knew both Hancock and Adams well, must have been faintly amused by the contrast between them at this moment when their dissimilarities were thrown into bold relief. Sam Adams at 52 appeared to be an old man. Although his gray eyes were clear and his thin mouth and thick jaw were firm and often stern, his hair was a thinning gray and his voice and hands shook with palsy. In the rusty, patched clothes he wore, he looked like a seedy failure, and by economic standards he was one. He had run indifferently through a modest inheritance because he simply could not manage business or money. He was so easygoing, softhearted, and impractical that, what with dipping into his collections for small personal sums, ignoring delinquencies, and neglecting his records, he was discovered at the end of ten years to be in arrears nearly £7,000.
Fortunately, just as he faced jail for defalcation, passage of the Stamp Act diverted attention from his shortages, and he swept into power as a radical member of the Massachusetts House of Representatives and quickly rose from an obscure work horse of the radical wing of the Whig party to its supreme leadership. Eschewing personal glory, he became a self-effacing, single-minded man, unwavering in his devotion to republican principles and content to stand behind the scene and maneuver more colorful men into rebellion. At last he found success in the specialized field of political revolution. He was a dedicated, realistic revolutionary, who did not waste himself in gestures, histrionics, or in courting personal popularity.