- Historic Sites
Rebels And Redcoats
Participants describe the opening of the American Revolution
February 1957 | Volume 8, Issue 2
John Hancock was one of his political protégés, and he was everything Sam Adams was not. By inheritance, the merchant, shipowner, and smuggler was the wealthiest man in New England. Adams had recruited him for the party when he was 28 and had but recently inherited the mighty fortune of his uncle, Thomas Hancock. The two men never developed any real affection such as that which grew between Revere and Warren, for their moral concepts were completely different: Hancock dreamed of snatching leadership from Adams, the rabble-rouser, and Adams, who was pleased to have Hancock as a figurehead and financier, distrusted him intellectually and emotionally, suspecting quite rightly that Hancock hoped to head a new aristocracy. Nevertheless, through Hancock—vain, petulant, vacillating, selfish—ran a strain of idealism not unlike Sam Adams’: a sense of charity, and a notion of fair play. It was only characteristic of him now to be contending wildly in Clark’s parlor that he should arm himself and sally forth. But shrewd, level-headed Sam Adams had brought his revolution too far along to lose one of its potential leaders. Both he and Hancock were representatives-elect to the Second Continental Congress to be held in May. Calmly he reasoned that it was their duty to flee and save themselves for the important work of the cabinet.
John was still holding out a half-hour later when William Dawes, Dr. Warren’s other messenger, who had come out of Boston over Boston Neck, arrived at Clark’s. He and Revere had no time to lose on senseless heroics. They took a bite together, rested a few minutes, and then departed to ride on to Concord to arouse more of the countryside.
As the two couriers cantered out of Lexington, they were joined by Dr. Samuel Prescott of Concord. Until this one o’clock hour, he had been courting Miss Milliken in Lexington. He struck the couriers as a “high son of liberty,” whose company they would welcome. While the three rode along, Revere told his companions about the officers who were rumored to be in the vicinity and voiced the fear that they might have split into small parties to ambush any riders on the way to Concord. He later recalled:
… When we had got about halfway from Lexington to Concord, the other two stopped at a house to awake the man. I kept along. When I had got about two hundred yards ahead of them, I saw two officers under a tree. I immediately called to my company to come up, saying here was two of them. … In an instant I saw four officers, who rode up to me with their pistols in their hands and said, “G-d d-n you, stop! If you go an inch further, you are a dead man!”
Immediately Dr. Prescott came up … we attempted to get through them, but they kept before us and swore if we did not turn into that pasture, they would blow our brains out. They had placed themselves opposite to a pair of bars and had taken the bars down. They forced us in. When we got in, Dr. Prescott said to me, “Put on!” … He … took to the left. I turned to the right … towards a wood, intending when I had gained … that to jump my horse and run afoot.
The doctor, who knew the ground, jumped his horse over the low stone wall of the pasture and headed safely for Concord. William Dawes also escaped. Paul Revere, dashing toward the wood at the bottom of the pasture, was not that fortunate: Just as I reached it, out started six officers, seized my bridle, put their pistols to my breast, ordered me to dismount, which I did. … One of them, who appeared to have command there and much of a gentleman, asked where I came from. I told him. He asked what time I left. … I told him. He seemed surprised. He said, “Sir, may I crave your name?” I answered, “My name is … Revere.” “What?” said he …. “Paul Revere?” I answered … “Yes.” The others abused me much, but he told me not to be afraid, no one … should … hurt me.
Revere then glibly told the officer that the British would “miss their aim,” because he had alarmed “the country all the way up” from Boston. Hoping to confuse the patrol and convince it to release him, and thus to gain time for the men who were being called out, he blandly lied that the British boats had run aground; by the time the delayed troops reached Lexington, he warned, 500 men would fall upon them.
The patrol, seeming very agitated, grilled him closely. They already had rounded up four countrymen who had been found riding in the night. The commanding officer herded his prisoners together and turned back toward Lexington. To Revere he announced, “We are now going toward your friends, and if you attempt to run, or we are insulted, we will blow your brains out.”
Revere coolly told him he might do as he pleased. According to Revere: We rode down towards Lexington a … pretty smart pace …. I was often insulted by the officers … calling me damned rebel, etc., etc. The officer who led me said I was in a d-m-d critical situation. I told him I was sensible of it. After we had got about a mile I was delivered … to … a sergeant to lead … who was ordered to take out his pistol … and … should I run to execute the major’s sentence. When we got within about half a mile of the Lexington Meeting House, we heard a gun fired. The major asked me what … that was for. I told him to alarm the country.
The Major must have figured that there was little time to lose if he was to join the advancing British main force and inform its officers that the rebels were awake and waiting. He ordered the girths and bridles on the four countrymen’s horses cut and the horses driven afield, and told the men to go home afoot.