So through the night rode Paul Revere;
And so through the night went his cry of alarm
To every Middlesex village and farm,—
A cry of defiance, and not of fear,
A voice in the darkness, a knock at the door,
And a word that shall echo forevermore!
For, borne on the night-wind of the Past,
Through all our history, to the last,
In the hour of darkness and peril and need,
The people will waken and listen to hear
The hurrying hoof-beats of that steed,
And the midnight message of Paul Revere.
— Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, Paul Revere’s Ride
Most every schoolchild in America learns the story of Paul Revere, who rode out to warn of the British march on Lexington and Concord on the eve of the American Revolutionary War. What you never hear about is that Revere was captured by the British on his ride between Lexington and Concord, never warning the latter town, but that one of his counterparts on that night escaped capture and completed the job.
Paul Revere and William Dawes both set out to warn colonists about the British march to Lexington and Concord, taking different routes to Lexington. They reunited in Lexington and set off together to warn the residents of Concord of the British Regulars’ imminent march. During their ride, they came across Dr. Samuel Prescott, who’d been out courting a woman named Lydia Mulliken. That chance encounter would prove fortuitous for the colonists.
Prescott decided to join Revere and Dawes to help warn the residents of Concord. During their ride, they were stopped by a British patrol, who attempted to take them prisoner. Revere was captured, Dawes was able to flee back towards Boston, and Prescott, who knew the area well, evaded capture and was thus able to complete the ride to Concord, where he warned his fellow colonists.
“We set off for Concord, and were overtaken by a young gentleman named Prescot, who belonged to Concord, and was going home. When we had got about half way from Lexington to Concord, the other two stopped at a house to awake the men, I kept along. When I had got about 200 yards ahead of them, I saw two officers as before. I called to my company to come up, saying here was two of them, (for I had told them what Mr. Devens told me, and of my being stopped). In an instant I saw four of them, who rode up to me with their pistols in their bands, said ”G—d d—n you, stop. If you go an inch further, you are a dead man.” Immediately Mr. Prescot came up. We attempted to get through them, but they kept before us, and swore if we did not turn in to 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 had got in, Mr. Prescot said ”Put on!” He took to the left, I to the right towards a wood at the bottom of the pasture, intending, when I gained that, to jump my horse and run afoot. 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 the command there, and much of a gentleman, asked me where I came from; I told him. He asked what time I left. I told him, he seemed surprised, said ”Sir, may I crave your name?” I answered ”My name is Revere. ”What” said he, ”Paul Revere”? I answered ”Yes.” The others abused much; but he told me not to be afraid, no one should hurt me.” — Letter from Paul Revere to Jeremy Belknap, circa 1798
Longfellow’s poem made Paul Revere rightfully famous, but he did a disservice to Dawes and Prescott. Early on the morning of 19 April 1775, it would take all of them to finish the job. It’s funny that Paul Revere’s own accounting of the night receives less attention than Longfellow’s romanticized tale. But that’s history for you, we remember it as it is told, not always as it was.