The Truth About the Ride of Paul Revere
The First Continental Congress’s decision to boycott all trade with Britain was embraced with enthusiasm almost everywhere. Lists of suspected traitors who continued to trade were published, and tar and feathers were vigorously applied to those who ignored the boycott.
While businessmen in England fretted, the colonists’ actions were met with disdain by a majority of the members of Parliament. Lord North, the prime minister, resolved to isolate the troublemakers in Massachusetts and thus stifle dissent in other areas.
But some British knew better. Gen. Thomas Gage, the British commander in chief in America, reported that things were coming to a head.
“If you think ten thousand men are enough,” he wrote to North, “send twenty; if a million [pounds] is thought to be enough, give two. You will save both blood and treasure in the end.”
In April 1775, Gage decided to make a surprise march from his headquarters in Boston to nearby Concord, where he hoped to seize a storehouse of rebel guns and ammunition and maybe arrest some of the rebels’ leaders.
But the colonists knew he was coming, thanks to a network of spies and militia called the minutemen, aptly named because they were supposed to be ready to quickly spring into action. One of these was Paul Revere, the son of a French immigrant.
In addition to being a master silversmith, Revere made false teeth and surgical tools, and he was pretty good on a horse, too. So when word came on the night of April 18 that the British were marching on Concord, Revere and two other men, William Dawes and Doctor Samuel Prescott, rode out to warn that the British were coming.
After rousing the town of Lexington, Revere and Dawes were captured and briefly detained. But Prescott escaped and made it to Concord. (Revere became the most famous of the three, however, because a poet named Henry Wadsworth Longfellow made him the star of a wildly popular poem in 1863.)
When the 700 British soldiers marched through Lexington on the morning of April 19 on their way to Concord, they encountered 77 colonials. “Don’t fire unless fired upon,” said the minutemen’s leader, John Parker. “But if they mean to have a war, let it begin here.”
Shots were fired, and eight of the minutemen were killed. By the time the British reached Concord, however, resistance had been better organized. At a bridge near one of the entrances to the town, British soldiers were attacked, and the fighting began in earnest.
Now facing hundreds of colonists who prudently stood behind trees and in houses and fired at the redcoats, the British soldiers beat a disorganized retreat to Boston. More than 250 British were dead, missing, or wounded, compared to about 90 Americans killed or wounded.
The war of words was over. The war of blood and death had begun.