John Singleton Copley’s portrait of Paul Revere
Patriot’s Day (or Patriots’ Day) commemorates the battles of Lexington and Concord, which were fought near Boston in 1775. Patriot’s Day is annually celebrated on the third Monday of April.
The first battles of the American Revolutionary War were fought on April 19, 1775. Paul Revere’s ride took place the night before.
In Boston, it also marks the first bloodshed of the American Civil War in the Baltimore riot of 1861, during which four members of the Massachusetts militia were slain and 36 injured.
Aside from the Red Sox game and the Boston Marathon which will take place tomorrow, it is one of the most significant events in our history and the history of the world.
It was at the Battle of Lexington and Concord that the shot heard round the world was fired.
On the 19th of April, 850 British troops marched from Boston to Concord. The goal was to destroy the local militia’s munitions.
Earlier in the day, the the first shot was fired in Lexington when British military ordered the colonists to disperse. They killed 8 and wounded 10 others.
By the end of the day, the British were on the run.
The courageous Minute Men, local farmers for the most part, stood against the British Major Pitcairn and the American Revolution had begun.
The casualties by the end of that day were 273 British and 94 Militia.
Paul Revere was an American silversmith, engraver, early industrialist, and a patriot in the American Revolution. It was 240 years ago today, as Henry Wadsworth Longfellow wrote, “the fate of the nation was riding”, in a literal and figurative sense, on Paul Revere and the other men riding that night to warn the colonists that the British were coming.
To some degree, it’s the stuff of legend and Longfellow took some creative license when he wrote his famous poem chronicling the events.
On April 18, 1775, Paul Revere rode through Middlesex County to warn of approaching British soldiers. That much is fact.
Paul Revere wasn’t the only rider that day. There were over thirty riders charged with the task.
Revere’s goal that night was to ride to Lexington to warn two prominent Colonial leaders, Samuel Adams and John Hancock, that their lives were in danger.
It was near midnight by the time he arrived in Lexington at the home of minister Jonas Clarke, where Adams and Hancock were staying.
Revere next rode off with William Dawes to warn the citizens of Concord. They joined up with Samuel Prescott. They stopped at every house they passed and warned the inhabitants of the British advance.
Just past the Lexington-Lincoln town line, Revere ran into a British ambush. He called for his friends to help him, thinking there were only two soldiers.
The British captured them and held them in a field. Prescott took off on his horse, Revere tried to ride off but the British caught up with him. While the British focused on Revere, Dawes also got away.
Revere told the British he warned the entire countryside the British were coming.
It soon became clear to the British that he was telling the truth. The countryside had taken up arms. The British released Revere in Lexington.
The British rode to warn the main force marching from Boston.
The 850 or so British soldiers, under orders from General Thomas Gage and led by Lieutenant Colonel Francis Smith, approached the little town of Lexington, Massachusetts.
They were looking for the munitions kept by the colonists. As they entered Lexington, more and more militiamen arrived.
Major John Pitcairn’s British light infantry was deployed and stood opposite the band of minutemen led by Captain John Parker. “Stand your ground,” Parker said to his apprehensive troops. “Don’t fire unless fired upon, but if they mean to have a war, let it begin here.”
It’s not known who fired the first shot, but wild, uncontrolled fire followed.
Revere was in Lexington to witness the beginning of the battle on Lexington Green, and the start of the Revolutionary War.
The Midnight Ride of Paul Revere
by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow
Written April 19, 1860; first published in 1863 as part of “Tales of a Wayside Inn”
Listen my children and you shall hear
Of the midnight ride of Paul Revere,
On the eighteenth of April, in Seventy-five;
Hardly a man is now alive
Who remembers that famous day and year.
He said to his friend, “If the British march
By land or sea from the town to-night,
Hang a lantern aloft in the belfry arch
Of the North Church tower as a signal light,–
One if by land, and two if by sea;
And I on the opposite shore will be,
Ready to ride and spread the alarm
Through every Middlesex village and farm,
For the country folk to be up and to arm.”
Then he said “Good-night!” and with muffled oar
Silently rowed to the Charlestown shore,
Just as the moon rose over the bay,
Where swinging wide at her moorings lay
The Somerset, British man-of-war;
A phantom ship, with each mast and spar
Across the moon like a prison bar,
And a huge black hulk, that was magnified
By its own reflection in the tide.
Meanwhile, his friend through alley and street
Wanders and watches, with eager ears,
Till in the silence around him he hears
The muster of men at the barrack door,
The sound of arms, and the tramp of feet,
And the measured tread of the grenadiers,
Marching down to their boats on the shore.
Then he climbed the tower of the Old North Church,
By the wooden stairs, with stealthy tread,
To the belfry chamber overhead,
And startled the pigeons from their perch
On the sombre rafters, that round him made
Masses and moving shapes of shade,–
By the trembling ladder, steep and tall,
To the highest window in the wall,
Where he paused to listen and look down
A moment on the roofs of the town
And the moonlight flowing over all.
Beneath, in the churchyard, lay the dead,
In their night encampment on the hill,
Wrapped in silence so deep and still
That he could hear, like a sentinel’s tread,
The watchful night-wind, as it went
Creeping along from tent to tent,
And seeming to whisper, “All is well!”
A moment only he feels the spell
Of the place and the hour, and the secret dread
Of the lonely belfry and the dead;
For suddenly all his thoughts are bent
On a shadowy something far away,
Where the river widens to meet the bay,–
A line of black that bends and floats
On the rising tide like a bridge of boats.
Meanwhile, impatient to mount and ride,
Booted and spurred, with a heavy stride
On the opposite shore walked Paul Revere.
Now he patted his horse’s side,
Now he gazed at the landscape far and near,
Then, impetuous, stamped the earth,
And turned and tightened his saddle girth;
But mostly he watched with eager search
The belfry tower of the Old North Church,
As it rose above the graves on the hill,
Lonely and spectral and sombre and still.
And lo! as he looks, on the belfry’s height
A glimmer, and then a gleam of light!
He springs to the saddle, the bridle he turns,
But lingers and gazes, till full on his sight
A second lamp in the belfry burns.
A hurry of hoofs in a village street,
A shape in the moonlight, a bulk in the dark,
And beneath, from the pebbles, in passing, a spark
Struck out by a steed flying fearless and fleet;
That was all! And yet, through the gloom and the light,
The fate of a nation was riding that night;
And the spark struck out by that steed, in his flight,
Kindled the land into flame with its heat.
He has left the village and mounted the steep,
And beneath him, tranquil and broad and deep,
Is the Mystic, meeting the ocean tides;
And under the alders that skirt its edge,
Now soft on the sand, now loud on the ledge,
Is heard the tramp of his steed as he rides.
It was twelve by the village clock
When he crossed the bridge into Medford town.
He heard the crowing of the cock,
And the barking of the farmer’s dog,
And felt the damp of the river fog,
That rises after the sun goes down.
It was one by the village clock,
When he galloped into Lexington.
He saw the gilded weathercock
Swim in the moonlight as he passed,
And the meeting-house windows, black and bare,
Gaze at him with a spectral glare,
As if they already stood aghast
At the bloody work they would look upon.
It was two by the village clock,
When he came to the bridge in Concord town.
He heard the bleating of the flock,
And the twitter of birds among the trees,
And felt the breath of the morning breeze
Blowing over the meadow brown.
And one was safe and asleep in his bed
Who at the bridge would be first to fall,
Who that day would be lying dead,
Pierced by a British musket ball.
You know the rest. In the books you have read
How the British Regulars fired and fled,—
How the farmers gave them ball for ball,
From behind each fence and farmyard wall,
Chasing the redcoats down the lane,
Then crossing the fields to emerge again
Under the trees at the turn of the road,
And only pausing to fire and load.
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 for evermore!
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.