Paul Revere's Ride (poem)

"Paul Revere's Ride" is poem by an American poet Henry Wadsworth Longfellow that commemorates the actions of American patriot Paul Revere on April 18, 1775.


The poem was written on April 19, 1860 and first published in The Atlantic Monthly in January 1861. It was later published in Longfellow's Tales of a Wayside Inn in 1863. Longfellow's poem is credited with creating the national legend of Paul Revere, a previously little-known Massachusetts silversmith. Longfellow's poem begins:

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

Historic event

For the historical details of Revere's ride, see The Midnight Ride of Paul Revere.

Paul Revere's famous "Midnight Ride" occurred on the night of April 18/April 19 1775, when Revere and William Dawes rode from Boston to Lexington to warn John Hancock and Samuel Adams that British soldiers were marching from Boston to Lexington to arrest Hancock and Adams and seize the weapons stores in Concord. Revere had instructed the sexton of the Old North Church to send a signal by lantern to colonists in Charlestown as to the movements of the British troops. One lantern in the steeple would signal the army's movement by land and two lanterns would signal movement by water across the Charles River, not by sea as alleged in Longfellow's poem.

Revere and Dawes arrived in Lexington to warn Samuel Adams and John Hancock. Revere and Dawes then rode toward Concord, where the militia's arsenal was hidden. They were joined by Samuel Prescott, a doctor who happened to be in Lexington. Revere, Dawes, and Prescott were stopped by British troops in Lincoln on the road to nearby Concord. Prescott and Dawes escaped, but Revere was detained and questioned and then escorted at gunpoint by three British officers back to Lexington. Of the three riders, only Prescott arrived at Concord in time to warn the militia there.

Historical criticisms and inaccuracies

In his poem, Longfellow took many liberties with the events of the evening, most especially giving sole credit to Revere for the collective achievements of the three riders (as well as the other riders whose names do not survive to history). Longfellow also depicts the lantern signal in the Old North Church as meant for Revere and not from him, as was actually the case. Other inaccuracies include claiming that Revere rode triumphantly into Concord instead of Lexington, and a general lengthening of the time frame of the night's events. Also the line attributed to Revere, "The British are coming!", is probably not what he actually would have said as he rode through the towns. He is reported to have said "The regulars are coming out!

For a long time though, historians of the American Revolution as well as textbook writers relied almost entirely on Longfellow's poem as historical evidence - creating substantial misconceptions in the minds of the American people. In re-examining the episode, some historians in the 20th century have attempted to demythologize Paul Revere almost to the point of marginalization. While it is true that Revere was not the only rider that night, that does not refute the fact that Revere was in fact riding and successfully completed the first phase of his mission to warn Adams and Hancock. Other historians have since stressed Revere's importance, including David Hackett Fischer in his book Paul Revere's Ride (1995), an important scholarly study of Revere's role in the opening of the Revolution.

Historical impact

When written in 1860, America was on the verge of Civil War. In light of this, Longfellow created a stirring patriotic legend to remind New Englanders of the patriotism in the stories of the country's founding. He warns at the end of the poem of a coming "hour of darkness and peril and need", implying the breakup of the Union, and suggests that the "people will waken and listen to hear" the midnight message again. In 1896 Helen F. Moore, dismayed that William Dawes had been forgotten, penned a parody of Longfellow's poem.

See also

References and further reading

Notes and citations

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