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.
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.