"Two arms! Two arms! Every man has two arms! Also, the British are coming."
Anyone who every opened a history book issued to them by their school, has probably seen the above picture. It depicts the Boston Massacre, one of the straws that broke the back of the colonists, and drove them to revolution. The above picture was drawn, engraved by, and sold by a silver smith, Paul Revere.
Every American knows about Paul Revere. Who hasn't heard the story of his midnight ride, and how he rode from town to town, alerting the minute men of the English troops who were marching to capture a store of arms at Concord. How, if it weren't for Paul Revere, the militia wouldn't have met the English on the green at Lexington, where the 'Shot Heard Around the World' was fired.
If it weren't for Paul Revere, the British would have marched from Boston to Concord, and captured all the supplies stored there, and killed anyone who stood in their way.
Except, he didn't, and they wouldn't.
Let's start at the beginning.
American spies discovered that the British knew about the military supplies stored at Concord, and they warned the leaders of that fact. On April 7th, 1775, those supplies were moved out of Concord.
On April 14th, British general Gage received orders to disarm the rebels. (these orders were issued in January, and took that long to be delivered. Talk about snail mail, eh?) In those days, commanders in the field had great latitude in executing their orders. Gage ordered one of his units:
"with utmost expedition and secrecy to Concord, where you will seize and destroy... all Military stores.... But you will take care that the soldiers do not plunder the inhabitants or hurt private property."
Revere and another man, William Dawes, that the British were going to take ship from Boston to Cambridge, and then march to Concord via Lexington. Knowing the supplies had been moved, they were sent to alert the militia and warn the rebel leaders, Sam Adams and John Hancock.
So, off they rode. They did not yell the now famous phrase, "The British are coming, the British are coming!" The reasons for that are, first, the colonists considered themselves British. And second, this was a mission that required stealth. Not all the colonists were of the rebellious sort, and some would have warned the British soldiers that the militias had been alerted.
Revere and Dawes did spread the word, though, in several small towns. And the men in these towns took off to warn others, so that there were actually 40 men or so riding and warning people about the British.
They arrived at Lexington and warned Adams and Hancock, and discussed their options. It was decided that they would continue on to Concord, and the troops would muster to meet the British at Lexington. They were also joined by a friend, Dr. Samuel Prescott.
They hadn't gone far when they were stopped by a British road block. Dawes and Prescott spurred their horses and got away. Revere was taken into custody and questioned by the soldiers.
He sang like a canary.
He told the soldiers that the alarm had been raised and the militias were preparing for the British. The soldiers headed towards Lexington to confirm the story, but heard a gunshot that Revere told them was a signal to the militias. They went further, and the town bells started ringing. The British were told that if the bells were ringing, the militias were ready.
The soldiers let Revere go, but took his horse and went off to warn their own troops. Revere walked to the house where Adams and Hancock were staying, and eventually left with them when the fighting on Lexington Green erupted.
Reading through that story, you might say, what's the big deal? So history has maybe exaggerated his ride a bit, but so what? He made the ride and warned people, didn't he?
Yes. He warned people. Including the British. Instead of the British cresting a hill to be surprised by armed militias on Lexington Green, they were prepared for them, and in proper formation. All surprise for the rebels was lost.
And, while he warned people, so did 39 other men. What about their action that night? Why does history neglect them? And, why is the fact Revere was captured generally ignored?
We can blame one person: Henry Wadsworth Longfellow.
His poem, "The Midnight Ride of Paul Revere" is what most people know about Revere. And, unfortunately, it's what our educators have decided to teach.
And, why did Longfellow's poem feature Revere? You try to rhyme with Prescott. Or Dawes.
Yes, he made a contribution to the nights events, but he was far from the only one.
Now, let's talk about the picture I started with. If you look at it, in the lower right, it is clearly marked as being the work of Paul Revere. And, in a way it is. He did draw it, engrave it, and sell it. But, what he didn't tell anyone was, it wasn't an original work.
He copied the drawing from another artist, Henry Pelham. The picture that was produced as a broad sheet and helped spark the fire in the colonists to revolt, was a piece of plagiarized work. (where was the MPAA, huh?)
American students are taught that Paul Revere is a hero of the revolution. But the plain and simple fact is, if Longfellow hadn't written about him, his name would be as obscure as the rest of the riders names from that night.
Revere went on to serve as an officer in the continental army, but he wasn't a popular person with his troops or other officers. In fact, the personality conflicts led to many complaints against him, and in 1779, he was accused, (falsely) of being responsible for the Penobscot disaster. (he asked for, and was granted a full courts marshall in 1782, and was exonerated of all charges. The actual commanders tried to make him the scapegoat)
But, like I said earlier, if it wasn't for Longfellow, no one would know who Paul Revere was. Not to diminish his actual contributions to the formation of America, but he is given more credit than he deserves.
Tomorrow Monday, I'll fill you in on something about the Revolutionary War that no school will teach you about, and that will change everything you know, or think you know, about the beginnings of a free America.