Thanks to the epic poem by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, Paul Revere is often
credited as the sole rider who alerted the colonies that the British were coming. Yet,
despite this tale, there were many riders who went out the night of April 18 and in the
years following, warning the colonists of the approach and movement of the British
forces. Four men and one woman made late night rides, alerting the early Americans of
what dangers lay ahead. They were Paul Revere, Samuel Prescott, Israel Bissell, William Dawes, and Sybil Ludington.
Poets, historians, and schoolbooks have retold the story of the legendary ride of Paul
Revere for more than two centuries. The most popular retelling is the poem entitled
"Paul Revere's Ride" by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow. It begins:
Paul Revere's Ride
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.
Thanks to Longfellow, hardly a scholar or
school child alive does not know the name of
Paul Revere, and why he was important.
Although his role has been embellished, it
was still a significant one.
Paul Revere, born in Boston in 1734 to a
French Huguenot father and Bostonian
mother, started his young life training to be a
silversmith. After the death of his father in
1754, Paul enlisted in the provincial army to
fight in the French and Indian War for the simple fact that it was the best job around.
When the war was over, he returned to Boston to take over his father's silversmith
business, only to fall into financial difficulties during the Stamp Act of 1765. Frustrated
by this gave him cause to join the Sons of Liberty, a group of men initially responsible
for organizing early revolution efforts and develop a close association with Joseph
On the night of April 18, 1775, Joseph Warren sent Revere to send the signal to
Charlestown that the British troops were on the move. Revere rode through northern
Boston, through what is now Medford, Somerville, and Arlington warning the American
patriots about the enemy's movement.
Contrary to popular beliefs, Paul Revere never shouted the phrase "the British are
coming," and instead rode swiftly and in secrecy northward. His journey ended in
Lexington where he met other Sons of Liberty John Hancock and Samuel Adams.
Afterwards, after meeting up with William Dawes and Samuel Prescott, the three men
went their separate ways to improve their chances of escape from British officers
stationed along the road. Revere would be captured by the British, but his comrades
would be more successful in their journeys.
Joseph Warren would not just send out Paul
Revere that night, but would commission
William Dawes to make the ride to warn the
colonial minutemen as well.
In 1896, American poet Helen F. Moore would
be among the first to correct this minor
oversight of history when she composed a
parody of Longfellow's poem with her own
Tis all very well for the children to hear
Of the midnight ride of Paul Revere;
But why should my name be quite forgot,
Who rode as boldly and well, God wot?
Why should I ask? The reason is clear-
My name was Dawes and his Revere.
Dawes was born in Boston in 1745, and would
become a successful tanner and eventual member of the Boston militia. On the night of
April 18, Joseph Warren assigned Dawes, along with Revere, the mission of riding north
to Lexington to warn Samuel Adams and John Hancock of their impending arrest, and
to alert the colonial minutemen that the British were on the move. Dawes would arrive
in Lexington approximately half an hour after Revere, because the latter's horse had
supposedly been faster.
Israel Bissell Ride to Philadelphia
From the Hancock-Clark house in Lexington, the two men chose to ride onto Concord,
meeting Samuel Prescott along the way. Unfortunately, they were met along the road
by British soldiers. The three men split up, Dawes riding into the yard of a country
house along the way, where his horse threw him off and then ran away. Unable to locate
his horse, Dawes was forced to walk back to Lexington.
With permission from Joseph Warren, Paul Revere arranged for Samuel Prescott to
meet himself and Dawes on the road from Lexington to Concord the night of April 18. A
native of Concord, Massachusetts, Prescott was familiar with the territory and would be
able to serve as a guide for the two men on their nighttime journey.
When the three were met along the road to Concord by British officers and were forced
to split up, Prescott would be the only one of the three to eventually reach Concord,
carrying Warren's news to that part of the state. His knowledge of the terrain, and his
daring horsemanship allowed him to reach his destination safely.
Unlike the more famous names of Revere, Dawes, and
Prescott, Israel Bissell (also known to history as both
"Isaac" or "Trail" Bissell) was the man who made the
longest ride in mid April 1775, starting around the 13th of
that month. According to legend, a professional post rider
for the American colonists, Bissell rode four days and six
hours along the Old Post Road, covering a total of 345
miles in that time. According to the story, he shouted
along the way "To arms, to arms, the war has begun," in
the sensationalist manner which would bring the most
attention, and most likely make the best newspaper
Bissell began his journey in Watertown, Massachusetts,
just to the west of Boston, and drove his first horse so
hard that it died just outside of Worcester, Massachusetts.
He continued down to Philadelphia warning the militias
along the way.
The American poet and historian, Clay Perry, in the
manner of Longfellow, wrote an ode to Bissell with these
Listen, my children, to my epistle
Of the long, long ride of Israel Bissell,
Who outrode Paul by miles and time
But didn't rate a poet's rhyme.
Bissell had supposedly carried a message from General
Joseph Palmer, which was printed in the newspapers of
the day, including a misprint of Bissell's name. It read:
To all the friends of American liberty be it known that this morning before break of
day, a brigade, consisting of about 1,000 to 1,200 men landed at Phip's Farm at
Cambridge and marched to Lexington, where they found a company of our colony
militia in arms, upon whom they fired without any provocation and killed six men and
wounded four others. By an express from Boston, we find another brigade are now
upon their march from Boston supposed to be about 1,000. The Bearer, Tryal Russell,
is charged to alarm the country quite to Connecticut and all persons are desired to
furnish him with fresh horses as they may be needed. I have spoken with several
persons who have seen the dead and wounded. Pray let the delegates from this colony
to Connecticut see this.
The Old Post Road
Interestingly enough, because these rides are so steeped in myth, Israel Bissell himself
has become somewhat of a legend. Some historians argue that he never existed, or
that "Israel Bissell" was the name given to a number of post riders who made the journey
from Boston to Philadelphia. Palmer, who had commissioned Bissell, only dispatched
him to as far as Hartford, Connecticut, where he would pass along the message to
another courier, who continue along the next leg of the journey. This is the way that the
first Postal Service was intended to operate.
After this journey, Bissell enlisted in the Connecticut regiment and would eventually
become a sergeant under Colonel Erastus Wolcott, signer of the Declaration of
Even still, by riding from Watertown to Hartford, Bissell (or whatever his name actually
was) rode the furthest of the five riders, and should be remembered for this service to
the American colonists.
The last of the famous night riders was, surprisingly, a woman. Although she would not
make her journey until April 26, 1777, her service to the American forces was
remarkable. The daughter of Colonel Henry Ludington, Sybil, at the young age of
sixteen, would make a journey double to that of Revere (totaling 40 miles) to warn the
colonists at Danbury, Connecticut of the approach of the British.
Statue of Sybil Ludington at Carmel, New York
Commissioned by her father, who knew that Sybil was familiar with the terrain, the
young girl set out at 9pm the night of April 26 through Kent to Farmers Mills and then
returned back home again, damp from the rain and exhausted, just before dawn. The men she recruited were too late to save the town of Danbury, which had been set aflame
by the British, but they were able to drive the enemy troops from the area.
She was later commended by George Washington for her heroism. A statue of her (seen
above) was erected along her route in Carmel, New York, along with many other
markers of her historic ride.
Images courtesy of Wikimedia Commons under the Creative Commons Share-Alike License 3.0