The Irony of Paul Revere

I stand corrected!: Darn, I hate to be wrong!. Nevertheless, it turns out Paul Revere did make it as far as Lexington to warn Hancock and Adams, but  still not as far as Concord to warn the Patriots to hide the munitions. (Word got to them anyway, probably via Dr. Prescott as well as the many others that Revere and Dawes warned along the way.)

I have Howard Giles Unger’s biography, John  Hancock: Merchant King and American Patriot to thank for this new piece of learning. In it, he quotes Revere’s own writings:

“I alarmed almost every house till I got to Lexingto. I found Messrs. Hancock and Adams at the Reverend Mr. Clark[e]’s…We refreshed ourselves and set off for Concord to secure the stores.”
Pg 192 
As I mentioned below in my original post, Revere and Dawes were captured on the way to Concord. To the best of my knowledge, the other ironies still hold!


Many of us might never have known who Paul Revere was if not for Longfellow’s poem.

Listen my children and you shall hear
Of the midnight ride of Paul Revere…

As a child, Revere always struck me as a terribly romantic figure, riding through the dark of night, warning the countryside that “the British are coming!”

But as I’ve gotten older, several things about the real "Midnight Ride of Paul Revere" strike me as ironic.

The Midnight Ride of Paul Revere
source: Wikimedia Commons
First, the purpose of the ride wasn’t to warn the countryside that the British were coming. He was expressly headed toward Lexington to warn Samuel Adams and John Hancock that the British regulars were coming, probably intending to arrest them.

Second, while he did shout his warning as he rode to Lexington, setting off a string of other riders who helped spread the news, he didn’t shout “the British are coming.” More specifically, historians claim he shouted ‘the Regulars are coming.” The problem with the term “British” is that Revere made his famous ride in April of 1775 mere hours before the battles of Lexington and Concord. At that time, most of the Colonists would have thought of themselves as “British” so the memorialized cry would have been confusing at best.

Third, Revere did not ride alone, and while Lexington was their original destination, the riders decided to continue on to Concord where the munitions were stored. His companions were William Dawes and Dr. Samuel Prescott. (More on the good doctor in a moment!) Of the three, I believe Prescott was the only one to have actually reached the ultimate destination. Dawes fell off his horse after evading British capture.

Revere was not so lucky, being captured and interrogated by the British. Reports are that he was happy to answer their questions, telling them all about the drumming they would get if they met up with the militia at Lexington and Concord. The British eventually decided they would be better off without the effusive Revere undermining their morale and let him go. (I admit to having a tendency to romanticize history, so I apologize to any historians if I ascribed a motivation to the British that did not exist, but they did let him go once the battle got underway.) Revere walked back to Lexington in time to watch the battle.
Not totallyforgotten, William Dawes has a plaque
dedicated to him in Cambridge, Massachusettes. I could
not find anything for Prescott - or his girlfirend!
source: Wikimedia Commons
Now back to Dr. Prescott. Although he alone made it to Concord, he only started the ride in Lexington. And, evidently, the only reason he met up with Dawes and Revere is because he happened to be leaving his girlfriend’s house at 1AM. I’ve also heard that it was a tavern, that his girlfriend was the tavern owner’s wife, and, after having been caught, he had decided to take his chances with the British instead of an angry husband.

So why did Longfellow choose to memorialize Paul Revere? Well, I suppose “the Midnight Ride of Dr. Prescott” might have had too much of a double entendre more than 100 years later when Longfellow published his poem. I’m not sure why poor Mr. Dawes got so little recognition. But as for Revere, perhaps Longfellow wanted to use the “one if by land, two if by sea” line and that system of signals was Revere’s.  As a writer, the plot of my story has changed more than once because of a line I desperately wanted to use. (My personal irony is that I often throw away the line in subsequent drafts and keep the plot changes!)

In a fourth and final irony, “sea” did not refer the Atlantic Ocean, merely the Charles River which separated Boston from Charlestown.



  1. Great overview. Another irony about that poem is that Revere didn't look for the signal of the lamps, but actually told the deacon himself to up the lamps for other riders, in case he didn't get across the river.

    And I had to laugh at "The Midnight Ride of Dr. Prescott." Never heard about the woman being married. Seems most accounts say she was his fiance, unless that's simply the cleaner version.

    Just looked about, and this gives a good overview, with a funny bit about why the poem focuses on Revere.

  2. As I reread my post on April 18th, 2014 the anniversary of Paul Revere's ride, I want to touch on something. I mentioned that Revere undermined the British morale during his brief period of captivity. I really did not make that up, even though the way I wrote it sounds like I did. I remember reading in one of my vast array of history books in my collection (not novels) that he was a bit hard to handle, taunting them the entire time. Reading that made Revere another one of my favorites.