“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.”
So begins Henry Wadsworth Longfellow’s famed poem, which lionized Paul Revere into the legend we know today. Longfellow’s poem, however, was partly fictitious and more heavily riddled with literary flourishes than with historical fact.
On this day on April 18 in 1775, Dr. Joseph Warren received word that the British were planning to arrest patriot leaders Samuel Adams and John Hancock, who were staying at a house in Lexington. He also learned that the Redcoats had plans to march to Concord after to capture and destroy the colonists’ military supplies.
At once, he alerted fellow patriots Paul Revere, William Dawes, and Samuel Prescott to warn the militia and leaders.
Revere most likely did not utter “The British are coming,” since technically, the colonist were still British citizens. At the time, other labels used to distinguish the British were “loyalists,” “red coats,” or “regulars.”
Relatively obscure before Longfellow penned a poem on the subject, Revere was an artist and one of the leaders in the Boston Tea Party. His propaganda etching on the Boston Massacre heavily influenced the colonists to take up arms and fight for independence.
Why Longfellow chose to highlight Revere and not the other riders that night is unclear. Whatever the poet’s reasoning, his poem made a great impact on the American story. Now we can appreciate the sacrifices and dangers Revere and others in the Revolution attempted to give us life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.