Todd Andrlik—over at the Journal of the Americn Revolution—corrects some myths about Paul Revere perpetuated by some modern day historians.
In trying to dispel Longfellow’s myth of a lone hero, modern scholars have portrayed Revere as just one rider among dozens on 18-19 April 1775, and argued that his previous rides for the Patriot cause might have been more important.
HOW PAUL REVERE’S RIDE WAS PUBLISHED AND CENSORED IN 1775
Because of Henry Wadsworth Longfellow’s famous poem, “Paul Revere’s Ride,” most people think that Revere was critical to the start of the Revolutionary War. In trying to dispel Longfellow’s myth of a lone hero, modern scholars have portrayed Revere as just one rider among dozens on 18-19 April 1775, and argued that his previous rides for the Patriot cause might have been more important. A survey of newspapers from 1774 and 1775 shows that in fact those earlier rides had made Revere prominent enough that he did stand out in reports of the fighting at Lexington and Concord, even as Massachusetts authorities kept the extent of his activities quiet.
Painting depicting the midnight ride of Paul Revere, 1937. Artist A.L. Ripley. Source: National Archives.
Paul Revere was a man who wore many hats. He was well known throughout New England for his engravings, his silver work, his Masonic fellowship and his political activity. Plus, in 1774 and early 1775, Revere worked as an express rider for the Boston Committee of Correspondence and the Massachusetts Committee of Safety. He frequently carried letters, newspapers and other important communication between cities, including Boston, Hartford, New York and Philadelphia. Revere’s early dispatches related to some of the biggest American events of the eighteenth century, including the destruction of the tea, the Boston Port Bill and the Suffolk Resolves. In December 1774, at the age of 39, he rode to Portsmouth to alert local Patriot leaders that the Royal Navy was on its way to seize gunpowder and arms from Fort William and Mary. Newspaper printers would eagerly print Revere’s tidings, frequently attributing the particular intelligence to being delivered by “Mr. Paul Revere,” and often emphasizing his name in all capital letters. At least 33 New England newspaper issues (from 10 different New England titles) prominently plugged Paul Revere, the express, during the 10-month window between 9 May 1774 and 12 March 1775. Even newspapers in the middle and southern colonies, as well as overseas, frequently re-attributed content from Philadelphia, New York and Boston to Paul Revere’s dispatches. This extraordinary volume of newspaper coverage certainly cemented Revere’s popular status as the principal Patriot messenger.
Revere’s name also appeared in the newspaper reports of the Battle of Lexington and Concord, but in notably different ways. Among the frenzy of private correspondence racing across the American countryside in late April 1775, at least two letters originating from the Hartford area mentioned Paul Revere by name. Being the seat of Connecticut government and the middle point between New York and Boston, Hartford was a stopping point during Revere’s rides in 1774 and Hartford-area Patriots knew him well.[iii] Printers in New York and Philadelphia read and typeset portions of the Connecticut letters as they hurried to piece together bits of oral, manuscript and printed intelligence to corroborate accounts of Lexington and Concord. As a result, the Revere-related intelligence differs per city.
A tip o’ the hat to AmmoLand.
- ☞ Paul Revere’s Ride—In His Own Words (1783).
- ☞ Paul Revere’s Ride—In His Own Words (1798).
- ☞ Paul Revere’s Ride.—Longfellow.