Paul Revere Didn’t Finish his Famous Midnight Ride…and he Wasn’t Alone

By Matthew Weber

Paul Revere’s lonesome ride at midnight to warn the colonies that the “British were coming” is something that every American student learns in grade school.

The problem is that the story isn’t entirely accurate. As is the case with a lot of history, the story has changed over time, and there are reasons for that. In this case, the reason why people think that Paul Revere was the lone rider bringing the news of the British invasion is because of a poem by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow in 1860.

Longfellow’s poem changed the history of Revere’s ride in 1775 so much that when the story is taught, it usually using the version from the poem. So the question is, what really happened, and how is it different from what is usually assumed to be the truth?

On April 18, 1775, Paul Revere did participate in a system that alerted certain members of the Sons of Liberty that British troops had been seen gathering to attack military stores in Concord, Massachusetts. That part of the story is true.

Portrait of Paul Revere, 1768. Slate

The part that has gotten lost to history is that Paul Revere was just a small part of the alert system that was set up by the Sons of Liberty. Once he was warned of the impending launch of British troops, Revere had a friend place two lanterns in the Christ Church in Boston (now known as the Old North Church) that would signal to other watchers that the British planned on moving their troops by sea (in actuality they crossed the Charles River, the “by sea” is presumably from Longfellow’s poem).

Patriots from Charlestown saw the lanterns, and were sufficiently warned. From Longfellow’s poem, we are led to believe that the signals were for Paul Revere, however that is not true. Those signals were from Paul Revere to the Sons of Liberty.

There were several other ‘cogs’ in the system that the Sons of Liberty had set up. William Dawes was also sent on to warn the Minutemen, and he would later meet up with Revere before reaching Lexington. They were joined by another patriot named Dr. Samuel Prescott, who had been riding back to Boston.

So in the end, while the mainstream idea is that Paul Revere rode alone, he wasn’t alone at all. Instead, he was one of at least three riders (there were likely as many as five according to some sources) who took the message to the rest of the Boston patriots who would later fight at the battles of Lexington and Concord, the battles that would start the American Revolution.