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The invading army safely across the Charles River was now really on its way, but with all its precautions for secrecy, its coming was even at that moment being heralded in every direction. The ever-vigilant Sons of Liberty had noticed the unusual movements of the troops after dark, and so informed Dr. Warren.

He quickly summoned William Dawes and Paul Revere. Dawes arriving first was the first to start, and his route to Lexington was through Roxbury. So to him belongs the credit of being the first messenger out of Boston bearing the alarm of the British invasion. Paul Revere came soon after and was carried over the Charles River considerably farther down than the British soldiers were crossing, and landed in Charlestown. His route to Lexington was much shorter than the one through Roxbury.

Dr. Warren had arranged with these two men for this especial work, and so they were ready. Dawes had left home that afternoon, not even confiding to his wife his intention. Immediately after the embarkation, he was ready and on his way. He managed to elude the guard at Boston Neck by passing out with some soldiers. His ride was then through Roxbury, Brookline, Brighton, over the Charles River thereby bridge into Cambridge, at Harvard Square, and thence directly on to Lexington. So much longer was his route than Revere's, that he did not reach there until half an hour later than Revere did, and then found that Hancock and Adams had been alarmed. The work of William Dawes was efficient over the route he traveled. In Lexington, Revere waited for Dawes, and from there onwards, toward Concord, they traveled together. It is to be regretted that a more detailed account of the ride of William Dawes cannot be given. But momentary flashes of light reveal his course and his work. Revere left a narrative of his ride, and historians have fallen into the error of supposing him to be the only messenger with the warlike tidings. As we progress with this narrative we shall surmise that William Dawes and Paul Revere were but two out of many, for the exciting news radiated in every direction, and could only have been borne by riders equally as patriotic and fleet as those two.

The previous Sunday evening Paul Revere had been out to Lexington, for a conference with Hancock and Adams, and on his return that same night to Charlestown he had agreed with Col. Conant and some others to display lanterns in the North Church steeple if the troops should march; one lantern if they went by land, which meant out over Boston Neck, through Roxbury, Brookline, and Brighton, into Harvard Square, Cambridge; and two, if they crossed the Charles River in boats and landed at Lechmere Point in East Cambridge. This arrangement was made because it was surmised that no messenger would be allowed to leave Boston with the news while the troops were leaving.

When Revere left Warren his first duty was to call upon Capt. John Pulling, Jr.,[45] and arrange for the signal lanterns. Then he went to his home in North Square for his boots and surtout, and from there to where his boat was moored beneath a cob-wharf, near the present Craigie Bridge, in the north part of the town. Two friends accompanied him, Joshua Bentley and Thomas Richardson.[46]

Their point of starting was not far from the then Charlestown Ferry, the boats of which were drawn up nightly at nine o'clock. Out in the Charles River was anchored the _Somerset_, a British man-of-war. It was young flood, and the moon was rising.[47] Fearing that the noise of the oars in the oar-locks might alarm the sentry, Revere despatched one of his companions for something to muffle them with, who soon returned with a petticoat, yet warm from the body of a fair daughter of Liberty who was glad to contribute to the cause.[48] Rowing out into the river and passing to the eastward of the _Somerset_ they looked back and there shining from the tall steeple of Christ Church, the Old North, were two signal lanterns.

Far up into the valleys of the Mystic and the Charles, those twinkling rays gleamed, and their meaning picked up wherever it fell, was carried still farther to the remoter hamlets and villages beyond the hills.

When Capt. Pulling left Paul Revere he proceeded at once to the home of the sexton of Christ Church, Robert Newman, who lived on Salem St., opposite Bennett St. Pulling was a vestryman of the church, and when he demanded the keys of Newman they were handed to him without question. Pulling proceeded to the church, climbed the belfry stairs, hung two lighted lanterns out of the highest little window, forty-two feet above the sidewalk,[49] descended and made his exit through a window, and so escaped unnoticed.

These lanterns were seen by all who looked, and quickly British soldiers sought out the sexton and placed him under arrest. His denial of any knowledge as to who displayed the lanterns was believed, and he was released. Pulling, disguised as a sailor, escaped from Boston in a fishing vessel, landed in Nantucket, and did not return until after the siege.[50]

Revere and his two companions reached the Charlestown shore in safety. Their landing place was near the old battery at Gage's Wharf, not far from No. 85 of the present Water St., near City Square. They were met by Col. Conant and several others, who reported that the lanterns had been seen and interpreted. While Revere was waiting for his horse, which was furnished by Deacon Larkin, Richard Devens, one of the Committee of Safety, came and told Revere that as he came down the road from Lexington after sundown that evening, he met ten British officers, all well mounted and armed, going up the road.

It was about 11 o'clock when Revere started from the Charlestown shore on his mission to alarm. He had intended to proceed over Charlestown Neck, through Somerville to Cambridge and thence to Lexington. Just such a ride as his had been anticipated, for he had gone but a short distance along the Cambridge road beyond Charlestown Neck, when he perceived two mounted British officers halted under the shadows of a tree in a narrow part of the road.[51] Nearby was the gibbet where Mark, the negro slave, executed in 1755 for poisoning his master, hung in chains for about fifteen years.

Revere wheeled his horse and made his escape, retreating along the road to the Neck, then turning into the Mystic road, which runs over Winter Hill into Medford.[52] There he awakened the Captain of the Minute Men, Isaac Hall, and alarmed almost if not every house on the way to Lexington. His road was through West Medford to Arlington Centre, there turning at the Cooper Tavern northwesterly towards Lexington. He reached the parsonage in Lexington at midnight, which then stood on the westerly side of the Bedford Road about a quarter of a mile beyond the Common.[53] Within were sleeping John Hancock and Samuel Adams. Keeping guard outside were eight men under Sergeant William Munroe, who cautioned Revere not to make too much noise, lest he should awaken the family, who had just retired.

"Noise," exclaimed Revere, "You'll have noise enough before long. The regulars are coming out."

But he had already alarmed the inmates, for the window was raised, and the parson, Mr. Clarke, inquired who was there. Revere, without answering the question, said he wished to see Mr. Hancock.

"Come in, Revere," exclaimed Hancock, who also had been awakened, "we are not afraid of you."

Half an hour later Dawes rode up from his longer ride from Boston.[54] They partook of refreshments and together set out for Concord. Not far beyond Lexington Common, they were overtaken by a young man, Dr. Samuel Prescott, whose home was in Concord. That evening he had been visiting the young lady to whom he was engaged to be married, Miss Mulliken of Lexington. Revere spoke of the ten officers that Devens had met, and of the probability that they would attempt to stop them before they should reach Concord. It was planned to alarm every house on the way. Dr. Prescott volunteered to remain with the two riders, as his acquaintance with the people along the road might be needed to vouch for the genuineness of the message.

His company was accepted and very welcome. They rode along, alarming each household, a little over two and a half miles from Lexington Common. Dawes and Prescott had stopped at a house to arouse the inmates, and Revere was about a hundred rods ahead when he saw two men in the highway. He called loudly for Dawes and Prescott to come up, thinking to capture them, but just then two more appeared, coming through the bars from a pasture on the right, or northerly side of the road, where they had been standing in the shadow of a tree. They proved to be officers of the British Army. Dawes wheeled his horse back towards Lexington and escaped. Prescott and Revere attempted to ride towards Concord but were intercepted and ordered to move through the bars into the pasture or have their brains blown out. They preferred to do as ordered, but when a little way inside, Prescott said to Revere, "put on," and immediately jumped his horse over the stone wall at his left and disappeared down the farm road leading into a ravine where rise the headwaters of the Shawsheen River. He knew the location well, and easily followed the road through the thicket until it comes out on the Concord road again, a half-mile or so beyond. Revere, not so well acquainted with the location, headed towards the dense woods on the lower edge of the pasture, thinking to dismount within their shadows and escape on foot. Six more British officers were in hiding there, and they easily seized his horse's bridle and with pistols leveled at his breast ordered him to dismount.

And so there in Lincoln, about two and one-half miles beyond Lexington, ended the midnight rides of William Dawes and Paul Revere. Prescott had gone on to continue the alarm, Dawes had retreated towards Lexington, and Revere was a prisoner. While the latter was being secured, three or four of the officers started up the road in pursuit of Dawes, who galloped his horse furiously up to a farmhouse, where he reined in so suddenly that he was thrown to the ground. With great presence of mind, he shouted loudly for assistance, exclaiming:--

"Hallo, my boys. I've got two of 'em."

The British in pursuit supposing they were ambushed in turn, retreated and made good their escape. Dawes rose from the ground and found himself quite alone, for the house, which might have contained a force of American minute men, was empty and deserted. He mounted his horse and rode leisurely away.[55]

But Revere was not the only prisoner captured by the British officers in Lincoln. Solomon Brown, Jonathan Loring, and Elijah Sanderson, all of Lexington, had been passing along at that place about ten o'clock, the previous evening (for it is now after midnight, April 19th), and were detained and being held as prisoners when Revere was added. A one-handed peddler, Allen by name, was also a prisoner, having been captured after Brown and his two companions. For some reason, he was not long delayed, but released, and went his way.

Revere was ordered to dismount and one of the six proceeded to examine him, asking his name; if he was an express; and what time he left Boston. He answered each question truthfully and added that the troops in passing the river had got aground; that he had alarmed the country on the way up; and that 500 Americans would soon be present. This was rather disturbing news for his captors, and the one who had acted as spokesman rode to the four who had first halted the messengers. After a short conference the five returned on a gallop, and one of them, whom Revere afterwards found to be Major Mitchell of the Fifth Regiment, clapped a pistol to his head, and, calling him by name, said he should ask him some questions, and if they were not answered truthfully, he should blow his brains out. Revere answered the many questions, some of them new ones and some the same as he had already answered. He was then directed to mount, and the whole party proceeded towards Lexington. After riding about a mile Major Mitchell instructed the officer leading Revere's horse to turn him over to the Sergeant who was instructed to blow the prisoner's brains out, if he attempted to escape, or if any insults were offered to his captors on the way.

When within half a mile of Lexington meeting-house, on the Common, they heard a gun fired, and Major Mitchell, beginning to feel alarmed, asked Revere its cause, who told him it was an alarm. The other prisoners were then ordered to dismount, one of the officers cut the bridles of their horses and drove them away. Revere asked to be discharged, also, but his request was not heeded.

Coming a little nearer to the meeting-house, within sight of it, in fact, they heard a volley of gunshots, whereupon Major Mitchell called a halt, and questioned Revere again, as to the distance to Cambridge, and if there were two roads going there, etc. He then ordered him to dismount and exchange horses with the Sergeant, who cut away bridle and saddle from his own, which was a small one and well nigh exhausted, before completing the exchange.[56]

The officers then hastily disappeared down the road towards Lexington meeting-house, and Revere made his way, probably afoot, across the old cemetery and the adjacent pasture near Lexington Common, to the parsonage on Bedford Road, where he had left Hancock and Adams a few hours earlier.

The entire distance that Revere rode, from the Charlestown shore to the spot in Lincoln where he was captured, and back to Lexington Common, was between 18 and 19 miles, and the elapsed time nearly four hours.


[45] Boston Sunday Globe, Apr. 19, 1908. Article on Lanterns Hung in the Steeple.

[46] Goss, E. H., Life of Paul Revere.

[47] Full moon April 15. Moon rose on April 18, at 9.45 P. M. Low's Almanack for 1775.

[48] She was an ancestor of John R. Adan and lived in the Ochterlong-Adan house at the corner of North and North Centre Streets. Goss, Life of Paul Revere.

[49] Goss, Life of Paul Revere.

[50] Capt. John Pulling, Jr., was son of John and Martha Pulling. Born in Boston, Feb. 18, 1737. Resided on the corner of Ann and Cross Streets in 1775. Died in 1787. Goss, Life of Paul Revere.

[51] In Somerville on Washington Street, near Crescent Street.

[52] Now Broadway and Main Street, in Somerville, and Main Street in Medford.

[53] Bedford Road is now called Hancock Street and a newer road to Bedford is called Bedford Street. The old parsonage is still standing, though moved from its original location to a few rods across the street.

[54] Revere's ride was 12-86/88 miles and Dawes's ride was 16-61/88 miles.

[55] Unfortunately, no poet has ever thought the ride of William Dawes a sufficiently thrilling one for a place in poetic literature. When he left the farmhouse he rode into obscurity. For the incidents in Lincoln that he took part in, I am indebted to his granddaughter, Mrs. Mehitable May Goddard, as narrated in Henry W. Holland's book, William Dawes and his Ride With Paul Revere.

[56] Tradition says that Deacon Larkin's horse died from the effects of the strenuous ride of Revere, but it is probable that his second rider may have been equally or more of a contributory cause, as Revere's ride was not long and fast enough to kill a horse in sound condition.