“One if by land, two if by sea”- the supposed famous words spoken by Paul Revere to Colonel William Conant, an American soldier stationed in the steeple of the North Church in Boston, waiting to send the signal of the proposed path of the British invasion on April 18, 1775 to Paul Revere. According to the legend, Paul Revere was to be placed across the Boston Bay from the North Church waiting for the signal from Colonel Conant. The Colonel was to hang one lantern in the steeple of the church if the British showed signs of an invasion on land, or display two lanterns in the spire if evidence existed a sea invasion by the British. Once Paul Revere saw the two signal lanterns hanging in the steeple, signaling the imminent approach by sea of the British forces, he began his ride from Charlestown to Lexington to Concord, warning the citizens of these towns of an approaching British invasion. So began the famed “midnight ride of Paul Revere,” a ride which warned the colonists of a forthcoming revolution that would shape the future of America.
During the early development stages of our country, there came a time when the overpowering mother country of Britain imposed a new system of taxation to control the colonies and the colonists. The Sugar Act of 1764 was the first step in bringing the new taxation system into affect. The Sugar Act, which replaced the Molasses Act of 1733, was designed to raise income without regulating the trading system that the colonies had established. Soon, Britain began to establish methods of taxes without any method of representation of the colonies and this angered the colonists. The power of Parliament to tax the colonies for the purpose of trade regulation had always been accepted in theory, but not always in practice. But the ability of Parliament to tax for improving the revenue of the kingdom was something new to the colonists. The power the Parliament did have with regards to taxation of the colonies was stated in the Revenue Act of 1764 and since the power of taxation for the improvement of the kingdom was new to the colonists, it was debatable. The last system of taxation that was opposed on the colonists was the Stamp Act of 1765.
Under the Stamp Act, an official profits stamp was to placed on any official document, license, lease, land contract, guide, or newspaper. The colonists and even the British merchants debated the series of taxes with the Parliament. The British merchants felt the effects of the boycotts by the colonies and in 1766; Parliament repealed the Stamp Act and customized the Sugar Act after much pressure of British merchants. In 1767, Charles Townshend, the British Chancellor of the Exchequer, who was called on by the Parliament to set up an entirely new economic program regarding the colonies introduced a whole new series of measures. Townshend’s plan included the decline of taxes upon the colonies by the British by making the collection of duties levied on American trade more efficient. Townshend’s plan also included the tightening of the customs administration and put duties on paper, lead, glass, and tea. The Boston Tea Party was an obvious demonstration of the colonist’s disgust in their treatment from Britain. A group of patriots, dressed as Mohawk Indians, had boarded a fleet of British ships and destroyed 23,000 pounds of monopolized tea by throwing it into Boston Harbor. After, the British Parliament continued to constantly surround the colonies, but other governments rallied to the aid of the colonists. And on May 10, 1775, the Second Continental Congress met and they realized what had to be done.
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. (Longfellow)
It was decided that, on Saturday, April 15, 1775, something was going to happen. A move by the British was truly inevitable. Paul Revere was to warn Sam Adams and John Hancock, both staying with the Reverend Jonas Clark in Lexington, of the probable British invasion. Not only was Revere to notify Adams and Hancock of a possible attack, he was also to direct the two patriots to hide the Concord weapons supply. On his way back to Boston, Paul Revere stopped in Charlestown to seek out some of the patriots and militiaman to set up a signal plan to relay the path of the British attack to Revere and other messengers. He found Colonel William Conant, a patriot and militiaman of the area. Revere and Contant decided on using lanterns to relay the signal to the messengers using the lanterns. Once the order was given, Paul Revere made his way back across Boston to the Cambridge shores to await the signal. During his ride across the bay, he glided right under the H.M.S. Somerset. On the shores of Cambridge he awaited his horse, an animal that belonged to Deacon Larkin.
The British made their first move on the eighteenth around two o’clock in the morning a move that was expected. The troops were shaken by their commanding officers that morning instead of going through the usual wake up call in order to keep suspicion low and noise to a minimum. Early in the morning, companies of half-awake British soldiers marched through Boston Common and the Park Square towards the waterfront. The British troops marched in complete silence through the town as they approached the harbor and silenced any noise that might disturb or awake anybody in the area. They strangled dogs that awoke in order to end the barking. In the morning, the British reached the waterfront and Paul Revere began his ride from Charlestown. William Dawes started over Boston Neck with the same destination.
On April eighteenth, Paul Revere was awakened at his North Square home and he headed, without a sound, for the north shore of Boston. The ship H.M.S. Somerset was anchored in the bay as Revere snuck past it on his way to his horse. While he was rowing across Boston Bay, he saw two lanterns hanging in the steeple of the Old North Church–the British were arriving by sea. Once he saw the signal, he mounted his horse and started his journey. His journey would take him to Monotony (now Arlington), and then to Lexington, and finally to Concord. The regulars, or British soldiers, were out and were surely heading for the country roads of Concord. Two well-traveled roads ran to Concord. The first path, the shorter of the two, ran through Charlestown, Medford, Menotomy, and Lexington. The other road swung around Boston Neck near Roxbury to Cambridge and then to Menotomy where it joined the first path.
Paul Revere, choosing the first path, attempted to take a shortcut near Medford but was almost captured by a British patrol squad. He escaped by hard riding and would reach Lexington around midnight. During his ride he stopped only briefly to knock on a few doors and throw gravel at a few windows. After each stop, Revere knew it was safe to proceed because the people he awoke would get the word moving, as this was the prearranged plan. Also during his ride, he roused militiamen in Medford and Menotomy and awoke as many sleepers as he could between Menotomy and Lexington. Revere made good time. Once Revere arrived in Lexington, he went to the household of Reverend Jonas Clark and got Sam Adams and John Hancock out of bed. The three of them sat down to wait for Dawes, who rode into Lexington a half an hour later. This was, in all truth, the end of Paul Reveres legendary ride.
When Paul Revere arrived at the Clark house, he was stopped by the guards and was told that the family had just retired and did not want any noise. Revere responded, “Noise! You’ll have noise enough before long. The regulars are coming out!” Once he had made it into the house and warned Adams and Hancock, he waited for William Dawes to arrive. After Dawes arrived, he and Revere rode for Concord, and soon were accompanied by Dr. Samuel Prescott. As soon as the three riders met, patrolling British officers were upon them. Revere was captured and released to head back to Lexington by foot. William Dawes was thrown from his horse and escaped into the woods. Dr. Prescott, who knew the land extremely well, jumped his horse over a wall and made it to Concord with the news. When the news made it to Concord, the people of the village worked tirelessly to gather carts, packing stores and supplies. Everything was then rolled off to Worcester. “Thanks to the charms of moonlight and Miss Mulliken, the patriots finished hiding most of the stores before morning”.
After the word of advancing British forces spread, the militiamen had begun to gather and American forces were coming together to reshape their future. The Lexington militia company had gathered on Lexington Green, shortly after Paul Revere rode in. There they waited for over an hour with no idea on what to do. Captain John Parker, the head of the Lexington militia had gathered them with hopes that they might decide what to do. Parker retired his men, but ordered them to be ready at a moment’s notice. Soon the men were called back into action for the British were seen approaching Lexington Green. There was immediate confusion. Some of the men failed to hear the drums that were to call them to order and others were lacking ammunition and were scurrying about to prepare themselves. But in just a few minutes, Captain Parker had two ranks of over seventy men lined up on Lexington Green. Within a few minutes, British soldiers, led by Pitcairn, was in sight and dividing themselves into a battlefield formation as they came upon Lexington Green. What happened next is still debated. A shot was fired, and neither side would claim responsibility for this first act of war. But when it was over, two massive British volleys had been fired, answered by only one, weak volley of American musket fire and eight militiamen were dead and ten wounded, including Captain Parker. But this was only the start of the Revolutionary War. In the years to come, many Americans and British soldiers would die in their battle to stand up for a country and a future that they believed in. As for Paul Revere, his role in calling the patriots, the minutemen, the militia of the countryside together and up in arms will remain as imperative to the study of American history as any battle or shot that took place in the Revolution of America.