Paul Revere’s True Account of the Midnight Ride

The enduring image of a lone Patriot nightrider rousing the countryside to arms has been burnished in American poems, books, and movies for two and a quarter centuries. The underlying message is always the same: A single brave man can make all the difference. In a letter written in 1798 to Massachusetts Historical Society founder Dr. Jeremy Belknap, Paul Revere described his actual adventures during his ‘Midnight Ride’ of April 18-19, 1775.

His mission was to warn of danger to Patriots outside Boston, particularly to two leaders who were opposing the government — Samuel Adams and John Hancock. Revere began his account by recalling suspicious activities of British forces in Boston during the week preceding April 18. His original letter to Belknap is the property of the Massachusetts Historical Society.

On Tuesday evening, the 18th, it was observed that a number of soldiers were marching towards the bottom of the Common. About 10 o’clock, Dr. Warren [Joseph Warren, one of the few Patriot leaders who had remained in Boston] sent in great haste for me and begged that I would immediately set off for Lexington, where Messrs. Hancock and Adams were, and acquaint them of the movement, and that it was thought they were the objects.

When I got to Dr. Warren’s house, I found he had sent an express [fast messenger] by land to Lexington — a Mr. William Daws [Dawes]. The Sunday before, by desire of Dr. Warren, I had been to Lexington, to Messrs. Hancock and Adams, who were at the Rev. Mr. Clark’s. I returned at night through Charlestown; there I agreed with a Colonel Conant [provincial militia veteran William Conant] and some other gentlemen that if the British went out by water, we would show two lanthorns [lanterns] in the North Church steeple; and if by land, one, as a signal; for we were apprehensive it would be difficult to cross the Charles River or get over Boston Neck. I left Dr. Warren, called upon a friend and desired him to make the signals.

I then went home … went to the north part of the town, where I had kept a boat; two friends rowed me across Charles River, a little to the eastward where the man-of-war Somerset lay. It was then young flood, the ship was winding, and the moon was rising. They landed me on the Charlestown side. When I got into town, I met Colonel Conant and several others; they said they had seen our signals. I told them what was acting [happening], and went to get me a horse; I got a horse of Deacon Larkin. While the horse was preparing, Richard Devens, Esq., who was one of the Committee of Safety, came to me and told me that he came down the road from Lexington after sundown that evening; that he met ten British officers, all well mounted, and armed, going up the road.

I set off upon a very good horse; it was then about eleven o’clock and very pleasant. After I had passed Charlestown Neck … I saw two men on horseback under a tree. When I got near them, I discovered they were British officers. One tried to get ahead of me, and the other to take me. I turned my horse very quick and galloped towards Charlestown Neck, and then pushed for the Medford Road. The one who chased me, endeavoring to cut me off, got into a clay pond near where Mr. Russell’s Tavern is now built. I got clear of him, and went through Medford, over the bridge and up to Menotomy. In Medford, I awaked the captain of the minute men; and after that, I alarmed almost every house, till got to Lexington. I found Messers Hancock and Adams at the Rev. Mr. Clark’s; I told them my errand and enquired for Mr. Daws; they said he had not been there; I related the story of the two officers, and supposed that he must have been stopped, as he ought to have been there before me. [At this point Hancock stated he intended to stay in Lexington and fight, and Adams vehemently disagreed, saying their job was political.]

After I had been there about half an hour, Mr. Daws came; we refreshed ourselves, and set off for Concord. We were overtaken by a young Dr. Prescott, whom we found to be a high Son of Liberty. I told them of the ten officers that Mr. Devens met, and that it was probable we might be stopped before we got to Concord; for I supposed that after night they divided themselves, and that two of them had fixed themselves in such passages as were most likely to stop any intelligence going to Concord. I likewise mentioned that we had better alarm all the inhabitants till we got to Concord. The young doctor much approved of it and said he would stop with either of us, for the people between that and Concord knew him and would give the more credit to what we said.

We had got nearly half way. Mr. Daws and the doctor stopped to alarm the people of a house. I was about one hundred rods ahead when I saw two men in nearly the same situation as those officers were near Charlestown. I called for the doctor and Mr. Daws to come up. In an instant I was surrounded by four. They had placed themselves in a straight road that inclined each way; they had taken down a pair of bars on the north side of the road, and two of them were under a tree in the pasture. The doctor being foremost, he came up and we tried to get past them; but they being armed with pistols and swords, they forced us into the pasture. The doctor jumped his horse over a low stone wall and got to Concord.

I observed a wood at a small distance and made for that. When I got there, out started six officers on horseback and ordered me to dismount. One of them, who appeared to have the command, examined me, where I came from and what my name was. I told him. He asked me if I was an express. I answered in the affirmative. He demanded what time I left Boston. I told him, and added that their troops had catched aground in passing the river, and that there would be five hundred Americans there in a short time, for I had alarmed the country all the way up. He immediately rode towards those who stopped us, when all five of them came down upon a full gallop. One of them, whom I afterwards found to be a Major Mitchel, of the 5th Regiment, clapped his pistol to my head, called me by name and told me he was going to ask me some questions, and if I did not give him true answers, he would blow my brains out. He then asked me similar questions to those above. He then ordered me to mount my horse, after searching me for arms. He then ordered them to advance and to lead me in front. When we got to the road, they turned down towards Lexington. When we had all got about one mile, the major rode up to the officer who was leading me and told him to give me to the sergeant. As soon as he took me, the major ordered him, if I attempted to run, or anybody insulted them, to blow my brains out.

We rode till we got near Lexington meeting-house, when the militia fired a volley of guns, which appeared to alarm them very much. The major inquired of me how far it was to Cambridge, and if there were any other road….[Revere then tells of his British escorts’ taking his horse and departing, and his walk back to Lexington in the dark.]

Came to the Rev. Mr. Clark’s house, where I found Messrs. Hancock and Adams. I told them of my treatment, and they concluded to go from that house towards Woburn….[After seeing the two Patriot leaders to safety, Revere chose to return to Lexington to help recover a trunk with Hancock’s confidential papers. There, at daybreak, he and his companion saw British troops moving into the town.]

We saw the British very near, upon a full march. We hurried towards Mr. Clark’s house. In our way we passed through the militia. There were about fifty. When we had got about one hundred yards from the meeting-house, the British troops appeared on both sides of the meeting-house….They made a short halt; when I saw, and heard, a gun fired, which appeared to be a pistol. Then I could distinguish two guns, and then a continual roar of musketry; when we made off with the trunk.

War had begun, and, as usual, truth was the first casualty. Without his consent or connivance, Revere was cast in the role of the solitary hero by the press, propagandists, and poets. By his own account, his actions that night were far less romantic than was popularly reported. He wrote about receiving much help, being rarely alone, and, due to a sound plan, Patriots alerting the countryside before he ever rose to the saddle. Paul Revere acted as a team member, an essential role if the goal of defeating the world’s greatest military power was to be realized.

This article was originally published in the Summer 2003 edition of MHQ. For more great articles, subscribe to MHQ: The Quarterly Journal of Military History today!

57 Responses

  1. paigeee

    okay im doin this school assignment and i need to know
    EXACTLLY were paul revere and william dowas were captured

    Reply
  2. amy

    im looking for what battle it was that led him up to the british are coming and also were they were captured for a school project

    Reply
  3. Chuck

    I was told by a guide at Paul Revere’s house that he fathered 16 children – 8 by his first wife and 8 by his second. Doesn’t that give new meaning to “The Midnite Ride of Paul Revere”?

    Reply
  4. victoria

    i really like history.net it gives me a lot of information about past events

    Reply
  5. Hannah

    Paul Revere rode with a woman that night. Her Name was Sybil Ludington.

    Reply
    • Jessica

      No he didnt are you insane he never rode with a woman, because he had like 15 kids for her to take care of.

      Reply
      • sara

        No, shes right, this didnt actually happen. Paul was too drunk to do anything about the british coming. This ride was done by a women and they didnt give her recognition. ‘The Midnight Ride of Paul Revere’ is just a poem that over the years worked its way into our history books.

      • Kimberly

        Actually, Paul was riding with two other men. They completed the ride because Paul was captured by the British.
        Sybil, a 15 year old girl, made a ride to warn her fathers men that the British were coming their way but it’s was on April 26, 1777.
        So Sybil and Paul’s ride was completely different. But yes, Sybil did not get recognition.

  6. Amanda D.

    The poem was way off! I guess you should expect it from a poet, looking for interesting Ryhmes. In the poem he didn’t even make it to Lexington! Can you beleive what people would do for money! Well, a poem is a poem and people need to have an interesting poem for people to read them!

    Reply
  7. megan

    The poem of this story is so fake! But i think that the only way to make a poem a poem is to lie in it. Well maybe only ones made by real published poets work. but besides that this story is really fasinating!

    Reply
  8. megan

    Sybil did not ride with Paul Revere, she was called the woman Paul Revere. It was years later that she rode on her own to help people.

    Reply
    • karen

      Sybil did ride the same night as Paul Revere only in the opposite direction and twice as far as he did. There was also a poem published about her, but Henry Wadsworth Longfellow wrote about Paul Revere because it was easier to rhyme.

      Reply
  9. lovely

    i heard this is not a true story because when u see the historical note it is not a real story

    IT is FICTION

    Reply
    • Jessica

      Well you must have heard wrong because this event in History really did happen.

      Reply
  10. Kathryn

    Paul Revere & Willam Doews was captured right inside minute man’s national historical marker.
    so there u have it paigeee.
    MINUTE MAN’S NATIONAL HISTORICAL MARKER!

    Reply
  11. aspen

    ok im doing this school assignment and im confuzed what is his mom’s & dad’s names?

    Reply
    • Jesse

      His father’s name was Apollos Rivoire(His last name was changed later). His mother’s name was Deborah Hichborn before she was married.

      Reply
  12. Jessica

    Okay Paul Revere’s Ride really did happen on the 18th of April in 1775 I am 13 years old and when my history teacher has something interesting I am paying attention. Even though I fell asleep in class today ): Not much sleep ):

    Reply
  13. Luke

    I never new the expression “Move or I’ll blow your brains out” was over 300 years old. Favorite part, and I guess it is kind of universal.

    Reply
  14. Media wrong about Paul Revere, Palin right. | Warning: this is the Blog of Mark Bauer and may appear from time to time.

    […] …I observed a wood at a small distance and made for that. When I got there, out started six officers on horseback and ordered me to dismount. One of them, who appeared to have the command, examined me, where I came from and what my name was. I told him. He asked me if I was an express. I answered in the affirmative. He demanded what time I left Boston. I told him, and added that their troops had catched aground in passing the river, and that there would be five hundred Americans there in a short time, for I had alarmed the country all the way up. He immediately rode towards those who stopped us, when all five of them came down upon a full gallop. One of them, whom I afterwards found to be a Major Mitchel, of the 5th Regiment, clapped his pistol to my head, called me by name and told me he was going to ask me some questions, and if I did not give him true answers, he would blow my brains out. He then asked me similar questions to those above. He then ordered me to mount my horse, after searching me for arms. He then ordered them to advance and to lead me in front. When we got to the road, they turned down towards Lexington. When we had all got about one mile, the major rode up to the officer who was leading me and told him to give me to the sergeant. As soon as he took me, the major ordered him, if I attempted to run, or anybody insulted them, to blow my brains out.  (History.net) […]

    Reply
  15. Swift

    Thank you Historynet for posting this up pre palin. As the teabaggers are busy rewriting American history we need this info to show that Paul Revere did in fact set out to warn the colonists.
    Its quite clear upon reading this that at best Revere was bluffing the British and in all reality feeding them misinformation to expedite his escape just like any normal soldier would be duty bound to do.

    Interesting battle going on at wikipedia the palinbots are trying to plug Reveres misinformation number of 500 minutemen instead of the historical 75 minutemen who badly outnumbered by the British.

    Reply
    • DrEvil

      Nobody doubts that Revere was warning the patriots. The point of Palin’s comments was that when he was captured he let the British know, as a warning/threat, that they were about to face hundreds of heavily armed American patriots. her account is absolutely factually correct, but unfortunately the lest is incapable of accepting anything that anyone who isn’t confirmed fascist/progressive/socialist/communist says.

      have an Evil day

      Reply
  16. Angela Roy

    The original words of Paul Revere on the subject (grammar, spelling and all):

    “I observed a Wood at a Small distance, & made for that. When I got there, out Started Six officers, on Horse back,and orderd me to dismount;-one of them, who appeared to have the command, examined me, where I came from,& what my Name Was? I told him. it was Revere, he asked if it was Paul? I told him yes He asked me if I was an express? I answered in the afirmative. He demanded what time I left Boston? I told him; and aded, that their troops had catched aground in passing the River, and that There would be five hundred Americans there in a short time, for I had alarmed the Country all the way up. He imediately rode towards those who stoppd us, when all five of them came down upon a full gallop; one of them, whom I afterwards found to be Major Mitchel, of the 5th Regiment, Clapped his pistol to my head, called me by name, & told me he was going to ask me some questions, & if I did not give him true answers, he would blow my brains out. He then asked me similar questions to those above. He then orderd me to mount”

    Reply
  17. Revere vs. Palin | The Graph

    […] did Revere do the things Palin claimed? Here’s part of Revere’s own account: “I observed a wood at a small distance and made for that. When I got there, out started six […]

    Reply
  18. Cindy Weigand

    I looked at the Wikipedia account of William Dawes’s ride. In it, it mentions a woman also rode. Is there validation of this.

    Reply
  19. b.t

    i need to know why did he go on his midnight ride please help me

    Reply
  20. Pinkmushroomgirl

    Honestly I think this article is great! And btw to all the people who say this is fake, you are WRONG. Paul Revere was real, he did ride to warn people of the British attacking. If you still don’t believe me, then realize that if this was fake, that history teachers would not be teaching this in school.

    Reply
    • me

      Actually, Paul Revere was arrested by the British before he made it to Concorde. The only one who made it was Dr. Samuel Prescott.

      Reply
  21. hannah

    what discrepancies are in the “poem”? my teacher wants me to do this but i dont know how any help?

    Reply
  22. Roy Mandina

    People who don’t know about history shouldn’t pretend that they do. Sybil Ludington probably is a hoax, and she probably never existed. Even the B.S. story thy made up about her states her ride wasn’t until 1777. THAT’S TWO YEARS AFTER THE BRITISH LANDED! Wake up!

    Reply
  23. Joseph Morette

    In answer where exactly did Paul Revere get caught-stopped–I having lived on Virginia Rd from 1953-tillclosing by National Historical Parks-experienced folk lore-they were stopped at \Bloody Angle\ intersection of Virginia Rd-Old Bedford Rd- Descriptions by him a hundred or so lengths-up road indicates Prescott and Daws were at Hartwell Farm, or the old McCue farm-and then after being stopped and joined by them, Revere, riding down-lower intersection of \Bloody Angle\ trying to escape en route to Concord.
    Not as some claim on Great Rd and Mill street closer to Lexington
    Coincidence other end of Virginia Rd-Bedford side a famous writer’s birth place home is still standing- can’t think of his name-your curiousity hopefully prompts a ride out for answer–
    There is a huge Oak Tree at Bloody angle spot of interests Field inside the angle is grown over-stone walls when british retreated from concord were ambushed along those walls, Bedford civilians as attackers. Precious area. Fields on both sides of road grown over. Happy Trails to you and \Freedom\-

    Reply

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