Tension between the British Crown and American colonists existed for many years before the inception of the Revolutionary War in 1775. They reached a boiling point several times, particularly with the Boston Massacre in 1770, the Boston Tea Party in 1773, and again in April 1775, when Britain discovered that colonists were stockpiling weapons and sent 700 troops to seize and destroy these weapons. Numerous patriots spread the alarm of this impending attack, most notably Paul Revere, William Dawes and Samuel Prescott.
Born in Boston in 1734, Paul Revere followed in his French immigrant father’s footsteps, learning the silver and goldsmith trade. He became involved in politics thanks to the influence of his customers, particularly the activists James Otis and Dr. Joseph Warren. Revere participated in the revolution by supplying surveillance on British troops. On the night of April 18, Warren sent Revere on the “midnight ride,” made famous by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow’s poem, “Paul Revere’s Ride.” Revere’s primary objective was to warn John Hancock and Samuel Adams, who were hiding at Lexington, and to alert the Minutemen to the impending approach of the British. However, Revere did not utter the phrase commonly attributed to him, “The British are coming! The British are coming!”
Dr. Warren also summoned William “Billy” Dawes to ride to Lexington to sound the alarm among the colonists and alert Hancock and Adams to possible arrest. Like Revere, Dawes had participated in the surveillance of the British army. He often drank a pint so that he would listen in on conversations at the local tavern. During the “midnight ride,” Dawes took the longer route to Lexington by land, arriving about half an hour after Revere arrived. Thereafter, the two set out toward Concord to continue sounding the alarm.
Already in Lexington on the evening of April 18, Samuel Prescott joined Revere and Dawes on their way to Concord. However, Prescott was the only one of the three to make it all the way to Concord because the party was stopped by British forces and corralled into a fenced pasture. Dawes and Prescott managed to escape on horseback, leaving Revere in the hands of the British. Prescott reached Concord at 1:30 a.m. and after alerting the townspeople, continued on to warn the colonists in Acton, Massachusetts.
Other Patriots Warning of the Invasion
Dozens of other couriers sounded the alarm throughout northeast on the evening of April 18, 1775, including Samuel Prescott's brother Abel Prescott and Wentworth Cheswell, a man of African-American ancestry, who warned the colonists of New Hampshire.
- The Paul Revere House: Paul Revere Brief Biography
- The Descendants of William Dawes Who Rode Association: The Ride
- Teaching American History: Memorandum on Events of April 18, 1775
- Concord Magazine: The Tale of Two Families Joined by Love, Shattered by War
- African American Registry: Wentworth Cheswell One of New Hampshire’s Finest
- Photos.com/Photos.com/Getty Images