Paul Revere’s Ride
is a 1994 historical study by American author and academic David Hackett Fischer, Professor of History at Brandeis University. Fischer’s is the first major academic study of Paul Revere’s midnight ride to warn American rebels about British troop movements at the very beginning of the Revolutionary War. Fischer sets out to sort the facts of Revere’s ride from patriotic myth. Besides Revere, Fischer also focuses on the figure of British general Thomas Gage, the military governor of Massachusetts.
Fischer begins his story with Revere’s ancestry. Revere’s father, Apollos, came to America from France, fleeing the persecution of Huguenot Protestants. Apollos became a successful gold- and silversmith and married the daughter of a prominent Boston family. Paul grew up in the atmosphere of New England Puritanism; at nineteen, he took over his father’s metalworking business. Fischer portrays him as a community-minded young man, serving as the clerk of Boston market and the city’s health officer, as country coroner, and as the master of the local Masonic lodge. Fischer finds that few, if any, of the key figures in the American fight for independence were so well connected in the movement as Revere, who was closely associated with both John Hancock and Sam Adams.
Revere was involved in the agitation against British rule from the beginning, taking part in the Boston Tea Party and other acts of resistance. As well as being a leading figure among Boston patriots, Revere often took on the risky task of delivering messages to other patriot groups and to the Continental Congress.
In Chapter 2, Fischer introduces us to Thomas Gage. Fischer points out that Gage was not the tyrant of popular folklore, but a liberal-minded Briton who had great sympathy for the patriots’ position.
As American agitation grows in the wake of the Boston Tea Party, Gage is appointed Governor of Massachusetts. In 1774, hoping to prevent the outbreak of war, Gage confiscates the state’s gunpowder supply. Tens of thousands of colonists march on Boston. Gage requests reinforcements but is sent just four hundred troops.
The Massachusetts rebels organize militias and an alarm system based on express riders. Revere organizes a network of spies to monitor British maneuvers in Boston, and through this network, Revere thwarts British attempts to control the movement of weapons.
Meanwhile, the British army is stricken by sickness, shortages, and discontent. The unhappy soldiers get into fights with colonists, causing tensions to mount. Gage makes plans to arrest rebel leaders, but word gets out and the leaders flee Boston.
Instead, Gage plans a decisive military blow against the rebels, scouting out a march on Concord. Paul Revere rides to Concord the day before the planned march to warn the locals. The citizens move their weapons depot. Realizing that the colonists’ messengers are undermining his plans, Gage sends out twenty soldiers with orders to stop and seize the messengers—this only succeeds in alerting the colonists that an attack is imminent.
Both the British army and the Boston colonists prepare for the attack. The colonists learn the exact plan for the march—probably, Fischer concludes, from Gage’s wife, Margaret Kemble. The British plan is to capture the rebel leaders Hancock and Adams, and destroy the Concord weapons depot.
Patriot leader Joseph Warren sends Revere to Lexington to warn Hancock and Adams. Revere arranges with other patriots to send warning of British attack by placing lanterns in the Old North Church steeple facing Charlestown. He rows across the Charles (despite a British presence on the river) and borrows a horse named Black Beauty. Chased by British patrols, he takes a long detour that fortunately puts him clear of the remaining patrols. He arrives in Lexington in the middle of the night and wakes Adams and Hancock. They send Revere on to Concord.
Meanwhile, in Boston’s Back Bay, the British gather for their attack. Due to delays, poor planning, and the Bostonians’ alarm system, the British lose the element of surprise. Gage is informed that reinforcement might be necessary.
Revere and other patriots are captured by a British patrol. While the others escape, Revere is interrogated. He proudly tells the soldiers everything and concludes by telling the soldiers that it is they, not him, who are in danger: five hundred militiamen are on their way. Hearing shots, the British soldiers flee, abandoning their prisoner.
The Massachusetts militias gather in Lexington. Refugees flood into the town, fearing British reprisals and Negro uprisings against the colonists.
Revere arrives back in Lexington, where he persuades Hancock and Adams to leave. Revere accompanies them to Woburn and then returns to retrieve a trunk of Hancock’s papers, carrying it to safety just as the British troops come into view.
Overestimating British numbers, the colonists begin to discuss retreat. Their leaders threaten to shoot deserters. The British split into two forces and order the militiamen to disperse. In the confusion, shots are fired—by whom is unknown—and the soldiers begin firing indiscriminately at the colonists. After a brief massacre, the British regroup and march on Concord, where they begin searching for weapons. Another firefight breaks out, and again many colonists are killed.
However, by this time, nearly two thousand militiamen have gathered, and they attack the British force as it marches back to Lexington, inflicting heavy losses. A reserve force under Lord Percy relieves the British there, but militia numbers continue to grow. The British fight back towards Bunker Hill, losing a large number of their men. Patriots, including Revere, gather in Cambridge to discuss their next move. The war has begun.
Fischer concludes with an epilogue discussing the fates of the principal figures in his story, including Revere, who founded a successful metallurgical business, and Gage, who was recalled to England after the Battle of Bunker Hill. Described as “lively…fresh and clear” by Kirkus Reviews
, Fischer’s book is a thorough account of a pivotal moment in U.S. history.