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Determining the Facts

Reading 3: Fact or Fiction

Henry Wadsworth Longfellow wrote the famous poem, “Paul Revere’s Ride” almost a century after the Battles of Lexington and Concord. Published in 1861, Longfellow’s poem reveals the type of memory Americans wanted to have of the events of April 18, 1775. The following paragraphs from the poem help us understand how 19th century Americans remembered Paul Revere’s midnight ride:

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.

He said to his friend, "If the British march
By land or sea from the town to-night,
Hang a lantern aloft in the belfry arch
Of the North Church tower as a signal light,--
One if by land, and two if by sea;
And I on the opposite shore will be,
Ready to ride and spread the alarm
Through every Middlesex village and farm,
For the country folk to be up and to arm."

...So through the night rode Paul Revere;
And so through the night went his cry of alarm
To every Middlesex village and farm,---
A cry of defiance, and not of fear,
A voice in the darkness, a knock at the door,
And a word that shall echo for evermore!
For, borne on the night-wind of the Past,
Through all our history, to the last,
In the hour of darkness and peril and need,
The people will waken and listen to hear
The hurrying hoof-beats of that steed,
And the midnight message of Paul Revere.1

This historical poem about Paul Revere gives the reader a heroic impression of his ride to Concord and Lexington to warn people about the British troops. In reality, he rode for a short time before the British captured him.
While passing through Lexington at around midnight, Revere and William Dawes met Dr. Samuel Prescott of Concord, who was riding home after courting Lydia Mulliken. Prescott agreed to help them spread the alarm that “the [British] Regulars were out.” The three men ran into a patrol of ten British officers on horseback. These officers had been ordered to keep the news of the British march from reaching Concord. Revere was captured. Dawes escaped back toward Lexington. Prescott jumped his horse over a stone wall and escaped. Prescott, not Revere, carried the alarm to Concord and beyond.

The British questioned Revere and held him for a while before releasing him. They let him go, but the British officers confiscated his horse. Revere walked back to Lexington in time to hear gunfire at dawn on the town common.

Questions for Reading 3

1) What is the tone of this poem? What impression does it give the reader about Paul Revere?

2) What actually happened when Paul Revere was on his way to warn the towns about the British? When did he reach Lexington?

3. What does the difference between the poem and reality say about the study of the past when popular culture (Longfellow’s poem) and actual history collide?

1 Longfellow, Henry Wadsworth. “Paul Revere’s Ride,” Atlantic Monthly. January, 1861.

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