I did that from memory. Second-grade memory, like most of you could probably do. The famous poem, “The Ride of Paul Revere” by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow. I forgot the last line of that second stanza; “For the country folk to be up and to arm.”
First off, what the hell is a “Middlesex.” That has bothered me every time I’ve heard that poem. A Middlesex in this context (note the capitalization) is a commonwealth in Massachusetts (That’s hard to spell!) which includes the city of Boston. It was also a former county of SE England, but I don’t think that will apply here. So Paul Revere’s responsibility was basically to alert the colonists in and around Boston, because there were other riders that were ready to “spread the alarm.” Paul couldn’t have done it all by himself in one “midnight ride” anyway.
Why am I talking about this today? Because, if you dig deep down in your memory for that second-grade history lesson, it starts like this:
Listen my children and you will 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.
236 years ago Monday, Paul Revere made his famous ride. But did you know that he only rode about 19 miles before he was captured along with two other riders who were with him?
Here’s something else that has bothered me all these years: “One if by land and two if by sea,” referring to, of course, the lanterns in the steeple of the Old North Church, really Christ Church at 193 Salem Street in Boston. Revere and another rider, William Dawes, were supposedly waiting for the signal on the other side of the Charles River. The church was used because it was the tallest structure in the town. However, historically, it was Revere who put the lanterns in the tower to signal Charleston, then was rowed across the river to start his ride. His mission was to notify Adams and Hancock. What I’ve never been able to figure out is how the British Army could come by land.
Well here’s the scoop: One lantern was to notify Charleston that the British Army was marching over the Great Neck and the Boston Bridge, two lanterns would tell them they were taking boats across the Charles River to land near Phips Farm. Not the “sea” at all. Now it makes sense, because the British Army obviously got here by sea.
Now here’s another problem I have with the historical facts of the ride of Paul Revere: That he was screaming at the top of his lungs “The British are coming! The British are coming!” That’s got to be wrong because most of the colonists were, in fact, British and still thought of themselves as British, and it would make no sense to scream that they were coming when they were already here. What he more accurately said is “The Regulators are coming out!” The Regulators being the British Army sent by King George III to get the colonists in line and paying up on all the new taxes being levied.
Although Longfellow immortalized Paul Revere and rewrote history when he wrote his poem in 1860, who rode the longest, went the fastest, covered the most area, and notified the most colonists that the Regulators were coming out? It was Israel Bissell. Yeah, who? He mounted his horse on the 19th of April and rode for approximately 102 hours before he collapsed. He was a 23-year-old postal worker. “To arms, to arms. The war has begun!” , he shouted. He was given fresh mounts by the colonists on the way. Most of the other riders are lost to history.
The Old North Church steeple that you see today in Boston is not the original. It was first destroyed by a storm in 1804 and then toppled by Hurricane Carol on August 31st, 1954. The original weathervane is still at its tip though.
And Paul Revere? His silverware became even more valuable with the help of Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, but he had already been a success in Boston when he started hanging around with the revolutionists, and he died in 1818, 40 years before the poem was written. You can buy one of his original teapots (only four left in the world) for a mere $798,500. Stamped with “REVERE” on the back. I don’t know how they’re certain he’s the one who crafted it, but there you go. Who’s to say someone else didn’t make them who worked for Paul and used the REVERE stamp?
Well, I hope that’s cleared up some of the misconceptions you might have had about Middlesex, and “two if by sea”, the Christ Church tower, “The British are coming!”, and introduced you to a real hero of the Revolutionary War, Israel Bissell. WTF