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Revered… Inaccurately

The following are the notes from Season 2 Episode 9 of the Who’d a Thunk It Podcast. More is discussed in this blog than is read aloud in this podcast episode.

  • Who was Paul Revere?
    • Paul Revere was born in Boston’s North End at the end of 1734 (the exact date is unknown) to a French Huguenot father who ran a silversmith shop and a mother from a local family.
      • That word “Huguenot” refers to French Protestants who fled France to escape violent prosecution from the Catholic French Government in the 16th and 17th centuries.
      • I wanted to explain this because one can see a connection between why Revere’s father fled to America and why Paul would be willing to side with the colonists during the American Revolution. They both were being oppressed. His father was being religiously oppressed, and Paul for political and economic reasons.
    • The young Revere was educated in reading and writing in school before completing his training as an apprentice to his silversmith father. At age 19, Revere inherited the business upon his father’s death. But he left the business briefly and enlisted in a provincial army in 1756 during the French and Indian War. So the American Revolution was not his first military experience.
    • Paul was a colonial Boston silversmith, industrialist, propagandist and patriot immortalized in the Henry Wadsworth Longfellow poem describing Revere’s midnight ride to warn the colonists about a British attack.
    • He died of natural causes on May 10, 1818 at the age of 83 at a time when the average life expectancy was 30 to 40 years of age. He left five children, several grandchildren, and many great-grandchildren. The son of an immigrant artisan, not born to wealth or inheritance, Revere died a modestly well-to-do businessman and a popular local figure of some note.
  • This is who Revere was. Below is the poem that made him famous. For the Podcast I’ll be reading the beginning and end, while skipping the bulk of the poem’s mid section. It is along one, but in this blog post I have included the entire poem.

THE FAMOUS POEM: Paul Revere’s Ride

Henry Wadsworth Longfellow – 1807-1882

  • Note: When Revere died, Longfellow was only about 11 years old.
This image was taken in 1868. Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, one of the “Fireside Poets,” wrote lyrical poems about history, mythology, and legend that were popular and widely translated, making him the most famous American of his day. 


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.”

Then he said “Good night!” and with muffled oar
Silently rowed to the Charlestown shore,
Just as the moon rose over the bay,
Where swinging wide at her moorings lay
The Somerset, British man-of-war:
A phantom ship, with each mast and spar
Across the moon, like a prison-bar,
And a huge black hulk, that was magnified
By its own reflection in the tide.

Meanwhile, his friend, through alley and street
Wanders and watches with eager ears,
Till in the silence around him he hears
The muster of men at the barrack door,
The sound of arms, and the tramp of feet,
And the measured tread of the grenadiers
Marching down to their boats on the shore.

Then he climbed to the tower of the church,
Up the wooden stairs, with stealthy tread,
To the belfry-chamber overhead,
And startled the pigeons from their perch
On the sombre rafters, that round him made
Masses and moving shapes of shade,—
By the trembling ladder, steep and tall,
To the highest window in the wall,
Where he paused to listen and look down
A moment on the roofs of the town,
And the moonlight flowing over all.

Beneath, in the churchyard, lay the dead,
In their night-encampment on the hill,
Wrapped in silence so deep and still
That he could hear, like a sentinel’s tread,
The watchful night-wind, as it went
Creeping along from tent to tent,
And seeming to whisper, “All is well!”
A moment only he feels the spell
Of the place and the hour, and the secret dread
Of the lonely belfry and the dead;
For suddenly all his thoughts are bent
On a shadowy something far away,
Where the river widens to meet the bay,—
A line of black, that bends and floats
On the rising tide, like a bridge of boats.

Meanwhile, impatient to mount and ride,
Booted and spurred, with a heavy stride,
On the opposite shore walked Paul Revere.
Now he patted his horse’s side,
Now gazed on the landscape far and near,
Then impetuous stamped the earth,
And turned and tightened his saddle-girth;
But mostly he watched with eager search
The belfry-tower of the old North Church,
As it rose above the graves on the hill,
Lonely and spectral and sombre and still.
And lo! as he looks, on the belfry’s height,
A glimmer, and then a gleam of light!
He springs to the saddle, the bridle he turns,
But lingers and gazes, till full on his sight
A second lamp in the belfry burns!

A hurry of hoofs in a village-street,
A shape in the moonlight, a bulk in the dark,
And beneath from the pebbles, in passing, a spark
Struck out by a steed that flies fearless and fleet:
That was all! And yet, through the gloom and the light,
The fate of a nation was riding that night;
And the spark struck out by that steed, in his flight,
Kindled the land into flame with its heat.

He has left the village and mounted the steep,
And beneath him, tranquil and broad and deep,
Is the Mystic, meeting the ocean tides;
And under the alders, that skirt its edge,
Now soft on the sand, now loud on the ledge,
Is heard the tramp of his steed as he rides.

It was twelve by the village clock
When he crossed the bridge into Medford town.
He heard the crowing of the cock,
And the barking of the farmer’s dog,
And felt the damp of the river-fog,
That rises when the sun goes down.

It was one by the village clock,
When he galloped into Lexington.
He saw the gilded weathercock
Swim in the moonlight as he passed,
And the meeting-house windows, blank and bare,
Gaze at him with a spectral glare,
As if they already stood aghast
At the bloody work they would look upon.

It was two by the village clock,
When he came to the bridge in Concord town.
He heard the bleating of the flock,
And the twitter of birds among the trees,
And felt the breath of the morning breeze
Blowing over the meadows brown.
And one was safe and asleep in his bed
Who at the bridge would be first to fall,
Who that day would be lying dead,
Pierced by a British musket-ball.

You know the rest. In the books you have read,
How the British Regulars fired and fled,—
How the farmers gave them ball for ball,
From behind each fence and farmyard-wall,
Chasing the red-coats down the lane,
Then crossing the fields to emerge again
Under the trees at the turn of the road,
And only pausing to fire and load.

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 forevermore!
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.

  • The Legend
    • Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, as well as having one of those really cool names you have to say in its entirety every time you say it, could write one heck of an epic poem.
      • “A cry of defiance, and not of fear,
      • A voice in the darkness, a knock at the door,…”
    • That is poetic gold. It really did immortalize Paul Revere’s Midnight Ride years after his death. The poem written about Revere’s ride was so popular that it was taught in American public schools.
      • I didn’t have to look this up. I remember being taught the accounts in this poem as if they were facts.
    • But it turns out the American Public school system got it wrong. That night did NOT happen the way we were all told.
  • April 18th, 1775
    • Paul’s mission was to warn the militiamen of Lexington and Concord if the British attacked. That is true.
    • But he never said the famous words “The British are coming,” like all the reenactments us American’s have seen.
      • I don’t actually know where this idea came from, because the line wasn’t in Henry Wadsworth Longfellow’s poem either.
      • During the 1770’s everyone considered themselves British. The citizens at the time may have distinguished themselves as colonial patriots or loyalists… but they all considered themselves British. Because they were… they had all recently immigrated to the Americas and/or they were still technically part of the British Territory that was America.
      • So if Paul Revere actually did say “The British are coming,” it would have been very confusing and wouldn’t have accomplished much at all.
      • Instead, Revere and his compatriots referred to the British army as “The Regulars”
    • Ok so far I’ve only said that 1 word out of the story is off, but all my fellow middleschool classmates and I were shown an image of Paul Revere riding around the streets on his horse yelling at the top of his lungs… that is not how it went down.
      • This was a covert intelligence operation. Instead of yelling on the streets (which would have gotten him captured by British authorities immediately) Revere went specifically to known colonist patriots and most likely whispered the news.
      • But I understand why this part of the story was doctored. You try getting a bunch of kids excited about a guy traveling to peoples’ houses at night and whispering news in their ear… much more exciting sounding if he is frantically racing around shouting at people in the middle of the night.
    • Now the biggest inaccuracy was that Revere didn’t complete his mission. He actually failed miserably.
      • The lanterns that Revere supposedly saw as signals for whether the British were coming (One if by land, Two if by sea) well Revere didn’t even see those lanterns.
      • Those lanterns were set up to signal this message, but it was Dr. Joseph Warren (a different son of Liberty) that received the message.
      • But Dr. Joseph Warren wasn’t the one who sent the message to Lexington and Concord, instead he sent a man named William Dawes. Dawes was the first Son of Liberty to set out on the Midnight ride. Revere joined him later. They warned Lexington together. Then Dawes and Revere were detained by the British/Regulars. They never made it to Concord.
      • It was Samuel Prescott who warned Concord. There were numerous riders that night dispatched to warn all sorts of towns…
      • This means Revere’s contribution was minimal compared to other riders that night. In the time between his failed midnight ride and his death, people forgot about his contribution to the revolutionary war. Revere’s Midnight ride wasn’t even mentioned in his Obituary.
  • So why do a podcast on this topic?
    • To sum things up, the Midnight ride was an impressive intelligence operation during the revolutionary war. The colonial army’s spy network showed great organization skills and that they could carry out such an operation affectively.
    • It seems that years later a talented poet heard about this impressive operation, picked the coolest sounding name out of those who were involved (Revere) and used that name to construct a more interesting narrative to grab the attention of the largest audience possible.
    • For 200 years, the American public schools then taught this narrative as fact to the youth of the nation. Now everyone knows the fabricated version of the events of the Midnight Ride instead of the actual facts.
    • The reason I wanted to do a podcast on this is because stories like this have changed how I view the world. Stories like this helped me realize a few truths:
      • Doubt can be a debilitating thing if it goes unchecked in the human psyche, but if used properly it can be a powerful tool for uncovering the truth.
      • Education is important and usually benefits society, but it is an institution run by human beings. Therefore it is susceptible to error.
      • Educate yourself, but never trust blindly. Put a little bit of doub in to everything. If it is worth while, it will withstand the doubt.

CREDIT

If you are like me and prefer to listen instead of read, then you are in luck. Everything above is read aloud by me for the Who’d a Thunk it? Podcast. By now the Who’d a Thunk It has reached people in 38 countries. It is hosted by Anchor.fm but you can also find Who’d a Thunk It on:

If you would like to contact me, feel free to comment on this blog post, or email me at WhodaThunkItPodcast@gmail.com

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