The town of Boston, Massachusetts was the home to many who despised the way King George III was treating the colonies of America. Among those who were most vocal and quite active in resisting the rule of the King was Samuel Adams. For this reason he is known as the Father of the Revolution. But John Hancock was every bit as vocal and active in this effort and together with many others they formed a lose organization known as the Sons of Liberty who worked to undermine the rule of Britain.
But King George III was not about to tolerate such treasonist behavior and the more the American "rebels," as he called them, resisted, the more determine King George became in bringing them into submission. By 1774 British troops had been stationed in the town of Boston to enforce the King's decrees but this only added to the anger and outrage of the rebels.
In response, the rebels formed their own government, known as the Continental Provincial government which met in the town of Concord, located about 15 miles east of Boston. At their first meeting they elected John Hancock to be their president and they established a number of committees including the Committee of Correspondence, the Committee of Safety, the Committee of Supplies, and others as was thought necessary to govern and protect themselves as they resisted British rule. For this reason, Concord was also the place where the Continental government also stored their cache of weapons and ammunitions.
By January of 1775 the relationship between these two opposing sides had grown extremely tense as each of them increasingly viewed the other as the enemy. The more the British troops sought to impose their authority on the town's people, the more determined the rebels became in defying that authority. However, all of them knew that it was only a matter of time before the British troops took military action against them so they continually prepared themselves for that eventuality.
In any war, intelligence about the enemy's movements is always necessary and so those who belonged to the Sons of Liberty took turns going about the town of Boston, in pairs of two, carefully and unobtrusively observing every movement of the British troops. They knew their habits, their patrol routes, their schedules, and many other details of their daily routine. In this way the Patriots, as they called themselves, would be able to detect even the slightest deviation from their normal pattern of behavior.
In addition to this, the rebels had also set up an elaborate communication system whereby they could transmit messages to one another quickly but secretly without the British soldiers detecting their activity. They did this in a number of ways. One was to secretly pass written messages back and forth from their government in Concord by means of a speedy rider on horseback. They also used signals of various types, such as ringing bells, banging drums, using bonfires, and using trumpets to relay information or alerting rebels to gather their militias.
Although the red coated soldiers from England, who were referred to as the Regulars, didn't know exactly all the ways the rebels communicated with one another, they were well aware that such activity was going on so they too kept a close eye on their enemy, who called themselves the Patriots. In addition to this, British army sought to find ways to conceal their activities from the knowledge of the people of Boston. Even if a soldier saw someone on the street who was not a known rebel, they also knew that many people in Massachusetts sympathized with the Patriot's cause. For this reason, they were suspicious of everyone. And so, at this time point in time the tension between both sides had become so heightened that it wasn't going to take much to set either side off in an explosive confrontation.
Paul Revere was a silversmith by trade and was an excellent craftsman but he was also a rebel and a member of the Committee of Correspondence and the Committee of Safety. He was also used as a courier to carry news, messages, and documents between locations, including traveling as far away as New York and Philadelphia.
The commanding General in charge of the British troops was a man named Thomas Gage. He was a veteran soldier of many war campaigns, both foreign and on America soil, having fought at the battle of Monongahela, the French and Indian War, and the battle of Fort Ticonderoga. In early April of 1775 General Gage received orders to arrest Samuel Adams and John Hancock and disarm the rebels by take possessions of their supply of arms,. Once Adams and Hancock were capture, Gage had orders to hang them as traitors to England. In this way, with their leadership and armaments gone the rebels were expected to cower in fear of Britain's power and no longer pose any problem for the Crown.
However, even before this order, Adams and Hancock already had a bounty placed on their heads. Anyone capturing and turning them in or giving information that would lead to their arrest would be well rewarded. However, no one tried to claim the prize money. The British had already burned Samuel's house to the ground, causing the Father of the Revolution to live away from his family in hiding. Even so, General Gage knew where these men were. When they were not meeting in Concord, they were staying at the home of Reverend Jonas Clark in the town of Lexington which was about five miles east of Concord. But the problem Gage faced was capturing these two rebel leaders before someone tipped them off.
If General Gage was to be successful in carrying out his new orders to arrest Adams and Hancock and disarm the rebels, he knew he needed to strike fast before word of his movement could leak out because once the rebels detected the movement of his troops, Adams and Hancock would flee like rabbits. But to prepare a large fighting requires doing things that cannot easily be hid from prying eyes therefore Gage had to devise a plan that would allow him to equip a large number of soldiers without the rebels knowing what they were doing.
There were two ways to reach Lexington from Boston. One was to take the road west leading out of Boston and the other, which was more difficult but shorter, was to cross the Charles River to the town of Charlestown on the other side and then take the land route from there to Lexington. The most logical route would be to take the land route from Boston but Gage decided that he would do what the rebels didn't expect him to do, so he choose to take his men across the Charles River because speed was vital if his plan has a chance of succeeding.
But, by choosing this route, Gage now had to prepare boats as well as his men without raising any suspicion among the rebels whom he knew were closely watching his troops. Therefore, Gage had to make these preparations seem like normal, everyday activities.
On April 7. 1775 Gage had all the rowboats brought up out of the water for repair. This was done at a casual pace so as to make it appear that this was ordinary military work. However, the rebel watchmen took note of it. Being suspicious of any unusual activity, Paul Revere was sent on foot to Concord to report on what the Regulars were doing. Fearing that the British soldiers might be planning some sort of a military action and fearing the capture of their stockpile of weapons, as a prudent precaution, the rebels took all the guns, cannons, and ammunition that were kept in a central storehouse and scattered them throughout the town by hiding them in homes, barns.
As the following days went by the rebels anxiously increased their watch on the Redcoats but their behavior seemed quite normal and showed no cause for alarm. But then, on April 18, the soldiers retired to bed earlier than usual. Although General Gage thought this move would not be unduly noticed or create any suspicion, it nonetheless alarmed the rebels who assumed that the soldiers were getting ready to be dispatched that night. What gave them further reason to believe this was that all the boats that had been taken out of the water for repairs a week earlier had recently been put back into the water.
But this was only an assumption. If that assumption was correct, then the Patriots needed to know which route the Redcoats planned on using - the one by land, or the other by sea across the Charles River. Since this assumption was based only on an educated guess, Paul Revere decided to set up a secret signal system that would alert others in case their assumption was correct. If their assumption was wrong then the signal would never be given. In this way, the rebels were prepared for either eventuality.
Revere had a man named William Dawes stay in Boston, ready to ride at a moment's notice to warn Adams and Hancock of British troops heading their way should the signal be given and he also had a horse waiting across the Charles River in Charlestown that he himself intended to use to warn the rebel leaders in Lexington.
This plan of Paul Revere used two people instead of one to warn Adams and Hancock. Should one of them get stopped or not make it to their destination for whatever reason, there would be a second person who could complete the mission. The reason why such a backup was needed is because they knew that the first thing the Redcoats would do would immediately seal off all roads leading out of Boston or Charlestown to prevent anyone from alerting Adams and Hancock. Therefore, Revere had to beat them out of town.
The Charles River is not an actually a river but is more like an ocean inlet or sound that opens up into the Atlantic ocean. As such, to cross it is more like sailing on the ocean rather than rowing on a river. In the middle of this "river" is an island on which is located Old North Church.
At nine o'clock in the evening of April 18, Paul Revere and two men carefully rowed out of Boston to the island. What made this journey particularly dangerous was that out in the sound sat the HMS Somerset, a British man-of-war ship. Under normal circumstances this would not be a problem but there was also a nighttime curfew in effect. Anyone caught on the Charles River after dark would be arrested and imprisoned. Since it was already dark, Revere and his two companions had to quietly row to the island without being detected.
Revere had instructed Robert Newman, the sexton of the North Church, to send a signal by lantern to alert colonists in Charlestown as to the movements of the troops when the information became known. In what is well known today by the phrase "one if by land, two if by sea",
To keep the oars from making a splashing sound, people would wrap the ends of the oars with cloth but Revere had forgotten to bring any cloth with him. However, one of the two men who had accompanied him was able to acquire a petticoat from his girlfriend and wrapped the oars with it. In this way they were able to quietly row to the island. Once there, Revere instructed Robert Newman, the sexton of the church, to set out one lantern in the church's steeple if the British troops came off the HMS Somerset and headed for Boston but if the boats headed for Charlestown, he was to set two lanterns in the steeple. Now that the signal had been prepared Revere and his men kept a close watch on the warship to see what, if anything, would happen.
At 9:30 pm General Gage woke his soldiers who were on the HMS Somerset and had them begin getting into their boats. There were between 800 and 900 men fully armed for combat.
At 10 pm Revere saw the soldiers leaving the warship and as soon as he was able to determine which way they were headed he ordered that two lanterns be placed in the bell tower of the Old North Church. When those on land saw the lights it was their signal that the British troops were indeed going to attack that night and it also indicated which route the Redcoats were planning on using.
Now time was of the essence. William Dawes saw the signal and made his way out of Boston, riding slowly and casually at first as he headed for Lexington so as not to draw suspicion to himself. Revere and his men raced to the water's edge where their small rowboat was waiting. When these men had come to the island the only British soldier that were awake were a few guards on the top deck of the HMS Somerst but now there were hundreds of Regulars in boats and all heading in the same direction as Revere. He had to not only make it across the river before the Redcoats did but do so without being spotted. Rowing as quickly, but as quietly as they could, the three rebels hurried to shore, keeping a close eye out for the British soldiers who were only a very short distance away.
On the Charlestown shore, Deacon John Larkin, a friend of Revere, had been standing watch and when he saw the two lights in the steeple of the Old North Church he knew that Revere would be coming to see him because that was the plan. However, it also meant that the Redcoats were coming his way as well and, in the dark, it was hard to clearly make out who was in the boat that first landed at the shore. More than that, there was the possibility that Revere could be captured and not even make it to shore. So the question that Larkin had to answer was, how long should he wait? But, whether Revere made it to shore or not, the waiting accomplice knew he had to get out of the area quickly without being seen.
It took Revere an hour to make it to shore. When he finally was back on land, Larkin had a horse waiting for him and he hurried off into the night heading for Lexington. The other men with him scattered and went in different directions.
General Gage had timed his troop's movements to begin shortly after he thought the civilian population of Boston was in bed. That way his men could move out without being seen or noticed giving him the element of surprise. To make sure that no one was able to leave town and warn Adams and Hancock Nonetheless, the first order of business was for the soldiers to secure the only road leading out of Charlestown. A couple of Regulars spotted Revere as he was trying to leave Charlestown and gave chase after him but he was able to out run them Shortly after that the rest of the British troops began their march to Lexington.
But, unbeknownst to Gage, not only had Paul Revere and William Dawes already escaped the blockade but so did about forty other riders whose mission was to alert the citizenry of the army's advance. One such man was Wentworth Cheswill, a black man from the town of Exeter, New Hampshire. He had previous helped defend Portsmouth Harbor by building rafts and he was also a trusted messenger for the Committee of Safety.
While Revere and Dawes raced to warn Adams and Hancock, the other riders that night went to wake up the Minutemen, calling them to arms to defend their country against British military aggression. . The Minutemen were made up of mostly farmers, who were ready to fight at a minute's notice. These were the people who made up the State's armed forces, known as the militia.
As Paul Revere raced to Lexington, he didn't yell out "The British are coming!" as he is often depicted. Instead, he did what all the other riders that night were doing which was to stop at houses of patriots, loudly banging on their doors to wake them up, and telling them that the Regulars were coming their way. Knowing he could travel much faster on horseback than could the marching soldiers, he took the time to make many stops along the way to call the Minutemen into action.
It took Revere two hours of riding before he arrived at the home of Reverend Clark at midnight. Because Adams and Hancock had a bounty on their heads, there were eight armed rebels who stood guard outside the house protecting their sleeping leaders. When Revere arrived he was stopped by one of these guards but when told that the Redcoats were coming, he was allowed to pass.
When he reached the house of Reverend Clark Revere pounded on the door to wake the occupants. Another one of the guards scolded Revere saying that he shouldn't make so much noise to which Revere replied, "Noise? You'll have noise enough before long. The Regulars are coming out!"
Once the occupants of the house were awaken, Revere proceeded to tell them all he knew and then they discussed what should be done. At 12:30 am, William Dawes, who had left Boston an hour before Revere but who had taken the longer route, arrived at Clark's house. It was decided that Revere and Dawes should quickly ride to Concord to warn the Minutemen there so they could be ready to protect their store of weapons when the Redcoats arrived.
At 12:45 am Revere and Dawes left Clark's house and a few moments later met Dr. Samuel Prescott, who was returning back to his home in Concord after a visit to a patient. Being a patriot himself, he agreed to ride with Revere and Dawes to help them spread the alarm bt not long after that, they came across four Redcoats who were guarding the road ahead. These men were not part of the troops coming from Boston. Instead, they were out looking for a soldier who had deserted his post.
When the Redcoats saw the three horsemen galloping toward them they leveled their rifles and shouted for the oncoming riders to stop. Revere decided that they should ignore the order and try to race past them. The three messengers split up and raced into the woods going in different directions, trying to get around the soldiers. Dr. Prescott, being more familiar with the area was able to escape but Revere and Dawes were captured.
With a pistol pointed directly at his head, Revere was asked who he was and what he was doing out on the road at that time of night. Without fear, Revere boldly told them his name and said that he was warning the Americans about the British troops who were coming from Boston. Then he warned these soldiers that there were 500 Americans coming who were armed with rifles and that his captors would soon be dead men. .
Revere was bluffing about the size of the rebel army. Although he had no idea how many patriots would actually answer the call to arms he knew their numbers would be no more than 200 if even that. Even so, the soldiers didn't believe Revere so he was held until a British officer arrived to interrogate their prisoner but Revere made the same claim as he had before.
Because there were only four soldiers guarding two men before their unit's officer arrived, Dawes managed to escape on horseback. When the officer arrived he came with three more soldiers, now making a total of eight of them who were guarding one prisoner, Paul Revere. Then they heard the sound of a gunshot coming from the direction of Lexington which was immediately followed by the ringing of a bell and a short time later, they heard a volley of shots off in the distance. Hearing these sounds, the soldiers suddenly believed what Revere had been telling them and, realizing they were vastly outnumbered and vulnerable to attack, they decided to get back to their fort as quickly as possible for their own protection. Not wanting to be slowed down, they raced off leaving Revere standing alone on the road but they had taken his horse.
It was the custom back then that loaded weapons were not allowed in church. Therefore, as Minutemen assembled at the church of Reverend Jonas Clark, they discharged their rifles before going inside to a meeting. Then the church's bell was sounded to call the rest of the town to arms. This is what the soldiers guarding Revere had heard.
The time was now two o'clock in the morning when Revere began walking back to the home of Jonas Clark and when he arrived at 3 pm he was surprised to see that Adam and Hancock were still there having a heated argument. Adams said they should leave before the Redcoats arrive but Hancock was adamant about staying and fighting.
Finally, as dawn was getting near and with the Regulars getting closer, Hancock was persuaded that he should flee while it was still dark rather than risk his life. A company of men including Samuel Adams, John Hancock, Paul Revere, John Lowell, and others, left Clark's home but a short time later Lowell remembered there was a large trunk stuffed with secret papers at Buckman Tavern in Lexington. If those papers were to fall into the hands of the British authorities, it would provide them with invaluable information about the rebels.
Revere and Lowell decided they had to go back and get those papers so they turned back and returned to Lexington. They managed to get to the trunk just as the sun was beginning to rise but by then word had come that the Redcoats were just outside of Lexington.
A group of 70 militiamen under the command of Captain John Parker, who was a veteran of the French and Indian War, assembled his men on the Common Green near the Buckman Tavern and told them to load their muskets. He then instructed them, "Stand your ground; don't fire unless fired upon, but if they mean to have a war, let it begin here."
At 5 pm a group of about 250 British soldiers under the command of Major James Pitcairn entered the town of Lexington. They had been told there was a large contingent of militia men waiting for them so they were ready for battle. When Pitcairn saw there far fewer armed rebels than he had expected, he called out to the minutemen to lay down their arms and go home.
Captain Parker realized his men were no match for the more powerful army of Pitcairn so he told his men simply to go home, without saying anything about them leaving their muskets behind. Some of the men immediately obeyed while others were slow to move but eventually even they realized their hopeless situation.
Revere and Lowell were still in Buckman Tavern, sneaking out the back of the building with the trunk as the rebels began to disperse but then a shot was heard. To this day no one knows who fired that shot but the Redcoats, thinking it was done by a rebel firing at them, opened fire on the Americans. The patriots scattered for cover and returned fire. Then the Redcoats charged with their bayonets. Revere and Lowell raced through the woods to escape with their trove of valuable secret papers.
Major Pitcairn immediately called for his men to cease fire and stand down but before he could restore order within his ranks, eight militiamen were killed and ten were wounded. Only one British soldier was slightly wounded. Yet, word of this unprovoked attack and the death of innocent men quickly spread throughout the countryside and inflamed Americans with white hot anger against England.
The American Revolution had now begun.