Paul Revere served as a messenger, “In the year 1773 I was imployed by the Select men of the Town of Boston to carry the Account of the Destruction of the Tea to New-York; and afterwards, 1774, to Carry their dispatches to New-York and Philadelphia for Calling a Congress; and afterwards to Congress, several times.” (Revere to Belknap, 1798, Massachusetts Historical Society)
In 1774 and 1775, the Boston Committee of Correspondence and the Massachusetts Committee of Safety employed Paul Revere as an express rider to carry news, messages, and copies of important documents as far away as New York and Philadelphia.
“In the Fall of 1774 & Winter of 1775 I was one of upwards of thirty, cheifly mechanics, who formed our selves in to a Committee for the purpose of watching the Movements of the British Soldiers, and gaining every intelegence of the movements of the Tories. We held our meetings at the Green-Dragon Tavern.”
“We were so carefull that our meetings should be kept Secret; that every time we met, every person swore upon the Bible, that they would not discover any of our transactions, But to Messrs. Hancock, Adams, Doctors Warren, Church, & one or two more.” (Revere to Belknap, 1798, Massachusetts Historical Society)
On the evening of April 18, 1775, Dr. Joseph Warren summoned Paul Revere and gave him the task of riding to Lexington, Massachusetts, with the news that British soldiers stationed in Boston were about to march into the countryside northwest of the town.
“In the Winter, towards the Spring, we frequently took Turns, two and two, to Watch the Soldiers, By patrolling the Streets all night. The Saturday Night preceding the 19th of April, about 12 oClock at Night, the Boats belonging to the Transports were all launched, & carried under the Sterns of the Men of War. (They had been previously hauld up & repaired).”
“We likewise found that the Grenadiers and light Infantry were all taken off duty. From these movements, we expected something serious was [to] be transacted. On Tuesday evening, the 18th, it was observed, that a number of Soldiers were marching towards the bottom of the Common.” (Revere to Belknap, 1798, Massachusetts Historical Society)
According to Warren, these troops planned to arrest Samuel Adams and John Hancock, two leaders of the Sons of Liberty, who were staying at a house in Lexington. It was thought they would then continue on to the town of Concord, to capture or destroy military stores – gunpowder, ammunition, and several cannon – that had been stockpiled there.
In fact, the British troops had no orders to arrest anyone – Dr. Warren’s intelligence on this point was faulty – but they were very much on a major mission out of Boston. (Paul Revere House)
“I was sent for by Docr. Joseph Warren, of said Boston, on the evening of the 18th of April, about to oClock;”
“When he desired me, ‘to go to Lexington, and inform Mr. Samuel Adams, and the Honl. John Hancock Esqr. that there was a number of Soldiers, composed of Light troops, & Grenadiers, marching to the bottom of the Common, where was a number of Boats to receive them; it was supposed, that they were going to Lexington, by the way of Cambridge River, to take them, or go to Concord, to destroy the Colony Stores.’” (Revere Deposition, 1775, Massachusetts Historical Society)
Warren had also asked another rider, William Dawes to go to Lexington.
“When I got to Dr. Warren’s house, I found he had sent an express by land to Lexington – a Mr. Wm. Daws.” (Revere to Belknap, 1798, Massachusetts Historical Society)
Revere contacted an unidentified friend (probably Robert Newman, the sexton of Christ Church in Boston’s North End) and instructed him to hold two lit lanterns in the tower of Christ Church (now called the Old North Church) as a signal to fellow Sons of Liberty across the Charles River in case Revere was unable to leave town.
“The Sunday before, by desire of Dr. Warren, I had been to Lexington, to Mess. Hancock and Adams, who were at the Rev. Mr. Clark’s. I returned at Night thro Charlestown; there I agreed with a Col. Conant, & some other Gentle men, in Charleston …”
“… that if the British went out by Water, we would shew two Lanthorns in the North Church Steeple; & if by Land, one, as a Signal; for we were aprehensive it would be dificult to Cross the Charles River, or git over Boston neck. I left Dr. Warrens, called upon a friend, and desired him to make the Signals.” (Revere to Belknap, 1798, Massachusetts Historical Society)
The two lanterns were a predetermined signal stating that the British troops planned to row “by sea” across the Charles River to Cambridge, rather than march “by land” out Boston Neck.
Revere proceeded the short distance to Boston’s North End waterfront. There two friends rowed him across the river to Charlestown. Slipping past the British warship HMS Somerset in the darkness, Revere landed safely.
After informing Colonel Conant and other local Sons of Liberty about recent events in Boston and verifying that they had seen his signals in the North Church tower, Revere borrowed a horse from John Larkin, a Charlestown merchant and a patriot sympathizer. While there, a member of the Committee of Safety named Richard Devens warned Revere that there were a number of British officers in the area who might try to intercept him.
At about eleven o’clock Revere set off on horseback. After narrowly avoiding capture just outside of Charlestown, Revere changed his planned route and rode through Medford, where he alarmed Isaac Hall, the captain of the local militia, of the British movements.
He then alarmed almost all the houses from Medford, through Menotomy (today’s Arlington) – carefully avoiding the Royall Mansion whose property he rode through (Isaac Royall was a well-known Loyalist) — and arrived in Lexington sometime after midnight.
“In Medford, I awaked the Captain of the Minute men; & after that, I alarmed almost every House, till I got to Lexington.”
In Lexington, as he approached the house where Adams and Hancock were staying, Sergeant Monroe, acting as a guard outside the house, requested that he not make so much noise.
“Noise!” cried Revere, “You’ll have noise enough before long. The regulars are coming out!” According to tradition, John Hancock, who was still awake, heard Revere’s voice and said “Come in, Revere! We’re not afraid of you”. (Paul Revere House)
Because of the epic poem by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, Paul Revere is often credited as the sole rider who alerted the colonies that the Regulars (British) were coming.
Yet, despite this tale, there were many riders who went out the night of April 18 and in the years following, warning the colonists of the approach and movement of the British forces.
Dozens of messengers raced on horseback to spread the word. (LA Times) Five have been named; four men and one woman made late night rides, alerting the early Americans of what dangers lay ahead. They were Paul Revere, Samuel Prescott, Israel Bissell, William Dawes and Sybil Ludington.
Click the following link to a general summary about One if by Land, Two if by Sea: