A Voice in The Darkness


Paul Revere's ride, April 19, 1775. Emmet, Thomas Addis, 1828-1919. New York Public Library
Paul Revere’s ride, April 19, 1775. Emmet, Thomas Addis, 1828-1919. New York Public Library

It happened on the night of April 18th 1775.  A group of men and women were watching for the arrival of British troops from Boston.

In 1860 the American poet Henry Wadsworth Longfellow wrote a poem based on the exploits of a little known silversmith Paul Revere.  It was published January 1861 in the Atlantic Monthly.

This poem was written at the time of the approaching war clouds and unrest between the North and South.  The patriotism displayed in the poem was Longfellow’s attempt to remind people of their common heritage.

Of course the poem is highly romanticized and a number of factual details are missing.  However, the poem is the story which most Americans tend to remember about the events of the midnight ride.

National Park Service
National Park Service

Paul Revere was not the solitary man on a borrowed horse galloping into the pages of American history.  There were others like William Dawes, a tanner by trade, and Samuel Prescott, a medical doctor, who joined up with Paul Revere after midnight on the road to Concord.

Unfortunately, they ran into a British patrol.  Dawes and Prescott escaped while Revere was captured.

Prescott was the only one to make it to Concord that early morning.  According to legend, his horsemanship impressed his intended captors.

Dawes and Prescott as well as many others are barely known for their gallant exploits.  These men helped shape the emerging nation as British rule was overthrown.

Of course, one must never forget all the others who rushed about that night warning of the impending troops.  These were young people who had dedicated their lives to a cause against the most powerful nation on the face of the earth.

Poems, songs, stories and other avenues of conveyance have made history a delightful place where fact and myth coalesce into a tapestry well crafted.

Is this to diminish Paul Revere’s honored place among the heroes of the past?

Revere was a leading spirit in the political activities which led to the Revolution. During the War he served, although with ambiguous distinction, as a soldier; he printed paper money for Massachusetts; he constructed a powder mill to make gun powder for the Continental Army; he learned the art of founding and made cannon. After the war he became rich and famous as a bell-caster and he discovered the art of rolling copper…He was, in the old-fashioned phrase, a man of parts.”  Lionel Trilling, page 127, American Panorama,   New York University Press, Washington Square 1957


Artisans worked at a bewildering variety of jobs, possessed a wide range of skills…Men like the silversmith Paul Revere were ambitious and proud, but part of their pride was in their very status as workers. Revere could afford to have John Singleton Copley paint his portrait, but he posed in work clothes and with his tools at his side.”   Ronald P. Dufour, page 333, Colonial America, West Publishing Company, St. Paul, MN 1994


Even if Revere wasn’t the lone savior of Longfellow’s poem, there’s no doubt he and his fellow riders were the critical spark that ignited the Revolution. When British troops marched into Lexington that morning, the first shots of the war were fired, leaving eight colonists dead.  Thanks to the riders’ efforts, militias from all over the countryside were mobilized to take their revenge, driving the British all the way back to Boston. “The Die was cast,” John Adams would later write, “the Rubicon crossed.” The Revolutionary War had begun.  It would take a bit longer for the same to be true of the legend of Paul Revere.”      Justin Ewers, U.S. News & World Report July 7, 2008


Longfellow’s closing lines:


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.



G. D. Williams © 2016

POST 661

Paul Revere’s 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.




The Real Story of The Ride


In the spring of 1860, Harvard professor and well-regarded romantic poet Henry Wadsworth Longfellow began working on a poem about an otherwise obscure messenger ride by American patriot Paul Revere on the evening of April 18-19, 1775. Longfellow hoped to use the story of Paul Revere’s ride as a vehicle to warn the American Union that it was in danger of disintegrating (which it was). Even though there is good evidence that Longfellow knew the real story of Revere’s ride (from Paul Revere’s 1798 letter to Dr. Jeremy Belknap of the Massachusetts Historical Society, published in a magazine Longfellow had almost certainly read), Longfellow chose to simplify and re-arrange parts of the story in the interests of creating a better and more effective poem. In particular, Longfellow reversed the story of the famous signal lanterns hung in Christ Church tower to indicate that British troops had left Boston. According to Longfellow, Paul Revere was waiting “booted and spurred” in Charlestown across the river from Boston for the signal, whereas in fact Revere was still in Boston when the signals were shown. The signals were not “for” Paul Revere, but “from” Paul Revere to the Sons of Liberty in Charlestown, because Revere was apprehensive that he would be prevented from leaving Boston.


Current events at the time influenced Longfellow’s approach to his famous poem. During that time the Independence war was receding from memory and the civil unrest which led to the American Civil War was beginning. A critical time in American history had started, a time in need of patriotism, when a unifying cause was needed to avoid the breakup of the Union. The author’s intentions were political, he wanted to remind his readers of the sacrifices their parents went through and to build awareness to fight slavery and protect the Union. To appeal to his audience he combined narrative fiction with the music of verse. Longfellow romanticized his character to inspire and lift spirits.






Map and Illustrations by Cortney Skinner bmnh16952004@yahoo.com.


This is a National Park Service map of Paul Revere’s Ride showing the route he took on his famous midnight ride on April 18, 1775 to warn the patriots in Lexington and Concord that the British were coming. The map also shows the routes of William Dawes and Samuel Prescott, two others who rode with him that night. You can click on the map to view a larger image.


Paul Revere’s ride, April 19, 1775. Emmet, Thomas Addis, 1828-1919. New York Public Library. – See more at: http://www.bostonteapartyship.com/paul-reveres-ride#sthash.0


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