July 4 gets all the attention when it comes to early American history, but April 18 and 19 are critical dates in America’s struggle to gain independence from Great Britain. This weekend fire up the barbecue and shoot off some fireworks to celebrate the 234th anniversary of Paul Revere’s Midnight Ride and the original “Shot Hear Around the World.”
In the spring of 1775, tensions between the colonies and the British government were at a breaking point. This was doubly so in Massachusetts were the colonists’ resistance was well organized. On April 18, General Thomas Gage, the British governor of Massachusetts, ordered British troops to march to Lexington to arrest Samuel Adams and John Hancock.
Dr. Joseph Warren, a leader of the Patriot movement and a member of Boston’s Committee of Correspondence, was tipped off immediately to the British plan, and he instructed Revere and William Dawes to leave Boston at night and ride to Lexington to warn Adams and Hancock. Along the way, Revere alerted local militia men of the impending confrontation.
Warren selected both Revere and Dawes so that if one of the men were captured the warning would still reach Lexington. Dawes took the longer route, leaving Boston on land by the way of the Boston Neck Peninsula. Revere’s route out of the city was by water across the Charles River.
Revere and Dawes arrived in Lexington about the same time and informed Adams and Hancock of the situation. The two left Lexington with a third rider, Samuel Prescott, and continued to Concord where the colonists had hidden weapons and ammunition.
By the time the 700 British troops arrived in Lexington just before dawn on April 19, a 77-man strong militia had assembled on the town’s common green. The militia was ordered to disperse and appeared to be doing just that when the infamous “shot heard around the world” was fired, setting off what would be the first battle in the American Revolution.
Did you know?
- “Paul Revere’s Ride,” a poem by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, is probably most responsible for Revere becoming, well, revered, while Dawes slipped into obscurity. The poem was incorrect in many aspects. For instance, in the poem the lantern signal in the steeple of Boston’s Old North Church — one if by land and two if by water — was intended for Revere, when in fact the signal was from Revere (though Revere himself did not hang the laterns). Revere had devised the signal to alert the “Sons of Liberty” committee in nearby Charlestown about the troop movements.
- William Dawes was a tanner by trade.
- Paul Revere was a prominent silversmith in Boston.
- Dawes’ midnight ride may be shortchanged in the history books, but the Dawes family name was prominent in the early 1900s. Dawes great-great-grandson, Charles G. Dawes was a prominent banker and politician who was the first director of the U.S. Bureau of the Budget (now known as the Office of Management and Budget, or OMB). He won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1925, and he served as President Calvin Colledge’s vice president from 1925 to 1929. After his term as vice president, Dawes was named the U.S. Ambassador to the United Kingdom. That assignment lasted less than 3 years. In the patriot spirit of his great-great-grandfather, Dawes alienated the British by refusing to wear the customary knee breeches.