It’s one thing to shout a warning. America has had its share of warning shouters, the latest being Dr. Anthony Fauci who warned of a “surprise outbreak” way back in January 2017. It’s another thing for such warnings to be heeded. Most aren’t. Perhaps the best example of people heeding a warning came on the night of April 18, 1775.
Saturday, April 18, marked the 245th anniversary of Paul Revere’s ride, a daring gallop immortalized in Henry Wadsworth Longfellow’s poem that begins with the famous couplet, “Listen my children, and you shall hear/Of the midnight ride of Paul Revere.”
Earlier that day, patriot leader and spymaster Dr. Joseph Warren received reports from various sources that General Thomas Gage, the British commander in Boston, had ordered 700 soldiers to undertake an all-night march to Concord, 18 miles west of Boston. Their objective was to destroy the tons of military supplies the patriots had carted to Concord and concealed in the town’s stables, barns, haylofts and wagon sheds.
Between Boston and Concord, directly on the British line-of-march, was the town of Lexington. Here, Patriot leaders John Hancock and Samuel Adams were hiding out. Both men were in danger. King George III had ordered them arrested, shipped to England and put on trial for treason. An advance team of 20 British officers had left Boston in the early afternoon and many were poking around Lexington, asking residents if they knew the whereabouts of Hancock and Adams.
At nine o’clock at night, British transport boats began ferrying the redcoats across the Charles River to Charlestown. An hour later, Dr. Warren summoned Revere and asked him to cross the Charles River by rowboat. On the other side, he could borrow a speedy horse and ride the 12 miles from Charlestown to Lexington. After warning Hancock and Samuel Adams of the British march, Revere was to continue to Concord and make sure the colonists’ war material was either moved out of town or well hidden.
Revere arrived in Lexington a little after midnight, delivered the warning, and Hancock and Samuel Adams escaped before the redcoats arrived. Between Lexington and Concord, Revere was ambushed and arrested by six British officers who interrogated him, took his horse and told him to walk home. Longfellow has Revere riding into Concord at 2 a.m., but that’s poetic license.
It was, in fact, one of Revere’s fellow alarm riders who carried the warning to Concord. Dr. Samuel Prescott, a Concord physician, had been out that night courting his girlfriend in Lexington. Riding home, he crossed paths with Revere and upon hearing of the marching redcoats, he agreed to help warn the citizens along the road, many of whom were his patients. Riding a fresh horse, he was able to break free of the ambush and escape the pursuing officers.
Now, here’s the intriguing part of the story. Neither Hancock nor Adams ever credited Revere for the ride or for possibly saving their lives. Nor was Revere’s heroics mentioned in any New England newspapers or in the first published historical accounts.
Eighteenth century historians who wrote about April 18 and 19, 1775, refer only to “messengers” and “travelers” and “intelligence … being transmitted to the country militia.” Historian Edmund Morgan wrote that, “The part played by Paul Revere was scanted, and his name was not even mentioned.”
Why this historical hush? Why not give Revere his due? Here’s why: He didn’t fit into the mythical narrative that Boston’s patriot leaders had crafted and wished to perpetuate—that narrative insisted that American colonists were the innocent and law-abiding victims of barbarous British aggression. A midnight rider carrying out a curfew-defying secret mission could hardly be called innocent or law-abiding. So, Revere was cut from the narrative.
When Revere died in 1818, his obituary did not mention the midnight ride. It seemed he was destined to go down in history as no more than a local folk hero.
But then, in 1832, nearly 50 years after Revere’s ride, a Boston-based magazine publisher named J. T. Buckingham burrowed into the archives of the Massachusetts Historical Society and emerged with a letter that Revere had written to Jeremy Belknap, the corresponding secretary of the Society. Belknap had been after Revere to tell his story, and in January 1798, “having a little leisure,” Revere finally sat down and wrote “some facts and anecdotes prior to the Battle of Lexington.” Buckingham published the letter in the October issue of his New-England Magazine, and he assured his readers that Revere’s account contained “incident enough to supply a novelist with the basis” of a heroic adventure.
The surfacing of that old letter, by itself, would not have been enough to rocket Revere to national fame. But it just so happened that in that same issue of the magazine, there appeared an ancient French tale translated by a 25-year-old professor of modern languages at Bowdoin College in Brunswick, Maine. The professor’s name was Henry Wadsworth Longfellow and while riffling through his copy of New-England Magazine, he came across Revere’s letter. Like Buckingham, he was riveted and he added Revere’s midnight ride to his list of topics to write about someday.
That day would not come for another 28 years. Longfellow began writing the poem “Paul Revere’s Ride” in April 1860. With the country on the verge of a civil war, the poet took his readers back 85 years. Professor David Hackett Fischer says Longfellow wanted to remind Americans that “one man alone could make a difference, by his service to a great and noble cause.” The poem was published in December 1860, and a few months later, thousands of New Englanders volunteered to fight for another great and noble cause: preserving the nation and ending slavery. In the years since, the once forgotten midnight rider has joined an elite group of American legends.
A friend in Australia shared these brilliant words written by a school principal. I think it is a beautiful perspective to share with our community.
“‘COVID-19 Kids—What If?’
When people say kids are going to be ‘behind’ I say, behind what? Not each other—they’re all in the same boat. Only ‘behind’ the age expectations of a curriculum that currently has limited context due to these extraordinary circumstances. In front on so many other more important fronts I say.
What if instead of ‘behind’ this group of kids is advanced because of this?
What if they have more empathy, they enjoy family connection, they can be more creative and entertain themselves, they love to read, they love to express themselves in writing?
What if they enjoy the simple things, like their own backyard and sitting near a window in the quiet?
What if they notice the birds and the dates the different flowers emerge, and the calming renewal of a gentle rain shower?
What if this generation is the one to learn to cook, organize their space, do their laundry and keep a well-run home?
What if they learn to stretch a dollar and to live with less?
What if they learn to plan shopping trips and meals at home?
What if they learn the value of eating together as a family and finding the good to share in the small delights of the everyday?
What if they are the ones to place great value on our teachers and educational professionals, librarians, public servants and the previously invisible essential support workers like truck drivers, grocers, cashiers, custodians, logistics, and health care workers and their supporting staff, just to name a few of the millions taking care of us right now while we are sheltered in place?
What if among these children, a great leader emerges who had the benefit of a slower pace and a simpler life, who has a fine sense of empathy and care and concern for fellow humans.
What if he or she truly learns what really matters in all this … ”
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