#5 Paul Revere’s Midnight Ride
In Henry Wadsworth Longfellow’s poem The Midnight Ride of Paul Revere, little children are told a fantastic story of patriotism and late night horse riding. In the poem, Revere and a few others coordinate a secret warning signal so an informant can tell everyone how the British are invading; one lantern in the Old North Church if the Brits were coming over land, two lanterns if they were invading by way of the harbor. After chilling for a while with his horse, Revere sees his signal of two lanterns and starts galloping from village to village, warning all the locals to tool up.
Take a look:
Listen my children and you shall hear; Of the midnight ride of Paul Revere
You might notice that the story of Paul Revere that you’ve always heard happens to rhyme. If you ever took a creative writing class, or actually listened to the lyrics of a Kanye West song, you might have noticed that the truth really doesn’t give a shit how well it rhymes.
But it’s still somewhat surprising to learn that Paul Revere got sole credit for the ride because “Revere” rhymed with “hear.” We wish we were joking. Longfellow was not out to write accurate history, in fact he gets many other facts seriously wrong in his poem. What he wanted was a poem that reminded those who read it of the glorious beginnings of the United States. Why was that so important? Because he wrote it in January 1861, and the country was about to be torn in half. He wanted to inspire New Englanders in the face of the looming Civil War.
The story starts to fall apart when you look at the facts. First of all, this was a covert operation. Screaming the “British are coming” at the top of your lungs when up to 20 percent of the population are loyal to the crown is a good way to get busted. He did quietly warn other men, but whispering your warning is a lot slower than shouting it from horseback. To get the drop on the British, they need an estimated 40 people to take part in “Revere’s” ride. The only two other names we know are William Dawes and Samuel Prescott, and the latter only took part because they ran into him “returning from a lady friend’s house at the awkward hour of 1 a.m.”
Another thing that slows you down when warning of a potential invasion is stopping, and having a beer. Yep, the three men took a break from starting America by stopping at a pub, where some British sentries decided to investigate these patriotic ne’er-do-wells. Dawes and Prescott led the sentries on two exciting chases through the woods, both managing to evade capture and reach the towns they were supposed to warn. Revere? Well, he gave up without a fight at the pub. Yes, of the 40 people involved in the operation, we know about three, and Revere was the least heroic of the group. But because his name is easier to rhyme, we celebrate his achievements instead of the guys who actually completed their rides.