Digital History: What do Paul Revere, Lexington, and the Boston Marathon Have in Common?

A reason to run – and Patriots Day!

Today marks the 239th anniversary of the famous ride of Paul Revere, and tomorrow, April 19th, the Battle of Lexington and Concord, which marks the start of the Revolutionary War.   Patriots’ Day, officially the third Monday in April, was designated by the state of Massachusetts to commemorate those who gave their lives to establish our independence as a nation.

Of course, the Boston Marathon predates that by a few years.  The first Marathon was run in 1887, passing close to Paul’s home in Boston’s North End, but not along the actual route that he took on his now famous journey.  A group of  reenactors take care of that each year instead.

Paul Revere’s account of his famous ride in a letter from Paul Revere to Jeremy Belknap, circa 1798.
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Historical documents show us some interesting differences in the stories that we have heard about Revere’s ride for many years, including:

  • Paul Revere never said, “The British are coming… the British are coming…”
  • He didn’t ride at midnight; it was around 10 pm.
  • He didn’t put up the lanterns in the Old North Church; they were put up as signals for his benefit.
  • He didn’t ride alone; he rode with 2 other men, Williams Dawes and Samuel Prescott.
  • Revere’s ride probably wasn’t much fun.  He was captured by the British soldiers before he even made it all the way to Concord. (He was later released.)  Prescott actually warned the troops in Lexington.


Where did most of the story (as we have so often heard it) come from?

A poem by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow called “The Midnight Ride of Paul Revere.” Longfellow, an active abolitionist, published  “Paul Revere’s Ride” n 1860, at the start of the Civil War as an appeal to Northerners’ sense of urgency.  A clear call for action, he used the poem to note that history “favors the courageous.”   Although he was well aware that history differed from his account, he purposely manipulated fact for poetic and emotional effect. *

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