Unsung Heroes of the Midnight Ride; a Dog, a Horse, Two Women and Three Men
It will soon be the two hundred and forty-second anniversary of Paul Revere’s famous ride to alert the country to British aggression.
For eighty-six-years, Revere’s ride hardly drew attention. Many of you know that Henry Wadsworth Longfellow’s poem elevated that memorable evening. Paul Revere had been dead forty-two years before Longfellow published his famous poem. Longfellow’s motivation was to instill patriotism in the Union soldiers preparing to face the secessionist armies during America’s Civil War. Clearly, Longfellow’s intent was very successful at that time in our history and for every successive generation.
It is purely subjective on our part, but Paul Revere did not appear to promote his famous ride. He did his duty and answered many additional calls to jump in the saddle on behalf of the Sons of Liberty. However, he did not see his Express journeys as a stepping stone to gaining the respect and title of Esquire. Han Shin Kap’s journal may help you understand the social network of Boston during that period. Towards the end of Paul’s life, the Town of Boston and many of the Founding Fathers paid homage to the man’s many enterprises on behalf of our young country. Unfortunately, he never did achieve white wig status as a sign of his acceptance into Boston’s upper class. Being an Express rider on many critical occasions, for the various political caucuses, did not enhance his social position. He was not taken for granted. He was a merchant, and that is what they did in the social order.
We offer you another of our articles briefly covering Paul Revere’s total worth to Colonial America. But now we wish to unveil three men, two women, a dog and a horse that assisted Paul Revere that night in accomplishing his midnight ride. It is no fault of Paul, but they deserve their place in history.
Robert Newman, the sexton of The Old North Church, was a dear friend of Paul Revere and a Son of Liberty. He hung the lanterns in the tower on April 18, 1775. As word reached Robert that the British “were out” he was on the upper floor of his mother’s home with quartered British officers entertaining themselves on the first floor. He precipitously lowered himself to the back garden and undetected by the British Officers made his way to the tower of the Old North Church. The lanterns in the tower were the first call to arms that evening, launching thirty or more riders to small towns throughout Massachusetts, Connecticut, and New Hampshire. Surely, if caught, he would have been arrested for espionage or treason, and the end would have been predictable. The British were not too kind to spies. Nathan Hale was hanged the very next day after he was caught spying.
The following may be enhanced by lore but is widely accepted by historians; two women, three men, a dog, and a horse were essential to Paul’s successful ride. Each is just a footnote in history, perhaps because there was no first-hand corroborating documentation.
Paul apparently rushed off, missing two vital tools. The first was his riding spurs that a good horseman must use to direct his horse laterally or forward if riding at breakneck speed or in close quarter combat. Seeing that he forget them, Paul's wife, Rachel, knew the importance and attached them to their loving dog that immediately rushed out to return to his master.[i] The dog avoided detection by the British sentries and the hundreds of soldiers marching to their embarkation points. Pets instinctively detect hostile people by the reaction of their masters. So the family dog navigated to Paul undetected.
Paul hid a row boat at the shortest distance between Boston and Charlestown for that particular occasion. His two friends, Joshua Bentley and Thomas Richardson, were prepared to row him that evening. Secrecy was essential as the H.M.S. Somerset, a seventy-gun British Man of War, was anchored in the middle of the harbor near the Charlestown ferry for the explicit purpose of restricting communications between Sons of Liberty and other radicals. The three men began their nautical journey and realized that they had to muffle their oars to avoid detection. A close friend of one of the men on the pier instantly recognized the issue and removed her petty coat and threw it to the men. It worked wonders to muffle the noise though it thoroughly embarrassed the two men of the Puritan faith. Paul remarked that the petticoat was still warm as it was put to use.[ii]
The row to Charlestown was successful. The lanterns had already given the alert to all other riders. William Dawes was on his way as well. Deacon John Larkin of Charlestown provided the horse Paul would ride to Concord. He was galloping to Concord for the second time in two days. At the suggestion of Joseph Warren, he reconnoitered the road to Concord in anticipation of that nights trip. Deacon Larkin’s son delivered the horse to Paul, but the name of that patriotic steed was not conveyed or had been forgotten, due to the urgency of the ride. Years later, in his official account of his midnight ride, Paul never named the horse, though he was most pleased with his mount.
Further complicating the matter, the events of June 17, 1775, made it difficult to catch up with Reverend Larkin to learn of the horse’s name. Charlestown’s 400[iii] dwellings were torched by the British during the Battle of Bunker Hill, on the claim that snipers had infested the town. As Paul’s midnight ride drifted into obscurity, no one thought to document the horse’s name or breed. Reverend Larkin never returned to Charlestown. Many years later the Reverend's family searched in vain.
As for the breed, the conjecture is that this horse was a New England hybrid, perhaps the forerunner to the Morgan Horse of Townshend, Vermont. Highly versatile, short in stature (a plus), sturdy on ice, can pull its weight and more, responsive to its rider’s moves, lives off the land, highly maneuverable and free of illness.
Late in the evening of his ride, Paul was intercepted near Lexington by a fourteen man British patrol. He was very cunning, talking his way to freedom, but Reverend Larkin’s horse was confiscated and lost to history. No one is sure of the fate of the Reverend’s horse that rode into battle with a British Dragoon. Unfortunately, for one very patriotic horse, her[iv] name has been lost to history.
One exotic name given to Paul’s horse was Scheherezade. It is certainly a beautiful name, but not likely one to expect from a very Puritan Reverend that looks to the Bible for practical matters. Mr. Revere and I [v] is an excellent book intended for the young but well worth reading regardless of your age. You might as well accept the horse's name as this book provides an entertaining historical look at Colonial Boston and America.
Learn more about Paul Revere’s world on our walking tour through the Eighteenth Century.
Lawson, Robert. Mr. Revere and I. London: Little, Brown Young Readers, 2010. Print.
Wheildon, William Willder. History of Paul revere's signal lanterns, April 18, 1775, in the steeple of: with an account of Place of publication not identified: Nabu Press, 2010.
Esther Forbes, Paul Revere & The World He Lived In, Houghton Mifflin, Boston, Mas., 1942.
[i] Esther Forbes, Paul Revere & The World He Lived In, Houhgton Mifflin, Boston, Mas., 1942. P.255
[ii] Esther Forbes, Paul Revere & The World He Lived In, Houhgton Mifflin, Boston, Mas., 1942. P.256
[iii]American, World Of , Rev, comp. "Fires." The World of the American Revolution: A Daily Life Encyclopedia [2 volumes .p.759
[iv] At one point the Larkins had a wonderful mare called Brown Beauty. A name that would be hard to forget so it is questionable if it is the horse.
[v] Lawson, Robert. Mr Revere and I. London: Little, Brown Young Readers, 2010. Print.