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On This Day in 1775

By Patrick Van Roy On April 18th, 2019

Massachusetts silversmith Paul Revere saddles up and heads off into the night to alert his fellow colonial militia members of the British force’s imminent arrival and their intent to commandeer the American’s arms as well as to arrest patriots Samuel Adams and John Hancock.

Listen, my children, and you shall hear
Of the midnight ride of Paul Revere,
On the eighteenth of April, in Seventy-Five:
Hardly a man is now alive 
Who remembers that famous day and year.

He said to his friend, “If the British march
By land or sea from the town to-night,
Hang a lantern aloft in the belfry-arch
Of the North-Church-tower, as a signal-light,–
One if by land, and two if by sea;
And I on the opposite shore will be,
Ready to ride and spread the alarm
Through every Middlesex village and farm,
For the country-folk to be up and to arm.”

Then he said “Good night!” and with muffled oar
Silently rowed to the Charlestown shore,
Just as the moon rose over the bay,
Where swinging wide at her moorings lay
The Somerset, British man-of-war:
A phantom ship, with each mast and spar
Across the moon, like a prison-bar,
And a huge black hulk, that was magnified 
By its own reflection in the tide.

Meanwhile, his friend, through alley and street
Wanders and watches with eager ears, 
Till in the silence around him he hears 
The muster of men at the barrack door,
The sound of arms, and the tramp of feet, 
And the measured tread of the grenadiers 
Marching down to their boats on the shore.

Then he climbed to the tower of the church,
Up the wooden stairs, with stealthy tread,
To the belfry-chamber overhead,
And startled the pigeons from their perch
On the sombre rafters, that round him made
Masses and moving shapes of shade,–
By the trembling ladder, steep and tall,
To the highest window in the wall,
Where he paused to listen and look down
A moment on the roofs of the town,
And the moonlight flowing over all.

Beneath, in the churchyard, lay the dead, 
In their night-encampment on the hill, 
Wrapped in silence so deep and still 
That he could hear, like a sentinel’s tread, 
The watchful night-wind, as it went 
Creeping along from tent to tent, 
And seeming to whisper, “All is well!” 
A moment only he feels the spell 
Of the place and the hour, and the secret dread 
Of the lonely belfry and the dead; 
For suddenly all his thoughts are bent 
On a shadowy something far away, 
Where the river widens to meet the bay, —
A line of black, that bends and floats 
On the rising tide, like a bridge of boats.

Meanwhile, impatient to mount and ride, 
Booted and spurred, with a heavy stride, 
On the opposite shore walked Paul Revere.
Now he patted his horse’s side, 
Now gazed on the landscape far and near, 
Then impetuous stamped the earth, 
And turned and tightened his saddle-girth;
But mostly he watched with eager search 
The belfry-tower of the old North Church, 
As it rose above the graves on the hill, 
Lonely and spectral and sombre and still.
And lo! as he looks, on the belfry’s height, 
A glimmer, and then a gleam of light!
He springs to the saddle, the bridle he turns, 
But lingers and gazes, till full on his sight 
A second lamp in the belfry burns!

A hurry of hoofs in a village-street,
A shape in the moonlight, a bulk in the dark, 
And beneath from the pebbles, in passing, a spark 
Struck out by a steed that flies fearless and fleet: 
That was all! And yet, through the gloom and the light, 
The fate of a nation was riding that night; 
And the spark struck out by that steed, in his flight, 
Kindled the land into flame with its heat.

He has left the village and mounted the steep,
And beneath him, tranquil and broad and deep,
Is the Mystic, meeting the ocean tides;
And under the alders, that skirt its edge,
Now soft on the sand, now loud on the ledge,
Is heard the tramp of his steed as he rides.

It was twelve by the village clock
When he crossed the bridge into Medford town.
He heard the crowing of the cock, 
And the barking of the farmer’s dog, 
And felt the damp of the river-fog,
That rises when the sun goes down.

It was one by the village clock,
When he galloped into Lexington. 
He saw the gilded weathercock 
Swim in the moonlight as he passed, 
And the meeting-house windows, blank and bare, 
Gaze at him with a spectral glare, 
As if they already stood aghast 
At the bloody work they would look upon.

It was two by the village clock,
When be came to the bridge in Concord town. 
He heard the bleating of the flock, 
And the twitter of birds among the trees, 
And felt the breath of the morning breeze
Blowing over the meadows brown.
And one was safe and asleep in his bed
Who at the bridge would be first to fall,
Who that day would be lying dead,
Pierced by a British musket-ball.

You know the rest. In the books you have read,
How the British Regulars fired and fled,–
How the farmers gave them ball for ball,
From behind each fence and farmyard-wall,
Chasing the red-coats down the lane,
Then crossing the fields to emerge again
Under the trees at the turn of the road,
And only pausing to fire and load.

So through the night rode Paul Revere;
And so through the night went his cry of alarm
To every Middlesex village and farm,– 
A cry of defiance, and not of fear,
A voice in the darkness, a knock at the door,
And a word that shall echo forevermore!
For, borne on the night-wind of the Past,
Through all our history, to the last,
In the hour of darkness and peril and need,
The people will waken and listen to hear
The hurrying hoof-beats of that steed,
And the midnight message of Paul Revere.

12 Responses to “On This Day in 1775”

  1. Pat its always refreshing to see how deeply you emblrace the fiction that is american history

  2. Them thar are fightin words son….. oh wait I forgot your a canadian…. 😉

  3. The poem is a yarn, but it’s beautiful and anything that keeps interest in history alive is fine by me.

  4. At least Colm admires Longfellow…

  5. Sybil Ludington is the great story, rising further than Revere as a teenager to alert the militia in rural New York to the British attack on Danbury and Ridgfield.

  6. and most people in our own country don’t even know a woman was involved. sad

  7. my Irish colleagues need take note…… this is how it’s done.

    On this day — April 19

    American Revolutionary War begins

    Thirteen colonies enter the bloody struggle to break free from the crown, as British troops arrive in Lexington, Massachusetts, intent on seizing the patriots’ weapons and imprisoning its leaders. Shots are exchanged, eight Americans die, and the war for independence is on.

  8. Was she the one married to the British governor, got the plans out of him and told the Yanks…?

    //The poem is a yarn, but it’s beautiful and//

    It’s a great story. The image of riding a horse across open countryside by moonlight warning of an attack can’t but be romantic.
    But I always thought it was one of Longfellow’s off days.
    Some of the lines don’t scan, and how could anyone, even the British, “march by sea” or “watch with eager ears”?
    You can see he’s best when talking about death. The description of the graveyard is brilliant and I love the lines
    “And one was safe and asleep in his bed
    Who at the bridge would be first to fall,
    Who that day would be lying dead,
    Pierced by a British musket-ball.”

    Despite their many sins with Indians and slavery and Vietnams, etc, the Americans have a great history – an honest and relatively clean war of independence, based on stirring rhetoric and founding documents, then the frontier experience with all its drama and legends, even their own Thermopylae at the Alamo, etc.

    They were fortunate. By comparision, the history of Australia, for example, is mostly alternating periods of terrible pain and terrible boredom.

  9. why thank you Noel

  10. Australia was and even now can be so endlessly far away from everything.

  11. //my Irish colleagues need take note…… this is how it’s done.

    ..enter the bloody struggle to break free from the crown, as British troops arrive in Lexington, Massachusetts, intent on seizing the patriots’ weapons and imprisoning its leaders. //

    Actually, at around the same time. British troops arrived also to seize weapons from patriots in various parts of Ireland. The Irish movement “to break free from the crown” was republican like the American rebels and was in fact inspired by them.

    However, unlike the situation in America, as the British troops went through Ireland they burned down churches and homes. Those found with weapons, even with pikes, were hanged from trees, their houses burned down. People who knew them were pitch-capped, with boiling pitch poured over their heads until they told the military all they know. After the rebellion broke out, there was widespred massacre, floggings and rape of civilians.
    Between 20,000 and 50,000 people were killed.

    As I said, the US was just fortunate. The colonists did not encounter an enemy bent on destroying them or who treated them as a subspecies. The British in fact considered the Colonists to be their equals, even brothers (as a famous contemporary joint memorial to the American and British dead testifies). There was no religious difference and, most importantly, the British had never taken land from the colonists and the colonists were not fighting to take it back.

    Religious temperatures burned very hot back then, and both sides in the American war were generally of the same religion. When wild sectarianism comes into it, as in Ireland, people behave with a level of brutality that was never seen in America.

    The only comparision that can be drawn is that both the Irish and Americans wanted to break away from the crown and were republicans. But the British reaction to the two uprisings was totally different.

  12. we weren’t just “fortunate” we acted with honor.

    That’s the difference.