Paul Revere's Ride Questions and Answers
by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

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What does Paul Revere's friend hear as he wanders about the town at night?

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Paul Revere’s Ride is a famous poem that tells the story of Yankee forefather Paul Revere, who warned people in New England towns that the British were coming.

He tells his friend that if the British march by “land or sea,” the friend is to hang a lantern in the belfry tower of the North-Church as a signal. His instructions are to hang “one [lantern] if by land, and two if by sea.”

In other words, the friend is to position himself atop the old North-Church tower so that he has a good view of the streets below. The British are likely to gather their troops in the middle of the night under the cover of darkness. If the friend sees them mount horses to attack by land, his instructions are to hang one lantern. However, if he sees them march down to their ships in order to attack by sea, he is to hang two lanterns.

Paul Revere will position himself “on the opposite shore” to await the signal. Once he sees it, he will “ride and spread the alarm” through all the small villages in Middlesex so that the Minutemen can prepare to counter-attack. The Minutemen earned that name because they were prepared to arm themselves quickly to meet the opposing British army.

As the friend wanders through the town at night before climbing up to the church tower, 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.

By this, he learns that the British are preparing to attack by sea. Once inside the church tower, he confirms this. He spies “a shadowy something far away“ by the river. He therefore hangs two lanterns in the belfry.

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