Paul Revere's Ride

by David Hackett Fischer

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Last Updated September 5, 2023.

Paul Revere was a Huguenot silversmith who was highly active in Boston's Whig underground networks. When a stable boy ran from Province House on King Street down Marlborough Street to the North End to tell Revere he had heard British regulars checking their horses and tack and murmuring that "There'll be hell to pay" for the rebels, Paul Revere replied that that was the third time that day he'd heard such reports.

Dr. Joseph Warren, Boston's leading physician and a high-ranking rebel leader was alerted that the time was close at hand. Warren had informants at the highest level of the new British administration, and he confirmed the reports and received further details of the British mission. He was the last of the top Whig leaders in Boston, and the British mission was to arrest John Hancock and Sam Adams in Lexington and blow up the cache of arms and powder there.

Thomas Gage was a good man with a difficult job. It was hard to say a word in Boston without it getting back to the rebel leaders, so the British officers had taken to walking to the end on Long Wharf down from Province House at the end of King Street for privacy. The wealthy Tory-turned-Whig-financier John Hancock and his wily recruiter into the rebel cabal, Sam Adams, were not to be pardoned in the general amnesty granted by General Gage if the rebels desisted. They were to be hung by the neck for treason. Paul Revere's mission from Dr. Joseph Warren was to reach them ahead of the British column in order to save their lives and to alert the rebel soldiers that the fight was coming. Paul Revere never yelled, "The British are coming!" on his famous ride, because he and everyone else in New England were British subjects themselves and intended to remain British.

Samuel Adams was the wily string-puller and match-maker of the revolutionary movement in Boston. He also ran the waterfront mobs of toughs that harassed Boston's colonial officials and Tories. His greatest coup was that he targeted and convinced the wealthy Tory John Hancock to put his large fortune behind the revolutionary cause. He thought he could control Hancock, but the people saw that it was Hancock's money paying for everything, and when Hancock stood up to British officials trying to seize his ships, it was he, not Sam Adams, who became the most popular man in Boston. He remained so until his death after serving nine terms as the first American Governor of Massachusetts. This rankled Sam Adams and his network.

George Washington was the dignified Virginia colonel of militia that had been selected by Sam and John Adams's network as the natural choice to lead the rebel army. This rankled John Hancock, now President of the Continental Congress, to no end. Hancock thought that he would naturally be chosen. After the war, when President Washington visited New England, Governor Hancock was unable to greet him with the expected ceremony, because of gout. Washington, out of respect for the new Federal office, refused to break protocol and call on Hancock. When Hancock heard the people murmur, he reversed course and, with his legs swaddled in scarlet, was carried on a litter to take tea with the President of the United States.

Thomas Paine was the pen of the separatist movement, whose pamphlet convinced Adams, Hancock, Washington, Warren, and the other patriot leaders who were hoping to reconcile with Great Britain on more favorable terms that actually breaking with the mother country was their best option. He was otherwise something of a...

(This entire section contains 708 words.)

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ne'er do well and a Jacobin radical, but he could certainly write a political pamphlet.

Thomas Jefferson was a young Virginia lawyer who also had a flair for words on paper. Hancock, Adams, and the rest of the committee which had decided a Declaration of Independence was in order put Jefferson in charge of the first draft. This was reworked in committee, much to Jefferson's dismay, and his famous "all men are created equal" (which most took to mean that British provincials were equal under law to British subjects in England) was taken by others, and perhaps even by Jefferson himself, to have far more radical egalitarian implications.