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Midnight Ride of Patriot Messengers - American Revolutionary War

Updated on June 17, 2017
Phyllis Doyle profile image

Phyllis believes it is so important to educate our children on Early American History, for it is what shaped our country.

Midnight Ride of Paul Revere

Illustration of Paul Revere from Office of War Information
Illustration of Paul Revere from Office of War Information | Source

Alarm and Muster System

The midnight ride of Patriot messengers on the evening of April 18, 1775, was part of an organized system the American colonists had begun using long before during the Indian wars.

The "alarm and muster" system had been much improved since then. Express riders, bells, drums, alarm guns, bonfires and even trumpets sent rapid communication to all the towns in a relay method. This became so effective that 25 miles away from Boston, colonists were alerted to British movements.

In the early morning of April 19, 1775, the first open armed conflict in the American Revolutionary War began at the Battles of Lexington and Concord. The battle was between the Province of Massachusetts Bay and Great Britain. If not for the Patriot messengers who rode hard late on the night of the 18th to spread the warning to colonists, the outcome of the battles would have been very different.

General Thomas Gage, British military governor of Massachusetts, commanded the British troops which were garrisoned in Boston.

General Thomas Gage, British Commander

General Thomas Gage, by  John Singleton Copley (1738–1815)
General Thomas Gage, by John Singleton Copley (1738–1815) | Source

Previous Conflicts

The Powder Alarm incidents seven months earlier, had heightened tensions -- yet it also prepared the Patriots for organizing quick responses when a threat was evident.

General Gage had wanted to bring all the stockpiled gunpowder under his control in hopes of trying to keep peace. It was to be a secret mission, but information leaked out and the Patriots were on the move and ready to do battle if necessary. Rumors had spread that the British were attacking.

When the Patriots found out that the British troops had only been sent out to take the gunpowder, which was the British stockpile, they returned home and no battle had taken place.

Prior to the Powder Alarm, the Patriots had removed most of their own gunpowder and weaponry from the storage in Somerville and hid it in other towns. This was done when they somehow got information of what Gage and his commanders were planning. It seems that much of the "secret" plans of General Gage somehow was leaked to the Patriots.

The rebellion by the Colonists was growing ever stronger over incidents like the Powder Alarm. When Gage was backed by the Massachusetts Government Act of Parliament, the Provincial government of the colony was no longer effective and resistance to the threat from British military was becoming stronger under the leadership of John Hancock, Samuel Adams, Paul Revere, Joseph Warren, William Dawes and Samuel Prescott.

John Hancock, 1737 - 1793

John Hancock, by John Singleton Copley (1738–1815)
John Hancock, by John Singleton Copley (1738–1815) | Source

Samuel Adams, 1722 - 1803

Samuel Adams by John Singleton Copley, 1772
Samuel Adams by John Singleton Copley, 1772 | Source

British intelligence Leaks

On April 8, word had reached the rebellion leaders from London that Secretary of State William Legge had secret instructions for General Gage to disarm rebels and imprison the leaders of the rebellion, specifically Samuel Adams and John Hancock. Gage did not receive the "secret" instructions till six days after the Patriots already knew about them.

The rebellion leaders left Boston on the 8th. Paul Revere and Joseph Warren stayed in Boston. On the evening of April 18, Joseph Warren knew that British troops were heading for Lexington and Concord to capture and imprison Adams and Hancock, who were hiding out in Lexington at the house of Hancock's relatives. Warren passed the information on to William Dawes and Paul Revere, who were then sent out to warn Adams and Hancock and also alert the colonial militias of the British movements.

It is believed, but never proven, that a possible source of British forthcoming missions were leaked to Joseph Warren by Margaret Kemble Gage, wife of General Thomas Gage. Margaret was born in New Jersey -- she had a close relationship with Warren, and was sympathetic to the Patriots cause.

Joseph Warren, 1741 - 1775

Joseph Warren by John Singleton Copley (1738–1815)
Joseph Warren by John Singleton Copley (1738–1815) | Source

Margaret Kemble Gage, 1734 - 1824

Margaret Kemble Gage, by John Singleton Copley (1738–1815)
Margaret Kemble Gage, by John Singleton Copley (1738–1815) | Source

Who were the spies?

Do you feel that Margaret Gage and Joseph Warren were spies for the Patriots? Do you think anyone else was involved as spies for the Patriots?

See results

Ride of Revere, Dawes, and Prescott

After giving instructions to send a warning signal to Charlestown, Revere crossed the Charles River in a rowboat. Without any problem, he managed to pass the HMS Somerset, a British warship which was anchored, and reached Charlestown. From there he rode to Lexington, skirting around a British patrol. On that ride he warned almost every house along the way and those colonists sent additional riders to the north.

Dawes rode the southern land route on horseback, crossing the narrow strip of land called the Boston Neck, which connected Boston to the city of Roxbury. He crossed over the Great Bridge which spanned the Charles River and rode on to Lexington, warning colonists along the way.

When Revere and Dawes reached Lexington, they went over the situation with Hancock and Adams. The men discussed the situation with the militia which gathered there with them. It was believed that the main plan of the British was to not just capture the leaders of the rebellion, but to confiscate the weapons and gunpowder stored in Concord, so Revere, Dawes, and Samuel Prescott rode on to Concord to warn the colonists.

Unfortunately, the Patriot riders were intercepted by four British troops who were sent out to scout. They were part of a British patrol led by Major Mitchell in Lincoln. The British captured Revere.

Dawes was thrown from his horse as he rode into a yard of a nearby house shouting for help. Fearing that there would be an ambush, the two officers chasing Dawes turned and left. Dawes later returned to Lexington.

Prescott was the only rider to escape and reach Concord, where other riders were sent out to colonies. Prescott was a local of the Concord area, he knew the terrain and the forest well -- plus he was an expert horseman. He managed to lose the British troops and made it safely to Concord, where he spread the warning.

Paul Revere, 1734 - 1818

Paul Revere by John Singleton Copley (1738–1815)
Paul Revere by John Singleton Copley (1738–1815) | Source

Militia and Minutemen Deployed Quickly

If not for the Patriot Messengers, who rode hard to spread the warning to colonists, the outcome of the battles would have been very different.The ride of these three Patriots accomplished the purpose. Many other riders took up the call and continued on from the main towns to warn their country men.

All these Patriot Messengers managed to send out the alarm that mustered the militia and minutemen to deploy quickly. The fighting men throughout the colonies were ready and able to meet the British Army later that morning at the Battles of Lexington and Concord -- the first open armed battle of the American Revolutionary War.

Note From Author

It is believed by many that Margaret Kemble Gage, wife of General Thomas Gage, passed along important messages to the Patriots through Joseph Warren. I have a theory that John Singleton Copley was also involved in getting messages to the Patriots.

Copley was an American painter, born in Boston, Massachusetts, who was active in both colonial America and in England. All the paintings of the portraits featured in this article were done by John Singleton Copley between 1765 and 1772. I find that very indicative that Copley could have overheard some things that he thought the Patriots should know and passed along the information.

© 2013 Phyllis Doyle Burns

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