You Are There: Season 2, Episode 32

Paul Revere's Ride (April 18. 1775) (11 Apr. 1954)

TV Episode  -   -  Drama | History
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Richard Branda ...
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Noel Leslie
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Sam Adams
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Drama | History

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11 April 1954 (USA)  »

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1.33 : 1
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"Twas the 18th of April in 'Seventy - five. Hardly a Man Is Now Alive..."
18 January 2007 | by (United States) – See all my reviews

It helps recall a historical event if a good poet happens to come along to immortalize it. Hence Lord Tennyson with the Charge of the Light Brigade, Gerald Manley Hopkins with the wreck of the steamer "Deutschland" in 1875, and Henry Wadsworth Longfellow with "Paul Revere's Ride". Of course it doesn't always work. Hopkins also wrote a poem (earlier in his private career as a secret poet) called "THE WRECK OF H.M.S. Eurydice" about a squall in the English Channel that caused the rapid sinking of a training ship with the loss of the crew of midshipman (in 1878; "THE WRECK OF THE DEUTSCHLAND" was written a few years later). Tennyson (as I pointed out in my comments about the second film called THE CHARGE OF THE LIGHT BRIGADE) wrote a long, far too long poem about the charge of the Heavy Brigade on the same day in 1854 in the Crimean War - it is rather turgid. You also can have a comic misfire that one can see was meant well: William Topaz MacGonigal's TAY BRIDGE DISASTER is one of those (though still memorable in an inept sort of way).

Longfellow's "Paul Revere's Ride" is a lively, easy to memorize work by the American poet - it is not one of his best works, like EVANGELINE or THE BUILDING OF THE SHIP ("Sail on, sail on, oh ship of state. Sail on, oh Union strong but great"), or THE CHILDREN'S HOUR. But it helps allow kids to like poetry a little. It tells an exciting story (at a point when some degree of patriotism is supposed to be instilled in a child. That it does not tell the full story is understandable. Too many features that would confuse the reader.

The background is simple. General Thomas Gage was trying to snuff out the revolutionary threat to British authority in the colony of Massachusetts, due mostly to the activity of Samuel Adams (with his rich ally John Hancock). Ever since the closing of the port of Boston by the British in retaliation for the Boston Tea Party (see my description of the YOU ARE THERE episode about it), the citizens of Massachusetts were training paramilitary groups called "minutemen" in the fields of the villages around Boston. They also had stored guns and powder in the town of Concord (roughly twenty miles outside Boston). Gage learned from spies that Adams and Hancock were spending a few days at Lexington near Concord, so Gage decided to capture them and to destroy the arms the colonies had collected at Concord.

Boston was honeycombed with agents of Samuel Adams, so they knew a troop movement was being planned for April 18th, 1775. One of Adams closest friends and collaborators was the silversmith and occasional propagandist Paul Revere. Revere was training to be a fast horseman, to carry off some important messages for Adams' Sons of Liberty. He was to wait across the Charles River in Charles Town to warn the country side when the British were leaving. A signal was to be given in the Old North Church of Boston, one lantern if British troops left by land on their mission, and two lanterns if it was by sea. Revere waited and saw two lanterns put into the steeple. He jumped on his horse and road as fast as possible to warn Adams and Hancock and the minutemen guarding the military stores.

If you read the poem you get the idea that Revere did it all successfully by himself. Actually he had the assistance of at least two other horseman - messengers: Samuel Prescott (a relative of the later historian of the Conquests of Mexico and Peru) and William Dawes (a relative of the Nobel Prize winning Vice President who served under Calvin Coolidge). Revere and Dawes were captured and detained by a British patrol, but Prescott got through. The message did get to hundreds of local patriots, who came out to confront the British. At first the British won, by winning a skirmish on Lexingon Green (in which a number of colonials were killed). But Hancock and Adams flew the town of Lexington, and Concord turned out to be an error - the British under Col. Smith and Lord Percy did reach Concord, and destroyed the arms there, but they were over extended in terms of distance to travel rapidly to get back to Boston safely. Minutemen came from miles around, and fired on the retreating British column - turning the day into a disaster. Nearly one quarter of the British troops were wounded or killed on the retreat-march. These losses and the earlier American losses at Lexington (as well as earlier bloody confrontations like 1770's Boston Massacre) made the revolution inevitable after 18th April 1775.

Revere was eventually released. It was his historic highpoint as a patriot (his reputation as a silversmith would finish his importance to most people). What is not usually remembered is his 1779 court martial, when he helped bankrupt the state in the Penobscot Campaign. Massachusetts owned the land that is now the state of Maine, and Revere was put in charge of leading a force of Massachusetts men and ships against the British naval base on the Penobscot River in Maine. Revere may have been a gifted silversmith and a good horseman, but he was a lousy strategist and tactician. He lost the campaign, which left the colony's treasury in straightened circumstances. Although acquitted by the court martial, Revere's reputation was darkened with his fellow Bostonians for many years. Fortunately he lived until 1818, so he lived to be a hero from the past again.


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