Midnight Riders

Midnight Riders

“Listen, my children, and you shall hear

Of the midnight ride of Paul Revere,

On the eighteenth of April, in Seventy-Five . . .”

With this opening, Henry Wadsworth Longfellow began “Paul Revere’s Ride” – the poetic assigned reading for all of us in grade school. On this, the 248th anniversary of the famous patriotic and nocturnal journey, we should celebrate the accomplishments of William Dawes, Samuel Prescott and 16 year old Sybil Ludington. Dawes, Prescott and Ludington? OK, more on those folks later. First, we can figure out how Longfelow may have misled us about Paul Revere.

A few disclaimers. Foremost, a poet of the stature of Henry Wadsworth Longfellow is allowed as much literary license as he saw fit to massage facts in order to craft an excellent literary gem. I fault him not. Second, any comment about Paul Revere in no manner diminishes his accomplishments, his dedication to the cause of the Colonists, or his heroic efforts. Third, at least my teachers in grade school and perhaps across the U.S., accepted as gospel Longfellow’s account in Paul Revere’s Ride with no effort to discern the underlying facts. In a sense, why let the facts get in the way of a good tail? Perhaps these instructors were simply too lazy to dig even modestly below the surface. Any negative comment or remark about a grade school teacher is NOT directed to the holy Sisters of Saint Joseph from my grade school (as I still fear retribution!).

We all recall Longfellow’s poem. Upon receiving the signal of two lanterns from the North Church tower on April 18, 1775, Revere dashed away at midnight on horseback on a twenty mile journey to alert villagers and farmers alike that the British military was on the move. Paul Revere galloped to Lexington and Concord with all then standing prepared to send the British scurrying back toward Boston. While not to be found in the poem, Revere supposedly shouted “The British are coming! The British are coming!” throughout this ride.

We can easily tackle “The British are coming!” chant. Not a chance that Revere shouted that phrase during his ride. The British soldiers were known and identified as the “Regulars”. Of course, “The Regulars are coming!” fails to hold the same cache as the popular phrase. Recall also at this time in 1775, many Colonists Revere alerted still considered themselves British even with all the problems with the Crown. More importantly, the British occupied many areas along the roadways and had soldiers positioned in the woods. Shouting was not the way to go to covertly alert others. Revere would approach houses of those known to be friendly to the cause and, at most, knock on the doors or window frames to provide the notice.

I always held the view that Paul Revere bravely rode alone on this dangerous assignment. Longfellow makes no mention of anyone else with Revere. While it did not lessen the danger one bit, the aforementioned William Dawes and Samuel Prescott rode together with Paul Revere to warn others. The three would split up to cover more ground and meet again on the designated path to notify as many as possible of the approaching marching troops. As they rode, the three solicited more volunteers. By dawn, a group numbering as many as 40 Colonists were riding to alert the villagers and farmers on the way.

Notably, Paul Revere never even reached Concord as we all so firmly believed. The British intercepted Revere, Dawes and Prescott. Dawes and Prescott escaped in different directions on horseback with the British temporarily detaining Paul Revere at Lexington. Dawes fell from his horse and lost his way on foot. Only Prescott reached and alerted the residents of Concord of the need for the immediate call to arms.

In addition, while one benefit of the midnight ride was, indeed, to alert the “friendlies”, the primary purpose of Paul Revere’s ride was to reach John Hancock and Samuel Adams who were then housed in the Lexington area preparing for the soon to be fight with the British. Revere did reach Hancock and Adams with the key advice thereby allowing a counter-offensive to be placed in motion.

Paul Revere’s midnight ride will remain the glorified event of his existence courtesy of Henry Wadsworth Longfellow. Yet, surprising at least to me, Paul Revere accomplished so much more than this vital nocturnal notice journey. Raised in Boston’s North End, Paul Revere was the third of twelve children. His father, a silversmith, arrived in Boston at age 13 from France. This lineage alone could explain antagonism toward the British.

Revere left school at age 13 and began his silversmith apprenticeship with his father. Learning the silversmith trade allowed Paul Revere to develop connections throughout different social strata in Boston – relationships he would use for the remainder of his life. Revere’s father died unexpectedly with Paul Revere legally too young to become master of the family silver shop. However, not being too young for military service, Revere signed up for action in the French and Indian War in the 1750s. These few years in the military further expanded Revere’s network. After this service, Revere took over the family business.

During the 1760s, Revere’s business suffered due to excessive taxes levied on the Colonists, including the Stamp Act of 1765. To assist to make ends meet, Paul Revere hung out a shingle as a dentist. Alright. It took years of apprenticeship and years of formal training to become a silversmith. Then current laws or regulations precluded Revere from serving as master of a silver shop until he reached a minimum age. Yet, becoming a dentist required only a sign on the door.

Revere became friendly with one patient, Joseph Warren. Warren served as one of the “Loyal Nine”, a group organized to protest against the Stamp Act. This association then pulled Revere into the Sons of Liberty with Revere responsible for engravings which served as opposition pieces to British rule. Revere’s opposition roles grew during this time with Paul Revere serving as one of the ringleaders in the 1773 Boston Tea Party.

Paul Revere accepted the position of courier for the Boston Committee of Public Safety. This position required travel to New York City and Philadelphia. This new position fit well with Revere’s service as a “mechanic”.

The mechanics were a group of 30 spies dedicated to observing and reporting on the movements of the British. The mechanics, the first known spy ring in the Colonies, regularly met at the Green Dragon Tavern in Boston, exchanging information. Revere’s extensive connections provided opportunities and served as conduits to pass information. Revere’s work-related travels provided cover to transport these secrets. Side note, the North Church, Paul Revere’s house and the Green Dragon Tavern still exist in Boston with each worth the visit on your next trip.

During the Revolutionary War, Revere dutifully served with his most famous contribution remaining the Midnight Ride. After the war, Paul Revere made significant contributions in the business world. Revere modernized certain silver foundry processes which, in hindsight, were among the first steps toward automation. As a silversmith himself, Paul Revere valued artisans. He employed such skilled workers offering flexible hours, higher wages correlated to skill and experience levels, and liquor available on the job.

Learning about Paul Revere through Longfellow’s verse represented a different grade school experience than most lessons. Perhaps that dynamic explains why we all so well remember Paul Revere’s Midnight Ride. Kudos to Longfellow. Would not Revere stand out so much more if we were also taught that he ran a spy ring, he dumped tea in Boston Harbor, and he gave his workers free booze?

Longfellow never mentions William Dawes or Samuel Prescott, but their contributions remain in the history journals. Good luck finding mention of Sybil Ludington. As it turns out, in April 1777, almost two years to the day after Paul Revere’s famous ride, the British planned a surprise attack on Danbury, Connecticut. A strategic April attack should catch the Americans unprepared as most soldiers were dismissed to prepare their fields for the upcoming planting season. American Colonel Henry Ludington received news of the British plans to march on Danbury, but all of Ludington’s men had been relieved to tend to their farms.

Colonel Ludington turned to his 16 year old daughter to carry message of the surprise attack and rally the troops in response. Sybil set off at 9 p.m. on a storm filled night and rode not the mere twenty miles logged by Revere, Dawes and Prescott, but on a forty mile trek to warn of the British plans. Sybil did not have time to stop and knock on doors of the “friendlies” so she used a long branch to bang on window frames and doorways as she dashed by households on horseback. Sybil rode through the rain-filled night with over 400 militia men then headed toward Danbury by dawn.

Colonel Ludington apparently had no hesitation relying on his 16 year old daughter for this life-threatening assignment. The few accounts of the Ludingtons reference many children with Sybil the eldest. There is never mention of a Mrs. Ludington, but notes that Sybil served as the primary care-giver for her numerous, younger siblings. Perhaps for Sybil a night galloping along a forty mile stretch during a strong Spring storm seemed more appealing than once again caring for baby brothers and sisters.

A key element in proper estate planning involves naming those who will serve as your agents in various powers of attorney. Clients must name agents to serve in a general power of attorney to manage business affairs in the event of the client’s incapacity. Perhaps more importantly, an agent needs to be named to make health care decisions, possibly life or death determinations, in a medical power of attorney.

Clients should want a Paul Revere in these agency positions. Revere assisted in opposing the Stamp Act. He organized the Boston Tea Party. He ran a spy ring. When called upon for his Midnight Ride, Revere had over a dozen years of experience with similar issues. No big deal for Paul Revere. Such an agent with vast experience and preparation would serve well. But few Paul Reveres exist.

The clients need a Sybil Ludington. She had no wartime service or involvement. Her credentials included child care. Yet, her father saw in her the ability to tackle this different and demanding task, perils and all. Sybil rose to the challenge and performed beyond expectations when called upon. The agents in your estate plan need not be professional trustees, bankers or physicians. They need to be Sybil Ludington who can rise to meet the circumstances.

You can listen my children, but there is still no tail

Of a sixteen year old girl who refused to fail.

Yet, she rode the storm all o’ the night

To rouse the troops to join the fight.

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