The Real Story Of Paul Revere’s Ride

By | November 10, 2019

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Illustration of the Midnight Ride of Paul Revere in 1775, 1938. Screen print. Source: (

Everyone knows the story of Paul Revere’s ride. In order to warn the colonists of Massachusetts that the British army was about to attack, Paul Revere rode his horse through the streets, shouting “The British are coming! The British are coming!” This timely warning allowed the colonists to be prepared for the attack and Paul Revere has gone down in history as a pivotal figure in the American Revolution. There’s just one problem: that well-known story is almost entirely false.

Paul Revere was an important player in the American Revolution and he did warn the colonists of the British attack. But the details of that night have been significantly altered. Most of the blame for this lies with poet Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, who wrote a poem in 1860 entitled “The Midnight Ride of Paul Revere,” bringing attention to an otherwise obscure historical event. While it is believed that Longfellow had an accurate account of the event from which to base his poem, he took considerable creative license in his retelling.

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Paul Revere waiting for the signal from the Old North Church Tower. Source: (Wikimedia Commons)

One thing that Longfellow changed was the signal lanterns used to warn of the British troop's march. In the poem, the signals lanterns are used to send a message to Revere that the British troops had left Boston and it was this warning that prompted his ride. But that’s not what happened. It was actually Revere who used the signal lanterns to notify the Sons of Liberty in Charleston of the impending attack, just in case he was unable to deliver the message in person. This turned out to be a wise decision as Revere never actually reached his destination of Concord, Massachusetts.