Because of Henry Wadsworth Longfellow’s famous poem, “Paul Revere’s Ride,” most people think that Revere was critical to the start of the Revolutionary War. In trying to dispel Longfellow’s myth of a lone hero, modern scholars have portrayed Revere as just one rider among dozens on 18-19 April 1775, and argued that his previous rides for the Patriot cause might have been more important. A survey of newspapers from 1774 and 1775 shows that in fact those earlier rides had made Revere prominent enough that he did stand out in reports of the fighting at Lexington and Concord, even as Massachusetts authorities kept the extent of his activities quiet.[i]
Paul Revere was a man who wore many hats. He was well known throughout New England for his engravings, his silver work, his Masonic fellowship and his political activity. Plus, in 1774 and early 1775, Revere worked as an express rider for the Boston Committee of Correspondence and the Massachusetts Committee of Safety. He frequently carried letters, newspapers and other important communication between cities, including Boston, Hartford, New York and Philadelphia. Revere’s early dispatches related to some of the biggest American events of the eighteenth century, including the destruction of the tea, the Boston Port Bill and the Suffolk Resolves. In December 1774, at the age of 39, he rode to Portsmouth to alert local Patriot leaders that the Royal Navy was on its way to seize gunpowder and arms from Fort William and Mary. Newspaper printers would eagerly print Revere’s tidings, frequently attributing the particular intelligence to being delivered by “Mr. Paul Revere,” and often emphasizing his name in all capital letters. At least 33 New England newspaper issues (from 10 different New England titles) prominently plugged Paul Revere, the express, during the 10-month window between 9 May 1774 and 12 March 1775. Even newspapers in the middle and southern colonies, as well as overseas, frequently re-attributed content from Philadelphia, New York and Boston to Paul Revere’s dispatches. This extraordinary volume of newspaper coverage certainly cemented Revere’s popular status as the principal Patriot messenger.[ii]
Revere’s name also appeared in the newspaper reports of the Battle of Lexington and Concord, but in notably different ways. Among the frenzy of private correspondence racing across the American countryside in late April 1775, at least two letters originating from the Hartford area mentioned Paul Revere by name. Being the seat of Connecticut government and the middle point between New York and Boston, Hartford was a stopping point during Revere’s rides in 1774 and Hartford-area Patriots knew him well.[iii] Printers in New York and Philadelphia read and typeset portions of the Connecticut letters as they hurried to piece together bits of oral, manuscript and printed intelligence to corroborate accounts of Lexington and Concord. As a result, the Revere-related intelligence differs per city.
An extract of one letter from Wethersfield, Connecticut, to a gentleman in New York, dated 23 April 1775, speculated that Revere was murdered. The following is part of that letter as it was printed in the 27 April New-York Journal and 1 May New-York Gazette.
“The late frequent marchings and countermarchings into the country, were calculated to conceal the most cruel and inhuman design, and imagining they had laid suspicion asleep, they pitched upon Wednesday night for the execution. A hint being got, two expresses were sent to alarm the Congress; one of them had the good fortune to arrive, the other (Mr. Revere) is missing, supposed to be way-laid and slain.”[iv]
A second Connecticut letter, also dated 23 April, presumably credited Revere with delivering “secret and speedy intelligence” to John Hancock and Samuel Adams in Lexington, but the letter was reprinted with enough variation by the New-York Journal (alongside the Wethersfield article) to prevent Revere from getting credit in print. John Holt printed the “secret and speedy intelligence” letter this way in his 27 April New-York Journal:
“Extract of another letter of the same date [23 April],
On Tuesday night the 18th instant, as secretly as possible, General Gage draughted out about 1000 or 1200 of his best troops, which he embarked on a transport, and landed that night at Cambridge. –Wednesday morning by day break they marched up to Lexington, where before breakfast, as usual, about 30 of the inhabitants were practising the material exercise. –Upon these, without the least provocation, they fired about 15 minutes killed six men, and wounded several, without a single shot from our men, who retreated as fast as possible. –Hence they proceeded to Concord; on the road thither, they fired at, and killed a man on horseback, –went to the House where Mr. Hancock lodged, who, with Mr. Samuel Adams, luckily got out of their way, by the means of secret and speedy intelligence. The House was searched for them, but when they could not be found, the inhuman soldiery killed the woman of the house and all the children, and set fire to the house. Mr. Paul Revere was missing when the express came away in their way to Concord, the Regulars fired at and killed hogs, geese, cattle, and every thing that came in their way, and burnt several houses. …”[v]
This version of the letter, with Revere not being tied directly to the secret and speedy intelligence, was republished in the 1 May 1775 New-York Gazette, and copies of the Gazette soon sailed across the Atlantic where the same account was printed in at least three British newspapers.[vi]
Another version of the “secret and speedy intelligence” letter published in the 28 April Pennsylvania Mercury. Thanks to Philadelphia printers Enoch Story and Daniel Humphreys, Revere was properly credited this time with delivering the intelligence. Story and Humphreys’ version of the letter appeared this way:
“on the road thither, they fired at, and killed a man on horseback, went to the house of Samuel Adams, luckily got out of their way by secret and speedy intelligence from Paul Revere, who is now missing, and nothing heard of him since; when they searched the house for Mr. Hancock, and Adams, and not finding them there, killed the woman of the house and all the children, and set fire to the house;”[vii]
This version of the letter, crediting Revere, was reprinted in the 29 April Pennsylvania Ledger and again in the 1 May Pennsylvania Packet. And on the same page of the 1 May Pennsylvania Packet a paragraph of apparent oral intelligence summarizing the Connecticut letters includes this line:
“Mr. Paul Revere, who left Boston to acquaint Messrs. Hancock and Adams of the design against them, was taken prisoner, but got clear again by a stratagem.”[viii]
This printed oral intelligence, with explicit information about Revere’s mission, was republished in the 3 May Pennsylvania Journal and then again in the 9 May Maryland Gazette. So, within three weeks of Lexington and Concord, Revere’s name was printed in conjunction with Lexington and Concord in two of three New York newspapers, four of seven Philadelphia newspapers, and one of two Baltimore newspapers. Although Revere was one of many involved in the New England Patriot alarm system, he was the only rider mentioned because people already knew of him as an express rider. Still, while these letters and newspapers mention Revere, he’s lost in a dense fog of sensational, unfounded accusations. British troops never went to the house where Hancock and Adams were staying, they never killed women and children there, and they didn’t shoot a local on horseback while marching west.
In late April and early May 1775, newspapers were loaded with eyewitness accounts about the battles, which primarily consisted of gossip and skewed depositions collected by the Massachusetts Provincial Congress to shape the Whig version of events (much like what happened after the Boston Massacre). The accounts and depositions included scores of false statements and exaggerated claims about atrocities committed by royal troops. Revere’s own deposition failed to make the Provincial Congress’ official report and was noticeably absent from New England newspapers that were publishing many one-sided testimonies.[ix]
It wasn’t until early June that a more comprehensive and somewhat balanced account of Lexington and Concord was published. The account came in the form of a lengthy letter, dated 17 May 1775, which was titled “An Account of the Commencement of Hostilities between Great-Britain and America, in the Province of Massachusetts-Bay, by the Rev. Mr. William Gordon, of Roxbury, in a Letter to a Gentleman in England.” Gordon was unique in that he was an English clergyman developing his account based on on-site interviews he conducted in the weeks following the battle. Gordon’s letter was first “Published with the Consent of the Author” in the 7 June Pennsylvania Gazette and spans the entire first page and half of the fourth. That means the Pennsylvania Gazette gave Paul Revere his first front-page feature treatment:
“Mr. Paul Revere, who was sent express, was taken and detained some time by the officers, being afterwards upon the spot, and finding the regulars at hand, pass thro’ the Lexington company with another, having between them a box of papers belonging to Mr. Hancock, and went down across road, till there was a house so between him and the company, as that he could not see the latter; he told me likewise, that he had not got half a gun shot from them before the regulars appeared; that they halted about three seconds; that upon hearing the report of a pistol or gun, he looked round, and saw the smoke in front of the regulars, our people being out of view because of the house; then the regulars huzza’d and fired, first two more guns, then the advanced guard, and so the whole body; the bullets flying thick about him, and he having nothing to defend himself, ran into a wood, where he halted and heard the firing for about a quarter of an hour.”
Gordon’s version of Lexington and Concord, which dedicates the most attention to Revere’s story of any previous accounts, is still partial to the Americans, leaving out details that British officers’ accounts emphasized, like provincials firing alarm guns and the first shot. However, Gordon was apparently writing “to a Gentleman in England,” and attempting to play the role of a reliable chronicler, not a propagandist, so he included some information that the Massachusetts Provincial Congress had buried or neglected, such as Revere’s official statement. David Hackett Fischer’s meticulous and acclaimed volume, Paul Revere’s Ride, has this to say about Gordon’s account and treatment of Revere:
“By early June, the first report of Paul Revere’s ride appeared in print. Its author was William Gordon, Roxbury’s English-born Congregationalist minister, who appointed himself the first historian of the American Revolution. After the battle, Gordon rode to Concord and interviewed many participants, including Paul Revere himself. In the first week of June, he published an account of the battle which mentioned Revere by name, and briefly described the midnight ride, the capture, the rescue of John Hancock’s trunk and Revere’s presence at the battle of Lexington. Gordon’s essay was very short, but remarkably full and accurate. …
While Gordon was publishing the first account, the Whig leaders themselves kept silent. Many had sworn a vow of secrecy about their activities, and were guarded even in conversation with one another. …
The elaborate preparations that lay behind the midnight ride did not fit well with the Whig image of Lexington and Concord as an unprovoked attack upon an unresisting people. Here was the first of many myths that came to encrust the subject—the myth of injured American innocence, which the Whigs themselves actively propagated as an instrument of their cause.
To maintain that interpretation, the earliest written account of the midnight ride by Paul Revere himself appears to have been suppressed by Whig leaders. In the aftermath of the battles Revere and many other eyewitnesses were asked to draft a deposition about the first shot at Lexington. He produced a document that was doubly displeasing to those who requested it. Revere refused to testify unequivocally that the Regulars had fired first at Lexington Common. He also added an account of the midnight ride that suggested something of the American preparations that preceded the event.
Other depositions were rushed into print by the Massachusetts Provincial Congress, and circulated widely in Britain and American, but Revere’s testimony was not among them. It did not support the American claim that the Regulars had started the fighting, and revealed more about the revolutionary movement than Whig leaders wished to be known. Paul Revere’s deposition was returned to him. It remained among his private papers unpublished until 1891.”[x]
Although Revere’s deposition was returned to him, it was prominently featured in Gordon’s account, which first published in the 7 June Pennsylvania Gazette, and republished with the Revere paragraph in at least two more newspapers: the 10 June Supplement to the Pennsylvania Ledger and 15 June Supplement to the New-York Journal. To recap, below is a list of Paul Revere’s American newspaper coverage in the aftermath of 19 April 1775.
- April 27 New-York Journal
- April 28 Pennsylvania Mercury (Philadelphia)
- April 29 Pennsylvania Ledger (Philadelphia)
- May 1 Pennsylvania Packet (Philadelphia)
- May 1 New-York Gazette and Weekly Mercury
- May 3 Pennsylvania Journal (Philadelphia)
- May 9 Maryland Gazette (Baltimore)
- June 7 Pennsylvania Gazette (Philadelphia) – Gordon’s account
- June 10 Supplement to the Pennsylvania Ledger (Philadelphia) – Gordon’s account
- June 15 Supplement to the New-York Journal – Gordon’s account
It is peculiar that Revere’s involvement in Lexington and Concord was reported in so many Philadelphia and New York newspapers, but not one New England newspaper (after 33 New England newspaper issues gushed about Revere’s previous rides, earning him celebrity status throughout the colonies). However, Patriot leaders in New England had obvious reasons not to reveal their hair-trigger alarm system for militia in the region, the most important of which was they wanted to be perceived as innocent respondents to royal aggression. Despite the apparent efforts by New England Patriot governments and organizers to suppress the Revere story, it was widely published in the only mass media of the era. Then, several decades later, Peter Force published Gordon’s newspaper version, including the Revere paragraph, in American Archives, making it visible to historians from the mid-1800s on. As such, Gordon’s newspaper account of Lexington and Concord, featuring the earliest published version of Revere’s own deposition and thus the most substantial details of Revere’s ride available at the time, is hugely significant in the early shaping and understanding of the opening battles of the Revolutionary War.[xi]
Another reason to believe the Provincial Congress’ scheme to censor any deposition that didn’t fit its preferred version of events is the amount of effort they took to win the battle for public opinion in London. It took Whig leaders 47 days to get their report of the Boston Massacre to London in 1770. By then, the Crown side of the story was already widely circulated. Losing that battle for public opinion perhaps made Patriots work quicker and harder to win the propaganda battle (in New England and Great Britain) over Lexington and Concord. The Provincial Congress swiftly gathered depositions and influenced the local and regional press about the battles. Then, the legislature commissioned a Salem schooner, Quero, to sail with no cargo except a couple letters, a copy of the depositions and copies of the Essex Gazette (Salem, MA), which contained congress’ battle report. Quero was under sail by 29 April and arrived in London on the evening of 28 May with the first Patriot-controlled European reports of the battle published soon after. General Thomas Gage’s official account didn’t arrive until two weeks later, appearing in the London Chronicle on 13 June.[xii]
While the Quero was preparing to push off from Salem with the Patriot-approved newspapers about Lexington and Concord, New York printer John Holt was typesetting his next weekly edition of the New-York Journal, the first American newspaper that didn’t hesitate to print Paul Revere’s name in conjunction with the battle. Holt, who apparently felt no pressure to keep a lid on evidence of the New England alarm system, was a Patriot supporter and one of Revere’s contacts during his previous rides back and forth to Philadelphia. Revere delivered newspapers and other intelligence directly to Holt’s New York print shop, and Holt’s Journal printed Revere’s name in conjunction with other rides at least four times in mid-1774. More so, as a trusted Patriot messenger throughout the northern colonies, Revere delivered additional perspective and insight with his intelligence, which was certainly welcomed by distant printers and associates. For instance, following Revere’s ride to a Philadelphia meeting about the Boston Port Bill, several newspapers published this context: “It was noticed by Mr. Revere, that in this Meeting Mr. [John] Dickinson spoke longer and with more Life and Energy than ever he had done on any former Occasion.”[xiii]
Modern historians who have emphasized the absence of Revere’s name in early history books may have overlooked the abundance of Revere newspaper publicity in 1774 and 1775. Shortly after hostilities commenced, private correspondence and newspapers promoted parts of Revere’s iconic ride. So, long before Longfellow’s poem so heavily influenced American culture, while news of Lexington and Concord was still fresh, sprinkles of the Revere story appeared in print and reached thousands of tables in American homes and businesses. And considering his existing celebrity status, it is safe to assume that many more heard the Paul Revere story in mid-1775 as it was chattered about in taverns and other public places.[xiv]
[i] Edmund S. Morgan, ed., Paul Revere’s Three Accounts of His Famous Ride (Boston: Massachusetts Historical Society, 1961). See Morgan’s introduction. Morgan highlighted early American Revolution books for their lack of Revere references. “In the early histories of the Revolution the part played by Paul Revere was scanted, and his name was not even mentioned,” wrote Morgan based on his study of works by William Gordon, David Ramsay, Hannah Adams and Mercy Warren. Morgan explained that “this neglect of the messengers could not have been wholly the result of ignorance. Paul Revere, though he did not belong to what was then called the ‘better sort,’ was well-known in Boston, not only as a silversmith and engraver but also as the principal messenger of the patriot leaders.”
Ray Raphael, Founding Myths: Stories That Hide Our Patriotic Past (New York: The New Press, 2004), 14-15. Raphael succinctly summarized Morgan by stating “all the early historians of the Revolution agreed: Revere was not a major player in the outbreak of hostilities.” Raphael took a closer look at Roxbury, Massachusetts minister William Gordon, who conducted his own interviews with eyewitnesses and first published his account of the hostilities in colonial newspapers. “Gordon did not feature Paul Revere’s ride in his detailed account of the events of Lexington and Concord,” wrote Raphael. “Gordon expanded his treatment in the full-length history he published thirteen years later, but he still made no mention of any heroic exploits by Paul Revere.”
Reading Morgan and Raphael, one might think Revere’s name was absent from all contemporary retellings of Lexington and Concord. Morgan and Raphael were clearly referencing the first full books about the American Revolution, but I would argue that “early histories” should include 1775 correspondence and newspapers, both of which featured some elements, albeit sparse ones, of Revere’s ride. In fact, it is important to note that Gordon’s newspaper version of Lexington and Concord, which first appeared in the 7 June 1775 Pennsylvania Gazette, did prominently feature Revere’s story with one full paragraph dedicated to it.
David Hackett Fischer, Paul Revere’s Ride (New York: Oxford University Press, 1994). Fischer plays up Revere’s role in the months before the outbreak of war.
The historically correct and iconic moments of Revere’s ride vary in depth and breadth based on your source but typically include:
- Revere and William Dawes being sent express by Joseph Warren
- Revere coordinating lantern signals
- Revere rowing past the British warship Somerset
- Revere evading patrols near Cambridge
- Revere alarming militia officers in the countryside
- Revere alerting John Hancock and Samuel Adams in Lexington
- British officers capturing Revere, Dawes and Samuel Prescott on the road to Concord, but Prescott and Dawes escaping, and Prescott being the only one to reach Concord
- British officers escorting Revere back to Lexington until they heard gunshots and freed Revere
- Revere assisting Hancock and his family escape with a trunk of Hancock’s papers
- Revere witnessing some of the battle on Lexington Green
[ii] The 33 known New England newspapers naming Paul Revere with his earlier rides: Essex Journal (Newburyport, MA), May 18, 1774; Essex Journal (Newburyport, MA), June 1, 1774; Boston Post-Boy, May 9, 1774; Boston Post-Boy, May 23, 1774; Boston Post-Boy, September 19, 1774; Providence Gazette, May 21, 1774; Providence Gazette, June 4, 1774; Providence Gazette, September 24, 1774; Essex Gazette (Salem, MA), May 31, 1774; Essex Gazette (Salem, MA), September 27, 1774; Essex Gazette (Salem, MA), October 18, 1774; Essex Gazette (Salem, MA), February 7, 1775; Connecticut Courant (Hartford), May 24, 1774; Connecticut Courant (Hartford), June 7, 1774; Connecticut Courant (Hartford), September 26, 1774; Connecticut Courant (Hartford), October 17, 1774; Connecticut Courant (Hartford), March 13, 1775; Newport Mercury, May 23, 1774; Newport Mercury; May 30, 1774; Newport Mercury, June 6, 1774; Newport Mercury, June 20, 1774; Boston Evening-Post, May 16, 1774; Boston Evening-Post, May 30, 1774; Boston Evening-Post, October 17, 1774; New-Hampshire Gazette (Portsmouth), May 20, 1774; New-Hampshire Gazette (Portsmouth), June 3, 1774; New-Hampshire Gazette (Portsmouth), September 30, 1774; Boston News-Letter, June 2, 1774; Boston News-Letter, October 20, 1774; Connecticut Journal (New Haven), June 3, 1774; Connecticut Journal (New Haven), September 23, 1774; Connecticut Gazette (New London), June 3, 1774; Boston Gazette, May 30, 1774.
Many more newspapers outside New England, and even overseas, also re-attributed Paul Revere as the source of key dispatches in 1774, including Clementina Rind’s Virginia Gazette (Williamsburg), June 9, 1774 and June 23, 1774; and October 27, 1774 (the latter being “printed by John Pinkney, for the benefit of Clementina Rind’s children.”). Though Readex’s digital newspaper archive doesn’t include Revolution-era newspapers from Georgia, South Carolina or North Carolina, it is known that they reprinted extracts from the Virginia Gazettes and other papers in Philadelphia, New York, etc. At least nine British newspapers re-attributed content to Paul Revere in 1774: Derby Mercury, July 15, 1774; Shrewsbury Chronicle, July 23, 1774; Caledonian Mercury, November 16, 1774; Northampton Mercury, November 14, 1774; Caledonian Mercury, July 20, 1774; Shrewsbury Chronicle, November 19, 1774; Kentish Gazette, July 20, 1774; Hibernian Journal, July 25, 1774; Hampshire Chronicle, November 14, 1774.
In virtually every instance of the above newspaper mentions, Paul Revere’s name introduced the content he delivered, such as “By Mr. PAUL REVERE, who returned Express from Philadelphia last Friday Evening, we have the following Important Intelligence.” (New-Hampshire Gazette, September 30, 1774).
[iii] At least five times between May 24, 1774 and March 13, 1775, the Hartford-based Connecticut Courant prominently named Paul Revere in conjunction with his messenger rides. Paul Revere’s name typically introduced the content he delivered, such as “Saturday last passed through this Town on his return to Boston, from the General Congress, Mr. Paul Revere—Nothing has yet transpired from that grand and important Assembly.” (Connecticut Courant, October 17, 1774). In addition to at least five Hartford newspaper mentions, Revere’s name also appeared in at least one New London and two New Haven newspapers between June and October 1774.
[iv] New-York Journal, April 27, 1775; New-York Gazette and Weekly Mercury, May 1, 1775.
[v] New-York Journal, April 27, 1775; New-York Gazette and Weekly Mercury, May 1, 1775.
[vi] Ipswich Journal, June 17, 1775; Chester Chronicle, June 17, 1775; Kentish Gazette, June 17, 1775.
[vii] Pennsylvania Mercury, April 28, 1775; Pennsylvania Ledger, April 29; Pennsylvania Packet, May 1, 1775.
[viii] Pennsylvania Packet, May 1, 1775; Pennsylvania Journal, May 3, 1775; Dunlap’s Maryland Gazette, May 9, 1775.
[ix] The title of the official report is A Narrative of the Excursion and Ravages of the King’s Troops Under the Command of General Gage, On the nineteenth of April, 1775 (Worcester, printed by Isaiah Thomas, by order of the Provincial Congress). Available online: http://www.masshist.org/database/viewer.php?item_id=627. Newspapers that printed other depositions include: Pennsylvania Ledger (Philadelphia), May 13, 1775; Dixon and Hunter’s Virginia Gazette (Williamsburg), June 3, 1775.
[x] David Hackett Fischer, Paul Revere’s Ride (New York: Oxford University Press, 1994), 327.
[xi] See note ii for list of 33 New England newspaper issues mentioning Paul Revere in 1774 and early 1775. According to Richard Frothingham, History of the Siege of Boston: And of the Battles of Lexington, Concord and Bunker Hill (Boston: Charles C. Little and James Brown, 1849), 31, “[William Gordon’s] account, substantially, appeared in several almanacs of 1776, and, with additions and much abridgment, it was incorporated in his history.” As far as I can tell, none of the almanac versions of Gordon’s account include the Revere paragraph, which is also omitted from Gordon’s 1788 history book about the Revolution. For almanac examples, see The North-American Almanac, And Gentleman’s and Lady’s Diary, for the Year of our Lord Christ 1776 by Samuel Stearns (Worcester, Watertown and Cambridge, 1775); An Astronomical Diary, or Almanack, for the Year of Christian Aera, 1776 (Boston, 1775). William Gordon, The History of the Rise, Progress, and Establishment of the Independence of the University States of America (London: 1788).
[xii] For Quero departure date, see Robert Samuel Rantoul, The Cruise of the “Quero”: How We Carried the News to the King (Essex Institute, 1900), 6. For arrival dates and content related to the early arrival of American reports about Lexington and Concord, see London Chronicle, May 30, 1775; London Chronicle, June 1, 1775; London Chronicle, June 13, 1775. For a comprehensive account of the Quero, see Journal of the American Revolution, “A Fast Ship from Salem: Carrying News of War,” April 17, 2015, by Bob Ruppert.
[xiii] For the first mention of Paul Revere in conjunction with Lexington and Concord, see New-York Journal, April 27, 1775. For example of Revere’s newspaper delivery, see New-York Journal, September 22, 1774, “Mr. Paul Revere, by whom we received Mr. Dunlap’s Pennsylvania Packet. New-York Journal Revere mentions in 1774: New-York Journal, May 19, 1774; New-York Journal, May 26, 1774; New-York Journal, September 22, 1774; New-York Journal, October 6, 1774. For example of Revere’s perspective and insight, see Essex Gazette (Salem, MA), May 31, 1774; Essex Journal (Newburyport, MA), June 1, 1774; Boston News-Letter, June 2, 1774; Connecticut Gazette (New London), June 3, 1774; Connecticut Journal (New Haven), June 3, 1774; New-Hampshire Gazette (Portsmouth), June 3, 1774; Providence Gazette, June 4, 1774.
[xiv] For modern historians emphasizing the absence of Revere’s name in early history books, see note i. To calculate the reach of Revere’s newspaper coverage: The printers of two of the largest newspapers in Boston, the Boston Gazette and Massachusetts Spy, boasted circulations of 2000 and 3500 during the Revolution, respectively (Boston Gazette, January 2, 1797; Massachusetts Spy, December 21, 1780). According to James Rivington (New-York Gazetteer, October 31, 1774), he had a weekly impression of 3600. Taking that into consideration and assuming 2750 for the average circulation of New York and Philadelphia newspapers, where most of the 10 Revere newspaper mentions were made in the weeks following 17 April 1775, Revere’s name had approximately 27,500 impressions with the potential for far greater reach since newspapers were often shared or read aloud in public places.
This is great stuff. Censorship? Manipulation of public opinion by the Provincial Congress to obtain a desired end? You raise important points that cut right to the question of how widespread the majority of the population’s inclination was towards a split with Britain. Were they suffering under its rule, or were they dragged into the fray by a minority?
The laments of Washington, Franklin and the Continental Congress of what they were facing in this regard fits in neatly with what you have written. Thank you for this valuable contribution
This is a fascinating article that will help my future research in any subject: don’t ignore the papers, a message that also comes from Todd’s book, Reporting the Revolutionary War, Before It Was History It Was News.. It’s ironic, however.that Gordon’s report on Paul Revere’s role did not make Gordon’s history by specific mention. He does, however, refer to the fact that communication among neighboring and distant towns (including NY) was fast (for the time) and effective in spreading the news. He seems to describe this more than individul acts. “A daughter of liberty, unequally yoked in point of politics, sent word, by a trusty hand, to Mr. Samuel Adams, residing, in company with Mr. Hancock, at Lexington, about thirteen miles from Charlestown, that the troops were coming out in a few days.” Why Gordon omitted mention of Revere and other names is a study in itself. He claims “An essential requisite in an historian is the knowledge of the truth; and, as in order to perfection, he ought to be superior to every temptation to disguise it’: Perhaps it was an editorial choice (as all historians make) or an oversight but his 4-volume work is chock full of anecdotes that often omit reaerch that has come to light in the 200+ years since it was published. It would be interesting to note whether and how much the newspapers described the general agitation among supporters in Boston and the surrounding towns that got the intelligence to the riders who took it ‘thither.’ A most enjoyable and informative piece.
Thanks, Gary and SPM. Over the last year or two, I started to notice a wedge being driven between what I was reading in some modern history books and what I was reading in the 1774-1775 newspapers about Paul Revere. I was led to believe that Revere’s name was absent from contemporary tellings of Lexington and Concord. When I studied the 1774/early 1775 newspapers and looked at all Revere mentions as a collection, it was remarkable just how prominently Revere was promoted in newspapers throughout the colonies, and in such a short window of time. In just New England newspapers, there were more than 30 Revere news mentions in 10 months. Plus, not many colonists had their names printed in ALL CAPS with such regularity as Revere did (Revere was a “one-percenter” in that regard). Then, to step back and look at the newspapers between 19 April and 15 June 1775, it was shocking to see that portions of the Paul Revere story were, in fact, published in two of three NYC newspapers, four of seven Philadelphia newspapers (soon five of seven), and one of two Baltimore newspapers. But not one New England newspaper. Bottom line, Revere stands out as a colonial celebrity before and after Lexington and Concord.
Very, very interesting Todd. This opens up a lot of questions about the amount of control that the Massachusetts rebel leaders had over the population, which appears to have been considerable, as opposed to what was going on in the other colonies.
You have also driven home the importance of primary sources. In my work, I have found the newspapers available through various services to be of incredible value in tracking down issues. Once you get the hang of what they are saying and look at them critically, you cannot be but amazed at the rich detail they provide. They certainly do fill in a lot of details that 18th and 19th century historians glossed over, either inadvertently or to advance a particular agenda.
It is no wonder that our perceptions of these times are changing with each new discovery. Good job!
It is interesting to see that, from the very first, people believed that the British troops were attempting to apprehend Adams and Hancock. The British troops in fact had no such orders; their only object was to seize or destroy military stores.
Great stuff, Todd. What you find depends on which rocks you overturn. In writing Founding Myths, I was interested in how memories of the Revolution developed into a national narrative, so for that endeavor, I focused on the first assemblages of a general history. You have taken that one step further back, how Revere was viewed at the time. This is awesome work. For a truly contemporary picture, we can also look for letters, such as this from Samuel Swift to John Adams on March 31, 1775: ““Our worthy fellow Citizen Paul Revere was posted away it is said to Concord¬–&c.” (British Regulars had marched out of Boston the preceding day.) I love that “worthy fellow Citizen.” Revere’s roll as a messenger was well known and highly respected — this is the deeper truth in Longfellow’s poem. Even so, historians need to deconstruct the Revere story because it has done so much damage: the lone rider from Boston masks the Revolution that the Massachusetts countryside had already waged and the immense military preparations they made before Lexington and Concord to defend their Revolution against an expected British counter-revolution. (Deconstruct the Revere story, by the way, does not mean belittle Revere’s historical importance in his time — it means that that particular ride did not carry the full weight it has been accorded.) Although I shy from conspiracy theories, you correctly emphasize two reasons why the Provincial Congress did not include Revere’s rendition in its collection of depositions: Revere did not state definitively that the Regulars fired first, and the Provincial Congress did not want the slightest hint that Massachusetts had already amassed arms and supplies to support an army of 15,000 and was right at that moment recruiting Connecticut, Rhode Island, and New Hampshire to provide specific numbers of men to join that army.
A question that comes to mind is who owned these Massachusetts newspapers that did not publish Revere’s ride? Were they tied up in some way with the ones calling the shots? What were the conditions that allowed the Provincial Congress to keep information either from the press or to obtain guarantees that it would not be published?
I agree with Ray’s comment that “historians need to deconstruct the Revere story because it has done so much damage,” and think that you are on to something that deserves deeper examination. There is nobody better able to do that than you!
Thanks, Ray and Gary. These were printers’ newspapers, often established with social, religious, political and/or financial motivations. Although I think the latter to a lesser degree since newspapers were not typically the sole source of income for print shops. In addition to a diverse printing business (pamphlets, books, broadsides, stationery, etc.), printers also commonly worked as postmasters, merchants, innkeepers, etc. Looking more closely at the New England newspapers being printed in late April/May 1775, several were operated by known Patriots:
Connecticut Courant (Hartford) by Ebenezer Watson
Connecticut Journal (New Haven) by Thomas and Samuel Green
Connecticut Gazette (New London) by Timothy Green
Norwich Packet by Alexander and James Robertson, and John Trumbull
Boston News-Letter by Margaret Draper, widow of Richard, and John Howe
Essex Journal (Newburyport) by Ezra Lunt and Henry Walter Tinges
Essex Gazette (Salem)* by Samuel and Ebenezer Hall
Massachusetts Spy (Worcester) by Isaiah Thomas
New-Hampshire Gazette (Portsmouth) by Daniel Fowle
Newport Mercury by Solomon Southwick
Providence Gazette by John Carter
While Boston was besieged, all town newspapers ceased to be published save for one Crown-supporting title, The Massachusetts Gazette and Boston News-Letter (I believe Draper and Howe skipped a few issues between 20 April and 19 May). The Boston Evening-Post (John and Thomas Fleet, Jr.) published its last issue 24 April. The Boston Gazette (Benjamin Edes and John Gill) stopped 17 April and resumed 5 June in Watertown. The Boston Post-Boy (Nathaniel Mills and John Hicks) stopped 17 April. *Following the 2 May issue, the printers of the Essex Gazette moved their press from Salem to Cambridge, the HQ of the new New England army, and began publishing the New-England Chronicle as of 12 May.
Really outstanding research Todd!
I also have a question in regards to those two Hartford area letters dated 23 April 1775. Assuming they had access to the letters, why wouldn’t the “Connecticut Courant” publish excerpts from them? From a propaganda perspective, the letter’s assert that the British committed atrocities, which would have certainly been part of the agenda in shaping public opinion. Did the Provincial Congress’ of Mass and/or CT instigate the newspaper’s decision? (Again assuming they had access to the letters or copies)
The whole incident creates the impression that New England wanted one consistent version of the events surrounding Lexington/Concord so that none of the major New England newspapers contradicted each other. Hence, the Essex Gazette with congress’ report quickly dispatched for London.
Good question, Jeff. The letters originated from Hartford, apparently intended for a New York audience, so it is unlikely Ebenezer Watson, printer of the Connecticut Courant (Hartford), had access to them initially. According to Isaiah Thomas’s History of Printing, the Courant was the principal employment of Watson, who was “anxious for the safety of his country” and “devoted his press to her cause.” With newspapers frequently exchanged among colonial printers and Watson a supporter of the Patriot cause, there is a chance that he eventually saw one of the New York or Philadelphia issues containing the Hartford letters. However, given Watson’s devotion to the Patriots, he may have been self-motivated or convinced by New England Patriot leaders not to leak details of the alarm system or go off message.
Thanks, Todd. Good point in regards to protecting the secrecy of the alarm system. For Patriot printer’s like Watson, that would be an important factor in this scenario and similar cases.
A bit off-topic, but I briefly looked into the background of the Connecticut Courant. (Now called the Hartford Courant) They claim to be “America’s oldest continuously published newspaper”. (Founded in 1764) A few newspaper’s have made similar claims, but this one appears to be the most legit. Again, nothing to do with the story, just a little anecdote I found interesting.