The Real Story of Revere’s Ride

In 1774 and the spring of 1775 Paul Revere was employed by the Boston Committee of Correspondence and the Massachusetts Committee of Safety as an express rider to carry news, messages, and copies of important documents as far away as New York and Philadelphia.

On the evening of April 18, 1775, Paul Revere was summoned by Dr. Joseph Warren of Boston and given the task of riding to Lexington, Massachusetts, with the news that regular troops were about to march into the countryside northwest of Boston. According to Warren, these troops planned to arrest Samuel Adams and John Hancock, who were staying at a house in Lexington, and probably continue on to the town of Concord, to capture or destroy military stores — gunpowder, ammunition, and several cannon — that had been stockpiled there (in fact, the British troops had no orders to arrest anyone — Dr. Warren’s intelligence on this point was faulty). Revere contacted an unidentified friend (probably Robert Newman, the sexton of Christ Church in Boston’s North End) and instructed him to show two lanterns in the tower of Christ Church (now called the Old North Church) as a signal in case Revere was unable to leave town. The two lanterns meant that the British troops planned to row “by sea” across the Charles River to Cambridge, rather than march “by land” out Boston Neck.

Revere then stopped by his own house to pick up his boots and overcoat, and proceeded the short distance to Boston’s North End waterfront where two friends waited to row him across the river to Charlestown. Slipping past a British warship in the darkness, Revere landed safely. After informing Colonel Conant and other local Sons of Liberty about recent events in Boston and verifying that they had seen his signals in the North Church tower, Revere borrowed a horse from John Larkin, a Charlestown merchant and a patriot sympathizer. While the horse was being made ready, a member of the Committee of Safety named Richard Devens warned Revere that there were a number of British officers in the area who might try to intercept him. About eleven o’clock Revere set off. After narrowly avoiding capture just outside of Charlestown, Revere changed his planned route and rode through Medford, where he alarmed Isaac Hall, the captain of the local militia. He then alarmed almost all the houses from Medford, through Menotomy (today’s Arlington) — carefully avoiding the Royall Mansion whose property he rode through (Isaac Royall was a well-known Loyalist) — and arrived in Lexington sometime after midnight.

In Lexington, as he approached the house where Adams and Hancock were staying, a Sergeant Monroe, acting as a guard outside the house, requested that he not make so much noise. “Noise!” cried Revere, “You’ll have noise enough before long. The regulars are coming out!” At this point, Revere still had difficulty gaining entry until, according to tradition, John Hancock, who was still awake, heard his voice and said “Come in, Revere! We’re not afraid of you” and he was allowed to enter the house and deliver his message.

About half past twelve, William Dawes arrived in Lexington carrying the same message as Revere. After both men had “refreshed themselves” (gotten something to eat and drink) they decided to continue on to Concord, Massachusetts to verify that the military stores had been properly dispersed and hidden away. A short distance outside of Lexington, they were over-taken by Dr. Samuel Prescott, who they determined was a fellow “high Son of Liberty.” A short time later, a British patrol intercepted all three men. Prescott and Dawes escaped; Revere was held for some time, questioned, and let go. Before he was released, however, his horse was confiscated to replace the tired mount of a British sergeant. Left alone on the road, Revere returned to Lexington on foot in time to witness the latter part of the battle on Lexington Green.

Frequently Asked Questions About the Ride

What was the name of Paul Revere’s horse?

This question should properly be, “What was the name of the horse Revere rode?” because there is no evidence that Revere owned a horse at the time he made his famous ride. Revere may have owned a horse at an earlier date. If he did not, he certainly had ready access to horses at some point in order to become the experienced rider that he was. If he had owned a horse in April 1775, it is unlikely he would have tried to bring it with him when he was rowed across the Charles River to Charlestown, prior to setting off on his ride.

Revere left several accounts of his “Midnight Ride,” and, although he states that he borrowed the horse from John Larkin, neither he nor anyone else takes much notice of the mount, or refers to it by name. Revere calls it simply “a very good horse.” In the years since 1775 many names have been attached to the animal, the most exotic probably being Scheherazade. The only name for which there is any evidence, however, is Brown Beauty. The following excerpt is taken from a genealogy of the Larkin family, published in 1930.

Samuel (Larkin) … born Oct. 22, 1701; died Oct. 8, 1784, aged 83; he was a chairmaker, then a fisherman and had horses and a stable. He was the owner of “Brown Beauty,” the mare of Paul Revere’s Ride made famous by the Longfellow poem. The mare was loaned at the request of Samuel’s son, deacon John Larkin, and was never returned to Larkin.

According to this source, the famous horse was owned not by John Larkin, but by his father – if true, this would mean that not only did Revere ride a borrowed horse, but a borrowed, borrowed horse. That it had a name is difficult to prove in the absence of corroborating evidence. John Larkin’s estate inventory, dated 1808, lists only one horse, unnamed, valued at sixty dollars. It reveals, however, that Larkin was a wealthy man, with possessions valued at over $86,000, including “Plate” (silver and gold items), houses, pastures, and other real estate in Charlestown, part of a farm in Medford, bank shares, and notes (for money lent at interest). John Larkin was probably a friend of the patriot cause in Charlestown, and it seems natural that the Sons of Liberty would have depended on someone in his position to provide an expensive item like a horse if the occasion demanded. The fact that one horse listed in his inventory is unnamed, while not conclusive, does suggest that the Larkin family, like most people at the time, did not name their horses. Thus, it appears that “Revere’s horse” will forever remain anonymous.

Note: John Larkin is often referred to as “Deacon John Larkin” in modern narratives of Revere’s Ride — and even by Revere himself in his 1798 letter to Jeremy Belknap. In fact, however, John Larkin was made a deacon of his church long after the Revolutionary War ended. In 1775 he was, simply, John Larkin.

Did Revere finish his midnight ride?

It is well known that Paul Revere was captured on the road outside of Lexington, and never arrived in Concord. It is also well known that a third man in Revere’s party, Dr. Samuel Prescott., who joined Revere and Dawes outside of Lexington, did alarm the militia in Concord, where he lived. Thus, it has sometimes been argued that Revere never “finished” his ride.

One must consider, however, what Revere and Dawes intended to accomplish when they set out from Boston. While existing evidence (primarily Revere’s own accounts of his activities that night) is somewhat vague or contradictory on certain points, the main outline of Revere’s (and Dawes’s) mission seems clear enough. Both men’s primary objective was to contact Samuel Adams and John Hancock in Lexington. It appeared they were given a fairly specific (probably written) message to deliver to the patriot leaders. In addition, the two riders were to “alarm” the countryside. A third objective was almost certainly to continue on to Concord to verify that the “Colony Stores” — provisions, powder, ammunition, and cannon for the Massachusetts militia — were safely dispersed and hidden.

As is clear from Revere’s own accounts, patriot leader Dr. Joseph Warren, who dispatched both Revere and Dawes by separate routes into the countryside, was unsure of the British troops’ objective. Revere quotes Warren in his 1775 deposition “it was supposed, that they were going to Lexington, by way of Cambridge River, to take them [Hancock and Adams], or go to Concord, to distroy the Colony Stores.” The fact that they might be halted at any point was assumed by both men, as they were well aware that British officers were patrolling the roads that night for the specific purpose of intercepting messengers like themselves.

The alarm system devised by the patriots, and set in motion by Revere and Dawes, was specifically designed to insure that the capture of any one rider would not prevent the alarm from being sounded. The mission was too important to leave to one rider alone, even one as experienced and trustworthy as Paul Revere.

PaulRevereMap

An Interactive Map of Paul Revere’s Ride

On the map, find and click on illustrations that represent the nine items shown below to access photos and other details. If you have trouble locating an item, click on the links below.

Paul Revere being rowed
Paul Revere on horseback
Isaac Hall House
William Dawes
British Patrol and Revere
Arlington mile marker
Buckman Tavern
Hancock-Clarke House
Revere capture site (Concord Road)

Note: Map not to scale.

Map and Illustrations by Cortney Skinner

Additional Thanks:
Barbara Kerr, Medford Public Library; Doreen Stevens, Arlington Historical Society; Edith Juron Perlman, Curator of Collections, Evanston Historical Society and Charles Gates Dawes House; Richard Kollen, Archivist, Lexington Historical Society; Massachusetts Historical Society.