Paul Revere's ride

by David Hackett Fischer

Paper Book, 1994

Status

Available

Publication

New York : Oxford University Press, 1994.

Description

Paul Revere's midnight ride looms as an almost mythical event in American history--yet it has been largely ignored by scholars and left to patriotic writers and debunkers. Now one of the foremost American historians offers the first serious look at the events of the night of April 18,1775--what led up to it, what really happened, and what followed--uncovering a truth far more remarkable than the myths of tradition.In Paul Revere's Ride, David Hackett Fischer fashions an exciting narrative that offers deep insight into the outbreak of revolution and the emergence of the American republic. Beginning in the years before the eruption of war, Fischer illuminates the figure of Paul Revere, a man far morecomplex than the simple artisan and messenger of tradition. Revere ranged widely through the complex world of Boston's revolutionary movement--from organizing local mechanics to mingling with the likes of John Hancock and Samuel Adams. When the fateful night arrived, more than sixty men and womenjoined him on his task of alarm--an operation Revere himself helped to organize and set in motion. Fischer recreates Revere's capture that night, showing how it had an important impact on the events that followed. He had an uncanny gift for being at the center of events, and the author follows himto Lexington Green--setting the stage for a fresh interpretation of the battle that began the war. Drawing on intensive new research, Fischer reveals a clash very different from both patriotic and iconoclastic myths. The local militia were elaborately organized and intelligently led, in a mannerthat had deep roots in New England. On the morning of April 19, they fought in fixed positions and close formation, twice breaking the British regulars. In the afternoon, the American officers switched tactics, forging a ring of fire around the retreating enemy which they maintained for severalhours--an extraordinary feat of combat leadership. In the days that followed, Paul Revere led a new battle-- for public opinion--which proved even more decisive than the fighting itself.When the alarm-riders of April 18 took to the streets, they did not cry, "the British are coming," for most of them still believed they were British. Within a day, many began to think differently. For George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, John Adams, and Thomas Paine, the news of Lexingtonwas their revolutionary Rubicon. Paul Revere's Ride returns Paul Revere to center stage in these critical events, capturing both the drama and the underlying developments in a triumphant return to narrative history at its finest.… (more)

Media reviews

In taking up this volume, one can't help being struck in the first place by the title. Can a professional historian really have devoted an entire volume to Paul Revere's ride?

Julie M. Flavell (1995). Review of David Hackett Fischer 'Paul Revere's Ride' Journal of American Studies, 29, pp 462-463. doi:10.1017/S0021875800022490.
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Fischer gives us a richly elaborated account of Revere's daring ride and the fighting that followed along "Battle Road" at Lexington and Concord. For example, the author tells us that Revere was actually scolded by one constable along the way for making too much noise while the townsfolk were trying to sleep.

User reviews

LibraryThing member HistReader
Paul Revere's Ride was a great book in its comprehensiveness but not much unlike a trio of alarm raisers on that midnight ride, the author veers in a separate direction from its title subject.

The body of David Hackett Fischer's work is five pages shy of 300, another 148 pages make up several appendices, bibliography, notes and an index of scholarly caliber. Yet looking at the first three-hundred pages, only the first quarter to one-third can be classified as biographical specifically to Paul Revere.

It is as if the reader was William Dawes, one of Revere's compatriots on that midnight ride. We get to know Paul Revere's life and times up to and including the famous horse ride to wake the countryside. Yet once the three horse-backed messengers are thwarted by British Regulars, Revere's fellow riders branch off into the night as does Mr. Fischer in his tale of the Revolutionary War. Only a scant few times does the author mention, in passing, on speculation what Paul Revere might have been doing while heated battle raged between Lexington and Concord.

A very short chapter details Paul Revere's assistance in moving and burying a trunk of John Hancock, containing a treasure trove of important papers and documents. The rest of the book, until the last three pages (found in the epilogue), rarely mention Paul Revere.

This book is important, nonetheless. The bulk of the story describes and documents the muster or British-Americans; the march of General Gage's troops which incite war; pitched battles and encounters on April 19, 1775 between Lexington, Concord and Boston; the hasty and deadly retreat of British elite troops from harassing militia assaults; and response from humiliated General Gage. Mr Fischer dispels myths such as the Americans were hapless warriors and only won the first skirmish by luck; rather many in command were hardened veterans from combat with Indians and French-Canadians. Most commonly stated, no one said "the British are coming." These revolutionary Americans were (and considered themselves) British, rather the "Red Coats" were known as "regulars." There are tidbits like this throughout the book making it difficult to thoughtlessly skim over sections one may find dull due to the author's making the events of the opening battle scrutable.

Perchance this book could have been better served with a title referencing General Thomas Gage and the battles at Lexington & Concord. Don't let my nitpicking deter you, Paul Revere's Ride is a much needed recount of important history!
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LibraryThing member steve.clason
Don't buy the Kindle edition, you'll be disappointed. The footnotes are not linked and it is difficult to refer to them. Get the paperback so you can just flip to the back of the book. Also, the text is left and right justified, so there's weird spacing, you don't have control over font-face and the default text is larger than other books.… (more)
LibraryThing member nbmars
There is little produced by Fischer that isn't well researched and well written. And this one is very fun to read, in addition. (JAF)
LibraryThing member ibkennedy
Wonderful, wonderful read.
LibraryThing member CritEER
- This is book #2 by DHF I have read…I love DHF because his details are meticulous and he is a gifted storyteller
- Book lists all myths associated with Paul Revere’s ride and DHF slams home that the truth is far more remarkable
- I was tremendously impressed with the military brilliance/tactics used by Americans to attack retreating British Regulars from Concord/Lexington
- One detail fact I will remember from this book was when Percy’s brigade left Boston his troops marched out to the tune of “Yankee Doodle” to mock the inhabitants of the city
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LibraryThing member mybucketlistofbooks
David Hackett Fischer is one of my favorite authors, and he does not disappoint here.

Most people know about Paul Revere and the events surrounding the British attack on Lexington and Concord through the famous Longfellow poem. Fischer takes you into those events with Revere as the central figure.

With a riveting writing style Fischer does what very few can do...make a book on American history a real page turner...

An excellent look at a Revolutionary more famous later than at the time, but who nevertheless provides a good representation of the sort of "yeoman revolutionaries" that victory would ultimately depend on.
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LibraryThing member JanicsEblen
Ii am definitely not a history buff. I have however always been mildly curious about Paul Revere. Saw this book on sale and thought 'why not?'. I cannot find a way to properly express how much I enjoyed this book as well as how much I learned while reading it. He was so much more than we read about as we studied American history in the 1950's. Yes, I am old.… (more)
LibraryThing member Jarratt
Excellent book! It covers those pivotal days in April 1775 in fantastic detail. This is an exceedingly well researched book that doesn't read like a textbook. I loved the easy style.

It's also the first book I read where I found the footnotes to be as informative as the main text. There were a significant number of maps and pictures that helped immensely.… (more)
LibraryThing member Stbalbach
I know little about the American Revolution so was curious about this figure of Yankee reverence. The book is about the Battles of Lexington and Concord (April 19, 1775) the first armed conflict of the war, with Paul Revere as the central character holding the narrative thread. It is an effective approach because Revere played a big role, more than what he is best known for sounding the alarm on an early morning ride. This is a great introduction to the war and it has plenty of flavor of time and place.… (more)
LibraryThing member ecw0647
David Hackett Fischer strips myth from history in Paul Revere's Ride. All sorts of fables, poems, and stories have been written about the event, which has become embedded in American culture. Any school child can tell at least something of the midnight ride and the lanterns. Fischer's book is the first scholarly treatment in two hundred years. He has discovered all sorts of information that make Revere a much more seminal participant in the Revolution than had previously been suspected.

One reason for historians', neglect of Paul Revere may be that the only creature less fashionable in academe than "a dead white male is a dead white male on a horse." Less jocularly, Fischer suspects it has to do with historians' emphasis on monographic treatises and reluctance to study any event that can't be graphed or put in a table. Fortunately for us, Fischer has eschewed this tradition and returned to the narrative form of historical reporting that was in vogue during the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries when history was alive and well and enjoyed. His book covers the eight-month period from September 1774 through April 1 775, beginning with the powder alarms through the first battles at Lexington and Concord up to the bloody events of 1775.

Paul Revere was the son of a French immigrant silversmith. He grew up in Boston, at that time a town of 15,000 that more resembled a medieval village. Virtually an island at high tide, Boston greeted strangers crossing the "neck" of land to enter town with the unsettling vision of a gallows. Strangers were not generally welcome; certainly they were regarded with great suspicion. It was also a major seaport, and sailors reported that "no town of its size could turn out more whores than this town could."

Revere had lots of children (16) his first was born shortly after his first marriage, a common event in the eighteenth century, when perhaps 35% of couples were expecting at the time of their formal marriage. His first wife died shortly after their eighth child was born, and he married his second wife shortly thereafter.
The principles of working together were pounded into the children from a young age. Cotton Mather, a famous preacher of the day, used the metaphor of rowing a boat with two oars. Pull on one oar only and the boat will simply go around in circles. Both oars together make great progress.

Revere was a genius at collective action. It turns out there were more than sixty riders out that night. He was a major organizer and instigator. He helped organize the Sons of Liberty, a terrorist group that included many Freemasons and used numerous secret signs and cryptic codes to communicate. They were organized into "cells" where the members only knew the leader, not each other, a structure copied by many underground and terrorist organizations later on. Their violence was tempered and organized, however. During the famous Tea Party, the locks on the tea chests were carefully replaced after the tea was dumped into the harbor, and one of the participants was severely chastised for stealing some of the tea rather than dumping it. Their careful symbolism was lost to the British, however.

It's important to remember that the Americans considered themselves British. This was really a civil war at the beginning. The riders did not cry out "the British are coming," which would have been like saying, "We are coming" but rather, "the Regulars are coming," meaning the regular British troops.

Revere became the "messenger" for the rebels. He made numerous rides of several hundred miles each to carry messages between the Bostonians and the Continental Congress meeting in New York. These were difficult rides at a time when roads were rough, if they existed at all, yet he made them with extraordinary speed.

He was not the leader of the revolutionary movement, rather a doer and actor. He was able to get things done, partly because he knew so many people and his trustworthiness crossed many class boundaries.

General Gage was not a simpleton - unlucky perhaps as had been most of his ancestors - but he was handicapped in his plans for the attack on Concord by having his most intimate plans ferreted out by the Whigs almost as soon as he made them. Only Dr. Joseph Warren, who was respected by both sides, knew this secret spy and ally to the Americans. He never revealed who the spy was, but Fischer suspects it was Gage's wife, an American very sympathetic to the American cause. Gage himself had cause to suspect her, and after the Concord fiasco, sent her to England.

The army's march on Concord is told in fascinating detail. The regulars wore the most impractical clothes: snow white breeches that had to be kept immaculate upon pain of flogging; tall frir hats that were intended to make the men seem taller, but required additional caps to protect them from the weather; coats worn very tight, that were supposed to be preshrunk, but which continued to get smaller in the rain and often became so tight men could barely move their arms; and shoes not made for right or left, but square toed so they could be worn on either foot and were switched from right to left every day so as not to get overworn on one side. Officers' coats were scarlet, (unlike the red of the men) dyed from the dried bodies of female cochineal insects. That meant they did not fade (unlike the uniforms of the soldiers) and they made outstanding targets. They also wore a highly polished gorget just below the neck that provided an excellent bullseye.

Fischer has appended a most interesting historiographical section at the end of the book that discusses how the various Revere myths became cemented into American folklore. Much of it stems from the Whigs themselves, who wished to reveal as little as possible of their complicity in antagonizing the British to act. It was very important that the British fire the first shot and that the Americans be seen as innocent victims in order to garner as much support as possible. In fact, Revere's first written account was suppressed by the Whigs as he refused to acknowledge it was the British who fired first, and his report of all their activities prior to the event made it obvious how the conspirators had orchestrated many of the events. His deposition was not found until 1891 among his private papers. But it was Longfellow's poem that solidified Revere's ride as a solitary event. Great poem but short on historical verity Fischer notes in several short essays how the crosscurrents of American political thought have tempered the Revere legend and myth and used it to reflect their own perspective of American history. Fascinating.

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