Listen, my children, and give a pause for the midnight ride of William Dawes.
All right, so Henry Wadsworth Longfellow knew he could get a better rhyme out of “hear” and “Revere,” but the result of his famous poem from “Tales of a Wayside Inn” is that Paul Revere’s fellow rider, William Dawes, is largely unknown to most Americans. So how about three cheers for Dawes on this Patriot’s Day.
Their momentous ride was set off by Robert Newman, the sexton of the Old North Church, who climbed the church steeple on the night of April 18, 1775, to hang two lanterns there.
The lanterns, arranged for by Revere, signaled that the British had begun a march to Lexington in search of Revolutionary leaders, particularly John Hancock and Samuel Adams.
After the lanterns were hung, Revere and Dawes set off for Lexington to warn their fellow patriots. On their way to their next stop, Concord, the two were stopped by the British, but Dawes was able to slip away, while Revere was later more famously released on foot. It may be that the former’s skills of stealth served him well on his journey but not so well in the history books.
The British met little resistance on the way to Concord, though the 70 minutemen who waited at Lexington on the morning of April 19 would later prove to be able fighters. The colonists at Lexington had the good sense to disperse after seeing the overwhelming number of redcoats — but not before either one of their number or a British soldier fired the shot heard round the world, and the war was on. The battle at Concord’s North Bridge and the ensuing British retreat was a bloody beginning to America’s independence.
Just two states — Maine and Massachusetts — still mark this momentous event in American history. Massachusetts, understandably, celebrates the day more obviously than Maine: It has re-enactments, readings and its famous marathon. Maine marks it in a quieter but no less patriotic fashion.
And the rest of the states? Perhaps their schoolchildren also are on vacation this week, so the lack of observation of this important day in their histories is not so noticeable. Still, a more nationwide effort of reading Longfellow’s poem by folks sporting tri-cornered hats wouldn’t hurt anybody. Except, perhaps, the forgotten Dawes.