Paul Revere—silversmith, engraver, and Son of Liberty—recounts his actions and those of other Sons of Liberty on the eve of the events at Lexington and Concord.
To Dr. Belknap
Massachusetts Historical Society
BOSTON, January 1, 1798.
HAVING a little leisure, I wish to fulfil my promise of giving you some facts and anecdotes prior to the battle of Lexington, which I do not remember to have seen in any History of the American Revolution.
Christ Church & Charlestown.
—Paul Revere’s Engraved View of His Majesty’s North Battery in Boston, 1760.
In the year 1773, I was employed by the Selectmen of the town of Boston to carry the account of the Destruction of the Tea to New York; and afterwards, 1774, to carry their despatches to New York and Philadelphia for calling a Congress; and afterwards to Congress several times. In the fall of 1774 and winter of 1775, I was one of upwards of thirty, chiefly mechanics, who formed ourselves into a committee for the purpose of watching the movements of the British soldiers, and gaining every intelligence of the movements of the Tories. We held our meetings at the Green Dragon tavern. We were so careful that our meetings should be kept secret, that every time we met every person swore upon the Bible that they would not discover any of our transactions but to Messrs. Hancock, Adams, Doctors Warren, Church, and one or two more.
About November, when things began to grow serious, a gentleman who had connections with the Tory party, but was a Whig at heart, acquainted me, that our meetings were discovered, and mentioned the identical words that were spoken among us the night before. We did not then distrust Dr. Church, but supposed it must be some one among us. We removed to another place, which we thought was more secure; but here we found that all our transactions were communicated to Governor Gage. (This came to me through the then Secretary Flucker; he told it to the gentleman mentioned above.) It was then a common opinion, that there was a traitor in the Provincial Congress, and that Gage was possessed of all their secrets. (Church was a member of that Congress for Boston.) In the winter, towards the spring, we frequently took turns, two and two, to watch the soldiers, by patrolling the streets all night. The Saturday night preceding the 19th of April, about 12 o’clock at night, the boats belonging to the transports were all launched, and carried under the stems of the men-of-war. (They had been previously hauled up and repaired.) We likewise found that the grenadiers and light infantry were all taken off duty.
From these movements, we expected something serious was to be transacted. On Tuesday evening, the 18th, it was observed that a number of soldiers were marching towards the bottom of the Common. About 10 o’clock, Dr. Warren sent in great haste for me, and begged that I would immediately set off for Lexington, where Messrs. Hancock and Adams were, and acquaint them of the movement, and that it was thought they were the objects. When I got to Dr. Warren’s house, I found he had sent an express by land to Lexington,—a Mr. William Dawes. The Sunday before, by desire of Dr. Warren, I had been to Lexington, to Messrs. Hancock and Adams, who were at the Rev. Mr. Clark’s. I returned at night through Charlestown; there I agreed with a Colonel Couant and some other gentlemen, that if the British went out by water, we would show two lanthorns in the North Church steeple; and if by land, one, as a signal; for we Were apprehensive it would be difficult to cross the Charles River, or get over Boston Neck. I left Dr. Warren, called upon a friend, and desired him to make the signals. I then went home, took my boots and surtout, went to the north part of the town, where I had kept a boat; two friends rowed me across Charles River, a little to the eastward where the Somerset man-of-war lay. It was then young flood, the ship was winding, and the moon was rising. They landed me on the Charlestown side. When I got into town, I met Colonel Conant, and several others; they said they had seen our signals. I told them what was acting, and went to get me a horse; I got a horse of Deacon Larkin. While the horse was preparing, Richard Devens, Esq., who was one of the Committee of Safety, came to me, and told me that he came down the road from Lexington, after sundown, that evening; that he met ten British officers, all well mounted, and armed, going up the road.
I set off upon a very good horse; it was then about eleven o’clock, and very pleasant. After I had passed Charlestown Neck, and got nearly opposite where Mark was hung in chains, I saw two men on horseback, under a tree. When I got near them, I discovered they were British officers. One tried to get ahead of me, and the other to take me. I turned my horse very quick, aud galloped towards Charlestown Neck, and then pushed for the Medford road. The one who chased me, endeavoring to cut me off, got into a clay pond, near where the new tavern is now built. I got clear of him, and went through Medford, over the bridge, and up to Menotomy. In Medford, I awaked the Captain of the minute men; and after that, I alarmed almost every house, till I got to Lexington. I found Messrs. Hancock and Adams at the Rev. Mr. Clark’s; I told them my errand, and inquired for Mr. Dawes; they said he had not been there; I related the story of the two officers, and supposed that he must have been stopped, as he ought to have been there before me. After I had been there about half an hour, Mr. Dawes came; we refreshed ourselves, and set off for Concord, to secure the stores, &c. there. We were overtaken by a young Dr. Prescot, whom we found to be a high Son of Liberty. I told them of the ten officers that Mr. Devens met, and that it was probable we might be stopped before we got to Concord; for I supposed that after night, they divided themselves, and that two of them had fixed themselves in such passages as were most likely to stop any intelligence going to Concord. I likewise mentioned that we had better alarm all the inhabitants till we got to Concord; the young Doctor much approved of it, and said he would stop with either of us, for the people between that and Concord knew him, and would give the more credit to what we said. We had got nearly half way: Mr. Dawes and the Doctor stopped to alarm the people of a house: I was about one hundred rods ahead, when I saw two men, in nearly the same situation as those officers were, near Charlestown. I called for the Doctor and Mr. Dawes to come up; in an instant I was surrounded by four;—they had placed themselves in a straight road, that inclined each way; they had taken down a pair of bars on the north side of the road, and two of them were under a tree in the pasture. The Doctor being foremost, he came up; and we tried to get past them; but they being armed with, pistols and swords, they forced us into the pasture;—the Doctor jumped his horse over a low stone wall, and got to Concord. I observed a wood at a small distance, and made for that. When I got there, out started six officers, on horseback, and ordered me to dismount;—one of them, who appeared to have the command, examined me, where I came from, and what my name was? I told him. He asked me if I was an express? I answered in the affirmative. He demanded what time I left Boston? I told him; and added, that their troops had catched aground in passing the river, and that there would be five hundred Americans there in a short time, for I had alarmed the country all the way up. He immediately rode towards those who stopped us, when all five of them came down upon a full gallop; one of them, whom I afterwards found to be a Major Mitchel, of the 5th Regiment, clapped his pistol to my head, called me by name, and told me he was going to ask me some questions, and if I did not give him true answers, he would blow my brains out. He then asked me similar questions to those above. He then ordered me to mount my horse, after searching me for arms. He then ordered them to advance, and to lead me in front. When we got to the road, they turned down towards Lexington. When we had got about one mile, the Major rode up to the officer that was leading me, and told him to give me to the Sergeant. As soon as he took me, the Major ordered him, if I attempted to run, or anybody insulted them, to blow my brains out. We rode till we got near Lexington meeting-house, when the militia fired a volley of guns, which appeared to alarm them very much. The Major inquired of me how far it was to Cambridge, and if there were any other road? After some consultation, the Major rode up to the Sergeant, and asked if his horse was tired? He answered him, he was—(he was a Sergeant of Grenadiers, and had a small horse)—then, said he, take that man’s horse. I dismounted, and the Sergeant mounted my horse, when they all rode towards Lexington meeting-house. I went across the burying-ground, and some pastures, and came to the Rev. Mr. Clark’s house, where I found Messrs. Hancock and Adams. I told them of my treatment, and they concluded to go from that house towards Woburn. I went with them, and a Mr. Lowell, who was a clerk to Mr. Hancock. When we got to the house where they intended to stop, Mr. Lowell and myself returned to Mr. Clark’s, to find what was going on. When we got there, an elderly man came in; he said he had just come from the tavern, that a man had come from Boston, who said there were no British troops coming. Mr. Lowell and myself went towards the tavern, when we met a man on a full gallop, who told us the troops were coming up the rocks. We afterwards met another, who said they were close by. Mr. Lowell asked me to go to the tavern with him, to get a trunk of papers belonging to Mr. Hancock. We went up chamber; and while we were getting the trunk, we saw the British very near, upon a full march. We hurried towards Mr. Clark’s house. In our way, we passed through the militia. There were about fifty. When we had got about one hundred yards from the meeting-house, the British troops appeared on both sides of the meeting-house. In their front was an officer on horseback. They made a short halt; when I saw, and heard, a gun fired, which appeared to be a pistol. Then I could distinguish two guns, and then a continual roar of musketry; when we made off with the trunk.
As I have mentioned Dr. Church, perhaps it might not be disagreeable to mention some matters of my own knowledge, respecting him. He appeared to be a high Son of Liberty. He frequented all the places where they met, was encouraged by all the leaders of the Sons of Liberty, and it appeared he was respected by them, though I knew that Dr. Warren had not the greatest affection for him. He was esteemed a very capable writer, especially in verse; and as the Whig party needed every strength, they feared, as well as courted him. Though it was known that some of the liberty songs, which he composed, were parodized by him, in favor of the British, yet none dare charge him with it. I was a constant and critical observer of him, and I must say, that I never thought him a man of principle; and I doubted much in my own mind whether he was a real Whig. I knew that he kept company with a Capt. Price, a half-pay British officer, and that he frequently dined with him, and Robinson, one of the Commissioners. I know that one of his intimate acquaintance asked him why he was so often with Robinson and Price? His answer was, that he kept company with them on purpose to find out their plans. The day after the battle of Lexington, I met him in Cambridge, when he shew me some blood on his stocking, which he said spirted on him from a man who was killed near him, as he was urging the militia on. I well remember, that I argued with myself, if a man will risk his life in a cause, he must be a friend to that cause; and I never suspected him after, till he was charged with being a traitor.
The same day I met Dr. Warren. He was President of the Committee of Safety. He engaged me as a messenger, to do the out of doors business for that committee: which gave me an opportunity of being frequently with them. The Friday evening after, about sunset, I was sitting with some, or near all that committee, in their room, which was at Mr. Hastings’s house in Cambridge. Dr. Church, all at once, started up—Dr. Warren, said he, I am determined to go into Boston to-morrow—(it set them all a staring)—Dr. Warren replied, Are you serious, Dr. Church? they will hang you if they catch you in Boston. He replied, I am serious, and am determined to go at all adventures. After a considerable conversation, Dr. Warren said, If you are determined, let us make some business for you. They agreed that he should go to get medicine for their and our wounded officers. He went the next morning; and I think he came back on Sunday evening. After he had told the committee how things were, I took him aside and inquired particularly how they treated him. He said, that as soon as he got to their lines, on Boston Neck, they made him a prisoner, and carried him to General Gage, where he was examined, and then he was sent to Gould’s barracks, and was not suffered to go home but once. After he was taken up, for holding a correspondence with the British, I came across Deacon Caleb Davis;—we entered into conversation about him;—he told me, that the morning Church went into Boston, he (Davis) received a billet for General Gage—(he then did not know that Church was in town)—when he got to the General’s house, he was told, the General could not be spoke with, that he was in private with a gentleman; that he waited near half an hour, when General Gage and Dr. Church came out of a room, discoursing together, like persons who had been long acquainted. He appeared to be quite surprised at seeing Deacon Davis there; that he (Church) went where he pleased, while in Boston, only a Major Caine, one of Gage’s Aids, went with him. I was told by another person, whom I could depend upon, that he saw Church go into General Gage’s house, at the above time; that he got out of the chaise and went up the steps more like a man that was acquainted than a prisoner.
Some time after, perhaps a year or two, I fell in company with a gentleman who studied with Church; in discoursing about him, I related what I have mentioned above; he said, he did not doubt that he was in the interest of the British; and that it was he who informed General Gage; that he knew for certain, that a short time before the battle of Lexington, (for he then lived with him, and took care of his business and books), he had no money by him, and was much drove for money; that all at once, he had several hundred new British guineas; and that he thought at the time, where they came from.
Thus, Sir, I have endeavored to give you a short detail of some matters, of which perhaps no person but myself has documents or knowledge. I have mentioned some names which you are acquainted with; I wish you would ask them, if they can remember the circumstance I allude to.
I am, Sir, with every sentiment of esteem,
your humble servant,
Used with the permission of Democratic Thinker.