April 18, 1775, brought the most famous ride in American history. With the colonies near open rebellion, British general Thomas Gage ordered 700 troops to march from Boston to Concord that night to seize the militia’s military supplies and to arrest Patriot leaders Samuel Adams and John Hancock. The British had hoped to move in secret, but Patriot spies were everywhere, and soon silversmith Paul Revere was galloping through the night, spreading the alarm “for the country folk to be up and to arm,” as Henry Wadsworth Longfellow put it in his famous poem.
There are several misconceptions about Revere’s ride, thanks in part to Longfellow’s verse. One is that Revere waited for a signal lantern to be hung in the tower of the Old North Church to know how the redcoats were moving – one if by land, two if “by sea” (across the Charles River). In fact, Revere himself directed the signal be set to warn other Patriots in the area. Another misconception is that Revere galloped along calling, “The British are coming!” He would not have yelled that, since the colonists still thought of themselves as British. More likely, he called something like “The regulars are coming out!”
Revere reached Lexington and warned Hancock and Adams of the danger. With that mission accomplished, he jumped back onto his horse and set out for Concord, though he never got that far. A British patrol captured him, but a companion escaped and rode to Concord to alert the Patriots there.
The British questioned Revere and let him go. By then the warning had flown from village to village. Hundreds of colonists quickly armed themselves. When the redcoats reached Lexington at dawn, the minutemen were waiting.