In the popular imagination of many Americans, few aspects of the Revolutionary War are more iconic than the event that came to be known as “Paul Revere’s midnight ride.” On the evening of April 18, 1775, the Patriot leader rode from Boston to Lexington, Massachusetts, warning the rebelling colonists that British soldiers stationed in Boston were planning to march into the countryside surrounding Lexington and Concord. However, while Revere’s midnight ride was, in fact, a significant moment in the American Revolution, some details that found their way into the popular retelling have been subject to a bit of dramatic embellishment. Namely, Revere never actually shouted the now-legendary warning, “The British are coming!” In fact, if he had shouted this, it would have been detrimental to his mission.
For one, at the time, colonists still considered themselves to be British subjects, and although they were rebelling against the British crown, American revolutionaries did not consider “the British” to be a separate, hostile nation. What’s more, as a known revolutionary agent riding through a region full of British troops, Revere needed to complete his ride with as much discretion as possible. His actual journey was one of secrecy and narrow escapes, including a clandestine boat ride across the Charles River, during which he narrowly avoided capture from a British patrol ship before continuing his covert ride by horseback on the other side of the river. Revere did deliver crucial warnings about the British military’s impending advance on Lexington, but these warnings were quietly given to revolutionaries at individual households along his route.