“The most important thing in this world is liberty. More important than food or clothes — more important than gold or houses or lands — more important than art or science — more important than all religions, is the liberty of man.”Robert Green Ingersoll, 1887
Ask anyone who knows me well — the 19th of April each year is, for me, a High Holy Day. The annual Independence Day celebration (which I begin on July 2nd) may be my favorite holiday, but today’s Americans wouldn’t be throwing that party if not for what Patriots did in April of 1775.
My personal observance begins the evening before. The reason for my reverence is captured perfectly in a couple of sentences published several years ago by Project Appleseed:
“Tonight is a night of great gravity. If our country properly celebrated the moments of greatest risk, courage, and fortitude, the evening of April 18 every year would be observed much like that of Passover.”
As children we were exhorted to listen and “hear of the midnight ride of Paul Revere.” Longfellow’s verse inspired us, certainly, but it employs great poetic license and offers only a romantic glimpse of actual events.
Revere was a member of Sons of Liberty and engaged in numerous acts of rebellion (the “Boston Tea Party,” for one), but he was just one part of what unfolded the night of April 18th. He carried out his assigned duty as a principal rider (courier) for the Committee of Safety, established by the Provincial Congress to alert the people and muster the militia.
Around 10pm or 11pm on April 18th he set out from Boston to the north and west, evading an enemy patrol and detouring to get ahead of the column of British Regulars advancing toward Concord. East of Pierce’s Hill his route coincided with that of fellow rider William Dawes, who’d taken a southern route from Boston.
Revere rode to Lexington, where he warned John Hancock and Samuel Adams before he and Dawes continued toward Concord. They encountered Samuel Prescott, a young doctor and trusted Patriot, and the three rode west.
Shortly after Prescott joined Revere and Dawes, the trio ran into a British patrol and split up. Dawes and Prescott managed to escape, the former returning to Lexington while the latter rode on in the direction of Concord.
Revere was captured, questioned for a few hours and released without his horse. He walked back to Lexington. Only Prescott, who joined the “midnight ride” almost by accident, reached Concord to sound the alarm.
So, contrary to Longfellow’s rhyme, there were three riders, not one. And it’s certain that dozens more Patriots, having been alerted by Revere, Dawes and Prescott, carried the word to other colonial minutemen.
You and I live in freedom now because those who came before us mustered bravely in its defense. From before the American Revolution to this day, it’s always been ordinary people who stand up, shoulder arms and put their very lives between Liberty and tyranny.
I can’t think of that without remembering a passage from Charlton Heston’s speech at the NRA’s annual meeting in 2000:
“When freedom shivers in the cold shadow of true peril, it’s always the patriots who first hear the call. When loss of liberty is looming, as it is now, the siren sounds first in the hearts of freedom’s vanguard. The smoke in the air of our Concord bridges and Pearl Harbors is always smelled first by the farmers, who come from their simple homes to find the fire, and fight….”
It was 247 years ago tonight that Paul Revere, William Dawes and Samuel Prescott undertook their “midnight ride.” In Lexington and Concord and the countryside beyond, “embattled farmers” and villagers, Patriots all, answered the call.
Do we have the courage to follow their example?
Take care of yourselves, Patriots. Stay calm. Stay sharp. Stay free.