Modern history

HISTORIOGRAPHY

artMyths After the Midnight Ride

Seldom has fact supported legend, seldom has nature imitated art so successfully.

—Edmund S. Morgan

Even as the event was still happening, the legend began to grow. Long before Paul Revere reached home again, rumors of the midnight ride began to fly across the countryside. Returning British soldiers reported their encounter with “the noted Paul Revere” on the Concord Road. A newspaper in the city of New York informed its readers that Paul Revere was “missing and supposed to be waylaid and slain.” 1 In Boston, the story of the signals from the Old North Church made too good a story for Whig leaders to keep secret very long. Within days, a Tory refugee named Ann Hulton wrote to an English friend, “The people in the country … had a signal, it is supposed, by a light from one of the steeples in town, upon the troops embarking.” 2

By early June, the first report of Paul Revere’s ride appeared in print. Its author was William Gordon, Roxbury’s English-born Congregationalist minister, who appointed himself the first historian of the American Revolution. After the battle, Gordon rode to Concord and interviewed many participants, including Paul Revere himself. In the first week of June, he published an account of the battle which mentioned Revere by name, and briefly described the midnight ride, the capture, the rescue of John Hancock’s trunk, and Revere’s presence at the battle of Lexington. Gordon’s essay was very short, but remarkably full and accurate. Yet even as he wrote, the first of many myths was beginning to take form around the subject. Its inventors were the participants themselves.3

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