So unfortunately, my ignoring of my book blog also meant that sometimes I didn’t take as good of notes as I usually do when I finished a book. (Read: No note. No notes taken.) Such is the case for David Hackett Fischer’s fantastic Paul Revere’s Ride. But this book has stuck with me, surprisingly so for a non-fiction book, and so though this review may be short on details, it is of a book I wholeheartedly encourage you to pick up.
Last August, I went on my first ever visit to Boston. (How you get to 30 years old without ever visiting Boston I don’t know, but it happened. Even my parents were surprised I’d never been.) Michel was excited, but I was really excited. I love early American history, and I had plans to see as much of American history as I could, including walking the entire Freedom Trail in under 7 hours. We were going to be right in the middle of it all, so clearly I needed to read something to prep me for this complete immersion in the Boston theater of the Revolutionary War. My friend, Diane, recommended Fischer’s Paul Revere’s Ride, and, at first, I was like…meh. I know about the ride! One if by land, two if by sea, the British are coming, the British are coming, Paul Revere single-handedly saves the day! (Thank you, Mr. Longfellow.) But then I started reading the description and realized I knew NOTHING about Paul Revere’s actual ride! I mean, yes, Paul Revere was involved, as was the Old North Church, and there were horses and British soldiers, but otherwise, it was COMPLETELY DIFFERENT from what I had learned (or at least remembered) from school. (Lies, Mr. Longfellow.)
So did you know that:
- Paul Revere was one of many militia men who were out and about that night, riding from town to town to awaken the citizens. He was, in fact, one of the main architects of this highly sophisticated alarm system that functioned like a horse and rider version of the giant haystack beacons in The Return of the King. The timing was incredible–“Paul Revere’s alarm” had spread hundreds of miles up and down the eastern seaboard by the time the first shots were fired, and militias kept coming all day. These alarms triggered a specific set of actions in each town the riders rode through, leading to a large, mostly orderly, and responsive American militia descending on Lexington and Concord. Which brings me to my next point.
- The Americans were highly organized. This was not some scrappy, rag-tag bunch of farmers and colonists who through sheer pluck, stubbornness, and determination beat the strongest military in the world. These were trained and organized farmers and colonists who developed sophisticated military hierarchies in their local militia where everyone had a specific job (some as the towns’ alarm riders) and engaged in clear, well-organized military drills. They also had built in time and practices for democratic decision making should they ever be called to arms. There was no specific leader of these militias–they decided as a group whether or not to take up arms, and the majority of local militias did. Additionally, I remember learning in school about the American’s use of guerrilla warfare, but it’s because they knew the land and had practiced for it. These Americans meant business.
- Paul Revere and some of his riders were captured that night. Most of them escaped due to British incompetence. And, because the alarm system relied on an intricate network of riders, processes, and decision that had been previously established and disseminated, it still worked even with those disruptions.
- Samuel Adams and John Hancock were supposedly the targets of the British march to Lexington, where they were trying to evade arrest. They were ultimately successful, despite Hancock being a prima donna about wanting to fight and not wanting to leave until he’d eaten. It was Adams who really put him in his place, saving both their lives while Revere dragged Hancock’s trunk full of top secret papers through the middle of a fire fight to safety. So raise a glass to Sam!
- British General Thomas Gage’s American wife, Margaret Gage, is thought to be an American spy! Dr. Joseph Warren, another leader of the Sons of Liberty, had a source high up in the British command, and while it has never been confirmed that Margaret Gage was his source, his information lessened after her sudden departure to England on her husband’s orders. It if was her, she’s the one who shared the entire British plan to kidnap Adams and Hancock and burn the colonists stores and supplies at Concord. #whoruntheworld #girls
- The Boston accent…has always been the Boston accent. They know this because many colonists spelled phonetically rather than using standard spelling. And my favorite examples? The phonetic spellings of “chattaer” (charter) and “Bast’n” (Boston). Say them out loud…
There is a ton more packed into Fischer’s exhaustive account, but it never lags or becomes boring. This may sound weird, but reading Fischer’s account of the events surround Revere’s famous ride is like listening to an adventure radio play. You’re not quite so immersed in it that it’s like a movie, but it’s pacing is much more thrilling than your typical non-fiction book about a military episode. More importantly, it provided a ton of important context about events, people, and motives during this time in history, which made walking the Freedom Trail so much more meaningful an experience. I remembered particularly the section where Fischer discussed Revere’s efforts to cross the Charles River from Boston to Cambridge to begin the main part of his journey as we walked across the Charles just above where the British ships dropped anchor, effectively blockading the city. Standing in the Old South Meetinghouse meant so much more having just read about the impassioned speeches delivered there before and after the Boston Massacre. Alternately, I was able to understand the paths the Sons of Liberty took through the city and the challenges they faced in their movements when I was able to walk the same streets shortly after reading about them. Context is so important when engaging with history, and Fischer’s account, covering so much more than just Revere’s ride, really affected how I experienced my first trip to Boston, despite discovering that
- The first public school in the United States, Boston Latin School, is now a Ruth’s Chris Steakhouse.
- Anne Hutchinson‘s house, later the famous Old Corner Bookstore, is now a Chipotle.
- Lobster is not cheaper in Boston.
Clearly I recommend this book. It was great. I loved it and would have really enjoyed it even without visiting Boston. But I also think that taking the time to read something about the places you are visiting, either before or after, is a great way to deepen and personalize the experience.