Palin not the first to take liberties with Revere’s ride

June 7th, 2011 by Staff

www.palmbeachpost.com — With bells ringing and guns blazing, Sarah Palin galloped all over the story of Paul Revere’s midnight ride last week. But she’s not the first person to flub the factual details of this stirring moment in American history.

In comments last week, Palin told supporters in Massachusetts that Revere’s ride, replete with warning shots and bells, was partly to let British soldiers know that a locked and loaded American revolution was on the way.

Historians say her argument is not well-armed: Secrecy and stealth were crucial to Revere’s ride, in order to warn revolutionary leaders Samuel Adams and John Hancock that the Redcoats were coming to arrest them.

With the former vice-presidential candidate sitting tough in the saddle (“I didn’t mess up I know my American history,” she declared Sunday), and Palinistas trying to rewrite said history on Revere’s Wikipedia page all day Monday, let’s remember that Palin is not the only person to indulge in Revere revisionism.

There is that other fellow. Longfellow, to be exact.

Henry Wadsworth Longfellow’s poem, Paul Revere’s Ride, was written in 1861, more than four decades after Revere died. It’s become so, uh, revere-d, and taught to so many schoolchildren, that many take its verse for gospel. Or American history.

Longfellow was a great poet. Alas, he was not a great journalist.

Here are some of Longfellow’s inaccuracies, or poetic license, if you will:

Paul Revere didn’t yell, “The British are coming!” He yelled, “The regulars are coming out!” Longfellow probably made the right call there because his version certainly sounds better.
Revere was not the only rider that night of April 18, 1775. A second messenger was sent out in case the Redcoats captured Revere.
The famous two lanterns in the church steeple (“One if by land, and two if by sea…”) was not a warning to Revere of the British army’s route, as the poem says, but Revere’s warning to nearby people to let them know the British were coming out.
The poem has Revere arriving in Concord, Mass. on his night ride, but he only got to Lexington, where he warned Hancock and Adams, and was then arrested. At that point, after his capture, he may have told British soldiers of his exploits, which may be where Palin got the idea that he was warning the British, too.
Of course, where she got the idea that Revere was riding along and “ringing those bells” is anybody’s guess because bell-ringing isn’t exactly a way to keep things on the QT.

Still, if all this Revere revisionism began with Longfellow, he deserves a great deal of credit, too, for shedding light on a forgotten chapter in American history. Until he wrote the poem, nobody outside of New England had even heard of Paul Revere.

He was just some guy who made silver cups and plates. It was only through Longfellow’s “ringing” verse that all of America came to hear… the midnight message of Paul Revere.

Information for this story came from The Associated Press, The Washington Post and the website Revolutionary War and Beyond.


One Response

  1. Airihi Day

    Israel Bissell who was the real hero. Paul Revere rode 20 miles to warn whilst Israel rode for over four days, a total of 345 miles. Between Watertown, Massachusetts and Philadelphia. Longfellow was originally planning to write the poem about him but Paul Revere’s name sounded so much nicer, supposedly.

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