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THE MESSAGE OF THE LANTERNS
THERE are many points of view from which this tale of Paul Revere may be told, but to the generality of people the interest of the poem, and of the historical event itself, will always centre around Christ Church, on Salem Street, in the North End of Boston the church where the lanterns were hung out on the night before the battles of Lexington and Concord. At nearly every hour of the day some one may be seen in the now unfrequented street looking up at the edifice's lofty spire with an expression full of reverence and satisfaction. There upon solid masonry of the tower front, one reads upon a tablet:
THE SIGNAL LANTERNS OF
DISPLAYED IN THE STEEPLE
OF THIS CHURCH, APRIL 18, 1775,
WARNED THE COUNTRY OF
THE MARCH OF THE
BRITISH TROOPS TO LEXINGTON
CHRIST CHURCH, BOSTON, MASS.
PAUL REVERE HOUSE, BOSTON, MASS.
If the pilgrim wishes to get into the very spirit of old Christ Church and its historical associations, he can even climb the tower
" By the wooden stairs, with stealthy tread,
To the belfry chamber overhead,
And startle the pigeons from their perch
On the sombre rafters, that round him make
Masses and moving shapes of shade "
to look down as Captain John Pulling did that eventful night on
"The graves on the hill,
Lonely and spectral and sombre and still."
The first time I ever climbed the tower I confess that I was seized with an overpowering sense of the weirdness and mystery of those same spectral graves, seen thus from above. It was dark and gloomy going up the stairs, and if John Pulling had thought of the prospect, rather than of his errand, I venture to say he must have been frightened. for all his bravery, in that gloomy tower at midnight.
But, of course, his mind was intent on the work he had to do, and on the signals which would tell how the British were to proceed on their march to seize the rebel stores at Concord. The signals agreed upon were two lanterns if the troops went by way of water, one if they were to go by land. In Longfellow's story we learn that Pulling
"Through alley and street,
Wanders and watches with eager ears,
Till in the silence around him he hears
The muster of men at the barrack door,
The sound of arms and the tramp of feet,
And the measured tread of the grenadiers,
Marching down to their boats on the shore."
It had been decided that the journey should be made by sea!
The Province of Massachusetts, it must be understood, was at this time on the eve of open revolt. It had formed an army, commissioned its officers, and promulgated orders as if there were no such person as George III. It was collecting stores in anticipation of the moment when its army should take the field. It had, moreover, given General Gage whom the king had sent to Boston to put down the rebellion there to understand that the first movement made by the royal troops into the country would be considered as an act of hostility, and treated as such. Gage had up to this time hesitated to act. At length his resolution to strike a crippling blow, and, if possible, to do it without bloodshed, was taken. Spies had informed him that the patriots' depot of ammunition was at Concord, and he had determined to send a secret expedition to destroy those stores. Meanwhile, however, the patriots were in great doubt as to the time when the definite movement was to be made.
Fully appreciating the importance of secrecy, General Gage quietly got ready eight hundred picked troops, which be meant to convey under cover of night across the west Bay, and to land on the Cambridge side, thus baffling the vigilance of the townspeople, and at the same time considerably shortening the distance his troops would have to march. So much pains was taken to keep the actual destination of these troops a profound secret, that even the officer who was selected for the command only received an order notifying him to hold himself in readiness.
"The guards in the town were doubled," writes Mr. Drake, "and in order to intercept any couriers who might slip through them, at the proper moment mounted patrols were sent out on the roads leading to Concord. Having done what he could to prevent intelligence from reaching the country, and to keep the town quiet, the British general gave his orders for the embarkation; and at between ten and eleven of the night of April 18, the troops destined for this service were taken across the bay in boats to the Cambridge side of the river. At this hour, Gage's pickets were guarding the deserted roads leading into the country, and up to this moment no patriot courier had gone out."
Pulling with his signals and Paul Revere an his swift horse were able, however, to baffle successfully the plans of the British general. The redcoats had scarcely gotten into their boats, when Dawes and Paul Revere started by different roads to warn Hancock and Adams, and the people of the country-side, that the regulars were out. Revere rode by way of Charlestown, and Dawes by the great highroad over the Neck. Revere had hardly got clear of Charlestown when he discovered that he had ridden headlong into the middle of the British patrol! Being the better mounted, however, he soon distanced his pursuers, and entered Medford, shouting like mad, "Up and arm! Up and arm! The regulars are out! The regulars are out!"
Longfellow has best described the awakening of the country-side:
"A hurry of hoofs in the village street,
A shape in the moonlight, a bulk in the dark,
And beneath, from the pebbles, in passing, a spark
Struck out by a steed flying fearless and fleet;
That was all! And yet, through the gloom and the light,
The fate of a nation was riding that night;
And the spark struck out by that steed, in its flight,
Kindled the land into flame with its heat."
The Porter house in Medford, at which Revere stopped long enough to rouse the captain of the Guards, and warn him of the approach of the regulars, is now no longer standing, but the Clark place, in Lexington, where the proscribed fellow patriots, Hancock and Adams, were lodging that night, is still in a good state of preservation.
The room occupied by "King" Hancock and "Citizen" Adams is the one on the lower floor, at the left of the entrance. Hancock was at this time visiting this particular house because "Dorothy Q," his fiancιe, was just then a guest of the place, and martial pride, coupled, perhaps, with the feeling that he must show himself in the presence of his lady-love a soldier worthy of her favour, inclined him to show fight when he heard from Revere that the regulars were expected. His widow related, in after years, that it was with great difficulty that she and the colonel's aunt kept him from facing the British on the day following the midnight ride. While the bell in the green was sounding the alarm, Hancock was cleaning his sword and his fusee, and putting his accoutrements in order. He is said to have been a trifle of a dandy in his military garb, and his points, sword-knot, and lace, were always of the newest fashion. Perhaps it was the desire to show himself in all his war-paint that made him resist so long the importunities of the ladies, and the urgency of other friends! The astute Adams, it is recounted, was a little annoyed at his friend's obstinacy, and, clapping him on the shoulder, exclaimed, as he looked significantly at the weapons, "That is not our business; we belong to the cabinet."1
It was Adams who threw light on the whole situation. Half an hour after Revere reached the house, the other express arrived, and the two rebel leaders, being now fully convinced that it was Concord which was the threatened point, hurried the messengers on to the next town, after allowing them barely time to swallow a few mouthfuls of food. Adams did not believe that Gage would send an army merely to take two men prisoners. To him, the true object of the expedition was very clear. Revere, Dawes, and young Doctor Prescott, of Concord, who had joined them, had got over half the distance to the next town, when, at a sudden turning, they came upon the second redcoat patrol. Prescott leaped his horse over the roadside wall, and so escaped across the fields to Concord. Revere and Dawes, at the point of the pistol, gave themselves up. Their business on the road at that hour was demanded by the officer, who was told in return to listen. Then, through the still morning air, the distant booming of the alarm bell's peal on peal was borne to their ears.
It was the British who were now uneasy. Ordering the prisoners to follow them, the troop rode off at a gallop toward Lexington, and when they were at the edge of the village, Revere was told to dismount, and was left to shift for himself. He then ran as fast as his legs could carry him across the pastures back to the Clark parsonage, to report his misadventure, while the patrol galloped off toward Boston to announce theirs. But by this time, the Minute Men of Lexington had rallied to oppose the march of the troops. Thanks to the intrepidity of Paul Revere, the North End coppersmith, the redcoats, instead of surprising the rebels in their beds, found them marshalled on Lexington Green, and at Concord Bridge, in front, flank, and rear, armed and ready to dispute their march to the bitter end.
"You know the rest. In the books you have read
How the British regulars fired and fled
How the farmers gave them ball for ball,
From behind each fence and farmyard wall,
Chasing the redcoats down the lane,
Then crossing the fields to emerge again
Under the trees at the turn of the road,
And only pausing to fire and load.
"So through the night rode Paul Revere;
And so through the night went his cry of alarm
To every Middlesex village and farm
A cry of defiance and not of fear,
A voice in the darkness, a knock at the door,
And a word that shall echo for evermore!
For, borne on the night wind of the past,
Through all our history, to the last,
The people will waken and listen to hear
The hurrying hoof beats of that steed,
And the midnight message of Paul Revere." 2
NOTE. Mr. W. B. Clarke, of Boston, has called the writer's attention to a pamphlet entitled:
"PAUL REVERE'S SIGNAL. The True Story of the Signal Lanterns in Christ Church, Boston. By the Rev. John Lee Watson, D. D. New York, 1880."
which seems to offer convincing proof that Captain Pulling, Paul Revere's intimate from boyhood, and not sexton Robert Newman, as is generally believed, was the "friend" mentioned in Revere's journal, and performed the patriotic office of hanging the lanterns.
1 Drake's " Historic Fields and Mansions Of Middlesex." Little, Brown & Co., publishers.
2 "Paul Revere's Ride:" Longfellow's Poems. Houghton, Mifflin & Co., publishers.
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