Today in history – spreading the alarm “through every Middlesex village and farm”

One of the first poems I tried to memorize was Paul Revere’s ride. I didn’t make it all the way through, but I did get the first part committed to memory, and some of it is still up there! Here is the poem (story comes later):

Paul Revere’s Ride
Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, 1807 – 1882

Listen, my children, and you shall hear
Of the midnight ride of Paul Revere,
On the eighteenth of April, in Seventy-Five:
Hardly a man is now alive
Who remembers that famous day and year.

He said to his friend, “If the British march
By land or sea from the town to-night,
Hang a lantern aloft in the belfry-arch
Of the North-Church-tower, as a signal-light,–
One if by land, and two if by sea;
And I on the opposite shore will be,
Ready to ride and spread the alarm
Through every Middlesex village and farm,
For the country-folk to be up and to arm.”

Then he said “Good night!” and with muffled oar
Silently rowed to the Charlestown shore,
Just as the moon rose over the bay,
Where swinging wide at her moorings lay
The Somerset, British man-of-war:
A phantom ship, with each mast and spar
Across the moon, like a prison-bar,
And a huge black hulk, that was magnified
By its own reflection in the tide.

Meanwhile, his friend, 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.

Then he climbed to the tower of the church,
Up the wooden stairs, with stealthy tread,
To the belfry-chamber overhead,
And startled the pigeons from their perch
On the sombre rafters, that round him made
Masses and moving shapes of shade,–
By the trembling ladder, steep and tall,
To the highest window in the wall,
Where he paused to listen and look down
A moment on the roofs of the town,
And the moonlight flowing over all.

Beneath, in the churchyard, lay the dead,
In their night-encampment on the hill,
Wrapped in silence so deep and still
That he could hear, like a sentinel’s tread,
The watchful night-wind, as it went
Creeping along from tent to tent,
And seeming to whisper, “All is well!”
A moment only he feels the spell
Of the place and the hour, and the secret dread
Of the lonely belfry and the dead;
For suddenly all his thoughts are bent
On a shadowy something far away,
Where the river widens to meet the bay, —
A line of black, that bends and floats
On the rising tide, like a bridge of boats.

Meanwhile, impatient to mount and ride,
Booted and spurred, with a heavy stride,
On the opposite shore walked Paul Revere.
Now he patted his horse’s side,
Now gazed on the landscape far and near,
Then impetuous stamped the earth,
And turned and tightened his saddle-girth;
But mostly he watched with eager search
The belfry-tower of the old North Church,
As it rose above the graves on the hill,
Lonely and spectral and sombre and still.
And lo! as he looks, on the belfry’s height,
A glimmer, and then a gleam of light!
He springs to the saddle, the bridle he turns,
But lingers and gazes, till full on his sight
A second lamp in the belfry burns!

A hurry of hoofs in a 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 that flies 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 his flight,
Kindled the land into flame with its heat.

He has left the village and mounted the steep,
And beneath him, tranquil and broad and deep,
Is the Mystic, meeting the ocean tides;
And under the alders, that skirt its edge,
Now soft on the sand, now loud on the ledge,
Is heard the tramp of his steed as he rides.

It was twelve by the village clock
When he crossed the bridge into Medford town.
He heard the crowing of the cock,
And the barking of the farmer’s dog,
And felt the damp of the river-fog,
That rises when the sun goes down.

It was one by the village clock,
When he galloped into Lexington.
He saw the gilded weathercock
Swim in the moonlight as he passed,
And the meeting-house windows, blank and bare,
Gaze at him with a spectral glare,
As if they already stood aghast
At the bloody work they would look upon.

It was two by the village clock,
When be came to the bridge in Concord town.
He heard the bleating of the flock,
And the twitter of birds among the trees,
And felt the breath of the morning breeze
Blowing over the meadows brown.
And one was safe and asleep in his bed
Who at the bridge would be first to fall,
Who that day would be lying dead,
Pierced by a British musket-ball.

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 red-coats 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 forevermore!
For, borne on the night-wind of the Past,
Through all our history, to the last,
In the hour of darkness and peril and need,
The people will waken and listen to hear
The hurrying hoof-beats of that steed,
And the midnight message of Paul Revere.

Of course, that isn’t the whole story, and Paul Revere wasn’t the only rider.

Here is a current day story about the guy who reenacts the ride, in Boston Magazine:

Paul Tobin loves his job. Well, it’s not a job, technically, as he does it for free. But it’s one hell of a responsibility, and one he takes very seriously. Off and on for the last 26 years, Tobin has suited up for the National Lancers and galloped west from Boston on Patriots’ Day in character as Paul Revere, reenacting one of the most iconic moments in Revolutionary history. On Monday morning, Tobin, as Revere, will appear on horseback at Boston’s Old North Church before setting off on the route traveled by his real-life forebear to alert the Minutemen that the British were, in fact, coming.

What’s it like having such a big role to play in a Massachusetts tradition that’s now more than 100 years old? How, exactly, does one become a horse-riding reenactor? Does being Paul Revere make you a good wingman? We asked, and Tobin answered.

Orders in hand, Paul Revere rides down Hanover Street in the annual reenactment

This entry was posted in History, Nostalgia, Uncategorized. Bookmark the permalink.

10 Responses to Today in history – spreading the alarm “through every Middlesex village and farm”

  1. The Tundra PA says:

    I have loved this poem since I was a child, and every year I read it aloud on the 18th of April. In eighth grade I memorized the entire thing and recited it in English class when we were required to memorize any poem of our choosing. I remember getting one word wrong.

    Stella, your version has a stanza I’ve never seen before, “He has left the village and mounted the steep…” Otherwise our versions are identical, and I can still recite almost all of it correctly. Guess my brain hasn’t gone ’round the bend quite yet.

    Liked by 3 people

  2. stella says:

    The British were marching to Lexington and Concord to seize stockpiles of Patriots’ guns and ammunition. Without these stockpiles, the patriots could not resist tyranny. This is exactly why the Second Amendment was, AND IS, essential to our liberty.

    Liked by 2 people

    • Menagerie says:

      I have always loved American history. We are a nation whose every generation’s common man rose to the fight. We are who we are because of our next door neighbor, or Aunt Martha, or our great great grandfather. Or us.

      Faith, hope, and love. I have these three for my countrymen and our America. We still have the blood of those Paul Reveres in our veins.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Sharon says:

    Today is also the 113th anniversary of my mother’s birth in a small house on the Montana prairie, where she was one of 13 children, all of whom went on to raise their own families. Of the eleven girls born to my pioneer grandfather, eight married farmers and then raised their own families within 75 miles of their childhood home.

    My Dad would always cheerfully quote the five opening lines as he came to the breakfast table every April 18. We had fun with that. I have one of the very last birthday cards he gave her in the late 1950s.

    Liked by 5 people

  4. Thanks for this reminder, Stella. My Revolutionary War patriot ancestor, Orringh Stoddard, a Captain in the Massachusetts military joined up on April 19, 1775. Ever since discovering that date I’ve wondered if he actually heard Paul Revere (or one of his compatriots) that fateful night!

    Liked by 3 people

  5. Reblogged this on Special Connections and commented:
    My Revolutionary War patriot ancestor, Orringh Stoddard, a Captain from Massachusetts, joined up on April 19, 1775. I’ve wondered if he perhaps Paul Revere in his fabled ride & so joined the cause the next day.


  6. joshua says:

    And I on the opposite shore will be,
    Ready to ride and spread the alarm
    Through every Middlesex village and farm,
    For the country-folk to be up and to arm.”

    Today in our public school system….they would believe that Middlesex was just another gender definition that needs to be graphically explained and demonstrated….


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