Wednesday, April 18, 2018

Midnight Ride

On April 18, 1775, Paul Revere and William Dawes sped out on horseback to warn John Hancock and Samuel Adams that the British were coming. Everybody remembers Paul Revere, who is immortalized, with a fair amount of poetic license in Longfellow's "Paul Revere's Ride". But almost no one remembers William Dawes. In the late nineteenth century, Helen Moore mused ironically on the difference:

The Midnight Ride of William Dawes
by Helen F. Moore


I am a wandering, bitter shade,
Never of me was a hero made;
Poets have never sung my praise,
Nobody crowned my brow with bays;
And if you ask me the fatal cause,
I answer only, "My name was Dawes"

'Tis all very well for the children to hear
Of the midnight ride of Paul Revere;
But why should my name be quite forgot,
Who rode as boldly and well, God wot?
Why should I ask? The reason is clear --
My name was Dawes and his Revere.

When the lights from the old North Church flashed out,
Paul Revere was waiting about,
But I was already on my way.
The shadows of night fell cold and gray
As I rode, with never a break or a pause;
But what was the use, when my name was Dawes!

History rings with his silvery name;
Closed to me are the portals of fame.
Had he been Dawes and I Revere,
No one had heard of him, I fear.
No one has heard of me because
He was Revere and I was Dawes.

While people have often noted that Longfellow's account is often not particularly accurate with regard to Paul Revere's ride itself, one reason for the 'inaccuracies' is that Longfellow is actually using Revere as a stand-in for all those who were involved -- including Dawes and Samuel Prescott (who joined them at a later point), as well as later couriers. He's blurring their stories together to get a cleaner poem.

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