Redcoats , Revere and Dawes

The Redcoats had a mission. Mission: Capture and confiscate the American arsenal at Concord. Secondary Objectives: Capture Patriot leaders Samuel Adams and John Hancock, known to be hiding at Lexington. […]
April 18, 2016

The Redcoats had a mission.
Mission: Capture and confiscate the American arsenal at Concord.
Secondary Objectives: Capture Patriot leaders Samuel Adams and John Hancock, known to be hiding at Lexington.
Caveat: Patriots Paul Revere and William Dawes will race to warn and arouse Minutemen.

While all the school children are taught ( not sure if they still do or not) of the midnight ride of Paul Revere, Dawes made an even more daring gallop out of Boston that same night. Unlike his Revere, Dawes managed to evade capture by the British. Yet it’s Revere’s immortal name that has graced a famous ode, a line cookware and even a rock band. Dawes, meanwhile, is all but forgotten.

On this day, Dr. Joseph Warren learned through Boston’s revolutionary underground that British troops were preparing to cross the Charles River and march to Lexington, presumably to arrest John Hancock and Samuel Adams. Fearing an intercept by the British, Warren had devised a redundancy plan to warn Hancock and Adams. He would send one rider by land and one by sea.

Boston in 1775 was nearly an island, only connected to the mainland by a narrow strip of land guarded by British sentries. Warren knew that the rider who had to take the longer land route and pass through the British checkpoint had the riskier mission, but he had the perfect man for the job, Dawes. The 30-year-old was a militiaman and a loyal patriot. Unlike Revere, however, Dawes wasn’t a known rabble-rouser, and his work as a tanner frequently took him out of Boston, so his would be a familiar face to the British manning the checkpoint.

Dawes set off around 9 p.m., about an hour before Warren dispatched Revere on his mission. Within minutes, he was at the British guardhouse on Boston Neck, which was on high alert. According to some accounts, Dawes eluded the guards by slipping through with some British soldiers or attaching himself to another party. Shortly after he passed through the guardhouse, the British halted all travel out of Boston.

Dawes sped west and then north through Roxbury, Brookline, Brighton, Cambridge and Menotomy. Unlike Revere, who awoke town leaders and militia commanders along the way to share his news, Dawes apparently let them sleep, either because he was singularly focused on getting to Lexington as quickly as possible or because he wasn’t as well-connected with the patriots in the countryside.

Dawes arrived at his destination, Lexington’s Hancock-Clarke House, at 12:30 a.m., about half an hour after Revere, who had traveled a shorter distance on a faster horse. Thirty minutes later, the dynamic duo mounted their weary steeds again to warn the residents of Concord, and Dr. Samuel Prescott soon joined them.

Before they could reach Concord, however, the three riders encountered a British patrol around 1:30 a.m. Revere was captured. Prescott and his horse hurtled over a stone wall and managed to make it to Concord. According to family lore, the quick-witted Dawes, knowing his horse was too tired to outrun the two British officers tailing him, cleverly staged a ruse. He pulled up in front of a vacant farmhouse and shouted as if there were patriots inside: “Halloo, boys, I’ve got two of ‘em!” Fearing an ambush, the two Redcoats galloped away, while Dawes reared so quickly he was bucked off his horse. Forced to limp into the moonlit night, he receded into obscurity.

Little is known about what happened to Dawes after his midnight ride. He went into the provisions business and was a commissary to the Continental Army. According to some reports, he fought at the Battle of Bunker Hill. Dawes had seven children, compared to Revere’s 16. Dawes died at age 53 in 1799; Revere lived until he was 83.

in 1861 Henry Wadworth Longfellow’s historically inaccurate verses not only venerated Revere, but they wrote Dawes out of the storyline altogether.

The Midnight Ride of William Dawes

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.

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