Throwback Thursday: Paul Revere’s Ride Turns 240

On April 18, 1775, Revere set out on the ride that would make him famous long after his death.

1940s Illustration via Wikimedia Commons

1940s Illustration via Wikimedia Commons

It was “the eighteenth of April, in Seventy-five,” as Henry Wadsworth Longfellow put it, when Paul Revere mounted his horse and set out on a famous mission. As if to impress upon us just how long ago that was, Longfellow added, “Hardly a man is now alive who remembers that famous day and year.”

Actually, that day and year came 240 years ago this Saturday, which means that no man is still alive who remembers it, and in fact, no living person can even recall the publication of “Paul Revere’s Ride” in 1861. We remember Revere, though, in large part thanks to that poem’s popularity.

Critics have picked at Longfellow’s poem for taking historical liberties with the Revere legend it created—most notably, its claim that he shouted, “The British are coming!” (He probably didn’t shout. And most colonists considered themselves British, too.) Longfellow also left out the names of other riders who helped spread the word that night. Whatever the details, though, it remains true that Revere played a key role in events. His spreading of the word helped the minutemen set up in Concord, forcing the confrontation that set off the American Revolution.

In the years after the poem’s publication, Boston embraced Revere’s legend. Old North Church began recreating the narrative of the poem each year and places a plaque outside noting its role in the story. In 1883, Boston held a nationwide competition for a statue of Paul Revere on horseback. The winner sits in Paul Revere Plaza, across from the church, ensuring that we Bostonians will remember Revere and his midnight message, as Longfellow says, “Through all our history, to the last.”