On April 18, 1775, it was pretty clear the British were antsy to attack. A patriot named Joseph Warren confirmed through a secret source -- often thought to be the British general's wife -- that the British were planning to arrest patriot leaders Samuel Adams and John Hancock and then attack the stores of supplies in Concord. Warren sent for William Dawes and Paul Revere, and the midnight ride was set into motion.
British patrols were posted along the roads, which is why more than one messenger was used for the mission. If one failed, the other could get through. Joseph Warren sent first for William Dawes, directing him to take the land route out of Boston. He was to alert the towns of Roxbury, Cambridge and Menotomy (now Arlington) on his way to Lexington, where he was to warn Samuel Adams and John Hancock of the impending threat.
Dawes had made a few rides for the freedom fighters, but he was not as well known as Revere. Therefore, he was less likely to be stopped. He traveled frequently and had befriended British guards -- guards who may have helped slip him through the checkpoints that night. Dawes was also a good actor. He'd disappear beneath a big hat and affect the voice of a drunk or a country farmer to allay suspicions. He left Boston around 9:30 p.m.
A half-hour later, Warren sent for Paul Revere. He sent Revere to warn Adams and Hancock by the water route; Revere was to cross the Charles River and then continue on horseback to Lexington. First, Revere needed to carry out some arrangements he'd already made to alert Charlestown of any British movement. He contacted the church's sexton to hold up two lanterns, indicating that the British were going by water.
Two friends rowed Revere across the bay, paddling around warships. On the other side, the patriots were ready for him, having received his signal. He borrowed a horse and set off for Lexington, dodging British patrols and waking up the villages he passed along the way.
Revere arrived in Lexington around midnight to alert Samuel Adams and John Hancock. They were at first concerned that Dawes had not arrived yet, but he showed up about a half-hour later. The men went to a tavern for an hour, where they decided that the true aim of the British was to attack the supplies at Concord and not the patriots in Lexington. Saddling up again, Revere and Dawes headed out to warn Concord, as well as the homes along the way.
To learn how Samuel Prescott joined the ride and about Revere's run-in with British troops, go to the next page.