Saturday, April 16, 2011

The Ride of Paul Revere - When Poetry and History Conflict

 We continue today to teach our elementary school children about "Christopher Columbus wanting to prove the Earth was round," and George Washington's having wooden teeth.  I was in the company of two Scottish friends a while back, who were commenting on my knowledge of not only American history, but Scottish history as well. It seemed I knew theirs better than they did, much to their delight! I will never forget being asked, whether George Washington did indeed have"wooden teeth?" To which my answer was, "noooo... they were not wooden at all." They had been taught the very same thing as school children in Scotland, as many of us have.

The question of what to teach our children about the history of our country comes into conflict particularly with the esteemed writing of Henry Wadsworth Longfellows and his of the famous ride of Paul Revere.

Thanks largely to a famous poem by Mr. Longfellow, which was written April 19, 1860, and first published in 1863 as part of "Tales of a Wayside Inn," most people believe that Revere was the lone hero who rode through Middlesex County, Massachusetts alerting everyone that the British soldiers were invading. The truth however, is that there were actually multiple riders that night delivering news, including the likes of Israel Bissell and Sybil Ludington, both of whom, it is said, actually traveled much further than Revere did (Ludington actually doubled the distance that Revere covered). Perhaps, Midnight Riders will finally set the record straight.

I am a rider and a writer, so I will humbly apply for clarifications here.

In  a celebration of April's National Poetry Month, Historian, Jayne Triber passionately reads Henry Wadsworth Longfellow's "Paul Revere's Ride." Triber also discusses the background of Revere's fabled ride, and the historical inaccuracies in Longfellow's poem.


This poem literally transformed a nation's perception of an event and a man who had a very minor roll, into almost a founding Father. Longfellow wrote this written some 80 years after the actually ride. The poem was published just before the American Civil War. It was to inspire to come together in patriotism by having them reflect on a telling of history from the American Revolution. Longfellow's attempt succeeded in inspiring his countrymen before the civil war. 

However, Longfellow also doesn't mention in "The Midnight Ride of Paul Revere" that British troops captured all three men at a site near Hanscom Air Force Base in present-day Bedford. You can see a marker commemorating the capture site in Minute Man National Historic Park on the route to the Old North Bridge.
Fortunately, they managed to escape. 

I hope I didn't spoil some of the romantic aspects of that night for you. It still was very important to the telling of the whole story of the American Revolution. But remember it was a poem taking creative license with the intent to inspire. It did inspire, when it was published and still does today. We need to remember that creative license often takes history down alternative paths, and this includes movies made about the same subject, but that is a post for another day.


A True Republican: The Life of Paul Revere (University of Massachusetts Press; Written By Jayne Triber, ISBN: 1558492941).

No comments: