Yesterday I quoted the Brooklyn, Connecticut, copy of Joseph Palmer’s letter about the shooting at Lexington on 19 Apr 1775. Starting in the late 1800s and throughout the 1900s, authors began writing about Israel Bissell, the post rider named in that document.
Historians found Israel Bissell (1752-1823) and his brother Justis listed as joining in Capt. W. Wolcott’s company from East Windsor, Connecticut, in July 1776. He served in the army only one month, though. After the war the Bissell family moved to Middlefield, Massachusetts. Israel bought farmland, married Lucy Hancock in 1784, and fathered four children. He died in 1823 at age seventy-one, and was buried in Hinsdale.
Bissell’s gravestone in Hinman said nothing about his Revolutionary War service: “IN MEMORY of Mr. ISRAEL BISSELL, who died October 24th 1823, Aged Sev’nty One Years.” In 1967 the D.A.R. added a bronze plaque describing him as an important post rider.
Since then, Bissell has been celebrated in art and sermon and poetry. Almost all of those mentions compare Bissell to Paul Revere, made into an American legend by Henry W. Longfellow’s poem. For example, Clay Perry opened his ode with these lines:
Listen, my children, to my epistleMost authors writing about Bissell credit him with carrying Palmer’s news of Lexington all the way to Philadelphia.
Of the long, long ride of Israel Bissell,
Who outrode Paul by miles and time
But didn’t rate a poet’s rhyme.
There are three problems with that celebration. A series of post riders, not one man, carried the message to Philadelphia. Revere rode less distance, but did a lot more. And Israel Bissell didn’t ride at all.
TOMORROW: Comparing Bissell and Revere.
(The illustration above is artist D. W. Roth’s dramatic image of Bissell, available as a print.)