J. L. BELL is a Massachusetts writer who specializes in (among other things) the start of the American Revolution in and around Boston. He is particularly interested in the experiences of children in 1765-75. He has published scholarly papers and popular articles for both children and adults. He was consultant for an episode of History Detectives, and contributed to a display at Minute Man National Historic Park.

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Sunday, June 13, 2010

Hezekiah Wyman in His Eighties

In September 1855 the United States Magazine of Science, Art, Manufactures, Agriculture, Commerce & Trade, which obviously didn’t have enough topics to cover, printed a new version of “The White Horseman” with two major changes:

  • The story now said white-haired rider Hezekiah Wyman was “nearly eighty” and “eighty last November.” Those numbers were mutually contradictory, and they added twenty years to Wyman’s age in the 1835 original.
  • The commander of the militia on Lexington common was called “Captain Parker.” He was also “bayoneted in his tracks,” thus combining attributes of two real men: Capt. John Parker and his cousin Jonas Parker, who died from bayonet wounds. (Dramatic photo above of the 2008 reenactment of that killing by Joanne Rathe for the Boston Globe.)
This revamped version of “The White Horseman” was reprinted the following year in John R. Chapin’s The Historical Picture Gallery, or, Scenes and Incidents in American History, which promised “Interesting and Thrilling Narratives from the Written and Unwritten, Legendary and Traditionary, History of the United States.” The story was subtitled “A Reminiscence of Lexington Battle Ground,” implying that Wyman’s adventure was true.

In 1861 the story of eighty-year-old Hezekiah Wyman reappeared in Thrilling Adventures among the Early Settlers, published by the John E. Potter company of Philadelphia. That book’s title page promised:
Desperate Encounters with Indians, Tories, and Refugees; Daring Exploits of Texan Rangers and Others, and Incidents of Guerilla Warfare; Fearful Deeds of the Gamblers and Desperadoes, Rangers and Regulators of the West and Southwest; Hunting Stories, Trapping Adventures, etc., etc., etc.
As a result of such reprinting, by the 1860s lots of Americans knew the story of Hezekiah Wyman. In fact, Charles Bahne found that Henry W. Longfellow’s first draft of “Paul Revere’s Ride” included a stanza referring to Wyman’s white horse. The poet didn’t retell the whole story; rather, he expected his readers to recognize the allusion. (Those lines disappeared before publication, presumably because they would have distracted from the poem’s main story, about another rider.)

When Longfellow wrote in 1860, Charlie notes, more people had probably read about Hezekiah Wyman’s ride on 19 Apr 1775 than about Paul Revere’s.

TOMORROW: But had anyone gathered more evidence in favor of the story?

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