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.

Follow by Email


Monday, April 16, 2007

Israel Bissell and the Press

Today’s Patriots’ Day posting comes via the Associated Press, which is distributing David Weber’s dispatch on Israel Bissell spreading the news of the Battle of Lexington on 19 April 1775. The first modern expert cited in the story is, well, myself. (Here’s the Hartford Courant link in case the Boston Globe version is unavailable.)

The edited article states:

Dozens of other messengers also raced on horseback to spread the word, making it likely that Revere was a composite of these brave men, said J.L. Bell, a Massachusetts writer who specializes in Revolutionary War-era Boston.
Of course, the historical Paul Revere was real, and an individual, and quite significant in how things turned out. My comment here on Boston 1775 was that Henry W. Longfellow’s Revere, waking “every Middlesex village and farm” including Concord, was a composite. But that’s the difference between narrative poetry and history.

The A.P. story doesn’t quite make clear how Revere (and William Dawes, and Dr. Samuel Prescott, and many other men) rode on the night of 18-19 April 1775, before and during the British march. They spread the word of what the army might do to Massachusetts provincial leaders and supplies, and summoned militia units in response.

Israel Bissell set out for the south on the morning of 19 April after the skirmish at Lexington had occurred and while the army was in Concord. His job was to spread the news of what the army had done, as the Massachusetts Provincial Congress wanted that news spread. Bissell was a professional post rider, or long-distance mail carrier, and he had an official commission from the congress to carry out that job. His news went into many newspapers and printed broadsides along the way.

Bissell rode much further than Revere and Dawes, eventually reaching Philadelphia. But unlike those Bostonians, he didn’t have British officers trying to stop him. Those three riders and the many anonymous men who also carried the messages were all important nodes in the Patriot communication system, but they had different jobs to do at different times.

[ADDENDUM: Please see Boston 1775’s 2010 postings about Isaac Bissell.]


Unknown said...

If you want to hear a song about Israel Bissel, I wrote one! Please check it out, I know you'll enjoy it!

J. L. Bell said...

Thanks for the link. Having dug deeper about Israel Bissell, I’m planning to post more about him this month. What I have to say may pressure you to rewrite your song.