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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Thursday, February 25, 2010

150 Years of “Paul Revere’s Ride”

This year marks the 150th anniversary of one of the most important events in determining how Americans remember the start of the American Revolution: Henry W. Longfellow wrote and published “Paul Revere’s Ride.” Before then, Revere was recalled locally; now more people probably know his name and what (Longfellow wrote that) he did than know what Samuel Adams did for independence.

There are going to be a bunch of events examining and commemorating that poem in various ways, including lectures at the Boston National Historical Park and the Cyrus E. Dallin Art Museum (bet you didn’t know there was one of those, eh?), and poetry discussions at Longfellow’s house in Cambridge and his birthplace in Portland.

This Saturday three organizations are celebrating Longfellow’s 27 February birthday with free events tied to “Paul Revere’s Ride”:

  • Longfellow National Historic Site is hosting a celebration at Mount Auburn Cemetery from 10:00 A.M. to noon. Nick Littlefield and Charles Ansbacher of the Boston Landmarks Orchestra will offer a multimedia presentation on how the late Sen. Edward M. Kennedy recorded “Paul Revere’s Ride” to the orchestra’s musical setting. There will be tea, coffee, birthday cake, and for hearty bodies a wreath-laying ceremony at the Longfellow family plot.
  • The Maine Historical Society (489 Congress Street, Portland) is also celebrating from 10:00 A.M. to noon. They expect Irwin Gratz of the Maine Public Broadcasting Network, Mayor Nick Mavodones, and State Representative Herb Adams reading from Longfellow's poetry, along with performances by puppeteer Blainor McGough and musical act Over A Cardboard Sea. There will also be craft activities, prizes, cake, and a birthday card to sign.
  • The Wayside Inn in Sudbury, where Longfellow eventually set the telling of “Paul Revere’s Ride,” has its own celebration from 3:00 to 5:00 P.M. This will launch the town’s Longfellow Big Read, with free books for everyone signing up for book discussion groups. And of course cake.
I’m helping the effort by building the 150 Years of “Paul Revere’s Ride” website with announcements of more events, and resources for teachers and readers. For example, the text originally published in The Atlantic Monthly turned out to be missing several lines from Longfellow’s draft—and he had no one to blame but himself.

Scholar Charles Bahne has unearthed other lines that Longfellow cut before publication, which pertain to a particular legend of 19 Apr 1775; we’ll share those details soon. The 150 Years of “Paul Revere’s Ride” site will grow over the next few months, just as the poem grew from April to November 1860.


Heather Wilkinson Rojo said...

Interesting you would post this today, the anniversary of William Dawes death in 1799!

J. L. Bell said...

Very few Americans would remember William Dawes if it weren’t for Revere and Longfellow.

The popularity of the poem prompted Dawes descendant Henry Holland to gather family lore about his ancestor (and other, then more famous Daweses) for a book published a few years later. And the prominence of the midnight ride in our historical understanding, due to Longfellow’s poem, made Dawes much better known than most of his colleagues among Boston’s middling-class Patriots.

I think Dawes’s most important role during the Revolutionary unrest was as adjutant of the Boston militia regiment. His connections and reliability were why Dr. Joseph Warren entrusted him with the message for Adams and Hancock in Lexington. But Dawes arrived there after Revere and never went back after encountering the British officers on the way to Concord, so he had less effect on that night than his comrades.

Judy said...

Minuteman National Park should do something regarding the anniversary during the re-enactment of the capture of Paul Revere in April

J. L. Bell said...

The Revere’s Capture ceremony is one of the events we’ve put on the website calendar, but I’m not sure if M.M.N.H.P. will do anything different this year.

Especially since that event doesn’t appear at all in the poem!