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.

Subscribe thru Follow.it


Tuesday, April 10, 2018

“Come in, Revere; we are not afraid of you.”

Elias Phinney’s History of the Battle at Lexington (1825) is one of the most important sources of information about events in Lexington on 18-19 Apr 1775.

Phinney published a recollection from William Munroe about how, as a sergeant in the town militia, he had assembled a small squad of guards at the parsonage.

That led to this scene in Phinney’s book as Paul Revere arrived from Boston about midnight:
On the arrival of Revere, he was hailed by the guard, and stopped. He desired to be admitted to the house. Munroe, not knowing him, nor the object of his errand, refused to let him pass, stating, that the family had just retired to rest, and had desired, that they might not be disturbed by any noise about the house. “Noise!” said Revere, “you’ll soon have a noise, that will disturb you all. The British troops are on their march, and will soon be among you.” He passed without further ceremony, and knocked at the door.

Mr. [Jonas] Clark immediately opened a window, and inquired who was there. Revere, without replying to the question, said he wished to see Mr. [John] Hancock. Mr. Clark, with his usual deliberation, was going on to observe, that it was a critical time, and he did not like to admit people into his house, at that time of night, without first knowing their business, when Hancock, who had retired to rest, but not to sleep, knew Revere’s voice, and cried out, “Come in, Revere; we are not afraid of you.”
Recent authors have presented that last line in different ways. Some describe Hancock as jovial, others as condescending. I think this shows his skill at being “condescending” in the old, positive sense of the word. But the question that occurred to me this year is: What evidence exists for Hancock saying that line at all?

Here’s how Phinney took down William Munroe’s description of the encounter:
On learning this, I supposed they had some design upon Hancock and [Samuel] Adams, who were then at the house of the Rev. Mr. Clark, and immediately assembled a guard of eight men, with their arms, to guard the house. About midnight, Col. Paul Revere rode up and requested admittance. I told him the family had just retired, and had requested, that they might not be disturbed by any noise about the house. “Noise!” said he, “you’ll have noise enough before long. Tho regulars are coming out.” We then permitted him to pass.
No remark from Hancock there. The Rev. Jonas Clarke published an account of that night in 1776, and it doesn’t include such a detail. Revere wrote nothing about Hancock’s banter in his account from about 1798. And there’s no such detail in the recollections taken down from Hancock’s widow, then Dorothy Scott, in 1822.

It’s possible that Phinney came up with the line on his own. We can see he embellished what Revere told Munroe. But embellishment requires some core material to work on, and it’s possible that Phinney heard about Hancock’s remark from someone else in the parsonage who didn’t want to go on the public record as Munroe did.

A book called The Memorial of Joseph and Lucy Clark Allen, published by the Allen family in 1891, includes a mention of “Eliza Clark,” one of the Lexington minister’s daughters. She appears in Charles Hudson’s town history as Elizabeth Clarke, born in June 1763 and died unmarried in 1844. She was thus eleven years old in April 1775.

After naming Eliza Clarke, that Allen family history says, “The stories of these times were often recounted by the daughter who had helped her father, and who remained at the old parsonage many years after the rest of the family had scattered; and till her death in 1843 she was an important personage in our mother’s early experiences.” That’s in a passage about how the Clarkes served militiamen food throughout the day which includes a direct quotation: “For want of sufficient accommodations the guests seated themselves on the floor and helped themselves with their fingers.” There’s no source for that line, but by implication it was part of the oral tradition in the family going back to Eliza.

On the preceding page of that book is a footnote:
When Paul Revere came to the house on this errand, the guard at first refused to let him in; but Hancock, hearing his voice, said, “That is Revere: you need not be afraid of him.”
Again, there’s no source provided for this anecdote or the direct quote it contains. It’s possible that by 1891 the Allen family tradition had been cross-pollinated with the story from Phinney, which became a standard part of American history. But it’s also possible that Eliza Clarke’s story of hearing Hancock say something like “That is Revere: you need not be afraid of him” was Phinney’s original source for the line, “Come in, Revere; we are not afraid of you.”


Cortney Skinner said...

Thanks much for your sleuthing through all the records and accounts! I came to the same conclusion when poring over the same information in preparation for a painting I’m working on of Revere’s arrival at the Clarke house. Phinney has a few odd things in his history, mentioning a “Lincoln” as one of the horsemen that evening (was there a “Lincoln?”) and I believe saying that Revere crossed the river using the ferry. Of course, Phinney didn’t have access to the accumulated research that we have today. Thanks!

J. L. Bell said...

In the early 1800s William Dawes was forgotten (though Revere had mentioned him by name, and that account had been printed). “Lincoln” is one of the couple of names people misapplied to the rider who came out of Boston by way of the neck.