Monday, April 18, 2011

The Midnight Ride of William Dawes

William Dawes
Happy Patriot's Day!

On April 19, 1775 there were three men who rode into Lexington and Concord to warn the minutemen about the British Regulars- Paul Revere (of course), Samuel Prescott and Wiliam Dawes. Dawes took the land route through Boston Neck, and Revere rowed across the Charles River to Charlestown, which you learned about in Longfellow’s poem. Dawes and Revere arrived in Lexington at the same time, around midnight. They met Samuel Prescott, a young doctor, on the way to Concord. Dawes lost his horse when the group was stopped by a patrol, Revere was captured and Prescott made it to Concord.

According to historians, like author David Hackett Fischer, there were actually more than 100 riders out that night, spreading the alarm all over eastern Massachusetts. An organized warning system of messengers delivered the news of the British marching to Concord. The true story is much more interesting than Longfellow’s poem, but most Americans still remember only Paul Revere.

When I was in college, the sidewalk along Massachusetts Avenue in Harvard Square was a popular meeting place. Bronze horseshoes set into the cement of the sidewalk and a nearby plaque commemorate Dawes and mark his movement along the route which is now roughly where Rt. 2 and Massachusetts Avenue travel west to Lexington and Concord.  Dawes met up with Revere further along down the road.

For 30 years Eliot Square at Roxbury Highlands has celebrated William Dawes ride on the eve of 19 April 1775. An equestrian re-enacts the ride, and often recites the following poem, a parody on Longfellow's famous story about Paul Revere. The Discover Roxbury website lists the special events. My Dad could recite this poem by memory, and I remember him often repeating it on Patriot’s Day, with a twinkle in his eye.

Helen F. Moore published her poem “The Midnight Ride of William Dawes” in Century Magazine, 1896.

PS Did you know that this year is the 150th Anniversary of Longfellow's "Midnight Ride of Paul Revere"?  There has been much discussion lately on how so close to the start of the Civil War (also celebrating it's 150th anniversary this week) that Longfellow wrote it as a "call to arms" or a "wake up call" to the North.  Reread the poem and see if you agree!  I used to mock this poem, since it was such a terrible rendition of the actual events, but now I think Longfellow's analogy is extremely interesting.


Andrew Tobin reenacting
William Dawes 2010
 in Roxbury, Massachusetts
The Midnight Ride of William Dawes
by Helen F. Moore

I am a wandering, bitter shade,
Never of me was a hero made;
Poets have never sung my praise,
Nobody crowned my brow with bays;
And if you ask me the fatal cause,
I answer only, "My name was Dawes"
'TIS all very well for the children to hear
Of the midnight ride of Paul Revere;
But why should my name be quite forgot,
Who rode as boldly and well, God wot?
Why should I ask? The reason is clear --
My name was Dawes and his Revere.

WHEN the lights from the old North Church flashed out,
Paul Revere was waiting about,
But I was already on my way.
The shadows of night fell cold and gray
As I rode, with never a break or a pause;
But what was the use, when my name was Dawes!
HISTORY rings with his silvery name;
Closed to me are the portals of fame.
Had he been Dawes and I Revere,
No one had heard of him, I fear.
No one has heard of me because

He was Revere and I was Dawes.

For more information:  a video of the recitation of the poem about William Dawes

Paul Revere's Ride, by David Hackett Fischer, Oxford University Press, 1995   The Descendants of William Dawes  A website by the National Lancers, an equestrian unit that participates every Patriot’s Day in the Boston area. There are photos of recent re-enactors portraying William Dawes and his ride to Lexington.


Heather Wilkinson Rojo, "The Midnight Ride of William Dawes", Nutfield Genealogy, posted 18 April 2011, ( accessed [access date]). 

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