"Listen, my children, and you shall hear,
Of the midnight ride of Paul Revere,
On the eighteenth of April, in Seventy-five,
Hardly a man is now alive,
Who remembers that famous day and year."
- Henry Wadsworth Longfellow
Sometimes becoming part of the annals of American history is just a matter of being in the right place at the right time.
For instance, in April 1860, the poet Henry Wadsworth Longfellow toured many of the historic spots around Boston, including the old North Church. Since it was April, his poetic mind considered the battles of Lexington and Concord and the now famous ride of Paul Revere.
In his diary for April 5, Longfellow wrote: "We climb the tower to the chime of the bells, now the home of innumerable pigeons. From the tower were hung the lanterns as a signal that the British troops had left Boston for Concord."
Later that month, Longfellow began work on the poem "Paul Revere's Ride," which would later appear in his book Tales of a Wayside Inn. This poem formed the basis for what generations of schoolchildren would learn of the midnight ride of Paul Revere, forever making the Boston silversmith a legendary Patriot. Never mind that some of what Longfellow wrote was not entirely historically accurate -- an American folk legend was born!
Of course, Revere did not ride alone. He and fellow Patriot William Dawes were sent from Boston to carry word to John Hancock and Samuel Adams at Lexington that the British were planning to arrest the two that night. After rowing from Boston to Charlestown, Revere then rode on horseback to Lexington, arriving there at about midnight. Dawes took a different route from Boston, arriving at Lexington around 12:30. There, the two were successful in warning Hancock and Adams in time, and at 1:00 set off for Concord to alert the militia of the British troop movement.
Before leaving Lexington, Revere and Dawes met up with Samuel Prescott, who was heading home after spending the evening with his fiancé. They enlisted Prescott to ride with them. The three got as far as the town of Lincoln, where they encountered British troops. The British detained Revere. Dawes was thrown from his horse as he made his escape. Prescott, alone, dodged the British and made his way to Concord. There, after spreading the word that "the British were coming," he enlisted his 15-year old brother, Abel, to ride for Sudbury and Framingham while he rode on to Acton. Along the way other riders joined the cause. In fact, there were perhaps as many as 40 riders that night alerting the local communities of the British troop movement.
Yet, it was Revere who would become forever immortalized by Longfellow's pen, his persona serving as a conglomerate of the Patriotic spirit inherent in all the riders on that memorable night.
But, what if Longfellow had chosen 15-year old Abel Prescott, Jr., instead of Paul Revere, to represent the patriotic midnight rider. Hmmm...
Abel Prescott's Ride
Listen, my children, to all in earshot,
Of the 1:00 am ride of Abel Prescott,
On the nineteenth of April, just after midnight,
Barely a man, perhaps too young to fight,
Only fifteen years old, an adult he was not.
Born in Groton, Mass in seventeen fifty-nine,
Named for his father, of a proud family line,
His brother was Samuel, a doctor by trade,
Later to be imprisoned in a British stockade,
Where he died a Patriot's death, revered for all time.
On that April night, Samuel Prescott, Dawes, and Revere,
Departed Lexington as the British troops drew near,
They rode as far as Lincoln, where the three met the foe.
Only Prescott escaped on horseback, on to Concord he would go,
To announce the Brits were marching, loud and clear.
At Concord he met up with his younger brother Abel,
Who quickly saddled up a horse at a local stable,
Samuel rode for Acton, while Abel rode to Sudbury,
And then onward to Framingham in such a hurry,
By morning he was back at the family breakfast table.
Abel Prescott lived into his 80's, a ripe old age,
His name a footnote upon history's yellowed page,
A Patriot, like his brother, and like Revere and Dawes,
Whose heroic horseback ride championed the Patriots' cause,
A fifteen-year-old who helped set freedom from its cage.