Late on the night of April 18, 1775, Boston patriot Joseph Warren learned of a British military operation planned for the next day. To warn John Hancock and Samuel Adams, who were across the Charles River in Lexington, Warren dispatched two riders, Paul Revere and William Dawes. Revere took the shorter route “by sea,” while Dawes went “by land” over the isthmus from Boston to Roxbury, then crossing the Charles River over a bridge in Cambridge. Revere’s ride has been celebrated in poems and textbooks, but Dawes’ role was at least as important.
One By Land
William Dawes rode by land past the guard at the gate of the strip of land that connected Boston to Roxbury. Dawes had befriended a number of guards in the preceding weeks, and was lucky to find a friendly face on duty that night. He slipped through the gate after some Redcoats. Continuing west to Brookline, over the Charles at a bridge in Cambridge, he sped his horse through Menotomy (today called Arlington) to Lexington.
One By Sea
Paul Revere took the more direct sea route. After he was rowed quietly across the Charles, within sight of the British warships, Revere obtained a horse at Lechmere and rode through Cambridge toward Adams and Hancock in Lexington. Stopped by British officers en route, Revere made a quick escape and chose an indirect path to Lexington, through Medford.
The Alarm is Sounded
Both riders arrived in Lexington just after midnight and delivered their news of the British plans. The two messengers also decided to warn the militia in Concord that their military supplies would be targeted. They were joined on this leg by Dr. Samuel Prescott, a Concord resident who had been visiting a Lexington friend. Prescott proved invaluable when the riders were surprised by more British soldiers. Revere was captured and Dawes lost his horse, but Prescott took the back trails he knew to reach Concord and sound the alarm.
Excerpted from American Experience | Patriots Day