Paul Revere's Ride is a collection of historical accounts centering around Paul Revere's midnight ride to warn the countryside of the battles that occurred. The novel is made up of narrative accounts that tell the whole story of the midnight ride. David Hackett Fischer goes to great lengths to cover every possible angle in telling the story. "Fischer illuminates the figure of Paul Revere, a man far more complex than a simple artisan and messenger"(3). By adding different perspectives he allows the reader to see not only the American idealistic point of view, but we get a chance to hear British accounts of these particular events. In this way Hackett Fischer paints an accurate and unbiased picture not only of Paul Revere and his ride, but also of many other supporting historical figures that were important in making these events happen.
Paul Revere's Ride also does an outstanding job of giving the reader a more in-depth perspective about these events by providing a number of first hand accounts from various sources. This technique personalizes the events to the reader and allows him or her to feel more connected to the people in the novel. One such account takes place when Hackett Fischer describes the "Ipswich Fright". "All the horses and vehicles in the town were put in requisition: men, women, and children hurried as for life toward the north. Large numbers crossed the Merrimack, and spent the night in deserted houses of Salisbury, whose inhabitants, stricken by the strange terror, had fled into New Hampshire “(171). Instead of merely saying that people were in a panic, this accounts adds strength to his assertions. With this detail, the reader can actually make a visual picture the type of panic that took place.
Hackett Fischer's in depth descriptions of the typical attire of the participants in these events was also very helpful in allowing the reader to feel more connected with what really happened. Hackett Fischer describes the uniforms of many of the various ranks of British soldiers. Specifically, he describes the British Regulars in great detail.
"The most distinctive part of the uniform was the heavy red coat. For
grenadiers and line companies this was a garment with long tails that
descended nearly to the knee. The light infantry wore short jackets
that ended at the hip, and were much preferred on active service"(121).
This passage not only helps the reader to picture what the Regulars looked like, but it speaks about the strict regimentation of the British soldiers. These "heavy red coats” were required and any straying from this strict dress code was "to be kept immaculate on pain of a flogging"(119). The author suggests, "The uniform of the British soldier in 1775 might have been designed by some demonic tailor who had sworn sartorial vengeance upon the human frame"(118).
The military uniforms of the British also radiated a uniquely British quality. An air of superiority was apparent in the dress of the British. "The red coats were elaborately embellished with lace, wings, buttons, loops, knots and incongruous heart-shaped badges on the coattail"(121). This illustrates the gentility and superiority that the British felt was inherant in them. Instead of wearing the "crudely put together" uniforms of the various militias, the British attempted to exude an air of confidence that was repugnant to the Americans.
Hackett Fischer goes to great lengths to establish this feeling of superiority that was prevelant among the British soldiers. He includes quotes throughout the novel in which the British commanders condemn the crudely organized millitias. " One British observer wrote ‘It is a curious masquerade scene to see grave sober citizens, barbers and tailors who never looked fierce before, strutting about in their Sunday wigs with muskets on their shoulders...if ever you saw a goose assume an air of consequence, you may catch some faint idea’"(154). These quotes show the scorn that the British soldiers showed towards the Americans. It also helps to establish the mannerisms and ideals of the British
Another detail that Hackett Fischer covered more than sufficiently was the weaponry used on both sides of the conflict. Although there were nostandard-issue weapons for the millitias, many types of muskets and weaponry that were used are discussed.
"Many men armed themselves with weapons not designed for war. One man from Lynn carried a "long fowling piece, without a bayonet, a horn
of powder, and a seal-skin pouch, filled with bullets and buckshot...
Despite the urgings of the Congress, few had cartridge boxes or
bayonets.Their few precarious lead bullets were carfully wrapped in
handkerchiefs and carried in pockets or under their hats. Gunpowder
was carried in horns that had been passed down from father to son for
By describing the array of weaponry that these millitias had to use, the reader gets an idea of the variety of people that served.
In contrast, the British had many of the same weapons, which is customary for an organized army. For example, "Lord Percy's brigade marched with two of these six-pounded field guns. They fired a solid iron ball, approximately three inches in diameter. Their presence forced a change in American tactice during the afternoon"(243). This superior weaponry and experience in war was a considerable advantage for the British.
Not only did they have superior weaponry to the Colonists in many instances, but also the British had highly specialized groups of soldiers that were used for different purposes. "In that era most regiments of British infantry had two elite units: the grenadiers and a light infantry company. The grenadiers were big men, chosen for size and strength." Their specialties included " leading the bloody assaults that shattered an enemy line." The light infantry were "the most agile and active men, selected for fitness, energy and enterprise." They served as "skirmishers and flank guards"(114). By including these details about the British forces, Hackett Fischer gives the reader a more accurate account as to the actual make up of the British forces.
Another important aspect of the novel is the exactness with which General Gage is described. Instead of telling of just the American perspective of Paul Revere's Ride, Hackett Fischer gives a great deal of background about the British and how they meant to govern the colonies. "Fischer focuses on British General Thomas Gage as a narrative foil to Revere."1 By all accounts Gage meant to keep the Colonists under control but took no aggressive strategy to do so. "By temperment and principle this British proconsul was a cautious and conservative man, with an infinite capacity for taking pains"(35). In America, Gage always insisted that his troops were bound by "constitutional laws"and permitted them to "do nothing but what is strictly legal," even in the case of heavy provocation(37). This image is far different than the image of the British authority of this time period than the popular modern views. Many Americans believe the British rule to have been strict and oppressive. In fact they wanted to maintain the colonies as their own peaceful colonial property. "The primary goal of the British regulars was to apprehend the leaders of the opposition. The secondary goal was to disarm the populace along the way."2
Perhaps the most important aspect of the novel is the dispelling of the myth of Paul Revere's midnight ride. While many people believe that Paul Revere warned the countryside by himself, Hackett Fischer makes it clear that "His journey was not a solitary act"(98). "He would be very much surprised by his modern image as the lone rider of the Revolution”(98). In fact, many people aided him, and were instrumental in warning the countryside of the impending British attack. He was however, undoubtedly the most effective and important of those that bravely rode through the countryside, but he had help from any number of people as the message spider webbed throughout the colonies.
Another popular misconception about the midnight ride that Hackett
Fischer points out to be false regards the phrase that Revere supposedly screamed to warn the towns, "The British are coming! The British are coming!" Hackett Fischer points out that Revere never made this exclamation. He in fact said, "The Regulars are coming out." In reality of the time, "people of Massachusetts still thought they were British”(110). This is yet another portion of the folktale surrounding Revere's midnight ride that is, in fact, false.
One of the people that are mentioned in the novel as being an important "Whig express" member was William Dawes. He and Revere began the warning of towns, but took different routes. Dawes was not as effective in this process because he did not alert the correct people so that the towns could ready themselves for the British Regulars. "Paul Revere and his fellow riders on the northern route succeeded in spreading the alarm by engaging the institutions of these rural communities, in a way that William Dawes did not"(142). The description of these types of historical figures is what makes Paul Revere's Ride so interesting. Rather than merely focusing in on Paul Revere the reader gets a better idea about the full picture of events surrounding the midnight ride.
Fischer also expands the image of Paul Revere by pointing out that he was an excellent artisan. He was renowned for his silversmithing, which was his most successful occupation. "He had a brilliant eye for form, a genious for invention, and a restless energy that expressed itself in the animation of his work. Two centuries later, his pieces are cherished equally for the touchmark of their maker and the vitality of his art"(15). By giving some insight into Paul Revere the man, rather than Paul Revere the legend, Fischer gives strength to his historical assertions.
In conclusion, David Hackett Fischer effectively tells the story of Paul Revere's ride in a way that completely and accurately depicts the events. By developing many of the historical figures that are not as well known as Paul Revere, Hackett Fischer gives the reader a more distinctive understanding of these particular historical events. Paul Revere's Ride also personalizes these events by providing numerous first hand accounts that strengthen the imagery. As a whole, the novel is an effective and interesting historical account that accurately tells the famed story of Paul Revere's midnight ride.
Paul Revere's ride, David Hackett Fischer,Imprint New York : Oxford University Press, 1994.