Patriots’ Day and the Forgotten William Dawes

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Listen, my children, and pause for William Dawes’ Midnight Ride.

Okay, so Henry Wadsworth Longfellow knew he could get a better rhyme with “hear” and “Revere”, but the result of his famous poem from “Tales of a Wayside Inn” is that Paul Revere’s companion, William Dawes, is largely unknown to most Americans. So how about three cheers for Dawes on this Patriots Day?

Their memorable ride was sparked by Robert Newman, sexton of the Old North Church, who scaled the church tower on the night of April 18, 1775 to hang two lanterns from it.

The lanterns signaled that the British had begun a march towards Lexington in search of revolutionary leaders, particularly John Hancock and Samuel Adams. After the lanterns were hung, Revere and Dawes left for Lexington to warn their fellow Patriots. On the way to their next stop, Concord, they were detained by the British. Dawes was able to slip away, while Revere was later freed on foot. The former’s stealth skills may have served him well on his journey, but not so well in the history books.

The British encountered little resistance on the way to Concord, although the 70 Minutemen waiting at Lexington on the morning of 19 April would later prove capable fighters. The Lexington settlers had the good sense to disperse after seeing the overwhelming number of redcoats – but not before one of their members, or perhaps a British soldier, fired the shot heard around the world , and the war was on.

The site of the battle is now Minute Man National Historic Park, established in 1959. The park service purchased and demolished many modern homes and businesses in the 1960s and restored fields and orchards. The park’s 1,038 acres span Lincoln, Lexington, and Concord.

Only two states – Maine and Massachusetts – still mark this momentous event in American history. Massachusetts, naturally, celebrates the day more obviously than Maine: it hosts reenactments and readings and hosts its famous Boston Marathon. Maine marks it in a calmer but no less patriotic way.

And the rest of the states? Perhaps their schoolchildren are also on vacation this week, so the lack of observance of this important day in their history is not so noticeable. Still, a more nationwide effort to have Longfellow’s poem read by these sporting tricorns wouldn’t hurt anyone. Except maybe the forgotten Dawes.

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