On April 18, 1775, Paul Revere took the most famous of all midnight rides in American history. He was famous because Henry Wadsworth Longfellow immortalized him with his poem. Other midnight rides, though, have changed the tide of events.
Not all the midnight rides happened during the American Revolution, though three of them did. Here they are, with two other historic rides thrown in for good measure.
1. William Dawes
William Dawes, a successful tanner with a gift for mimicry, got the same instructions on April 18 that Revere did.
He dressed as a farmer so he wouldn’t arouse suspicion. Then he slipped out of Boston through the Neck (now Roxbury) and rode through Brookline, Watertown and Waltham.
Dawes met John Hancock and Sam Adams in Lexington (along with Revere) to warn them of the British plans to arrest them.
Then he went on his way to rouse Concord. Dawes threw off pursuing British soldiers by shouting he’d captured two of them. He had to walk home after his horse threw him and ran away.
A few days later, according to family lore, Dawes walked back to Lexington to pick up a watch he’d lost.
2. John Alfred Poor
John Alfred Poor in 1845 wanted to do something to help the struggling city of Portland, Maine, after the state capitol moved away to Augusta. That something was a railroad from Montreal, which needed an Atlantic port.
In early February 1845, Poor learned Boston agents would appear before the Montreal Board of Trade arguing the railroad should go to Boston. He decided Portland should beat them out.
Just after midnight on February 5, he left Portland in a horse-drawn sleigh. For five days he drove through the White Mountains in a raging snowstorm and sub-zero temperatures. The trip, he said, was like a ‘lurid dream.’
In the end, Poor prevailed and the St. Lawrence and Atlantic Railroad revived Portland’s fortunes.
3. Sybil Ludington
Sybil Ludington was half Paul Revere’s age and rode twice as far when she alerted the Connecticut militia of the British invasion.
On the night of April 26, 1777, a messenger arrived at the Kent, N.Y., home of Col. Henry Ludington to say the British were burning Danbury. Sybil, just 16, volunteered to alert the militiamen. A good rider, she set out at 9 pm and rode along the lonely roads through a thunderstorm.
Sybil rode from Carmel to Mahopac to Stormville. “Gather at Ludington’s!” she cried. “The British are burning Danbury!” A highwayman tried to stop her, but she fended him off with her stick. At dawn, Sybil returned home, where 400 militiamen had taken their own midnight rides to the Ludington house.
4. Ginery Twichell
Ginery Twichell rode into legend on horseback in 1846 when he brought news from Britain from a Cunard liner in Boston to the Tribune. The newspapers were in cutthroat competition to break the news: Would Sir Robert Peel be returned as prime minister of Great Britain, ensuring peace over the Oregon question?
The Herald editor arranged for a special train from Boston to carry his messenger; no other train could leave within 15 minutes. Horace Greeley of the Tribune hired Twichell to beat the Herald messenger. On Jan. 23, 1846, it snowed and snowed some more. Twichell got the dispatches, took the train to Worcester, and then rode 10 horses over the 66 miles to Hartford in three hours and 20 minutes.
He took the train from Hartford to New Haven, and then rode another 76 miles between New Haven and New York. He arrived four hours ahead of his rival, becoming a legend (and later a congressman and railroad president).
5. Isaac Bissell
Isaac Bissell, sometimes called Israel Bissell, rode longer and harder than either Paul Revere or William Dawes. Like several other post riders, he had orders to spread the word about the Battles of Lexington and Concord.
He began his ride in Watertown, Mass., and rode all the way to Hartford shouting, “To arms, to arms, the war has begun.” He rode so hard his horse died in Worcester.
A poet and historian, Clay Perry, gave him his due in a poem that begins:
Listen, my children, to my epistle
Of the long, long ride of Israel Bissell,
Who outrode Paul by miles and time
But didn’t rate a poet’s rhyme.
This story about epic midnight rides was update in 2022.