Posted by: Kirsten | Tuesday, 9 September 2008

The Midnight Ride of… Trail Bissell?

“To all friends of American liberty, be it known that this morning before the break of day, a brigade consisting of about 1,000 or 1,200 men … marched to Lexington, where they found a company of our colony militia in arms, upon whom they fired, without any provocation, and killed 6 men and wounded 4 others. By an express from Boston, we find that another brigade are now upon their march from Boston, supposed to be about 1,000.”

This was the letter that Israel Bissell carried on horseback on the dawn of the American Revolution, signed by General Joseph Palmer of the Massachusetts militia.  He originally planned to carry the letter to every corner of his home state of Connecticut as he set out that night on April 19th, 1775.  But as he rode, something possessed him to ride further and further — all the way to Philadelphia in fact — an incredible 345-mile journey over 4 days that resulted in numerous copies of the letter being made as he went from town to town to town, one exhausted rider, and one dead horse.  The ringing of the Liberty Bell upon his arrival in Philadelphia drew 8,000 people to hear the pronouncement that the Revolution had begun and the colonies were officially at war with King George III and his redcoats.

Why did Paul Revere get all the credit? Just lucky his last name wasnt Silversmith.

Why did Paul Revere get all the credit? He's lucky his last name wasn't Silversmith.

So why did Paul Revere get all the credit?  Well, for one thing, there’s that poem by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow (The Midnight Ride of Paul Revere, circa 1860) that cemented Paul’s place in history, even though many details in the poem aren’t exactly accurate.  Besides, how many words can you think of that rhyme with Bissell anyway?  Thistle…  Missile… Whistle… Bristle… Fissile… Gristle… Dickcissel (hey, it’s a bird!)… Well, that’s actually quite a few, but still nowhere near the number that rhyme with “Revere”.  Not even close. Then to top it all off, the official documents in Philadelphia that marked the event of Bissell’s arrival and message delivery thanked him for his work by getting his name wrong!  So, the paper trail in Philadelphia still says “Trail Bissell” to this day.  Curse that quill-and-ink cursive writing!

So, even though a number of riders outshone Revere’s accomplishments that night and the days that followed, (there were actually many others, although you wouldn’t know it the way history is often taught in public schools) Revere still managed a number of heroic feats of his own.  And since there’s no Israel Bissell National Historic Site to visit, we enjoyed our visit to the Paul Revere House in Boston’s North End last weekend all the same.

There are other riders your kids can research.  Challenge them to write a poem of their own.  Who knows, someday schoolchildren across the country might be reading your homeschool kid’s poem about “The Four-Day Foray of Israel Bissell”…!

Parke Diem!
— Jon



  1. lalalalalalala

  2. i luv the pic of the horse statue! so interesting!

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