Some myths about the start of the Revolutionary War of America

The towns of Concord and Lexington saw the beginning of the American Revolutionary War. Although the outcome of the war is well known among historians of the world, some accounts of the events, however, are more of a myth than reality.

Paul Revere was many things – an early industrialist, a silversmith – but he became famous for his patriotism towards America and his involvement in the revolutionary war. There are, surely, some myths attached to Paul Revere, and the incidents that triggered the war. The following paragraphs will shed some light on the myths, in an effort to separate them from the facts.

Did Paul Revere really shout, ‘The British are coming’?

This is highly unlikely, for obvious reasons. One of the reasons is the fact that Revere was on a secret mission to warn the revolutionaries about the arrival of the British regular army. His ‘Hollywood-style’ call of ‘The British are coming’ could not be further from the truth.

Did Revere come to warn the Patriots alone at midnight?

This is entirely against the known accounts of the events leading up to the war. In fact, there were three riders who were on the mission to warn the Patriots, as the revolutionaries called themselves, about a British army attack. Revere, William Dawes and Samuel Prescott formed  a strategic team, making sure the news reached the Patriots. In fact, Revere could not make to Concord, since the British forces captured him shortly after he had left Lexington. Samuel Prescott brought the news to the Patriots, after successfully riding from Lexington to Concord.

Who fired the famous ‘shot heard round the world’?

This is another myth about the war, romanticized by Ralph Waldo Emerson’s ‘Concord Hymn’. He portrayed the Patriots as ‘embattled farmers’ who, according to him (and only him), fired ‘the shot heard round the world’. In reality, no one really knew who fired the first shot, not even Revere. While in British custody, Revere could not recall who fired the first short. It was probably British troops who fired the first shots, after seeing the militia.

Were the Patriots really a bunch of ‘farmers’?

This is another myth romanticized by hymns and poems, that most of the Patriots were poor farmers who rose against the British rulers. In reality, most of the militiamen were highly skilled veterans from previous wars, such as the Indian and French campaigns. On top of their battle skills, almost all of them were armed with ample weapons. Most of the historians agree that, as far as the skills, war equipment and knowledge of the area are concerned, the Patriots clearly had an advantage over the regular British soldiers, the Constitution Daily reports.

Did the Patriots use rifles against the British?

This is another widely accepted myth about the war, that the Patriots fired shots at the British forces from a distance, using their rifles. Historians state that, in reality, most of the militiamen were equipped with muskets, and had to be close to the British to hit the target. Most of the fighting was hand-to-hand, where the Patriots used ‘surrounding’ tactics to overcome British soldiers.

Ian Harvey

Ian Harvey is one of the authors writing for WAR HISTORY ONLINE