Lesson Plans: Grades 9-12

Midnight Ride of Paul Revere — Fact, Fiction, and Artistic License

Tools

The Lesson

Introduction

The Midnight Ride of Paul Revere, Grant Wood

3a, The Midnight Ride of Paul Revere. Grant Wood (American, 1892–1942), The Midnight Ride of Paul Revere, 1931, Oil on Masonite; H. 30, W. 40 in. (76.2 x 101.6 cm): Arthur Hoppock Hearn Fund, 1950 (50.117).

Credit: Photograph © 1988 The Metropolitan Museum of Art. Art © Estate of Grant Wood / Licensed by VAGA, New York.

An interdisciplinary lesson focusing on Paul Revere's Midnight Ride. While many students know this historical event, this lesson allows them to explore the true story of Paul Revere and his journey through primary source readings as well as to compare artist Grant Wood's and poet Henry Wadsworth Longfellow's interpretations of it.

Grant Wood painted American scenes and subjects during the first half of the 20th century in a simplified style reminiscent of American folk art. Like poet Henry Wordsworth Longfellow, Wood wished to tell and preserve stories of the American Revolution. Longfellow wrote his poem 88 years after the event when he found letters belonging to his grandfather, who had known Revere. Only a few people who had been children during the Revolution were still alive in 1860 when he wrote Paul Revere's Ride. Wood based his 1931 painting on Longfellow's heroic poem with no attempt to make it historically accurate.

This lesson encourages close study of Wood's painting, American Revolution primary sources, and Longfellow's poem to understand the significance of this historical ride in America's struggle for freedom. By reading primary sources, students learn how Paul Revere and his Midnight Ride became an American story of patriotism.

Guiding Questions

  • What does the visual evidence in Wood's painting tell us about this American legend and historical event?
  • What is the true story of Paul Revere and others' midnight ride?

Learning Objectives

  • Discuss and analyze how Grant Wood manipulated viewpoint, composition, and scale in his painting The Midnight Ride of Paul Revere to present an idealized view of this American tale.
  • Understand the significance of the midnight ride to United States history.
  • Analyze different perspectives about this event, using primary sources.
  • Synthesize the primary and secondary source works to develop an overall sense of the events.

Background

The Artist - Grant Wood

On the Picturing America website, click on the image of The Midnight Ride of Paul Revere to get basic biographical and contextual information about Wood and his painting. Go to the Educators page open the Picturing America Teachers Resource Book for activities and questions to help students begin their study of Wood's painting of Revere's ride. For more information see links at the end of the lesson.

The Subject—Paul Revere's Ride

Paul Revere was the American Revolutionary Boston craftsman and patriot made famous in William Wadsworth Longfellow's poem, Paul Revere's Ride. Today he is best known as one of the horseback messengers who rode from Boston to Lexington to warn colonists of the approaching British army. The setting (on the Picturing America website) As Revere and others galloped along the twisting, hilly road from Boston to Lexington, they passed farms, small villages, rivers, and lakes. Follow their route through the New England countryside on an interactive map.

The true story of Paul Revere's ride is on the Paul Revere's House website.

  • On April 18, 1775 Paul Revere was asked to ride to Lexington, Massachusetts to warn Samuel Adams and John Hancock that the British troops were coming to arrest them.
  • Paul Revere saw two lights hanging in Christ Church in Boston, signaling that the British would row across the Charles River to Cambridge and continue to Lexington.
  • During his ride, Revere let colonists along the way know about the British by calling "The Regulars Are Coming Out!"
  • Revere successfully reached Hancock and Adams, delivered his message, and met up with another rider, William Dawes.
  • They continued to Concord, where munitions were hidden by the colonists, and joined a third rider, Dr. Samuel Prescott.
  • The British captured and arrested all three. Prescott escaped immediately and Dawes, shortly afterwards.

Longfellow's Hidden Message

Paul Revere’s Ride is by far the most popular “version” of Revere’s ride, yet when it is taught in classrooms, students are often not asked to place the poem within the historical context in which it was written.

Many people do not know that Longfellow was an abolitionist who fervently disapproved of slavery. Before publishing the most famous of his poems in 1861, he published a volume of anti-slavery poetry in 1842 called “Poems on Slavery.” While Paul Revevere's Ride is about an event that happened during the American Revolution, Longfellow may have quietly intended for the poem to pursuade the nation to join in a new battle for freedom by supporting the end of American Slavery.

For more on how Longfellow's anti-slavery views may have influenced his writing about Paul Revere, read Paul Revere's Ride Against Slavery by Jill Lepore.

Preparation Instructions

  • Review the lesson plan and the websites used throughout. Locate and bookmark suggested materials and websites. Download and print out documents you will use and duplicate copies as necessary for student viewing.
  • Students can access the primary source materials and some of the activity materials via the EDSITEment LaunchPad.

Lesson Activities

Activity 1. Look and Think About It

Before students discuss or read about this painting, ask them to quietly look at it for a few minutes. Ask what words came to mind when they first see it? What does it remind them of?

Have students record what they see on Worksheet 1 or on the LaunchPad.

Discuss their Worksheet 1 answers.

  1. Point out the objects as students list them. Ask students which object they noticed first. They probably noticed the church since it is largest.
  2. The lightest area in the painting is around the church in the foreground. The darkest area is the landscape in the background; but the area with the darkest shadows appears next to the lightest area. This is called value contrasts (difference between light and dark);and is near the church in the left foreground.
  3. The artist draws our attention to Paul Revere, in the lower left quadrant through value contrast. This contrast focuses our attention on the tiny horse and rider. (The rider is also close to where the major horizontal line of the road meets the dominant vertical line of the church.)
  4. The villagers are grouped near the houses, in their nightclothes, which suggests that they were asleep and not expecting to be awakened
  5. The rider seems to have come from the distant right on the road and is moving to the left, to continue over the long road. The horse's legs stretch out and the rider leans forward, suggesting he is in a hurry. Wood suggested depth by making the road and other objects smaller and higher in the background. The rural countryside is hilly with a road twisting by forests, fields, a river, and a small village. The dark background, deep shadows, and lights in the house windows suggest that it is late at night. Extremely bright moonlight illuminates the scene. This light is so bright that it seems almost like a spotlight.
  6. The viewer is very high looking down on this scene, perhaps on a hill, tall building, or floating on a cloud. Students may remember airplane views. Remind them of toy houses such as in a model railroad layout. This viewpoint distances us from this scene, making it seem like a toy or fantasy. Perhaps Wood suggests that we are so far away in time from this event, that it no longer seems quite real. Encourage students to explain whether they think it is or is not appropriate to tell this famous American event as a fanciful legend.

Discuss this “Think About It” question: The colonists have been called from the warm safety of their homes into a cold night with the possibility of fighting and dying for a cause. Encourage students to discuss why and how they might make a decision to fight or not.

Activity 2. Read

Read primary source accounts from the April 1775 evening. Students should be in small groups to read an eyewitness account. Have each student group become "expert" in one person's testimony. Once all students have read one person's account, have the students "jigsaw" to hear other accounts. These jigsaw groups include an "expert" for each primary account. Students can complete the graphic organizer, Worksheet 2 or LaunchPad, when they jigsaw or after they have heard all accounts, as a review activity.

All primary source documents, with the exception of an EDSITEment excerpt from the Library of Congress of Paul Revere's own account of his ride, are on the National Park Service's Minuteman National Historic Park's website

These accounts provide a variety of perspectives from that evening:

  • Hannah Davis Leighton handout (colonist)
  • Alice Stearns Abbott handout (colonist)
  • Ensign Jeremy Lister (British)
  • Thomas Gage (British)
  • Reverend Emerson (colonist)
Activity 3. Write

Have students synthesize what they have learned by creating first person accounts of the night in April 1775. Students should complete all three journals on Worksheet 3 or LaunchPad so that they have a rounded picture of the three perspectives presented. 

Assessment

  • When students have completed the activities ask them to read Henry Wadsworth Longfellow's "The Midnight ride of Paul Revere" (Worksheet 4), then complete the graphic organizer discerning fact from fiction, Worksheet 5. The graphic organizer has been started for the students. Using what they learned from the primary sources, they may add their own lines from the poem with the historical truth next to it.
  • Another approach would be to ask students to write a short story about the April, 1775 midnight ride using one of the journal entry paragraphs as its beginning. Here too they should be encouraged to incorporate elements from the painting and primary sources.
  • When they have finished their stories they could make an audio recording to share with parents and classmates.

Extending The Lesson

  • Have student pairs cut lines from Longfellow's poem and place next to items in the artwork. For instance, "hang a lantern aloft in the belfry arch of the North Church tower" would be placed next to the church.
  • Ask students if they would change the title for Grant Wood's Midnight Ride of Paul Revere now that they have read the primary sources? What would they change it to? Why or why not would they change it?
  • Compare Wood's painting to N.C. Wyeth's 1922 illustration for Longfellow's poem Paul Revere's Ride on page 13 in Poems of American Patriotism compiled by Brander Mathews. Note the difference in viewpoints, shadows, details, and scale. Wyeth's is a more dramatic, closer view of Revere and a sleepy colonist.
  • Ask students to create their own artistic interpretation of the night of April 18, 1775 based on their investigation of the painting and the primary source readings.
  • The Picturing America website provides comparative material on other artworks. Contrast Wood's Midnight Ride to John Singleton Copley's Paul Revere, a realistic portrait of silversmith Revere, which emphasizes the man and his profession rather than an event. Silver of the 18th, 19th & 20th Centuries by various craftsmen includes a 1796 teapot by Revere. Together these artworks can help students understand Paul Revere as both a patriot and craftsman.
  • Other American Revolution leaders (on the Picturing America website) Emanuel Leutze provides a romanticized memory of America's Revolution in Washington Crossing the Delaware .
  • View other American Revolution leaders in Gilbert Stuart's George Washington (the Lansdowne portrait) and Hiram Powers' Benjamin Franklin. Copley and Stuart had actually known Washington and Franklin, but Leutze, Woods, and Powers relied on other sources for their information and inspiration.
  • View northeastern American scenery in The Oxbow by Thomas Cole, and N. C. Wyeth's Cover Illustration for The Last of the Mohicans. Compare the viewpoint and role of landscape in Wood's Midnight Ride to the viewpoints and landscapes of the Cole and Wyeth paintings.
  • Compare how Richard Diebenkorn's presents a contemporary road in Cityscape I to how Wood conceived his road. Ask students to discuss how the prominence and path of each road affects meaning in the painting.
Additional PA Websites

Art/History/Language Arts/Social Studies (Teachers' Guide)

  • Page from the U.S. Mint Web site, 4: Every Picture Tells a Story (based on the Iowa quarter reverse) is an interdisciplinary lesson plan highlighting (but not restricted to) Grant Wood's painting and the image portrayed on the Iowa quarter.

History/Language Arts/Social Studies (Teachers' Guide)

History/Social Studies

  • The Paul Revere House Web site with a virtual tour of Paul Revere's historic ride includes a link to Longfellow's poem, Paul Revere's own account of that night, and Paul Revere's Silver Shop. There is a link for on-site classes and a purchasable collection of primary sources for classroom use

History/Social Studies (Teachers' Guide)

History/ Social Studies (Teachers' Guide)

History/Social Studies (Teachers' Guide)

  • National Endowment for the Humanities, EDSITEment, The Boston Tea Party: Costume Optional? For Grades 6-8. Page asks students to consider the actual historical event and how we can know what really happened so long ago. Includes many links.

Language Arts

Selected EDSITEment Websites

The Basics

Grade Level

9-12

Time Required

3 class periods

Subject Areas
  • Literature and Language Arts > Place > American
  • History and Social Studies > Themes > Common Core
  • Art and Culture > Subject Matter > Art History
  • History and Social Studies > U.S. > Revolution and the New Nation (1754-1820s)
  • Art and Culture > Medium > Visual Arts
  • Literature and Language Arts > Genre > Poetry
Skills
  • Compare and contrast
  • Interpretation
  • Making inferences and drawing conclusions
  • Textual analysis
  • Using primary sources
  • Visual art analysis
Authors
  • Kaye Passmore, Ed.D, Art Education Consultant (Corpus Christi, TX)
  • Amy Trenkle, NBCT, 8th Grade U.S. History Teacher, Stuart-Hobson Middle School (Washington, DC)

Resources

Activity Worksheets
Student Resources
Media

Related Lessons

  • Not Only Paul Revere: Other Riders of the American Revolution

    Created September 24, 2010
    Paul Revere's Ride

    While Paul Revere's ride is the most famous event of its kind in American history, other Americans made similar rides during the Revolutionary period.  After learning about some less well known but no less colorful rides that occurred in other locations, students gather evidence to support an argument about why at least one of these "other riders" does or does not deserve to be better known.