Sheet Music for Paul Revere's Ride By Webb Miller, 1884
Credit: Courtesy of American Memory
In his account of his famous ride, Paul Revere described the impetus for his journey: "…I was sent for by Dr. Joseph Warren, of said Boston, on the evening of the 18th of April, about 10 o'clock; when he desired me, 'to go to Lexington, and inform Mr. Samuel Adams, and the Hon. John Hancock Esq.'" Though the lantern signal from Christ Church had been Revere's idea, he never mentions seeing it, though he does go on to say, "I set off, it was then about 11 o'clock, the moon shone bright." Anyone who learned the story from Henry Wadsworth Longfellow heard it told a little differently. Virtually all students, at one point or another in their schooling, are exposed to Longfellow's ballad, "Paul Revere's Ride." How accurate is it? Is it responsible for Revere's ride achieving such iconic status?
Provide the opportunity for your students to think about the answers to these and other questions as they read primary and secondhand accounts of events during the American Revolution. Extend the study of American Revolutionary history into literature by discussing how Revere's ride has been dealt with in poems by Longfellow and others.
Note: Your students can learn more about other rides during the American Revolution in the related EDSITEment lesson plan Not Only Paul Revere: Other Riders of the American Revolution
What are the essential differences between Longfellow's account of Paul Revere's ride and historical fact? Why does Revere's ride occupy such a prominent place in the American consciousness?
After completing the lessons in this unit, students will be able to
Ask the students what they know about Paul Revere. Read with the class a brief biography of Paul Revere, such as the one available on the website of the Paul Revere House, a link from the EDSITEment resource Internet Public Library, skipping (for now) any sections specifically about the ride.
Ask students to identify any facts about Revere heard in the biography that they did not previously know, and keep a class list of these new facts on the chalkboard or elsewhere. Do the students believe Revere would have been remembered for other achievements even if he had never been on that famous ride?
If desired, review with the class the political/military circumstances surrounding Paul Revere's ride. The EDSITEment resource Learner.org features a pertinent timeline as part of its Biography of America. To help students understand the political situation in 1775, access additional information about events on the timeline by clicking on the "T" in the right-hand column. Share with the class these two opposing accounts of events surrounding the Battle of Lexington, written at the time the events occurred. Both are from the EDSITEment-reviewed website American Memory:
Discuss the similarities and differences between the accounts. Do they help answer the question, "Who fired the 'shot heard 'round the world'?" Or, do they add to the confusion?
Divide the class into as many as eight groups (six, if you choose not to use the online presentation below), assigning each of the following accounts to one or two groups:
Encourage students to make note of the details of their account's version of the ride. If desired, you can use or adapt the PDF handout, Keeping Track of Paul Revere. Then, work together as a class to construct the best possible version of what really happened on the ride.
Read Henry Wadsworth Longfellow's famous poem "Paul Revere's Ride" aloud to the group without the students looking at the text; the poem is available from the EDSITEment resource The Academy of American Poets. After one reading, ask students what stands out for them and what they recall about the poem. Then pass out copies of the text and assign sections to volunteers to read aloud as the class follows along. Further class discussion at this point should focus on literary elements and not historical detail, as that will be covered later.
After the poem has been read aloud, and before the discussion to follow, give students the opportunity to review the poem on their own. Ask them to make notations in the text. For example, have them
Ask students to think about the following:
Download and distribute copies of a Venn diagram for students to use to note differences and similarities between the poet's account and the class summary of the details of the actual event. If desired, when the groups are done, use student input to build a composite diagram on the chalkboard. Prepare the class for a discussion of why we remember Revere's ride the way we do. Download a copy of the handout Why Do We Remember Revere's Ride the Way We Do? Pass out copies to the class and have students complete the questionnaire. Discuss students' ratings, as well as any additional hypotheses offered by students, and attempt to come up with a unified theory about the iconic status of the ride.
“O'er Cambridge set the yeomen's mark: Climb, patriot, through the April dark.”
3 class periods