Monday, April 16, 2018

Listen My Children, For Just Cause, To Hear the Story of William Dawes

(Okay, so that's a poor rhyme, but at least it got your attention)

Those of you who know me and are followers of this Passion for the Past blog also know that I portray Paul Revere at reenactments, schools, historical societies, or wherever else I may be asked. Paul Revere has been a hero of mine since I was a young kid. Yes, I know he was no George Washington or Ben Franklin as far as what one may consider to be a hero, but that never mattered to me. He was an everyman who played an important role in an extraordinary time. 
Now, it wasn't until much later in my life that I learned more details of his famous ride on the night of April 18, 1775 - that Mr. Revere was not the only rider, and that the most famous of poems by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow in 1861 took, shall we say, great liberties on what occurred that fateful night.
No matter, because the more I study the truth about the man, the more fascinating he becomes to me. He remains my hero.
William Dawes
Painted by John Johnston ca 1785-1795
That being said, we know there were over two dozen other riders out on the night of April 18 as well, spreading the word of the Regular Army being on the march, and the only one who was able to claim any fame (albeit, mostly after his death) was Paul Revere.
But, not too long after Longfellow's poem made Paul Revere a household name, the family of another rider felt their ancestor got the shaft. The descendants of William "Billy" Dawes felt that despite the fact that he played a pivotal role alongside Revere, he had been almost entirely forgotten by historians and was completely overshadowed in his own accomplishments that night.
One reason for this, I feel, is because Revere wrote three personal accounts of his ride, which were widely circulated, yet very few records exist of Dawes’ participation in that same ride. In fact, the first one Revere wrote only a few days after the first shots at Lexington were fired was a deposition, and, from what I understand, he wrote it for the sole purpose to prove that the Regulars were the first to fire "the shot heard 'round the world," thus beginning the Revolutionary War. For this reason, when Revere tells about the British soldiers/scouts threatening him and holding him hostage, he includes the many details and of the vulgar dialogue used. 
And, as mentioned earlier, another reason for Dawes exclusion in many of the history books is because of the publication of Henry Wadsworth Longfellow’s extremely popular poem “Paul Revere's Ride” in 1861, which wrote Dawes and Prescott completely out of the event.
In an attempt to remedy this, in 1896, Century Magazine published a parody of the poem, entitled “The Midnight Ride of William Dawes” by Helen F. Moore:

Paul Revere and William "Billy"
Dawes speak with Hancock
and Adams
I am a wandering, bitter shade,
Never of me was a hero made;
Poets have never sung my praise,
Nobody crowned my brow with bays;
And if you ask me the fatal cause,
I answer only, “My name was Dawes”
‘Tis all very well for the children to hear
Of the midnight ride of Paul Revere;
But why should my name be quite forgot,
Who rode as boldly and well, God wot?
Why should I ask? The reason is clear —
My name was Dawes and his Revere.
When the lights from the old North Church flashed out,
Paul Revere was waiting about,
But I was already on my way.
The shadows of night fell cold and gray
As I rode, with never a break or a pause;
But what was the use, when my name was Dawes!
History rings with his silvery name;
Closed to me are the portals of fame.
Had he been Dawes and I Revere,
No one had heard of him, I fear.
No one has heard of me because
He was Revere and I was Dawes

Poor William Dawes. I cannot help but feel bad for the unfortunate misfortune of his near erasure from history...

I, as a student of history - and as one who interprets as Paul Revere - would like to add my own promotion of the ride of William Dawes, for I believe that no one should be forgotten, especially when they played such a part in America's fight for freedom.
But without the help of Dawes' granddaughter, the truth about the man might have been lost to time. 
It was on June  17, 1875, just about a hundred years and two months after the fact, that Harriet Newcomb Holland wrote down the stories she’d heard about her grandfather, William Dawes. Holland had heard those tales from her mother, and since William Dawes died ten years before her own birth, it was from her mother she relied upon for her family history. Her recounting was published by her son Henry Ware Holland in a book printed in limited numbers for members of the family.
After doing a bit of my own research and "comparison shopping" of web sites to garner as much of the story as I could, I have gleaned from two sources (see below) to help rectify the situation of the once forgotten midnight ride of William Dawes (though I found nearly a dozen reputable sites telling the tale of Dawes, much of what you are about to read here came almost directly from two main sources: History of Massachusetts blog, and  The History Channel Page. I liked the plain, simple, and unbiased way they were written. I also read over Holland's book to add the more personal side of the story).
So, let's journey back to that night over 240 years ago where we hear of two Sons of Liberty racing on horseback from Boston to warn residents that the British regulars were on the march toward Lexington and Concord:
Joseph Warren
Painted by John Singleton Copley 1765
On April 18, 1775, Dr. Joseph Warren learned through Boston’s revolutionary underground that British troops were preparing to cross the Charles River and march to Lexington, presumably to arrest John Hancock and Samuel Adams. Fearing an intercept by the British, Warren, with Paul Revere, had devised a redundancy plan to warn Hancock and Adams. He would send one rider by land and one by sea.
Warren knew that the rider who had to take the longer land route and pass through the British checkpoint had the riskier mission, but he had the perfect man for the job: William Dawes. The 30-year-old was a militiaman and a loyal patriot. Unlike Revere, however, Dawes wasn’t a known anti-British rabble-rouser, and his work as a tanner frequently took him out of Boston, so his would be a familiar face to the British manning the checkpoint.
Though Dawes and Revere were notified roughly around the same time - between 9:00 and 10:00 pm., Dawes was able to make way before Revere, for he was already on his way to Lexington by the time Revere made it to Dr. Warren's. (Conflicting stories have said that Dawes was notified about an hour before Revere, which, to me, doesn't make sense. I believe Dr. Warren would send all of his riders out as soon as he could.) 
Within minutes, Dawes was at the British guardhouse on Boston Neck, which was on high alert. According to some accounts, Dawes, who was remembered to have been "mounted" on a slow-jogging horse, with saddle-bags behind him, and a large flapped hat upon his head to resemble a countryman on a journey, eluded the guards by either slipping through with some British soldiers or attaching himself to another party. Other accounts say he pretended to be a farmer. The simplest explanation is that he was already friendly with the sentries, who let him pass. However way Dawes did it, he made it in the nick of time. Shortly after he passed through the guardhouse, the British halted all travel out of Boston.
Dawes' route was no small feat, for he sped west and then north through Roxbury, Brookline, Brighton, Cambridge and Menotomy. Unlike Revere, who awoke town leaders and militia commanders along the way to share his news, Dawes apparently let them sleep, either because he was singularly focused on getting to Lexington as quickly as possible or because he wasn’t as well-connected with the patriots in the countryside.
Dawes arrived at his destination, the Lexington home of Jonas Clarke, at 12:30 a.m., about half an hour after Revere, who had traveled a shorter distance on a faster horse. Thirty minutes later, after refreshing themselves and resting their horses, the two sons of liberty mounted their weary steeds again to warn the residents of Concord. As they sped off, Dr. Samuel Prescott joined them.
Dawes tried to outrun the two British officers
tailing him, and staged a clever ruse. He pulled
up in front of a vacant farmhouse and
shouted as if there were patriots inside:
“Halloo, boys, I’ve got two of ‘em!”
Before they could reach Concord, however, the three riders encountered a British patrol around 1:30 a.m. Revere was captured. Prescott and his horse hurtled over a stone wall to the left and managed to make it to Concord. According to family lore, the quick-witted Dawes tried to outrun the patrol, but knowing his horse was too tired, he scared off the two soldiers chasing him by riding out into a field. As he pulled up in front of a farmhouse, he shouted as if there were fellow patriots inside: “Halloo, boys, I’ve got two of ‘em!” Fearing an ambush, the two Redcoats galloped away, while Dawes' horse, somehow becoming frightened, reared so quickly he was bucked off. The dark house that Dawes took to be a place of refuge turned out to be an abandoned building, perhaps inhabited by animals that had frightened his horse. Badly shaken, and losing his watch and possibly his horse, William Dawes decided that enough was enough. He went back toward Lexington in the moonlight, keeping in the shadows and out of sight. According to historical author Esther Forbes as well as Henry Ware Holland, Dawes retraced his steps a few days later and retrieved his watch.
This well-drawn map gives us a birds-eye view of our three named riders on the night of April 18, 1775.
The map is available for purchase: click HERE.
And the rest, as is said far too often, is history.

But, like Paul Revere, there is more to William Dawes than just this one ride. An interesting humanistic story told in the Dawes book published by Henry Holland relays of the survival of the family during the Siege of Boston. According to 'Billy's' granddaughter: "My grandfather lived on Ann Street, at the period of the Revolution. During the Siege of Boston, the family silver and other valuables were buried in an old cistern, and sustained no injury. He removed his family to Worcester, Mass., where he made weekly visits. On these visits he wore his coats covered with cloth buttons, though brass and gilt buttons were in common use. Every Saturday his sister, Mrs. Lucas, would cover his gold pieces with cloth and sew them on, while as regularly in Worcester his wife would remove the coins, and put button-moulds in their place. In this way he alluded search, and secreted necessary money for the support of his family. On these journeys he disguised himself in different ways, usually as a country man selling produce, and on one occasion was kept all day on surveillance trying to 'pass the lines,' which he succeeded in doing by feigning drunkenness, and following the officers on guard wherever they went, even passing his father's house, from the windows in which a young sister recognized him, and annoyed him very much by her loud cries of 'Brother Billy.' This young sister was Mrs. Hammond...and I have distinct recollections of hearing her and my mother compare their childish memories of the events."
What a wonderful tale that helps to add another piece to the puzzle of everyday life during the Revolutionary War!
Little else is known about what happened to Dawes after his midnight ride, though it is said that he went into the provisions business and was a commissary to the Continental Army. According to some reports, he fought at the Battle of Bunker (Breed's) Hill.

Dawes, Revere, and Prescott
Though both men were relatively unheralded when they died (as was Samuel Prescott, the third rider and the only one of the three who actually made it to Concord), they were not as forgotten as contemporary historians would have us believe. Besides the three depositions Revere himself wrote about their adventures that night, where he acknowledges Mr. Dawes by name in each, there is the fact that Mr. Revere's name was mentioned in over a dozen contemporary newspapers and broadsides not long after the ride. Remember - Paul Revere was well-known in Boston due to his prominence as a top silversmith.
I have also read that Revere, as an old man, liked to tell the local children of his exploits as well, which, of course, kept, at the very least, his own name in the public eye. And contrary to popular belief, the two men were not totally forgotten in the early history books either. For instance, both Paul Revere and William Dawes are mentioned in the "Pictorial Field-Book of the Revolution" by Benson J. Lossing, printed in 1850. 
But the silversmith got the boost of a lifetime when Henry Wadsworth Longfellow penned “Paul Revere’s Ride” in 1861. However, Longfellow’s historically inaccurate verses not only venerated Revere, but they wrote Dawes out of the storyline altogether. And I don't believe Revere would have cared for that. 
Even the newspapers over-looked Mr. Dawes
~Pennsylvania Gazette June 7, 1775~
(From Todd Andrlik - Journal for the American Revolution)
So, how did Revere become Longfellow’s leading 'actor' while Dawes couldn’t even warrant a walk-on cameo? Revere was certainly more prominent in Boston’s political underground and business circles, but more important, (as mentioned) he had written three detailed first-person accounts of his mission, while very few records of Dawes and his ride exist.
Unfortunately, contemporaries couldn’t even recall Dawes' name. William Munroe, who had stood guard at the Clarke house, later reported that Revere arrived along with a “Mr. Lincoln.” In a centennial commemoration, Harper’s Magazine called Dawes “Ebenezer Dorr.”
Even in recent years, the hits keep coming. While Malcolm Gladwell lauded Revere’s social network in “The Tipping Point,” he called Dawes “just an ordinary man.” And in perhaps the final indignity, it was discovered in 2007 that Dawes is most likely not buried in Boston’s King’s Chapel Burying Ground, where his grave has been marked, but probably five miles away in his wife’s family plot in Forest Hills Cemetery. Even in death, Dawes still can’t get any respect.
But the name of William "Billy" Dawes is now coming to light, over 240 years after the fact. And this does not take away at all from the ride of Paul Revere...rather, it, instead, only adds to the excitement of what actually occurred on the night of April 18, 1775.
And that's a good thing, don't you think?

And now, let's visit our Just So You Know dept. - -
Here is a little bit of information of William "Billy" Dawes' early life:
William Dawes was born on April 6, 1745 in Boston.
On October 28, 1767, Dawes was one of 650 Boston citizens who signed a “nonimportation agreement,” promising not to buy goods imported from Britain, which included furniture, clothes, nails, anchors, gauze, shoe leather, malt liquors, loaf sugar, starch and glue. To further support this cause, the Boston Gazette states that Dawes also wore a suite made entirely in America on his wedding day to Mehetable May on May 3, 1768.
In April of 1768, Dawes joined the Ancient and Honorable Artillery Company, a private training organization for militia officers, and was also promoted to second major of the regiment of the Boston militia.
Dawes was also a member of the patriotic group the Sons of Liberty and was a Freemason, although it is not clear which Boston lodge he belonged to.
According to the book History of the MilitaryCompany of the Massachusetts, as an ardent patriot, Dawes often rode throughout the colony trying to find recruits for the colonial cause:
“He scoured the country, organizing and aiding in the birth of the Revolution. His granddaughter wrote: ‘During these rides, he sometimes borrowed a friendly miller’s hat and clothes and sometimes he borrowed a dress of a farmer, and had a bag of meal behind his back on the horse. At one such time a British soldier tried to take away his meal, but grandfather presented arms and rushed on. The meal was for his family. But in trying to stir up recruits, he was often in danger.’
In October of 1774, Dawes planned and led a daring break-in at the gun house on Boston Common.
While the guards were at roll call, Dawes and several members of his artillery company stole two small brass cannons, sneaking them out the back window, and hid them in a large box under the desk in a nearby school house.
When a British sergeant later discovered the cannons were missing, he exclaimed: “They are gone. These fellows will steal the teeth out of your head while you are keeping guard.” The guards searched the yard, gun-house and school house but never found the hidden cannons.
The cannons remained hidden in the school house for two weeks until Dawes had them removed one night in a wheelbarrow and hid them under a pile of coal in a blacksmith shop.
On January 5, 1775, the Committee of Safety voted to move the stolen cannons to WalthamThe cannons remained in active service throughout the revolutionary war.
Dawes also injured his arm during the break-in and was attended to by fellow patriot Dr. Joseph Warren but, due to the illegal nature of the event, Dawes thought it best not to tell Warren how the injury happened.
'Billy' Dawes and and his wife Mehetable had seven children. He died at age 53 in 1799.

And so the three, Revere, Preston, and Dawes
Rode off toward Concord for the Cause
For on that April night of '75
We must remember, and keep their story alive.
Now you know, and now you hear
That it wasn't only Paul Revere.
(no, I'm not a poet, but, well, it was written with the best intention)

And that, my friends, is pretty much what I have on Mr. Dawes. Notice that I did not compare the two of the most famous midnight riders. I attempted to, instead, compliment the two men, as they complimented each other on that night of April 18, 1775, for they worked together on that daring mission to accomplish what they had to do. The men were friends and fellow patriots, and both knew that the other's job was just as important as his own.
So maybe we can end on another poem, this one written more recently by Marc Stockwell-Moniz:

Paul Revere’s and Billy Dawes’ Ride
Let me tell you about the night in ’75 —
It’s all about Paul Revere’s and Billy Dawes' rides.
Off they went with two strong steeds
The Regulars are out, so patriots take heed.
With swift strong steps and scarlet coats
They crossed the Charles, went Paul in his boat.
One by land and two by sea,
His majesty’s boys in Lexington by three.
And off went Billy through the Back Bay,
The lesser known of the two heroes today.
The Charlestown road Paul did take
Through Medford and Metotomy for Adam’s sake.
Dawes arrived first to warn the town:
“The Regulars are coming, they are bound!”
Along the road, Paul met some foes,
Got captured awhile, then laid low.
But the hero broke free and off he fled.
“I must make it to Hancock”, is what he said.
So early in the morning, Paul arrived
To tell Adam’s and Hancock they must hide.
Then the patriot men gathered on the green
Standing tall to greet the British scene.
So off rode the duo in the middle of the night
To help launch a nation’s maiden flight.
So forever and ever, they’ll ride again
The all-night ride of America’s men.

Until next time, see you in time...

Besides the two main on line sources linked in the above story, I also found information in Paul Revere's Ride by David Hackett Fischer and Paul Revere and the World He Lived In by Esther Forbes, and if you would like to read the Dawes family own account of the adventures of their ancestor, please click HERE to purchase their reprinted book.

~ Please click the links below for more of my blog posts about the beginnings of the Revolutionary War:
Modern historians like to relegate Paul Revere as more fable than fact, no thanks to Longfellow's poem. But this man deserves his place in our history, and rightfully so, for his ride was as important as nearly any other occurrence of his time.
I have searched multiple sources to find the true story of Paul Revere's Midnight Ride, and put it all here.
I think you just might be surprised at what Revere actually did.

Diaries, journals, letters, newspapers/broadsides, remembrances...this is what I used to garner these very personal stories from those who were there - actual witnesses, men & women, of the Battle of Lexington & Concord.
Their tales will draw you into their world.

Sarah and Rachel: The Wives of Paul Revere
Paul Revere was married twice and, between his two wives, he fathered 16 children.
What I attempted to do in this post was to find virtually everything available about these two Mrs. Revere's. I think I succeeded - -

With Liberty and Justice For All: The Fight for Independence at the Henry Ford Museum
An amazing collection of original Revolutionary War artifacts on display for all the world to see, telling the story of America's fight for Independence. An original Stamp Act notification. A letter written by Benedict Arnold. George Washington's camp bed, a coffee pot made by Paul Revere, a writing desk that once belonged to Thomas Jefferson...yeah...this is some great stuff here!

Declaring Independence: The Spirits of '76
Something very special happened almost 250 years ago, but is that story being promoted?
Come on a time-travel visit to colonial America during that hot summer of 1776 and learn, first hand, of the accounts on how we were making a new and independent nation.

Travel and Taverns
The long air-conditioned (or heated) car ride. Motels without a pool! Can we stop at McDonalds? I'm hungry!
Ahhhh....modern travelers never had it so good.
I've always had a fascination of travel back in the day, and I decided to find out as much as I could about them.
I wasn't disappointed - - - I dug through my books, went to a historic research library, 'surfed the net' (does anyone say that anymore?), and asked docents who work at historic taverns questions, looking for the tiniest bits of information to help me to understand what it was like to travel and stay at a tavern in the colonial times.
This post is the culmination of all of that research.
Our country's founding relied greatly on the tavern.

Cooking on the Hearth
No stoves or fast food restaurants. Everything made from scratch.
What was it like for our colonial ancestors to prepare, cook, and eat their meals, and what kinds of food were available to them? How did they keep their foodstuffs from spoiling and rotting?
If you have questions such as this, I believe you will enjoy this post.

In the Good Old Colony Days
A concise pictorial to everyday life in America's colonies. And I do mean "pictorial," for there are over 80 photos included, covering nearly every aspect of colonial life.
I try to touch on most major topics of the period with links to read more detailed accounts.
This just may be my very favorite of all my postings. If it isn't, it's in the top 2!

Living By Candle Light: The Light at its Brightest
Could you survive living in the era before electric lights or even before the 19th century style oil lamps?
Do you know how many candles you would need for a year?
Do you know what it was like to make candles right from scratch, or what it was like to visit your local chandler?
That's what this posting is about!

~     ~

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