Did you know that Paul Revere was not the only rider who warned the patriots of the British advance on April 18, 1775?
During the American Revolution, one man's name is often forgotten amidst the famous faces of the nation's founders: William Dawes.
A patriot and a rider on that fateful night of April 18, 1775, Dawes' story is one of incredible courage and resilience. He was an integral part of the groundwork for America's independence, yet his role in history has been largely overlooked.
This article explores the life and legacy of William Dawes: The Forgotten Rider of the American Revolution.
Dawes was born in Massachusetts to a family whose roots ran deep in colonial America. He was a tradesman by profession, but he had a passionate commitment to freedom and justice as well.
On April 18th, 1775, he volunteered to join Paul Revere and Samuel Prescott on their famous midnight ride to warn patriots of an impending British attack. Despite facing tremendous danger along the way, Dawes completed his mission successfully and later joined Washington’s army as a volunteer soldier.
His contribution to the cause of freedom was invaluable then, yet it remains largely unknown now.
Early Life of William Dawes
William Dawes was born on April 6, 1745, in Boston, Massachusetts, to William Dawes Sr. and Lydia Boone Dawes. He was the fifth of their seven children, and grew up in a family with a strong Puritan background. His father worked as a leatherworker and was a respected member of the local community. As a result, Dawes was exposed to the trade and values of hard work and dedication from a young age.
In his early life, Dawes received a basic education typical for children of his social class. He attended the Boston Latin School, where he acquired a foundation in reading, writing, and arithmetic. Upon completing his education, he followed in his father's footsteps and became a tanner and leatherworker, eventually owning his own leatherworking shop in Boston.
Involvement In the Boston Militia
As tensions between the American colonies and the British government grew in the 1760s and early 1770s, Dawes became increasingly involved in local politics and the growing revolutionary movement. He joined the Sons of Liberty, a secret organization formed to protect the rights of the colonists and fight British taxation policies. The group was instrumental in organizing events such as the Boston Tea Party, which further escalated tensions between the colonies and Great Britain.
In addition to his political activism, Dawes became an active member of the Boston militia. The militia was a volunteer military force composed of local citizens who were prepared to defend their community against threats, both foreign and domestic. Dawes held the rank of sergeant and took part in regular military training exercises, preparing him for the possibility of armed conflict with British forces.
As a trusted and well-known figure in the Boston community, Dawes was appointed a member of the Committee of Safety in 1774. This committee was responsible for coordinating the efforts of local militias and ensuring that arms and supplies were available to support their defense. In this role, Dawes played a crucial part in preparing the Boston militia for potential conflict with British forces.
A Son Of Liberty
Established in 1765, the Sons of Liberty was a secret organization that aimed to protect the rights of the American colonists and challenge the British government's oppressive taxation policies. The group, which included influential figures like Samuel Adams and Paul Revere, was instrumental in organizing protests and acts of resistance against British rule.
Dawes joined the Sons of Liberty during the early stages of its formation, and his commitment to the cause was unwavering. As a trusted and well-respected figure in the community, Dawes played an essential role in coordinating and mobilizing members for various protests and demonstrations. His participation in these events demonstrated his dedication to the organization's goals and the larger fight for American independence.
One of the most famous events organized by the Sons of Liberty was the Boston Tea Party in 1773. This act of defiance against British taxation policies saw members of the group, disguised as Native Americans, board British ships and dump 342 chests of tea into Boston Harbor. Although there is no direct evidence that Dawes participated in the actual act, his affiliation with the Sons of Liberty and active involvement in the organization suggest that he likely played a role in the planning and execution of this historic event.
In addition to organizing protests, the Sons of Liberty also disseminated information and propaganda to garner support for their cause. Dawes, with his connections and influence in the community, likely played a role in spreading the group's message and rallying fellow colonists against British rule. This grassroots campaign was crucial in fomenting public sentiment and strengthening the resolve of the American colonists in their fight for independence.
Meeting and Befriending Paul Revere
William Dawes and Paul Revere, both prominent members of the Sons of Liberty, became acquainted during their involvement in the revolutionary movement in the years leading up to the American Revolution. Their shared dedication to the cause of American independence and their roles within the organization made it inevitable that their paths would cross. As fellow patriots, they would go on to form a strong friendship and collaborate in some of the most significant events of the Revolution.
One notable event in which both Dawes and Revere played pivotal roles was the famous midnight ride on April 18, 1775. Tasked with warning the colonial militia of the approaching British forces, Dawes and Revere set off separately from Boston, taking different routes to reach Lexington and Concord. Although Revere is more famously associated with the midnight ride due to Henry Wadsworth Longfellow's poem, "Paul Revere's Ride," it was actually Dawes who first set out to warn John Hancock and Samuel Adams of the impending British attack. Revere joined him shortly afterward, having received the same orders from Dr. Joseph Warren.
Their collaboration during the midnight ride serves as a testament to their mutual trust and respect for one another. As they rode through the night, evading British patrols, they worked together to spread the alarm and rouse the colonial militia. In fact, it was their combined efforts that helped to ensure that the militia was prepared to face the British troops in the Battles of Lexington and Concord, which marked the beginning of the American Revolution.
The Midnight Ride
On the night of April 18, 1775, William Dawes and Paul Revere embarked on their famous midnight ride to warn the colonial militia of the approaching British forces. The ride was a critical event that helped to prepare the colonial militia for the Battles of Lexington and Concord, marking the beginning of the American Revolution. Although Paul Revere's name has become synonymous with the midnight ride, Dawes played an equally important role in this historic event.
Dr. Joseph Warren, a key figure in the Sons of Liberty, received intelligence that the British troops planned to march from Boston to seize the colonists' weapons stored in Concord and arrest John Hancock and Samuel Adams, who were staying in Lexington. Recognizing the urgency of the situation, Warren dispatched Dawes and Revere to warn the militia and the two leaders. Dawes was the first to set out, taking the longer land route through the Boston Neck and then to Lexington, while Revere crossed the Charles River by boat and rode through Charlestown.
Dawes and Revere took separate paths to avoid detection and increase the chances of successfully delivering the warning. As they rode through the night, they alerted local militia leaders and other Sons of Liberty members of the impending British advance. This led to a series of rapid communications that spread the message throughout the region.
The two riders met briefly in Lexington around midnight, where they successfully warned John Hancock and Samuel Adams of the imminent danger. Afterward, they continued together toward Concord, along with Dr. Samuel Prescott, who they encountered on the way. However, they were intercepted by a British patrol near Concord. Revere was captured, while Dawes managed to escape but was thrown from his horse and unable to complete the ride. It was Prescott who ultimately reached Concord and delivered the warning.
Dawes Later Life And Legacy
Following the American Revolution, William Dawes returned to his life as a tanner and leatherworker in Boston. He married Mehitable May in 1768, and together they had six children. Dawes continued to be involved in his community and took on various roles and responsibilities to contribute to the growth and well-being of the newly established nation.
In 1799, Dawes moved his family to Marlborough, Massachusetts, where he worked as a farmer and continued to be an active participant in the life of his community. He served as a town selectman, responsible for making executive decisions and overseeing local governance. This position allowed him to maintain his commitment to public service, which had been a central aspect of his life during the Revolution.
William Dawes passed away on February 25, 1799, at the age of 53. Despite his significant contributions to the American Revolution and his dedicated service to his community, Dawes' legacy was overshadowed by the fame of his compatriot, Paul Revere. The lasting popularity of Henry Wadsworth Longfellow's poem, "Paul Revere's Ride," which focused solely on Revere's role in the midnight ride, further diminished the recognition of Dawes' achievements.
However, in recent years, historians and scholars have worked to rectify this oversight and bring attention to the critical role Dawes played during the Revolution. His bravery and dedication to the cause of American independence, as well as his involvement in the Sons of Liberty and the Boston militia, are now more widely acknowledged and celebrated.