Before the American Revolution, Paul Revere made his famous ride to Lexington to warn Samuel Adams and John Hancock that the British were coming on April 18, 1775. He stopped at homes along the way, knocked on doors, and warned people the British were near. Revere was an express rider who carried news and messages from Boston to towns as far away as Philadelphia. But he wasn’t the only American patriot assigned the task of alerting the colonists. William Dawes and Samuel Prescott also accompanied him. This detail was omitted from a poem penned by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow on April 6, 1860, before the Civil War. Longfellow, an abolitionist, wrote this poem about Revere’s courage so that people would be inspired to stand up against slavery. Though not entirely accurate, his poem made Paul Revere’s ride famous eighty-five years after the fact.
Wentworth Cheswell: American Hero
Ironically, a black man also made a midnight ride to alert townspeople about the British invasion. However, history books rarely feature his accomplishment. Wentworth Cheswell, a highly educated landowner of one quarter African-American descent had been elected to the Committee of Safety of Newmarket, New Hampshire. He carried news to and from the Provincial Committee at Exeter. He also rode all night from Boston. Revere rode south, and Cheswell went north. He warned his community the British were near, and that British warships were approaching their shores. As a result, thirty men from Newmarket were selected to help defend the port of Portsmouth. Cheswell was among them, and assisted to build rafts to safeguard Portsmouth Harbor.
Unique in His Time
Cheswell was unique in his time. Blacks rarely were educated at this time in history, and seldom owned property. He was probably the first African-American to be voted into public office in America. In 1768 he was elected town constable, the first of many offices he held. See his many other accomplishments at the above website.
Longfellow understood the power of publishing stories of courage. As writers bring fame to little known Americans by publishing their accomplishments, people are inspired to follow their lead.