To Arms, To Arms. The War Has Begun: The Midnight Riders

The Revolutionary War began on 19 April 1775. That evening Paul Revere made his famous ride. But Revere wasn’t the only rider, just the only one to have Longfellow wright a poem about him. There were dozens of other riders that night, each seeking to warn the colonial patriots that the British army was advancing and what route it was taking. One of these others had the longest ride – the 345 miles from the outskirts of Boston to Philadelphia. That rider was Israel Bissell, though in some records he’s referred to as Isaac Bissell.

Bissell, a 23-year-old postal rider when the war broke out on April 19, 1775, rode day and night with little sleep during an exhausting 345-mile journey from Boston’s western edge to Philadelphia. On the first leg, he rode one horse so hard that the animal collapsed and died beneath him as he arrived in Worcester, roughly two hours after leaving Watertown.

“To arms, to arms. The war has begun,” Bissell shouted as he passed through each little town.

(Map 1: Israel Bissell’s Route)

In addition to making his alert at every stop on the Old Post Road, Bissell also brought a message from General Joseph Palmer:

To all the friends of American liberty be it known that this morning before break of day, a brigade, consisting of about 1,000 to 1,200 men landed at Phip’s Farm at Cambridge and marched to Lexington, where they found a company of our colony militia in arms, upon whom they fired without any provocation and killed six men and wounded four others. By an express from Boston, we find another brigade are now upon their march from Boston supposed to be about 1,000. The Bearer, Tryal Russell, is charged to alarm the country quite to Connecticut and all persons are desired to furnish him with fresh horses as they may be needed. I have spoken with several persons who have seen the dead and wounded. Pray let the delegates from this colony to Connecticut see this.

While there has been some historical dispute about whether Bissell made the whole ride or just the leg to Hartford before handing off to another post rider. Regardless, he still made the longest of the midnight rides.

Bissell did eventually get his own poem. In fact he got two.  One written by Gerard Chapman. The other by Clay Perry.

“To arms, to arms. The war has begun!

Stay put!

Open thread.

67 replies
  1. 1
    🌎 🇺🇸 Goku (aka Amerikan Baka) 🗳 🌷 says:

    Dude, you scared the shit out of me with that title. I thought Saturday Night Massacre 2.0 was happening or worse

  2. 2
    PJ says:

    Stay put?!! ‘Twould be Unamerican.

    We are among the most peripatetic people on Earth, yet we protest when others want to join us here in our endless restlessness.

  3. 3
    Washburn says:

    @🌎 🇺🇸 Goku (aka Amerikan Baka) 🗳 🌷:
    Same here – I immediately switched over to NYT, turned the TV to CNN, and then went to WaPO – saw nothing, then came back and read the rest.


  4. 4
    Adam L Silverman says:

    @🌎 🇺🇸 Goku (aka Amerikan Baka) 🗳 🌷: Just checking to make sure everyone’s paying attention.

  5. 5
    Mnemosyne says:

    The roads in America during the Revolution were notoriously awful in part because the eastern US has so many natural waterways that it was easier for everyone to use those for transportation rather than building roads.

  6. 6
    sukabi says:

    @🌎 🇺🇸 Goku (aka Amerikan Baka) 🗳 🌷: yep. Oh shit. Now what’s he done.

    Of course that’s how I start every day now.

  7. 7
    Yutsano says:

    @🌎 🇺🇸 Goku (aka Amerikan Baka) 🗳 🌷: But it’s Wednesday…

    Also: is it just me or am I the only one who figured out this was about the Revolutionary War?

    (I mean I wondered a bit but still.)

  8. 8
    Mike J says:

    April 26th is the anniversary of the ride of Sybil Ludington who should not be forgotten.

  9. 9
    Omnes Omnibus says:

    Col. Barrett from that battle is a Great… Uncle. My ancestor went to Ti, on the other side of the river, and then to Canada. Arnold didn’t win.

  10. 10
    FlyingToaster says:

    One if by land, and two if by sea…

    Not far from the first place I lived in Massachusetts, on Elm St, Somerville in front of Ace Bicycles, is a marker for a mass grave. It’s where the colonials buried a bunch of dead redcoats. Many of the town commons have (disabled) cannons still on the grounds.

    Two hours from Watertown to Worcester? On Route 20*? Jeebus, no wonder the horse died.

    * Boston Post Road, once you get outside of 128

  11. 11
    scav says:

    @PJ: Well, I’ve been weeding all day (2nd day), so I’m willing to be the token stay putter tonight, but I am rather hoping for permission to sneak out and make popcorn at some point. Promise to be right back.

  12. 12
    eemom says:

    Anyone else ancient enough to have thought of the Mel Brooks movie The Russians Are Coming the Russians Are Coming?

  13. 13
    Adam L Silverman says:

    @scav: Fine, take the hall pass with you.

  14. 14

    @Yutsano: I saw the headline and figured a Silverman history post yeah.

  15. 15
    Corner Stone says:

    Maddow was a real jerk to the lawyer who represented Karen McDougal. That was uncalled for.

  16. 16
    frosty says:


    Anyone else ancient enough to have thought of the Mel Brooks movie The Russians Are Coming the Russians Are Coming?

    Didn’t think of it in relation to this, but caught it recently. “Emergency! Emergency! Everyone to get from street!” Some parts held up better than others.

  17. 17
    Suffragettecity says:

    @Corner Stone:
    I think the guy did not want to have to admit his client really likes trump.

    OMG the post title had me for a moment! I

  18. 18
    Mnemosyne says:


    Norman Jewison, not Mel Brooks. Though Brooks’s best friend Carl Reiner is one of the costars.

  19. 19
    cain says:

    Damn, I’m the only person who thought “Midnight Riders?! At last, Adam is going to be talking about Left 4 Dead 2”, I was pretty disappointed that it wasn’t anything from this century even. Meh.

  20. 20
    Feathers says:

    I live on the road they marched down. There are markers along Mass Ave where the skirmishes along the retreat occurred, one across the street from the Dunkin’ Donut. Medford had Paul Revere’s route painted with a red, white and blue set of lines instead of the double yellow. I guess Arlington is just too classy for that.

    I guess I’m going to have to go to the historical society and find out why the monument in the graveyard next to the Arlington Library has a long list of names, but only some marked with an asterisk as “Patriots.” Unless anyone knows here.

    I’ve always wanted to get up early and go to the Patriots Day re-enactment in Lexington. Maybe we should get a group together next year. Warning,early is before dawn, 5:30am. There is a pancake breakfast afterwards.

  21. 21
    Yutsano says:

    @Major Major Major Major: I was half-tempted to make the joke it’s better in the original French but “Aux armes, citoyens!” came after.

  22. 22
    eemom says:


    I sit corrected. Not sure why I thought it was Mel Brooks, except that my late Dad loved it, and he also loved Mel Brooks.

    Mel Brooks and Carl Reiner are both still alive, right? Up there in the 90s I presume.


    Whittaker Walt.

  23. 23
    Mike J says:

    @Feathers: Let us know what you find out. I’m curious now.

  24. 24
    oatler. says:

    Hardly a man is now alive
    Who remembers that stupid fucking poem

  25. 25
    opiejeanne says:

    @Mike J: She should not and the post office has paid some attention, overprinting her name on a George Washington stamp. She was a young teenager.
    Am I nuts or was there an African American girl who rode as well? I know there were a couple of AfAm men who made the ride in addition to the several white men who delivered the news. .

  26. 26
    Mnemosyne says:


    They are both in their 90s and both still going strong — Brooks is 91 and Reiner is 96. Reiner puts a lot of cool historical photos on Instagram. The series of photos from the 1970s where he was convinced that Anne Bancroft (aka Mrs. Mel Brooks) was going to steal his new puppy was very funny.

  27. 27
    opiejeanne says:

    @Omnes Omnibus: In tracking down my mother’s family I found a signatory to the Declaration, John Hart. Oddly, though, I think he’s on my dad’s side and only related to Mom through marriage around 1850.

  28. 28
    Mary G says:

    I was reading a thread about Paul Revere earlier, and they mentioned more riders. I thought “Adam’s prolly going to be there” and here you are.

  29. 29
    Adam L Silverman says:

    @Mary G: Me and Buckaroo Bonzai!

  30. 30
    Adam L Silverman says:

    @Mary G: The one from the NRA guy?

  31. 31
    piratedan says:

    @Adam L Silverman: well… no matter where you go….. there you are.

  32. 32

    @Mary G:

    they mentioned more riders.

    Well, there was efgoldman.

  33. 33
    Viva BrisVegas says:

    Traitors all, to Good King George!

  34. 34
  35. 35
    Viva BrisVegas says:


    Not in 1776.

    Canadians must look south of the border and say, “Dude, what was that all about?”

  36. 36
    hervevillechaizelounge says:

    Slightly off topic, but politics is a 24-hour occupation at this point:

    NY Magazine headline: Death of H.R. McMaster’s Father Investigated as ‘Suspicious’

    I can’t decide how the RWNJs are going to spin this; are they going to say antifa nurses murdered old man McMaster? Will Don Jr rage-tweet that Putin had nothing to do with it? Will Fox find a person of color to blame for the senior McMaster’s death? Will Breitfart find a ludicrous way to pin it on Hillary Clinton?

    I feel like I’m at a conspiracy buffet!

  37. 37
    Adam L Silverman says:

    @hervevillechaizelounge: Holy Crap! Sounds like someone at the nursing home/in patient rehab facility he was at was trying to cover something up.

    ROXBOROUGH (WPVI) — According to sources, the Philadelphia police homicide unit, the Philadelphia district attorney, the Attorney General’s office and the health department are all investigating the death of former National Security Advisor General H.R. McMaster’s father 84-year-old H.R. McMaster, Sr.

    It is being investigated as a suspicious death.

    McMaster died on April 13 at Cathedral Village in the 600 E. block of Cathedral Rd in Roxborough. He was receiving care there after suffering a stroke.

    The allegations are that McMaster fell, hit his head, was put in a chair and then died. He allegedly did not receive proper care.

    Investigators are probing information from some staff members who informed the McMaster family that records were falsified pertaining to this death.

    Philadelphia Police executed a search warrant at the facility Tuesday.

    Cathedral Village spoke with 6abc Wednesday evening and stated that they are fully cooperating with the agencies investigating the death of H.R. McMaster, Sr.

    They say they contacted the Department of Health the same day of his death and launched an internal investigation into the allegations being made.

    A spokesperson said, “We remain committed to the safety and welfare of all our residents and have made every effort to cooperate.”

    A spokesperson for the Pennsylvania Attorney General’s Office said, “We are working closely with the Philadelphia Police Department to thoroughly and carefully review this tragic incident. This investigation is in the very early stages.”

  38. 38
    jl says:

    ” Dude was a nutty as Trump.”
    KGIII had prolonged relapses into sanity. Let’s be fair.

  39. 39
    oatler. says:

    @Adam L Silverman: The passive verbs did a lot of heavy lifting in that story.

  40. 40


    Let’s be fair.

    Who are you and what did you do with jl?

  41. 41
    Jager says:

    My Mom’s side of the family came from England in 1706. At the time of the Revolution, two brothers were living in Stonington CT. One was a loyalist, the other a revolutionary. The loyalist went to Canada, the other stayed and fought in the war. The two sides of Mom’s family didn’t speak to each other for over 100 years, my great grandfather went to Toronto, made peace and met one of the Canadian family’s neighbor girls, married her the next year and produced my gramps, his two younger brothers and a sister in short order.

  42. 42
    Adam L Silverman says:

    @oatler.: Yes, yes they did.

    Reading between the lines I suspect his dad fell, hit his head, and by the time he was found by staff it was too late. The staffer panicked, figured if he stuck him in a chair, then it would look like he just died while sitting there. That’s the charitable supposition. The uncharitable one is that he was the victim of elder abuse by a staffer who then tried to cover up his or her actions.

  43. 43
    joel hanes says:

    I too saw the lede and thought that either Trump had ignited the wildfire he’s been secreting througout DC,
    or that perhaps NK had launched a nuke.

  44. 44
    Fair Economist says:

    @oatler.: Don’t you mean “A lot of heavy lifting was done by passive verbs in that story”?

  45. 45
    oatler. says:

    @Fair Economist: Sure, but I do believe language is getting increasingly perverted toward the ruling class. Corporations don’t do things, there are only events that occur. Reagan said “mistakes were made” regarding the Contras bloodbath, and this is how we live and consume media now.

  46. 46
    Gretchen says:

    There is a resolution about Tammy Duckworth being able to bring her baby on the Senate floor. Orrin Hatch isn’t so sure – what if there are 10 babies? Which makes people like me say all old white dudes need to shut up and go away. But I dearly love the old white dude I’ve been married to for 41 years. He would never say something so criminally stupid, so he doesn’t need to shut up and go away. So could people like Orrin Hatch shut up and go away, so they don’t tarnish the reputations of the many, many lovely old white dudes who aren’t going around saying stupid stuff?

  47. 47
    NotMax says:

    @MnemosyneCommon misconception. Roads were quite often built on the paths of extant trails of Native Americans (some of which had been in use for so long that they were a foot or more below surrounding grade). Navigable waterways were only readily so inland from the coast up to the first falls or rapids of any consequence and, of course, were subject to freezing, to drought and to flooding so were not necessarily reliable year round.

    The King’s Road (a/k/a Post Road, Old Post Road, King’s Highway) had been ordered built and maintained during the 1600s by the Crown to connect what were the major settlements between Boston and Charleston (approx. 1300 miles). In Pennsylvania, it was mandatory by law that a bridge capable of handling the heaviest of traffic be constructed over each body of water the road crossed. Pennypack Bridge in what is now Northeast Philadelphia, built in 1697, remains in service today.

    Trivia: Post houses sprung up along the highway every eight miles (more or less), as that was the distance horses could cover most efficaciously before it was deemed necessary to rest them or swap them out.

  48. 48
    Sloane Ranger says:


    Look at the history of Canada and consider what it’s like today.

    Look at the history of the USA and consider it’s socio-political state today.

    Now, ask yourself, is the American Revolution really something to celebrate?

    God save the King!

  49. 49
    Tony Jay says:

    To all the friends of American liberty be it known that this morning before break of day, a brigade, consisting of about 1,000 to 1,200 men landed at Phip’s Farm at Cambridge and marched to Lexington, where they found a company of our colony militia in arms, upon whom they fired without any provocation and killed six men and wounded four others.

    Loud raspberry noise

    “Oh yeah, we were just standing around peacefully bearing arms in rebellion against the legal government and those mean redcoats shot at us! That’s royal brutality right there. There aught’a be a law or something, or maybe an amendment.”

    Suck it up, historical snowflake. >s

  50. 50
    opiejeanne says:

    @Jager: One ggg great grandfather on my dad’s side was a Royalist (Loyalist if you’re Canadian) living in Stillwater, NY. John Freeman and his wife had 10 children. He took his oldest son Thomas and went north to find Burgoyne, to volunteer as guides as they searched for the American forces who were camped just below their farm. For a while this was known as the Battle of Freeman’s Farm but it’s now in the history books as the Battle of Saratoga. Burgoyne’s soldiers burned down Freeman’s house, and after Benedict Arnold led an unauthorized charge/rally that routed the English everyone decamped to Canada after promising to not take up arms against the Americans again.
    The Freeman family arrived in Quebec in January and by mid-February had all died of a contagion that was ravishing the area, all except three of the children two young adult women and Thomas. .

    Thomas is my great great great grandfather.

    The family moved to Ontario and my Irish great great grandfather married Thomas’s daughter. They had 12 sons, most of whom had moved to the US BY 1900. I found one fifth cousin, the same number of generations removed from my great greats, and I can tell you that some people in Canada are still damned mad about our Revolutionary War.

  51. 51
    opiejeanne says:

    @Tony Jay: Have you read about the nonsense with the flags and the flagpole outside a tavern in Boston? Sounds like 3rd graders on both sides.

  52. 52
    Steeplejack (phone) says:

    @Tony Jay:

    Was it an open-carry, “stand your ground” colony? That would be important to know.

  53. 53
    Tony Jay says:


    Exactly. Bomb-throwers and coat-holders spoiling things for the moderate majority who really just want to get on with their lives and enjoy a nice cuppa without worrying about some paunchy, lily-white ‘redskin’ shinning up a rope and playing ‘outcast hero of the oppressed upper middle-class’. The King should hear about this, he’d be livid(er)!

  54. 54
    Tony Jay says:

    @Steeplejack (phone):

    Uh hu. And ‘redcoats’? Isn’t that a gang colour? Open and shut case.

  55. 55
    opiejeanne says:

    @Tony Jay: It wasn’t about tea at all. It was the Stamp Tax.

  56. 56
    zhena gogolia says:

    @🌎 🇺🇸 Goku (aka Amerikan Baka) 🗳 🌷:

    Wow, me too this bleary morning.

  57. 57
    Ceci n est pas mon nym says:

    There’s a really good new Museum of the American Revolution here in Philly. At least for me, it did a really good job of bringing it to life and providing new information and perspective.

    One of the things that came alive for me was the size of the military response. That massive fleet sailing into Boston really was like watching a Death Star approach. They intended to crush the rebellion and for several months they pretty much did.

  58. 58
    zhena gogolia says:

    A lot of those towns Bissell rode through have played a part in my life. Really interesting.

  59. 59
    Catherine D. says:

    @Mike J:

    And Sybil Ludington was only 16 when she rode 40 miles to raise the militia.

  60. 60
    Sister Rail Gun of Warm Humanitarianism says:


    I guess I’m going to have to go to the historical society and find out why the monument in the graveyard next to the Arlington Library has a long list of names, but only some marked with an asterisk as “Patriots.” Unless anyone knows here.

    I’ll hazard a guess that it’s a Daughters of the American Revolution monument and the Patriots are the men with descendants among the membership.

    That’s a precise term in the DAR: your proven Patriot ancestor is listed in the Revolutionary Patriot Index.

  61. 61
    Eric S. says:

    I have a daily email of boring stats I send to management. A coupe months ago I took to including little factual nuggets. This post is all the research i need to do today. Thanks!

  62. 62
    efgoldman says:

    @Mike J:

    Sybil Ludington who should not be forgotten.

    Who is she? I forgot

    When I was a high school trumpet player, every April 19 I stood in front of the Edward Devotion house in Brookline and played the anthem while “Edward Dawes” (another of the non-Revere riders) and his ‘orse came by.

  63. 63
    MoxieM says:

    @Omnes Omnibus: Some day you should check out the restored Barrett farmhouse etc if you haven’t done so. It’s nifty. (they buried the brass cannon in the furrows of the freshly plowed fields, btw…hence, the Regulars couldn’t find ’em. Good going.)

    Me, I’m on the Lexington side of the Great PR War of 1836, since I am Lexington High class of ’76 (19..) Bicentennial, baby.

  64. 64
    MoxieM says:

    @Sister Rail Gun of Warm Humanitarianism: Just guessing that those are folks who were shot/bayonetted by the Regulars on the way back to Cambridge/Charlestown. And or they were members of the Militia. (As a former Admin of the Arlington Historical Society I really should know, but have blissfully forgotten… ). It is a spectacular graveyard, though, with some of the best carvings around (please don’t touch!)

    2 Fun Arlington Facts: (1) more casualties there than any other town on the 19th. Both sides were highly pissed off, scared and drunk by the time the Regulars skedaddled back through, and Arlington (East Cambridge/Menotomy as was) had been reinforced by militia from the north by then. Mrs. Jason Russell said there was blood up to her ankles in her kitchen when they laid out the dead/possible hyperbole. (Also new floor in there.)

    Also (2) One British (i.e., Regular) soldier wrote home that, “they were highly annoyed in a village called Anatomy”. My personal favorite quote of the war.

    This has been your Rev War Public Historian update of 2018. Thankyewverymuch.

  65. 65
    TenguPhule says:

    @Adam L Silverman:

    Just checking to make sure everyone’s paying attention.

    Wonderful trolling.

  66. 66
    TenguPhule says:

    @Adam L Silverman: Putin trying to send a message?

  67. 67

Comments are closed.