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As most Mainers should know, this is the 200th anniversary of the birth of the great American poet Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, who was born and raised right there in Portland.
I've always enjoyed Mr. Longfellow's poems, but as a teller of stories I've also appreciated his storyteller-like use of history. For the confused among you, let me explain. Despite what is strongly implied in Longfellow's famous poem "Paul Revere's Ride," history claims that Paul Revere never made the historical trek to Concord, Mass., to warn its citizens that the British were coming. According to the facts he never made it any further than Lexington before he was detained by the British. Further, even if he had gotten as far as Concord he would not have said, as the poem says, “The British are coming,” since everyone in both Lexington and Concord and all the rest of the Colonies, considered themselves British. It's more likely he would have said something less poetic like, “The regular troops are coming.”
According to historical records: on the evening of the 18th of April in 1775, silversmith Paul Revere, a cobbler named William Dawes and a doctor named Samuel Prescott were all heading toward Concord to warn the citizens about the movement of British troops toward their town. The three riders must have looked suspicious because after being spotted by a British patrol Revere was captured and detained. Dawes managed to avoid capture but instead of going on to Concord he high-tailed it back to Lexington. It was the unsung hero Dr. Prescott who actually completed the mission by riding on to Concord and warning the citizens that the Red Coats, or “regulars” were coming.
My point here is, when Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, one of America's greatest poets, played a little fast and loose with the facts of a great historic event, he gave storytellers everywhere permission to do the same with whatever story they happened to be telling. And storytellers like me have been using that permission ever since.
When Longfellow sat down to immortalize the events of that night in 1775 in verse he chose to celebrate Paul Revere with his now famous opening stanza because even for the gifted Longfellow, ‘Revere” was easier to rhyme with words like “hear” and “year” than Prescott. And so he wrote:
“Listen my children and you shall hear of the midnight ride of Paul Revere”
I know we can never hope to match Longfellow, but don't you think it's about time we at least tried to celebrate the heroic Dr. Dawes in rhyme? Toward that end I've scribbled a few lines to get us started. Please send along whatever lines you might come up with.
"It's 2007, don't you think it's about time to honor the man whose name didn't rhyme?
It's time Americans said 'thanks a lot,' to unsung hero Sam Prescott.
Oh, and in case you're wondering, Paul Revere was released by the British the next morning after enjoying what we assume was a free Continental breakfast, but he was forced to walk back to Lexington to get his horse, since hitchhiking then, as now, was discouraged.
John McDonald is a humorist and storyteller who performs regularly
throughout New England. John’s e-mail address is
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