As I mentioned last week, while doing research for a subject we were discussing on the blog I do for the Payson Roundup Web site, I ran across some startling history. We talked about one slice of it last week. Here's another.
I grew up in New London, Conn., a small New England town where Nathan Hale taught school before he went off to war.
As I'm sure you know, Nathan Hale volunteered to carry a message for General Washington and was caught by the British and hanged as a spy in September 1776.
His last incredibly brave words were, "I only regret that I have but one life to give for my country."
I passed under those words on a small sign hanging by the side of the road every day as I walked to school, for Nathan Hale's tiny one-room schoolhouse is still standing there today, just four houses down the street from the house in which I grew from boyhood into manhood. To me, that little one-room schoolhouse was not just a monument to a great American patriot.
It was also a sad reminder of what happens to messengers caught between the lines during a war. So, when I came across an account of what happened after Paul Revere's famous midnight ride, I read it with growing misgiving.
After Revere finished his midnight gallop to Lexington, he turned toward Concord. On the road, he ran straight into four British officers concealed by the deep night shadows of a large tree.
They quickly charged up to him with their pistols in their hands, saying, "god d--- you, stop. If you go an inch further, you are a dead man."
Caught. Revere's famous ride was over. He was in the hands of the British.
Forced into a pasture, along with three other Americans on horseback, Revere had his bridle seized and a pistol put to his chest. He was ordered to dismount, which he did.
The officer in charge, a British Major, asked where he had come from and Revere, quite brazenly, told him the truth. When asked what time he left, Revere told the Major that as well.
The Major, perhaps curious how big a fish he had caught, asked, "Sir, may I crave your name?"
When Revere answered with his last name, the officer exclaimed, "What? Paul Revere?"
Even though the British bristled at the mention of his name, well known to them as that of an American rebel, Revere then, just as brazenly as before, told the British officers that he knew why they were there with their troops.
Furthermore, he told them, he had already alarmed the whole countryside that they were coming.
Placed back on his horse with a pistol-wielding British officer holding his reins, Revere was told, "We are now going toward your friends, and if you attempt to run, or we are insulted, we will blow your brains out."
Surrounded by 1,500 British troops on the march to Lexington, Revere was alternately threatened, insulted and called a "d---ed rebel."
Then, as they neared Lexington, the British Major heard a shot fired. He asked Revere what it was and Revere, as brazen as ever, told him it was fired to alarm the countryside.
At that point, the Major ordered the other three Americans, who were apparently just abroad that night on ordinary business, to be released, although he did take the precaution of having their bridles and saddles cut off. He did not, however, release his prize captive.
A little farther on, more rifle fire was heard.
Hearing it, the Major ordered a sergeant to ride Revere's horse because Revere would have no further need of it.
But then there occurred a turn of events that I find absolutely amazing.
Whether out of concern over the sound of rifle fire, or because he was caught up in the confusion of a dramatic moment of history, the British Major gave no further orders regarding Paul Revere. He seems to have either lost track of his prisoner or to have simply lost interest in him.
And Paul Revere, a rebel caught carrying a message concerning a military movement, simply walked away.
And here's the best part: Where did Paul Revere go? Well, if it had been me, I'd have made tracks out of the general area as fast as my feet would carry me.
But not Paul Revere. He went straight back to the meeting house where he had warned Adams and Hancock of the British approach a short time earlier. And so, he was present when the "shot heard round the world" was fired.
Listen to him tell about it in his own words, and using his own, sometimes rather original, spellings: "I had to go across road, but I had not got half gunshot off when the Ministeral Troops appeared in sight behinde the meeting house. They made a short halt, when a gun was fired. I heard the report, turned my head and saw the smoake in front of the troops. They imeaditly gave a great shout, ran a few paces, and then the whole fired. I could first distinguish irregular fireing, which I suppose was the advance guard, and then platoons. At the time, I could not see our militia, for they were covered from me by a house at the bottom of the road, and further sayeth not."