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From Rachel to Paul: Revere letter part of Clements Library exhibit

View Rachel Revere's complete letter to Paul>

Having learned of British General Thomas Gage's plans for a midnight raid to surprise and seize the weapons of rebel colonists in Lexington, Mass., silversmith Paul Revere borrowed a horse and rode off into the night April 18, 1775. His mission: warn patriot leaders John Hancock and Samuel Adams of the impending attack.

Today, wife Rachel Revere might press speed dial on a cell phone to warn her husband that authorities were on to him, and that it would be dangerous to return to their north Boston home. Instead, she wrote him a wax-sealed letter, which was intercepted by Gage. It now resides at the William L. Clements Library, among first-person accounts of the pre-battle action from the general's personal records.

The letter is part of the Clements' exhibit, "Spy Letters of the American Revolution."

Once housed in several large wooden chests, one of which also resides at the Clements, the records are bound in leather folios. They were purchased in 1929 by William Clements from the Gage family and subsequently purchased in 1937 from the Clements' estate by the U-M Library.

Revere already was well known to the British for his insurgent activities. Concerned that her husband would be stranded away from home with no means of feeding himself or the horse, Rachel sent prayers and 125 pounds in British currency, entrusting it to Benjamin Church for delivery to her husband. Church was a member of the Provincial Congress of Massachusetts and the surgeon general of George Washington's troops and seemed able to pass through British lines.
A letter from Rachel Revere to Paul Revere is part of the Clements Library exhibit, 'Spy Letters of the American Revolution.' The letter, which included currency of 125 pounds, was intercepted by a British general and never made it to Paul. (Photo courtesy William M. Clements Library)

Unfortunately for Rachel, Dr. Church also was a spy for the British. So, instead of conveying the letter to Revere, Church handed it over to Gage. History gives no mention of Rachel's cash, and it is presumed that either Gage or Church kept the 125 pounds.

Rachel wrote:

"My Dear, by Doctor Church I send a hundred & twenty-five pounds & beg you will take the best care of yourself and not attempt coming into this towne again & if I have an opportunity of coming or sending out anything or any of the Children I shall do it. Pray keep up your spirits & trust your self & us in the hands of a good God who will take care of us. Tis all my Dependence, for vain is the help of man. Aduie my Love from your affectionate R. Revere."

After delivering his message to rebel leaders, Revere continued to Concord intent on warning citizens along the way. The unarmed Revere was captured on the Concord Road and questioned by 10 British Regulars. In their haste to join the impending fray at Concord, the British officers decided to release him.

Though it partially was foiled, Paul Revere's ride brought 130 Minutemen to meet the British troops before they entered Concord. The patriots were outnumbered and began to disperse when the British fired a shot starting a skirmish that left eight colonists dead and 10 wounded.

The origin of the initial shot at Lexington that began the war for independence still is disputed. "Clements has depositions saying the Brits started it," says John Dann, director of the Clements Library. "But there is a letter from a Brit at the scene at Lexington that describes how the Americans fired the first shot."

Perhaps who shot first never will be known, but Dann has a theory. "Eyewitness accounts from both sides report that the British and American troops were ordered not to fire," Dann says. "But it was so noisy and the troops so nervous that they most likely heard only one word of the order and that was 'Fire'," he said.

To view Rachel's letter to Paul visit:

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