Paul Revere warned the British -- about warning the Colonists. Does that make Sarah Palin right?

Los Angeles Times Staff Writer

Listen readers and you shall hear conflicting accounts of the ride of Paul Revere.

Since Sarah Palin’s somewhat tortured remarks last week about Revere’s famous midnight ride -- and her subsequent refusal Sunday to back down from her interpretation of the events of that April evening in 1775 -- a debate has sprung up on the Web as to whether Revere really was out to warn British troops about colonial militia firepower (and perhaps, whether he rang any bells in the process).

In response to a question, Palin told a local TV station that the silversmith rode that night to warn the “the British that they weren’t going to be taking away our arms, by ringing those bells and by making sure that as he’s riding his horse through town to send those warning shots and bells that we were going to be secure and we were going to be free … and we were going to be armed.”

Sunday, while interviewed on Fox News Channel, Palin backed up her version. “I know my American history,” she said, arguing that “part of his ride was to warn the British, that were already there, that, ‘Hey, you’re not going to succeed. You’re not going to take American arms. You are not going to beat our own well-armed persons, individual private militia that we have.’ He did warn the British.”


Since then, as reported in Slate and Politico, among other sources, a battle has erupted on Wikipedia, where Palin’s supporters seemingly have been trying to edit the Paul Revere entry to be more in line with Palin’s defense of her remarks.

Part of the logic of the Palinian argument blowing up on Wikipedia is that most residents of the Colonies at the time considered themselves British, so that Revere was, by going house to house warning about advancing royal troops, “warning the British.”

At the heart of the debate on the reference site is whether Palin herself can be used as a reliable source of historical information, particularly the question as to whether Revere ever rang any bells. For example, at least one user attempted to add a line concerning bell-ringing based on the account of an “influential U.S. politician.”

A letter written by Revere can be read online at the site of the Massachusetts Historical Society, and it provides some insight into the episode later made famous by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow. In the letter, which Revere wrote in 1798, he said he set out from Boston and worked to evade some British officers. Revere, according to the historical record, was trying to be stealthy, so as not to attract British attention.


Later, however, after warning about 100 houses, Revere was captured by British officers. One put a pistol to his head and asked Revere what he knew.

“He demanded what time I left Boston? I told him; and aded, that their troops had catched aground in passing the River, and that There would be five hundred Americans there in a short time, for I had alarmed the Country all the way up,” Revere wrote.

So was Revere warning the British that he had warned the Colonists? Is that what the prospective presidential candidate meant? Was Revere serving notice (at gunpoint)?

Here’s what the whole flap really means. Anything Sarah Palin says continues to be seized on by all sides, particularly if it provides fuel to her detractors. And anytime that happens, her passionate supporters will rise to defend her. If last week’s bus tour was any indication, then if Palin does run for president, this will happen again. And again. And again. And again.

One would expect Palin to know her Paul Revere history, by the way. He was an original tea partier, after all. The most positive result out of all of this: She has had a lot of people brushing up on stories they probably last heard in elementary school.

Here’s the original video, which has gotten around much faster than poor Paul Revere ever did on that night.