By 1775, the situation in the American colonies had become critical for Great Britain. The colonies were on the verge of open rebellion. And in Massachusetts, things were the worst. Massachusetts Bay Colony, and especially the city of Boston, was full of hotheads. They had already caused many acts that were leading to what would become the American Revolution.

The British had long grown weary of the Massachusetts Bay Colony. Massachusetts had been the scene of many acts of defiance among them the Boston Tea Party and the Boston Massacre. A general disdain for the British Army (redcoats), who were occupying Boston, prevailed. Additionally, many townspeople had been forced to house British soldiers.

The Colonists Prepare for a Revolution

In mid-to-late April 1775, the British learned that the colonial militias were stockpiling arms and ammunition for rebellion. Thus, they sent a column of about 400 regulars to Concord on the night of 18 April to destroy the cache.

During this period, the Boston Committee of Correspondence and the Massachusetts Committee of Safety were employing several express riders as couriers for secret messages and correspondence delivered as far away as New York and Philadelphia. Paul Revere and William Dawes were among those employed. 

On the evening of April 18, 1775, Dr. Joseph Warren of Boston, the leading member of the Sons of Liberty, summoned Revere and tasked him to ride to Lexington, Massachusetts. He was to deliver the news that British regulars were about to march into the countryside northwest of Boston. Warren would later die during the Battle of Bunker (Breed’s) Hill. 

According to Warren, the British troops planned to move through Lexington, and continue on to the town of Concord, to capture or destroy military stores, gunpowder, ammunition, and several cannon that had been stockpiled there. 

John Hancock and Samuel Adams, two of the most strident members of the Sons of Liberty, were hiding from the British in Lexington. Upon hearing the news they fled to the nearby town of Woburn.

“One if by Land, Two if by Sea”

Revere contacted Robert Newman, the sexton of Christ Church in Boston’s North End. He instructed him to show lanterns in the tower of the Old North Church as a signal in case Revere was unable to leave town. Two lanterns meant that the British troops planned to row “by sea” across the Charles River to Cambridge. One lantern if they planned to march “by land” out Boston Neck.