William Dawes
William Dawes, Jr. was one of several men and a woman who alerted colonial minutemen of the approach of British army
British Army
The British Army is the land warfare branch of Her Majesty's Armed Forces in the United Kingdom. It came into being with the unification of the Kingdom of England and Scotland into the Kingdom of Great Britain in 1707. The new British Army incorporated Regiments that had already existed in England...

 troops prior to the Battle of Lexington and Concord at the outset of the American Revolution
American Revolution
The American Revolution was the political upheaval during the last half of the 18th century in which thirteen colonies in North America joined together to break free from the British Empire, combining to become the United States of America...


Early life

Dawes was born in Boston, Massachusetts on April 6, 1745, to William and Lydia Dawes (née
NEE is a political protest group whose goal was to provide an alternative for voters who are unhappy with all political parties at hand in Belgium, where voting is compulsory.The NEE party was founded in 2005 in Antwerp...

 Boone), and baptised at Boston's Old South Church. He became a tanner
Tanning is the making of leather from the skins of animals which does not easily decompose. Traditionally, tanning used tannin, an acidic chemical compound from which the tanning process draws its name . Coloring may occur during tanning...

 and was active in Boston's militia. On May 3, 1768 Dawes married Mehitable May, the daughter of Samuel and Catherine May (née Mears). The Boston Gazette
Boston Gazette
The Boston Gazette was a newspaper published in Boston, Massachusetts, in the British North American colonies. It began publication December 21, 1719 and appeared weekly.-Brief history:...

noted that for his wedding he wore a suit entirely made in North America; at the time, Whigs
Radical Whigs
The Radical Whigs were "a group of British political commentators" associated with the British Whig faction who were at the forefront of Radicalism...

 were trying to organize a boycott of British products to pressure Parliament
Parliament of Great Britain
The Parliament of Great Britain was formed in 1707 following the ratification of the Acts of Union by both the Parliament of England and Parliament of Scotland...

 into repealing the Townshend Acts
Townshend Acts
The Townshend Acts were a series of laws passed beginning in 1767 by the Parliament of Great Britain relating to the British colonies in North America. The acts are named after Charles Townshend, the Chancellor of the Exchequer, who proposed the program...


Role in Boston's militia

It is likely that in September 1774, Dawes was instrumental in helping Boston's militia artillery company secure its four small cannons from British army control. The Massachusetts
The Commonwealth of Massachusetts is a state in the New England region of the northeastern United States of America. It is bordered by Rhode Island and Connecticut to the south, New York to the west, and Vermont and New Hampshire to the north; at its east lies the Atlantic Ocean. As of the 2010...

 Provincial Congress
Provincial Congress
"Provincial Congress" can refer to one of several extra-legal legislative bodies established in some of the Thirteen Colonies early in the American Revolution...

 certainly sent word to him in February 1775 that it was time to move two of those weapons out of Boston.

Midnight ride

Dawes was assigned by Doctor Joseph Warren
Joseph Warren
Dr. Joseph Warren was an American doctor who played a leading role in American Patriot organizations in Boston in early days of the American Revolution, eventually serving as president of the revolutionary Massachusetts Provincial Congress...

 to ride from Boston, Massachusetts, to Lexington
Lexington, Massachusetts
Lexington is a town in Middlesex County, Massachusetts, United States. The population was 31,399 at the 2010 census. This town is famous for being the site of the first shot of the American Revolution, in the Battle of Lexington on April 19, 1775.- History :...

 on the night of April 18, 1775, when it became clear that a British column was going to march into the countryside. Dawes's mission was to warn John Hancock
John Hancock
John Hancock was a merchant, statesman, and prominent Patriot of the American Revolution. He served as president of the Second Continental Congress and was the first and third Governor of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts...

 and Samuel Adams
Samuel Adams
Samuel Adams was an American statesman, political philosopher, and one of the Founding Fathers of the United States. As a politician in colonial Massachusetts, Adams was a leader of the movement that became the American Revolution, and was one of the architects of the principles of American...

 that they were in danger of arrest. Dawes took the land route out of Boston through the Boston Neck
Boston Neck
The Boston Neck or Roxbury Neck was an isthmus, a narrow strip of land connecting the then-peninsular city of Boston to the mainland city of Roxbury . The surrounding area was gradually filled in as the city of Boston expanded in population. -History:The Boston Neck was originally about wide at...

, leaving just before the military sealed off the town.

Also acting under Dr. Warren, Paul Revere
Paul Revere
Paul Revere was an American silversmith and a patriot in the American Revolution. He is most famous for alerting Colonial militia of approaching British forces before the battles of Lexington and Concord, as dramatized in Henry Wadsworth Longfellow's poem, Paul Revere's Ride...

 arranged for another rider waiting across the Charles River in Charlestown to be told of the army's route with lanterns hung in Old North Church
Old North Church
Old North Church , at 193 Salem Street, in the North End of Boston, is the location from which the famous "One if by land, and two if by sea" signal is said to have been sent...

. To be certain the message would get through, Revere rowed across the river and started riding westwards himself. Later, Henry Wadsworth Longfellow
Henry Wadsworth Longfellow
Henry Wadsworth Longfellow was an American poet and educator whose works include "Paul Revere's Ride", The Song of Hiawatha, and Evangeline...

's historically inaccurate poem "Paul Revere's Ride
Paul Revere's Ride (poem)
"Paul Revere's Ride" is a poem by an American poet Henry Wadsworth Longfellow that commemorates the actions of American patriot Paul Revere on April 18, 1775.-Overview:...

" would focus entirely on Revere, making him a composite of many alarm riders that night.

Dawes and Revere arrived at the Hancock-Clarke House
Hancock-Clarke House
The Hancock-Clarke House is a historic American Revolutionary War site on Hancock Street in Lexington, Massachusetts. It played a prominent role in the Battle of Lexington and Concord as both John Hancock and Samuel Adams, leaders of the colonials, were staying in the house before the battle. The...

 in Lexington about the same time, shortly after midnight. In fact, Revere arrived slightly earlier, despite having stopped to speak to militia officers in towns along the way, as his route was shorter and his horse faster. After warning Adams and Hancock to leave, Revere and Dawes chose to proceed to Concord
Concord, Massachusetts
Concord is a town in Middlesex County, Massachusetts, in the United States. As of the 2010 census, the town population was 17,668. Although a small town, Concord is noted for its leading roles in American history and literature.-History:...

 in case that was the British column's goal. Revere no doubt knew that the Provincial Congress had stored munitions there, including the cannon Dawes had helped to secure. Along the way, the two men met Samuel Prescott
Samuel Prescott
Samuel Prescott was a Massachusetts Patriot during the American Revolutionary War. He is best remembered for his role in the "midnight ride" to warn the townspeople of Concord of the impending British army move to capture military stores kept there at the beginning of the American Revolution...

, a local young physician, who joined them.

A squad of mounted British officers awaited on the road between Lexington and Concord. They had already arrested some riders heading west with news of the troops, and they called for Dawes, Revere, and Prescott to halt. The three men rode in different directions, hoping one would escape. Dawes, according to the story he told his children, rode into the yard of a house shouting that he had lured two officers there. Fearing an ambush, the officers stopped chasing him. Dawes's horse bucked him off, however, and he had to walk back to Lexington. He later said that in the morning he returned to the same yard and found the watch that had fallen from his pocket. Otherwise, Dawes's activity during the Battle of Lexington and Concord remains unknown.

Dawes and his companions' warnings allowed the town militias to muster a sufficient force for the first open battle of the Revolutionary War and the first colonial victory. The British troops did not find most of the weapons they had marched to destroy, and sustained serious losses during their retreat to Boston while under attack by the colonists.


During the war, Dawes worked as a quartermaster in central Massachusetts. British POWs from the Battle of Saratoga
Battle of Saratoga
The Battles of Saratoga conclusively decided the fate of British General John Burgoyne's army in the American War of Independence and are generally regarded as a turning point in the war. The battles were fought eighteen days apart on the same ground, south of Saratoga, New York...

 complained to Parliament
Parliament of Great Britain
The Parliament of Great Britain was formed in 1707 following the ratification of the Acts of Union by both the Parliament of England and Parliament of Scotland...

 that he gave them short supplies; his family countered that Dawes believed that they were stealing from farmers while being marched to Boston – as most armies on the march were prone to do.

Later life

Dawes refused to join a punitive expedition against Indians ordered by Governor Phillip in December 1790.

His wife died in 1793. Dawes died in Marlborough, Massachusetts
Marlborough, Massachusetts
Marlborough is a city in Middlesex County, Massachusetts, United States. The population was 38,499 at the 2010 census. Marlborough became a prosperous industrial town in the 19th century and made the transition to high technology industry in the late 20th century after the construction of the...

 on February 25, 1799. He is believed to have been buried in the King's Chapel Burying Ground
King's Chapel Burying Ground
King's Chapel Burying Ground is a historic cemetery at King's Chapel on Tremont Street in Boston, Massachusetts. It is the oldest cemetery in the city and is a site on the Freedom Trail....

, though his remains may have been moved to his wife's family plot in Forest Hills Cemetery
Forest Hills Cemetery
Forest Hills Cemetery is a historic cemetery, greenspace, arboretum and sculpture garden located in the Forest Hills section of the Jamaica Plain neighborhood of Boston, Massachusetts. The cemetery was designed in 1848.-Overview:...

 in Jamaica Plain.

His great-great-grandson, Charles Gates Dawes, would serve as Vice President of the United States
Vice President of the United States
The Vice President of the United States is the holder of a public office created by the United States Constitution. The Vice President, together with the President of the United States, is indirectly elected by the people, through the Electoral College, to a four-year term...



The poem by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow
Henry Wadsworth Longfellow
Henry Wadsworth Longfellow was an American poet and educator whose works include "Paul Revere's Ride", The Song of Hiawatha, and Evangeline...

, "Paul Revere's Ride
Paul Revere's Ride (poem)
"Paul Revere's Ride" is a poem by an American poet Henry Wadsworth Longfellow that commemorates the actions of American patriot Paul Revere on April 18, 1775.-Overview:...

", has been criticized by modern historians for overstating the role of Revere in the night's events. Revere's may have been a better story, as Dawes and Prescott were more successful in achieving their missions. In 1896 Helen F. Moore, dismayed that William Dawes had been forgotten, penned a parody of Longfellow's poem.

The difference in Revere's and Dawes's achievement and legacy is examined by Malcolm Gladwell
Malcolm Gladwell
Malcolm Gladwell, CM is a Canadian journalist, bestselling author, and speaker. He is currently based in New York City and has been a staff writer for The New Yorker since 1996...

 in his book The Tipping Point
The Tipping Point
The Tipping Point: How Little Things Can Make a Big Difference is a book by Malcolm Gladwell, first published by Little Brown in 2000....

, where he concludes that Revere would be classified as a connector whereas Dawes was an "ordinary man."

Dawes's ride is commemorated on a traffic island in Cambridge, Massachusetts
Cambridge, Massachusetts
Cambridge is a city in Middlesex County, Massachusetts, United States, in the Greater Boston area. It was named in honor of the University of Cambridge in England, an important center of the Puritan theology embraced by the town's founders. Cambridge is home to two of the world's most prominent...

 heavily travelled by pedestrians, at the intersection of Garden Street and Massachusetts Avenue
Massachusetts Avenue (Boston)
Massachusetts Avenue, known to locals as Mass Ave, is a major thoroughfare in Boston, Massachusetts, and several cities and towns northwest of Boston...

 in Harvard Square
Harvard Square
Harvard Square is a large triangular area in the center of Cambridge, Massachusetts, United States, at the intersection of Massachusetts Avenue, Brattle Street, and John F. Kennedy Street. It is the historic center of Cambridge...

, and known as Dawes Island. Dawes's passage through the area is represented by bronze horseshoes embedded in the sidewalk, as hoofprints, accompanied by an inscription giving his name and the date (inaccurately stated as April 19, 1775), and by historical displays.

External links

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