Brother William Dawes and Samuel Prescott – Footnotes of History

Richard H. Ryder, 2017

In February I presented an article entitled M.W. Paul Revere – Maven and Connector.  With the celebration of Patriot’s Day in Massachusetts earlier this month it is appropriate to learn more about two of Revere’s riding companions, Brother William Dawes and Samuel Prescott.

William Dawes was a Freemason, who, like Revere, deserves to be recognized by all Masons for spreading the alarm on April 18, 1775.  But, it would be an injustice of history if we only recognized these two Masonic Brothers, for the story is not complete without mentioning a third principle player, Samuel Prescott.  As such, although the focus of this article is on Brother Dawes, we must also shine a light on Prescott.

For William Dawes and Samuel Prescott, Henry Wadsworth Longfellow’s poem “The Midnight Ride of Paul Revere” was like putting them into the witness protection program of history.  If Revere ever sought a marketing executive to push his brand and squash the competition, Longfellow was the right guy for the job. What started out as a motivational piece for Northerners as the nation slipped into civil war, became a miscarriage of history for these two American patriots.

First published in The Atlantic in January 1861, this patriotic poem spread quickly throughout the North.  It inspired action during a tumultuous time and demonstrating what one man could do to make a difference during a time of national peril.  However, it was filled with historical inaccuracies, not through ignorance, but as a result of Longfellow’s personal interpretation of events.  In today’s jargon one might refer to it as 19th century fake news.  So, what about the other two players during this famous night in American History?  Before providing some lesser known details of their historic roles, let’s take a quick look at them as individuals.

William Dawes

Brother William Dawes was born April 6, 1745 and resided in Boston with his 11 siblings.  Twice married and a Boston tanner, he was a member of the Ancient and Honorable Artillery Company, which still exists today.  In addition to being a Freemason, Dawes was a member of the Sons of Liberty, originally formed to protest the Stamp Act of 1765.

Dawes also was instrumental in riding across the colony recruiting for the cause against Britain, a skill that may have served him well on that April night in 1775.  David Hackett Fischer, in his book, Paul Revere’s Ride, states “…because his business often took him through the British checkpoint on Boston Neck, as a consequence, the guard knew him”. It was across this sliver of Boston that Dawes rode that fateful night to warn Bay Colony citizens of the marching Regulars. On February 25, 1799, William Dawes died. Although his exact burial location is not known, it is believed he is interred in his wife’s family plot at Forest Hills Cemetery in Jamaica Plain, Massachusetts.  If so, he is literally steps away from fellow patriot and Brother, M.W. Joseph Warren.

Samuel Prescott

Samuel Prescott was born on August 19, 1751 in Concord, Massachusetts and into the locally famous Prescott family.  Like his brother, Benjamin, Samuel apprenticed seven years under his physician father, Abel, but then lived a relatively quiet life as a doctor. He was a surgeon in the Continental Army. Then, as a privateer, Prescott was captured by the Royal Navy, held prisoner in Halifax and died there in 1777. Had it not been for his happenstance involvement on the night of April 18, 1775, we may not be as aware of his life in colonial Concord.

April 18-19, 1775

Both Revere and Dawes were dispatched by Joseph Warren to spread the alarm that “The regulars are coming”.  According to Hackett, Revere’s specific mission was to warn Samuel Adams and John Hancock of the British Army’s movement and only secondarily that the real goal of the troop movement was to secure the local military stores in Concord.  Revere traveled by boat to Charlestown, while Dawes traveled over Boston Neck.  Their destination was Clarkes Tavern in Lexington, where Adams and Hancock were staying the night.  Revere arrived at midnight; Dawes arrived a half hour later.  During a conversation with others it was determined that Adams and Hancock were not the true mission of the Regular’s movement, but rather the military supplies in Concord. So, still tired from their ride, off they went to warn the citizens of Concord.

About 1:00 am on April 19 while on route to Concord, they were overtaken by a young doctor, Samuel Prescott. He had just left the company of Miss Lydia Mulliken, whom he was then courting.  Being extremely familiar with the countryside and not as fatigued as Revere and Dawes, Prescott agreed to help spread the alarm. Two miles out in Lincoln, Dawes and Prescott rode away from Revere, at which time Revere was confronted by four British Regulars.  Coming back to Revere’s aid Dawes and Prescott were embroiled in the confrontation.  Prescott, less tired and with a fresh horse, easily eluded capture and rode into the familiar countryside and, as an accidental participant, proceeded to spread the alarm through Lincoln, Concord, and Acton. Dawes also escaped, but was soon thrown from his horse, limping back to Lexington and most likely satisfied that he completed his mission.  Revere was escorted toward Lexington, but was eventually released after the gun fire there made the captors concerned for their safety.

The events of that April morning are well documented, with Brother William Dawes and Samuel Prescott receiving the recognition they deserve for their contributions.  Together they joined Revere in birthing this proud nation and all Americans should be indebted to them for their service.

Source: Paul Revere’s Ride, by David Hackett Fischer