Midnight Ride Redux:
by Paul Bacon
The legendary ride of Paul Revere has been the subject of endless historical debate, but little is known about the man who actually made the ride, a Spanish horseman named Pablo Rivera.
A native of Spain's Andalusia region, Rivera came to America in 1756 to protect his nation's interests in the New World. When the British won control of the Florida peninsula seven years later, Rivera put down his musket and moved to South Carolina to begin a new life as a horse breeder. He found the lazy Southern lifestyle quite agreeable, but all too often the swarthy Spaniard was mistaken for an Indian.
Rivera narrowly escaped the gallows--using what would later be known as the "underground railroad"--and moved to Boston. There, he hoped to find a wealthy, educated metropolis where he could live his dream of importing the fine horses of Andalusia. Instead, he found a depressed economy and a population twice as provincial as the one he had left behind.
Further confounding his goal, the British had closed the city's bustling sea port after American colonists dumped a shipment of tea into the harbor. While Rivera was a coffee man himself, he could see that the growing strife between the crown and its subjects was putting a serious damper on international trade.
Rivera had resolved not to return to Spain until he had made a name for himself in the New World, so he decided to settle down in Boston while he re-charted his path to success. Work was hard to find in the struggling Puritan community, especially for a man who not only looked like an Indian but also spoke with a Catholic accent. He would have been content mucking stalls at a stable in the countryside, but he wouldn't step foot outside of Boston for fear of being lynched. Confined to the oddly shaped spit of land dangling off the Massachusetts coast, Rivera eked out a living mucking stalls at a local brothel.
One evening, he was called to break up a noisy fight between two drunken leaders of the secret Yankee militia. The dame of the house implored Rivera to end the fisticuffs before the patrolling British troops found out, for they would surely demand free services in exchange for their discretion. Rivera bolted up the stairs to the room where the men were quarreling and pried apart the two Sons of Liberty, John Hancock and Paul Revere.
Hancock wobbled slightly as he rose to his feet, leaving Revere in a fetal position on the floor. Touching his fingers to his lips, Hancock pulled away a string of bloody saliva and whipped it at Revere in disgust. After Hancock stomped out of the room, Rivera knelt down over Revere and asked him if he was all right.
Revere looked up at Rivera with crossed eyes and said, "Are you an angel?"
"No, senor," replied Rivera, "I am a Spaniard."
Despite Revere's embarrassment over the circumstances that brought them together, or perhaps because of it, he offered Rivera an apprentice job in his silversmith shop. They worked well together, and Rivera benefited immensely from his boss's social connections. Revere often brought him along as he hawked his wares in the countryside, allowing the foreigner priceless face time with the otherwise hostile rustics who command great stables of horses. Their working relationship seemed ideal, but Rivera quickly learned a number of unpleasant truths about his employer.
First, Revere was deep in debt. Although he was a skilled artisan, there was little demand for his specialized services in the sagging economy. The silversmith often drummed up events, inciting riots such as the Boston Massacre, in order to create a commemorative bowl or engraving that he could sell at an inflated price.
Second, Revere's reputation as a gentleman occupied his every waking moment. The uneducated son of another failed artisan, Revere displayed an almost masochistic compulsion to obtain the stature of Benjamin Franklin and John Adams. He wrote long-winded, jingoistic diatribes about the destiny of the American people, leaning on his friends in the printing business to publish his "Weekly Magnum Opus."
Lastly, Revere was jealous of his underling's popularity among Boston's fairer sex. He once accused Rivera of trying to seduce his wife, which was a ludicrous complaint given that Mrs. Revere possessed the homely physique of a woman who had born 16 children.
Rivera would come to understand his boss' suspicious nature as the by-product of his own guilt. For years, Revere had maintained an extramarital affair with a young widow in Cobble Hill named Abigail Gubbins. The wife of fallen Lieutenant Gibbens Gubbins of the French and Indian War, Abigail was actually sleeping with a number of men from town. Since it was considered blasphemous for a widow to remarry, she entertained herself by entertaining many of the nation's leading patriots. She was forthcoming about her social life with all of her liaisons, and they generally didn't mind. It was only Revere who never seemed to accept the nature of their relationship.
Rivera first met Mrs. Gubbins after returning from the Portsmouth Alarm, in which he and Revere had ridden all the way to New Hampshire to warn that the British were coming to seize the gun powder supplies of Fort William and Mary. On their way back to Boston, Revere insisted they make a quick detour to Cobble Hill and check up on Mrs. Gubbins.
When the widow greeted them at her door of her palatial estate, Revere said, "Good evening ma'am. There's been quite a toss-up in Portsmouth. We've just come to see you're all right."
"Portsmouth?" replied Mrs. Gubbins. "But that's sixty miles away. Yes, I'm fine."
Mrs. Gubbins then took her first long look at Rivera and lost her air of annoyance. "Well," she said to the turgid, handsome young buck, "That's sixty miles isn't it? You must be exhausted. Please come in and rest."
After allowing Rivera into her foyer, Mrs. Gubbins stood squarely in the doorway and told Revere, "I'm sorry you can't stay, but I understand. Mrs. Revere must be worried sick."
The next day, Rivera returned to work to find his boss cold and aloof. Moments later, a group of British Regulars arrived and charged Rivera with treason for sounding the Portsmouth Alarm. He spent the winter in a cold, damp British jailhouse on King Street, but when he was brought to trial in April, no witnesses appeared to testify against him, and he was set free.
With no job and nowhere to live, Rivera returned to the Salutation, the brothel where he was working when he met Paul Revere. There, he was handed a seven-page letter that his boss had left for him that morning:
So sorry that you had to go to jail in my stead. It was nothing personal, and I assure you it had nothing whatsoever to do with Mrs. Gubbins. The British were getting wise to our System of Alarms, and I thought if I declared you the man behind it all, I could throw them off my trail. Alas, this plan was not in the least bit successful. The Regulars track my movements more closely than ever, but your detention shall not have been in vain! You are extremely valuable to the Cause my dearest friend, because the British could only suspect you detest me with every fiber of your being. But they are sorely mistaken, aren't they?
"But, I digress. I now beseech you as a Lover of Liberty to immediately embark upon an errand of the gravest importance to America, a glorious Nation that will soon stretch as far west as the Mississippi River, and one day construct a fleet of airborne ships to colonize the Moon and its great Reservoirs of Cheese. The French are our allies now, but they are a fickle race of motherless Cheese-hoarding degenerates who . . . "
Rivera had long since lost his faith in Revere, but he could not deny their common goal of American independence. He suffered through five more digressive pages to get to his orders. As Revere explained it, the Yankees had known for weeks that the British were secretly planning to seize the munitions store at Concord, the largest cache of armaments in the northern colonies. The exact timing of the march had remained a mystery until an informant within the British garrison had leaked word that it would take place that very night.
Revere had been tasked with spreading the word beforehand, which he had done, in his words, "with stunning dispatch and utter completeness...except for one small detail." The British were certain to close the one road out of Boston on the night of the raid, so Revere devised an alternate method of alarming the countryside. The one detail that Revere had neglected was actually informing his counterparts on the mainland what that method would be.
According to Revere, secrecy was paramount, so he had engraved his scheme on the bottom of a silver bowl that he planned to deliver to his contact in Charlestown at the earliest opportunity. Unfortunately, he had to check up on Mrs. Gubbins during his delivery, and when she refused to receive him, he "accidentally" threw the bowl through her front window. In his frustration, he forgot to retrieve the bowl before storming away from the widow's estate, and the message never reached its destination.
Rivera shook his head and tossed the letter in the fireplace. Unable to persuade any of the brothel's patrons to lend him a horse, he attempted to make it to Cobble Hill on foot. Contrary to Revere's prediction, the British Regulars guarding the road out of town turned him back as a Yankee agent, nearly running him through with a bayonet.
So, Rivera swam across the channel, arriving at Mrs. Gubbins' estate just after sunset. The widow greeted him at the door in a scandalous frock that revealed her ankles and invited him upstairs. When Rivera confessed that he had only come for the bowl, Mrs. Gubbins told him he could find it in the outhouse.
After locating the bowl and emptying its contents, Rivera turned it upside-down and read the inscription: "One if by land, two if by sea."
Taking no time to interpret the cryptic message, Rivera borrowed one of Mrs. Gubbins' horses and bolted for Charlestown to give the vessel to its intended recipient, Colonel William Conant of the Whig Committee of Safety. Rivera found Colonel Conant on his balcony, discussing with a group of militia leaders the awful specter of British ships sailing toward them across the channel.
Before Rivera could hand over the bowl, Paul Revere burst onto the balcony, looking pale and winded. He snatched the vessel out of Rivera's hands and presented the inscription to Colonel Conant.
"What the hell does this mean?" barked the Colonel.
Revere proudly explained that he had two lanterns placed in the steeple of Boston's Old North Church to warn them of attack in case he were unable to sneak across the channel by boat.
"Oh," the Colonel said drolly while squinting at the horizon, "You mean the Old North Church, which can scarcely be seen behind the towering masts of enemy ships now advancing upon us? 'Tis not the time to hawk your wares, sir. Take your leave this instant and alert the countryside that the British are coming."
Rivera followed Revere outside and waited by the Colonel's stable as his boss selected a horse to take him to Concord. Of all the steeds available, Revere inexplicably chose the largest and most bloated. Rivera politely suggested he take another animal, for the one he had chosen appeared to be pregnant. Revere scoffed at the advice and continued to saddle the Colonel's tired-looking mare.
As Rivera mounted Mrs. Gubbins' stallion, Revere snapped, "Where do you think you're going?"
Rivera reminded him that hundreds of farms lay between Charlestown and Concord, proposing that at least two men, if not dozens, would be needed to sound the alarm.
Revere commanded Rivera to stay put, then took his mount with great bravado. As he jabbed his heels into the mare and galloped away, he shouted, "History will remember me forever as the lone rider!"
Reeling in confusion and disbelief, Rivera lingered a few minutes by the Colonel's stable before realizing he had no choice but to disobey his order. "Vamos," he said to his horse, and they sped out of Charlestown.
After rounding Bunker Hill, Rivera could see down a long stretch of straight road, but even under the full moon, there was no sign of Revere. Remembering that he had just passed the turnoff to Cobble Hill, Rivera backtracked and rode to Mrs. Gubbins' estate.
Halfway to the estate, he began to hear a series of increasingly tortured screams that sounded like Revere's. A few hundred yards down the road, Rivera found his boss hanging upside-down from his mare with one foot in the stirrup, whimpering and cursing the Lord in heaven.
As Revere would confess the following day under the influence of morphine, he had only intended to make a quick detour to alert Mrs. Gubbins about the British advance, but his mare stopped to relieve herself on the way. As fate would have it, she whizzed down into a hive of yellow jackets nestled in the ground, summoning a great swarm that attacked Revere with the fury of so many tiny, winged Hessians.
Revere had rendered himself completely incapacitated with two torn ligaments and a broken collarbone, leaving Rivera the task of mobilizing the far-flung Yankee militia by himself. Revere was wrong about a great many things, but he got one thing right: He would be forever remembered as the lone rider of the American Revolution.
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