Henry Wadsworth Longfellow
Henry Wadsworth Longfellow was born on February 27, 1807 in Portland, Maine to Stephen Longfellow and Zilpan Wadsworth Longfellow. He was first enrolled in school at the age of three, and he had a love for literature early in his life. His father wanted him to become a lawyer, but Longfellow wanted to pursue his literary interests. He graduated from Bowdoin College in 1825, and was offered a position as the first professor of modern languages at Bowdoin. Longfellow accepted this offer, and began teaching in 1829, following an educational trip to Europe where he visited scholars in Spain, Italy, England, France and Germany. He created his own textbooks while teaching at Bowdoin, because, at the time, no others were available.
In 1831, Longfellow married Mary Storer Potter. Soon after his marriage, in 1834, Longfellow again traveled to Europe with his wife, in order to study foreign language in preparation for an appointment as professor at Harvard University. Mary Potter died in 1835 in Rotterdam and Longfellow returned to America alone. Longfellow was again married in 1841; his new wife was Frances Appleton. He resigned from Harvard in 1854 in order to dedicate all of his time to his writing. Some of Longfellow's most popular works (The Song of Hiawatha and The Courtship of Miles Standish) were written during the years after he left Harvard. In 1861, Frances Appleton died as the result of serious burns recieved while sealing packages with matches and wax. Following his wife's death, Longfellow again travelled to Europe before spending his last years in Cambridge. He died on March 24th, 1882.
Longfellow was awarded honorary degrees by both the University of Oxford and the University of Cambridge. He is considered to be the first professional poet in America and his later works, including Paul Revere's Ride (1860), reflect his desire to establish an American Mythos.
About Paul Revere's Midnight Ride
On April 18, 1775, Paul Revere set out on his now famous ride from Boston, Massachusetts to Concord, Massachusetts. Revere was asked to make the journey by Dr. Joseph Warren of the Sons of Liberty, one of the first formal organizations of patriotic colonists. The purpose was to warn Samuel Adams, John Hancock (who were also members of the Sons of Liberty) and the other colonists that the British were preparing to march on Lexington.
Revere was taken by boat across the Charles River to Charleston, where he then borrowed a horse from a friend, Deacon John Larkin. Revere and a fellow patriot, Robert Newman, had previously arranged for signals to be given (lanterns in the tower of the North Church) so Revere would know how the British had begun their attack. This is where the famous phrase "one if by land, two if by sea" originated. While in Charleston, Revere and the Sons of Liberty saw that two lanterns had been hung in the North Church tower, indicating the British movement. Revere then left for Lexington.
On his way to Lexington, Revere stopped at each house to spread the word that the British troops would soon be arriving. Sometime around midnight, Revere arrived at the house of Reverend Jonas Clark, where Hancock and Adams were staying, and gave them his message. Soon after Revere's message was delivered, another horseman sent on a different route by Dr. Warren, William Dawes, arrived. Revere and Dawes decided that they would continue on to Concord, Massachusetts, where the local militia had stockpiled weapons and other supplies for battle. Dr. Samuel Prescott, a third rider, joined Revere and Dawes.
On their way to Concord, the three were arrested by a patrol of British officers. Prescott and Dawes escaped almost immediately, but Revere was held and questioned at gunpoint. He was released after being taken to Lexington. Revere then went to the aid of Hancock and Adams, whom he helped escape the coming seige. He then went to a tavern with another man, Mr. Lowell, to retrieve a trunk of documents belonging to Hancock. At 5:00 a.m., as Revere and his associate emerged from the tavern, they saw the approaching British troops and heard the first shot of the battle fired on the Lexington Green. This gunshot of unknown origin, which caused the British troops to fire on the colonists, is known as "the shot heard round the world."
Many believe Longfellow's account of the Midnight Ride is inaccurate because he portrays Revere as a lone rider alerting the colonists. Longfellow also fails to mention that Revere was captured by British soldiers before he reached Concord. However, the literary creation of a folk hero named Paul Revere was inspiring to many, and the poem still reminds people of all ages what it means to be a patriot.
"The midnight ride of Paul Revere" by A.L. Ripley. (1937)
Courtesy of the National Archives & Records Administration