Paul Revere's Ride
Book Discussion Guide
Chapters 2 and 3
Welcome to Chapters 2 and 3 of our Paul Revere's Ride Book Discussion Guide. Our American History Book Club is a great way to increase your knowledge of the Founding Fathers, their beliefs and intentions for America. Paul Revere's Ride
by David Hackett Fischer opens up this well-known figure from American
history in a way that is sure to be something new for you. There has
never been a definitive work about Paul Revere until this one, despite
his near universal name recognition among modern day Americans.
In Paul Revere's Ride, you will learn about
New England customs, religious beliefs and political habits that made
the colonists what they were. You will also discover a great deal about
the British belief system through the character of General Thomas Gage, the top British military commander in New England at the outbreak of the Revolution.
You will find that Paul Revere was a much more
important figure in Boston than most people realize. He was not merely a
messenger, but was a prime mover and shaker among the leaders and
organizers of the patriotic movement.
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Paul Revere's Ride by David Hackett Fischer
Chapter 2 - General Gage's Dilemma
- The upbringing of Thomas Gage.
- His joining the military and early engagements in France, Scotland and the French and Indian War.
- The conflict between his love for America and individual rights, and his loyalty to Britain and its form of government.
- Tensions arise as Parliament tries to govern the Americans.
- Gage's advice is enacted by Parliament in response to the Boston Tea Party. The Coercive Acts only infuriate the colonists more.
- Gage is appointed Royal Governor of Massachusetts and returns to Boston. The colonists begin to resist the Coercive Acts.
- Gage begins to make plans to confiscate the local supplies of arms in Massachusetts hoping to prevent armed conflict.
- The Americans were driven by ideals of self-governance and
individualism in a way that was very foreign to most British citizens
back in England. Why was this? What were the factors that caused the
Americans to view life in this way that was very different from their
relatives back at home across the sea?
- Thomas Gage was, by all accounts, a reasonable,
intelligent and virtuous person. If this is so, how was it that he so
misjudged the Americans, even after living among them for a good
portion of his adult life, that he wasn't able to see that a tough
crackdown and show of authority and might would only inflame them and
drive them further away from the British institutions which he wished
they would obey?
Things That Caught Our
General Gage was the most powerful person in the western hemisphere.
- At first General Gage blamed the elites of Boston for organizing the
citizenry against England, discounting the involvement of the "inferior
people." Later on though, Gage began to realize that there was
something deeper involved - all the citizens were accustomed to personal
self-governance and local community rule, putting them at odds with
Britain every time Parliament made a decision affecting them.
- Gage was the source of much bad advice to Parliament. He advised
landing British soldiers directly in Boston, abolishing town meetings,
confining the colonists to the coastline, moving colonial courts to
England and restricting the Calvinist churches and encouraging
Anglicanism in New England. All this was an effort to discourage the
independence of the colonists and force them to rely more on the
institutions of Britain to gain their obedience.
- "By 1774, General Gage had acquired a strong stake in America and
the Empire. He wanted very much to keep the peace. He worked faithfully
to support the authority of King and Parliament, while seeking to
conciliate the Americans. Even his enemies regarded him as decent, able
and full of good intentions."
- "He believed deeply in the British Constitution and the rule of law.
In America, Gage always insisted that his troops were bound by
"constitutional laws," and permitted them to "do nothing but what is
strictly legal," even in the face of heavy provocation. He recognized an
obligation to respect what he called 'the common rights of mankind.'"
- "The laws and covenants that New Englanders perceived as the ark of
their ancestral rights were seen by Gage to be merely a bizarre form of
litigious anarchy. New England, he wrote, 'was a country, where every
man studies law, and interprets the laws to suit his purposes.'"
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Paul Revere's Ride by David Hackett Fischer
Chapter 3 - First Strokes
On September 1, 1774, General Gage confiscates Massachusetts' gun
powder supply, setting off the New England Powder Alarm, causing tens of
thousands to march toward Boston. Several Tory leaders in Cambridge are
driven from their homes, Gage reconsiders his strategy due to the
ferocity of the response.
- Gage requests thousands of troops for reinforcement, but is only sent 400 marines from London.
- Massachusetts towns organize their militias and set up systems of
alarm with express riders so the militia will be in constant readiness.
The disbanded Massachusetts legislature meets and declares itself the First Provincial Congress.
- Paul Revere and others organize a clandestine group to monitor the activities of the British in Boston.
- In December, the patriots learn of a British plan to confiscate the provincial arms held at Portsmouth, New Hampshire. Paul Revere is sent to warn the local people who overwhelm the fort and remove all the weapons into the interior.
- Paul Revere's mechanics learn of another British
plan to confiscate the arms at Salem. Some of his men are arrested and
held while on reconnaissance until the mission is over. The people of
Salem and Marblehead scurry to hide the arms and defiantly resist the
British, tearing up bridges and putting holes in boats to block their
way, taunting them while being threatened at bayonet point, threatening
back with arms, finally causing the British to turn around and leave in
- The bravery shown by the colonists in the clashes at Cambridge,
Portsmouth and Marblehead is truly awe inspiring. What was it that
caused the colonists to come running from every direction to stand up in
the face of guns and bayonets en masse? Do we have this type of fervor
for our freedoms today? Why or why not?
- How is it that General Gage cannot see that every time he acts
against the colonists he is only driving them further away from him and
is actually unifying and strengthening the colonists against him?
- Imagine you are in an occupied city. Would you have the same bravery shown by Paul Revere
and the mechanics who organized reconnaissance missions to spy on and
report on the activities of the enemy or would you just accept things
the way they were and try to get by? Why would you respond this way?
Things That Caught Our Eye
- The author says the blows by the Americans upon British soldiers at
Portsmouth while taking the fort were truly the first blows of the
Revolution. There were, however, earlier acts of violence, especially in
Rhode Island and North Carolina that some call the "first blows of the
- A cunning Yankee soldier tricks Admiral Graves on the HMS Canceaux
into getting stuck in shallow water as he tries to reinforce the fort
at Portsmouth. The temperamental officer goes into "a state of
apoplectic rage." Haha! Can't you just see his frustration as his
- The bravery of these people is stunning. Joseph Whicher tearing his shirt open as the soldiers threatened to bayonet them; Sarah Tarrant
daring the Regular to shoot her in the head; Rev. Barnard going to
Colonel Leslie with a "compromise" he knew the Americans would win. The
people coming from every direction to defend their liberty. Truly
- The author makes the point that General Gage could have responded in
a much stronger way. Instead, he consistently tried to obey the law and
refused to use force against civilians. What does this say about Gage's
character? Describe the conflict between Gage's duty to enforce the law
and Gage's duty to uphold the law.
- "General Gage began to send home dispatches that differed very much
from his strong advice of the past five years. In the weeks after the
powder alarm, he informed London that 'the whole country was in arms and
in motion.' He reported that, 'from present appearances there was no
prospect of putting the late acts in force, but by first making a
conquest of the New England provinces."
- "The British leaders had no doubt as to the identity of the man who
had brought about their humiliation. They attributed their defeat
directly to Paul Revere. In New Hampshire, Governor
Wentworth wrote that trouble began with 'Mr. Revere and the dispatch he
brought with him, before which all was perfectly quiet and peaceable in
- "Even Gage's lieutenant Lord Percy, outwardly loyal to his chief,
wrote privately, 'The General's great lenity and moderation serve only
to make them more daring and insolent.'"
- "When Joseph Whicher exposed his naked breast to a British bayonet and Sarah Tarrant
dared a Regular to fire "if you have the courage," a new spirit was
rising in Massachusetts. Each side tested the other's resolve in these
encounters. One side repeatedly failed that test."
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