Monday, May 8, 2017

Listen My Children...

I’ve visited the home of only one author, poet Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, but it wasn’t on purpose.

I didn’t go there on a pilgrimage for Longfellow.  I went there to do research on George and Martha Washington.  The National Park Service operates the Longfellow House Washington’s Headquarters, a magnificent house in Cambridge, MA that has been home to both families.

Just down the block from Harvard University, General George Washington used the house as his headquarters during the siege of Boston in the early days of the American Revolution.  He arrived there not long after the “midnight ride of Paul Revere” and skirmishes in Lexington and Concord. 

Many years later, Longfellow, moved into the historic house that had once been Washington’s war headquarters and home.  About 85 years after the first shots echoed in Massachusetts that began the Revolution, Longfellow wrote the poem “Paul Revere’s Ride” with the familiar opening line, “Listen my children and you shall hear of the midnight ride of Paul Revere” and the equally famous line later “one if by land, two if by sea.”

The beautiful historic Longfellow House Washington's Headquarters in Cambridge, MA. 

These tiles surround the fireplace in the master bedroom of the house.  George and Martha Washington would have warmed themselves here.   
I can imagine General Washington climbing up these stairs after a long day of war plans.

Longfellow singlehandedly made Paul Revere famous to every school child in America.  But there are many historical inaccuracies in Longfellow’s poem.  Probably the biggest one is that the poem gives Revere alone all the credit for the warning ride.  But in fact, he was one of three riders that night.  Longfellow ignores the equally historic rides of William Dawes and Samuel Prescott.  Revere did not make it all the way to Concord because the British stopped him for interrogation.  Prescott made it all the way to Concord-but didn’t make the cut in Longfellow’s poem.

This poem is a good example of the power of the written word.  Longfellow was less concerned with historic accuracy than he was with creating an American hero on the eve of the Civil War.  The problem is that the general public believes Longfellow’s version is an accurate retelling of history.  It isn’t. 

Carla Killough McClafferty


Carmela Martino said...

Thanks for these great photos, Carla, and for the links/info about Longfellow's poem.

Margaret Simon said...

Recently a group of 6th grade girls researched women of the American Revolution and found Sybil Ludington, the female Paul Revere. Women have been overlooked in most history book.

Carla Killough McClafferty said...

Dear Margaret, thank you for your comment. There are many, many stories from history that have been overlooked. And they are many-like Paul Revere and Betsy Ross- whose stories have become more important than they should have. It is doubtful that the Betsy Ross story is even true-yet she is remembered as a pillar of American History -more important than Martha Washington or Abigail Adams or the many "regular" women who actually fought in battle.