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In 1775 Israel Bissell went much further, much faster, rode much longer, and was probably responsible for the muster of many, many more patriots than Paul Revere was.
"The bearer Israel Bissell is charged to alarm the country quite to Connecticut, and all persons are desired to furnish him with fresh horses, as they may be needed. I have spoken with several who have seen the dead and wounded at Lexington and Concord."
Such, in part, was the message given to Israel Bissell by Colonel Joseph Palmer, of Braintree in the Colony of Massachusetts on the morning of April 19th, 1775 shortly after the information filtered into the little towns surrounding Boston, of the confrontation between the King's regulars and the patriots. Bissell, one of the best post-riders in the colonies, was instructed to deliver the note to the communities of Marlboro and Worcester, and then turn southward towards Connecticut. His express duty was to alert the populace to the need for general mobilization.
Leaving Watertown, now a part of Boston, Bissell headed his noble horse in the direction of Marlboro and Worcester. He made the initial phase of his memorable ride in two hours, pulling up where Worcester City Hall now stands. The horse is said to have died of a heart attack from over-exertion, and after giving the message to the excited populace, the veteran horseman mounted a new steed and headed south.
He had been advised that on his way, he should make contact with a sterling patriot, a veteran of the French and Indian Wars and a legend in his own time, who lived near the tiny community of Pomfret, Connecticut, where he operated a big farm. His name was Israel Putnam.
Early on the morning of the twentieth, Bissell reined up his mount in front of his round-faced, burly namesake, to whom he excitedly related the events of the previous day. As Putnam walked across the fields back to his barn, and toward the start of a brilliant military career, Bissell turned toward the coast and the village of New London. With another fresh mount, Bissell spurred the animal along the dusty road, and it was sunset before he was to see the church spires of that little coastal town.
Then the exhausted rider was to undergo great frustration, for the New Londoners insisted on Bissell making sworn testimony that what he said was true before they would accept the shocking news as fact. To fire on the King's troops was unthinkable. While sympathetic, the citizens needed more assurance.
So it was the 21st before the Watertown native was able to head southward once more toward New Haven and New York town. Through the long and dusty day, Bissell followed the ancient Boston Post-Road, arriving in New Haven late in the afternoon, where he once more went through more of the exasperating delays that were to make his lengthy ride.
On the 22nd he stopped briefly at Fairfield, Connecticut, was given a fresh horse and headed on toward Manhattan and the seaport town of New York, a place he had often visited as a stage coach driver.
Past the Bowery, Bissell rode to the Common of the town, and halting on the Green, once more repeated the story that he had previously told to more than a dozen American communities.
It was Sunday now, and here and there a frown was seen on faces of some Gothamites, at the thought of anyone conducting such war-like business on the Sabbath. But, Sunday or not, Bissell got his message across, and headed his new horse on the last lap, the length of the present state of New Jersey.
As Bissell headed ever southward, four other men, also mounted, slipped out of New York, to alert the countryside in places that the Massachusetts patriot had not reached.
Passing Princeton College on the twenty-fourth, Bissell shouted to all and sundry what had happened on a little green up in Lexington. Again he was faced with the proof of identity, and more than once the tired rider was almost literally pulled from his mount. As always, he showed the now dog-eared message from Palmer, but again there were delays.
Through Trenton nothing was to deter him from reaching Philadelphia. From that point on fresh riders could be sent southward to warn Virginia.
On the 25th he entered the City of Brotherly Love [Philadelphia], and as he almost collapsed, he delivered the message for the last time.
Bissell had made the ride in slightly over five days, despite the countless delays. He had alerted thousands of troops through their various Committees. The Boston-Philadelphia stage always took six days to make the ride, with fresh horses awaiting at designated points and without the frequent hindrances that had confronted one of America's forgotten heroes.
From Philadelphia, - "for the good of our country, and welfare of our lives and liberties and fortunes, you will not lose a moment's time. We will send you momentous intelligence, this moment received." With this message the further riders headed south, and Israel Bissell disappeared from the pages of American history, but his tremendous ride had a far-reaching impact upon the cause. Within days, hundreds of men, some uniformed and others in ragged clothing, marched along the same dusty roads toward seething Boston and some of the troops to whom Bissell had brought the famous message, were to perish behind the Bunker Hill parapets on June 17th.
He didn't mount his horse until a couple of days after [the famous] Paul Revere. He didn't have a dramatic midnight departure with lanterns and all. And since Bissell was not an easy name with which a poet could rhyme, Israel never became famous. But he did go much further, much faster, rode much longer, and was probably responsible for the muster of many, many more patriots than Revere was. And if saddle sores count, he's surely worthy of a posthumous Purple Heart!
Editor's note: The Battle at Lexington Green on 19th April 1775 signaled the start of the American Revolution. For more information, please visit the Eye Witness to History website.
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