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AMERICAN HISTORY





Give me liberty or give me death





    "Give me liberty or give me death" was the rallying cry that brought thousands of patriots face to face with crack British troops in 1775.
    Paul Revere and a couple of pals took a midnight ride, and a "shot heard" 'round the world" was fired the next morning.
    But forget about Revere for a moment.  The great unsung messenger of 1775 was an obscure postman Israel Bissell, who took a wild 345 - mile ride to mobilize the Minutemen of New England.
    Of course , we would never disparage Revere -- after all, he engraved and printed much of the currency that helped finance the Revolutionary War.

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    Silversmith Paul Revere rode to Lexington on April 16, 1775, to warn revolutionary leaders Samuel Adams and John Hancock that British Gen. Thomas Gage intended to arrest them.
    The alarm went out in earnest two nights later.  A force of 700 Redcoats had set out from Boston at midnight and was headed for Lexington.  Revere and William Dawes mounted up and began spreading the word.
They were soon joined by Samuel Prescott, a 23 - year-old physician.  When the British captured Revere and sent Dawes fleeing, it was Prescott who actually roused the Minutemen.
    As the British arrived at Lexington around dawn, about 100 minutemen were waiting for them.
    American leader John Parker told his Minutemen; "Stand your ground. Don't fire unless fired upon. But if they mean to have a war, let it begin here!"
    And so it came to pass.
    In the brief skirmish, eight Minutemen were cut down by British musket fire and their compatriots were forced into retreat.
    The action moved quickly to Concord, where skirmishes blazed around a bridge.  British General Hugh Percy, 33, arrived with reinforcements and quickly his 1,800 troops were outnumbered by the 4,000 Americans who had swarmed Concord to protect the armory there.
    American marksmen employed a clever strategy:  They aimed for British officers, and there aim took out 15 of them.
    Percy displayed his military acumen in defeat.  He quickly organized a retreat to Boston, and British losses were held to 65 dead, 173 wounded and 26 missing.

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    Cutting-edge communications technology of 1775 could be summed up in two words.  Israel Bissel.
    Henry Wadsworth Longfellow would later write a poem to ensure that everyone learned of the "Midnight Ride of Paul Revere."  But it was Bissel who was the mostly responsible for spreading word of the hostilities in the colonies.
    Bissel was a 23-year-old post rider who obviously took his work very seriously,  After the Battle of Lexington, he rode 36 miles in two hours to alert the town of Worcester.  According to tradition, his horse dropped dead.
    Bissel grabbed a new mount and by the night of April 19, he reached American General Israel Putnam at Brooklyn, Connecticut, and Putnam quickly organized his Minutemen.
    Bissel was ferried across the Connecticut River in the early hours of April 20 and reached Saybrook by 4 in the afternoon.  By 7 p.m. he had alerted the town of Guilford near the coast.
    He arrived at Branford at noon April 21 and by the following morning reached New Haven, where he alerted a very patriotic and skillful military leader named Benedict Arnold.  Arnold immediately called out his militia and began marching north.
    Meanwhile, Bissel was blazing toward New York City.  When New Yorkers heard of the news from Lexington, they took up arms and torched two British ships preparing to set sail for Boston.
    Bissel was ferried across the Hudson Rive, alerted the New Jersey cities of New Brunswick, Princeton and Trenton, then rode off to Philadelphia.
In 126 hours, the colonies were full on alert, thanks largely to some spirited riding by one of history's most energetic postmen.