Abigail Smith Spread the Alarm: “The British are coming!”

You’ve heard this one before: "Listen, my children, and you shall hear/Of the midnight ride of Paul Revere” [Longfellow]. Probably you know that William Dawes was the “not Paul Revere” guy who also rode out from Boston on April 18, 1775, to help warn the patriots in “every Middlesex village and farm” that the British were on the march to do bad things in Lexington and Concord.

The Revere-Dawes duo made it to Lexington. On their way to Concord, Revere was captured and British officers chased Dawes into the night, but no worries: in fact, there were lots of riders to spread the alarm that night.

 

You can learn in any serious history book—like David Fischer’s Paul Revere’s Ride [1995]—that rousing the Minutemen that night was the collective work of many riders, one of whom was 17-year-old Abigail Smith in Natick.

Paul Revere ride wikimedia Paul_Revere's_ride.jpg
 
 

Abigail was born in 1758, the youngest child of Timothy Smith (1725-1803) and Esther Dewing (1727-1775), on Old Stone Fort Farm, a strategic location near the intersection of the Framingham road (now Bacon Street) and Sawmill Road (now Pond Road). Timothy Smith was a Natick Selectman, and his home was one of the town’s "warning houses” that were ready to sound the call to arms if the British decided to move out of Boston.

After Revere and Dawes reached Lexington, several express riders saddled up that night to spread the alarm, and alert other riders. One courier was a young physician, Dr. Samuel Prescott, who dashed from Lexington to Concord. There he enlisted his brother, Abel, also a physician. Abel quickly set out for East Sudbury (now Wayland) and then on to Sudbury and Framingham. From Framingham, a 9-year-old boy named Abel Benson is credited by some historians with raising the first cry in Natick, Needham, Dover, and beyond. Oliver Bacon (in A History of Natick [1856]) credits an otherwise unidentified "Captain Dudley" with carrying the message from Sudbury to Natick, presumably racing down North Main Street from Sudbury or along Oak Street from East Sudbury to Bacon Street, and then to the Smith farm.

The Smith family was roused about 4:00 am. There was frenzy. Timothy and his sons leaped from their beds, pulled on their clothes, grabbed their muskets, and hurried to the town meeting ground. This left Esther to protect the farm, and it fell to Abigail to help warn the neighbors that British regulars were tramping on the road to Lexington. Abigail was courageously eager to do her part. She jammed one of her brother's hats on her head, and rode off at top speed down Pond Road and then west along Eliot Street, past the farms of the Broads, the Badgers and the Bacons, shouting out the alarm as she flew by—“…A cry of defiance and not of fear…” She didn’t stop until she reached the Sawins on the far edge of town.

 

Selected sources and additional reading:

Natick Historical Society collections.

Academy of American Poets. “Paul Revere’s Ride.” Accessed July 7, 2019. https://poets.org/poem/paul-reveres-ride

Bacon, Oliver N. A History of Natick, From Its First Settlement in 1651 to the Present Time; With Notices of the First White Families. Boston: Damrell & Moore, Printers, 16 Devonshire Street, 1856.

Fischer, David Hackett. Paul Revere’s Ride. Oxford, UK: Oxford University Press, 1995.