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General News    H3'ed 4/18/11

Spy vs. Spy: the First Patriots Day

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As described by historian David Hackett Fischer in Paul Revere's Ride, "In the highly charged atmosphere of Boston, scarcely an hour passed without some new rumor or alarm. Doctor Warren had become highly skilled in diagnosing these political symptoms.

"On the afternoon of April 18, as these reports suddenly multiplied, he began to suspect that the Regulars were at last about to make the major move that had long been expected. Doctor Warren was a careful man, and he decided to be sure.

"For emergencies he had special access to a confidential informer, someone well connected at the uppermost levels of the British command. The identity of this person was a secret so closely guarded that it was known to Warren alone, and he carried it faithfully to his grave."

Amid the growing signs of a British attack, Warren turned to this source and obtained the details of the British plan, that the British would cross the Charles River by boat and then march to Lexington with the goal of capturing Samuel Adams and John Hancock and then on to Concord to burn the stores of weapons and ammunition.

Though the name of Warren's source remains a mystery, some historians have speculated, based on circumstantial evidence, that Warren's "deep throat" was Gage's wife, American-born Margaret Kemble Gage. She was believed to have secret sympathies for the cause of independence and was distraught that her husband was under orders to use violence to crush the incipient rebellion.

Mrs. Gage had confided to one friend that "she hoped her husband would never be the instrument of sacrificing the lives of her countrymen." After the battles of Lexington and Concord, Gen. Gage sent his wife back to England where they remained estranged even after Gage's return home.

Dispatching Riders

Armed with the confirmation from his source, Warren put his full intelligence apparatus in motion. On the evening of April 18, 1775, he summoned Revere to his office and dispatched him to Lexington to warn Adams and Hancock.

Aware that Gage had placed teams on horseback at key chokepoints along the route, Warren decided on multiple riders. He also called in William Dawes and possibly a third message carrier.

Dawes managed to get past the British sentry at the Boston Neck just before the only land route out of Boston was shut down. Revere activated his plan to have two lanterns placed in the North Church steeple while he navigated his own escape from Boston over the Charles River and then by horse inland.

The patriots' warning system proved remarkably successful. Alerted by Revere and Dawes, other riders set off across the New England countryside. Even though Revere was briefly captured by one of Gage's roving teams, any British hope for surprise was gone by the time the Redcoats reached Lexington early on April 19. Hancock and Adams had already fled.

After a brief clash with militiamen on Lexington Green, the British continued inland to Concord, where they encountered more Massachusetts militiamen who fought the Redcoats at Concord's North Bridge. That engagement started the British retreat back toward Lexington, as militias from across the region arrived to join the fight.

Somehow, Doctor Warren managed to slip out of Boston himself and met up with the growing rebel force. Warren joined Gen. William Heath, a self-taught military strategist who devised the harassing attacks that inflicted heavy casualties on the British forces while minimizing those of Americans.

Warren narrowly escaped death himself when a musket bullet struck a pin of his wig. He is reported later to have told his worried mother that "where danger is, dear mother, there must your son be. Now is no time for any of America["s] children to shrink from any hazard. I will set her free or die."

Making the Case

Almost as soon as the British survivors had limped back into Boston, Warren and Revere began overseeing another important intelligence operation, the task of documenting what had happened and getting out the word.

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Robert Parry broke many of the Iran-Contra stories in the 1980s for the Associated Press and Newsweek. His latest book, Secrecy & Privilege: Rise of the Bush Dynasty from Watergate to Iraq, can be ordered at secrecyandprivilege.com. It's also available at
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