By Seth Daniel
As Paul Revere rides into City Square over the North Washington Street Bridge on Patriots Day every year, a certain magic comes alive every within the crowds gathered to take in the storied Patriot’s warning about the advance of the British.
This year, those crowds will be witnessing the 240th re-creation of the famous Paul Revere’s Ride – an event that is 242 years old in actuality and was, seemingly, understood to be a pivotal moment in American history right off the bat.
“It’s unfortunate that a lot of people don’t know about this,” said 1st Sgt. Matthew Johnson of the National Lancers, who have recreated the event for at least the last 100 years. “Recently, Marathon Day has taken away from it a lot. People call it Marathon Day, but it’s not. It’s actually Patriots Day and it’s a meaningful thing. The excitement unequaled when you’re riding or for the people who experience it. I’ve recreated Paul Revere before on the Ride and going over the Bridge and coming into Charlestown and seeing the kids and people in City Square waiting is an intense experience. All of them are looking at you in awe that Paul Revere is there. It’s meaningful and very exciting. That’s definitely a highlight. We follow the exact path he took for a majority of what it is, and that’s been happening a long time.”
The National Lancers has a long and distinguished history as a volunteer troop of militia cavalry. The Lancers were organized on October 31, 1836 at the request of Gov. Edward Everett. While the ostensible reason to organize the National Lancers was as the governor’s mounted ceremonial escort; the Lancers, as volunteer militia, was also charged with enforcing the law and defending the Commonwealth from invasion and insurrection. The unit’s designation reflected its organization as light cavalry, equipped and uniformed similarly to the Polish Lancers of the Napoleonic Army.
The initial strength was 64 officers and troopers made up of men who either owned their own horses or worked with horses. Each trooper was required to furnish his own mount; the troop issued uniforms and the state provided sabers and pistols. While the uniforms were ornate, membership in the National Lancers was not restricted to the upper classes, unlike other elite volunteer militia companies.
The Lancers served during the Civil War, fighting with the Army of the Potomac in South Carolina, Virginia, Maryland and Pennsylvania. They also participated in campaigns overseas during World War I.
The ceremonial National Lancers continued their activities up to the 1960s. The unit began new traditions by participating in the reenactment of the ride of Paul Revere every Patriot’s Day and by riding in parades all over Massachusetts.
Johnson said the Lancers have been recreating Paul Revere’s Ride for at least 100 years, but likely longer. He said it was uncertain who recreated it before the Lancers, but was confident that the Ride had gone on without a break for the 240 years.
In addition to Paul Revere, the Lancers also recreate the ride of William Dawes, who leaves from Roxbury, crosses the Boston Marathon route and continues to Lexington with Paul Revere.
Johnson said the Lancers rotate the duties of riding, with four riders handling the duties of Revere and Dawes in two legs each. He added that, for the riders, there’s not much to prepare for, but the real work is in getting the horses ready.
Starting in February, the begin working with the horses.
“We start preparing the horses in February to get them accustomed to the urban activities, the City surroundings, sirens and cars,” he said. “We work almost every weekend doing drills and we get them accustomed to riding next to cars and noises. We do that by drilling with the Fire Department and Police Department. We have flashing lights at night in the barn to get them used to that and play sounds of sirens and loud noises too.”
They also get them a lot of exercise because the Ride, while fresh and new once coming over the Bridge into Charlestown, gets much harder as it progresses out towards Lexington. He said the horses are also outfitted with a rubber pad on the bottom of their shoes, to cushion them and to get them traction on pavement.
The year, Brigadier General Richard Reale will play the role of Paul Revere in Charlestown. He will be riding into City Square at 10 a.m. after having been in a parade at City Hall and then a stop in the North End.