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Why New Englanders Are Annoyed With Longfellow

Yankee Plus Dec 2015


Why New Englanders Are Annoyed With Longfellow
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Some history buffs in New Hampshire — myself included — have always believed that the colonists’ attack on Fort William and Mary in New Castle, New Hampshire, four months before the battles in Lexington and Concord, was, in fact, the beginning of the American Revolution. We feel that the only reason the rest of America doesn’t have the same perception is simply because Henry Wadsworth Longfellow didn’t happen to write a poem about Fort William and Mary.

Perhaps Longfellow’s most important poem in terms of historical impact is found among his Tales of A Wayside Inn, based on real characters of the Red Horse Inn (known today as the Wayside Inn) in Sudbury, Massachusetts. Every New Englander, and probably most Americans, can recite at least the first two lines:

Listen my children, and you shall hear

Of the midnight ride of Paul Revere.

The poem is actually called “The Landlord’s Tale,” and, although published 88 years after the events it describes, it left an indelible stamp on certain historical facts. (And, OK, I’ll have to concede it would have been difficult to find words rhyming with “Fort William and Mary.”)

New Englanders have always been a little annoyed with Longfellow’s account. For instance, why didn’t he include the name of Paul Revere’s horse? Every horse has a name. What a silly oversight! This particular horse was called Brown Beauty … or Brown Betty … or, as some maintain, Minuteman … or …

Opinions vary, with the vast majority favoring a mare (though, to be sure, some argue a gelding, and others, a stallion) called Brown Beauty, which Revere supposedly never returned to her owner, Samuel Larkin, after he’d borrowed her for his famous ride the night of April 18-19, 1775. Some believe she was a Narragansett Pacer, a breed popular before the Revolution (George Washington, for instance, owned two Narragansett Pacers) but which no longer existed after about 1800. Surely, say New Englanders, Longfellow should have included some of those things in his poem.

Also irritating is the fact that Longfellow omitted the name of the man who hung the two lanterns in the steeple of the Old North Church.

But more about that oversight and whether or not it even was the Old North Church next month. Can you hardly wait?

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Why New Englanders Are Annoyed With Longfellow

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