Who told the Patriots in Boston that the British were coming in April 1775?
The story of Paul Revere and other riders roaming the Massachusetts countryside on the evening of April 18, 1775 is well known, although widely mythologized. A question not often asked is how did Revere, Joseph Warren, and other Patriot leaders know of the mission undertaken by the British Army that night? How did they know with unerring accuracy that the British were bound for Lexington to arrest Adams and Hancock, after which they would move on to Concord to seize or destroy military stores cached there?
The answer is, of course, that somebody told them, which changes the question to discover whomever it was that so informed them. Patriot spies were liberally scattered throughout Boston, and often information could be assembled from snippets gathered here and there, as when assembling a jigsaw puzzle. But the information available to the Patriots that night was detailed down to the order of march, nearly all of it obtained by Dr. Joseph Warren.
Dr. Warren had an informer which he had relied on in the past, but only in matters of the greatest importance. Warren never revealed this informer’s identity, that information died with him on Breeds Hill a few short months later. But there is little doubt that he sought out this informer before the British departed on their march to Lexington, indeed he informed Revere that he would. It was from Warren that Revere learned of the British departure across the Charles River, causing him to warn compatriots in Charlestown by hanging two lanterns in the Old North Church.
Thomas Gage was the military governor of Massachusetts, as well as the commander of the British troops, and it was he who made the fateful decision to send the troops to Lexington and Concord. Gage’s wife was Margaret Kemble Gage, New Jersey born, and according to some historians, a patient of Dr. Warren’s. These historians and others believe that it was Mrs. Gage who gave Warren the information which started the militia on the road to meet the British.
There is little hard evidence supporting this assertion, and it presumes that a professional officer would discuss detailed military operational information with his wife prior to the fact. Gage himself later commented that only two people other than himself were aware of the plan prior to orders being issued. He never stated specifically who they were. Somehow Warren received exact information about the British expedition. How he did is still a mystery.