Samuel Prescott(August 19, 1751 – c. 1777) was a Massachusetts Patriot during the American Revolutionary War. He is best remembered for his role in the “midnight ride” to warn the townspeople of Concord of the impending British army move to capture military stores kept there at the beginning of the American Revolution. He was the only participant in the ride to reach Concord.
Dr. Samuel Prescott was born August 19, 1751. He appears to have enjoyed the privileges of growing up in the wholesome atmosphere of colonial Concord, Massachusetts, and within short distance of his many uncles, aunts, and cousins with whom he possibly learned much about his family history. Much of this history was probably passed on to the family by his grand uncle Samuel Prescott (1674–1758), who knew many of the early Prescotts, and was even old enough to remember the first ancestor of the Concord branch of the family, John Prescott (1604–1681), founder of Lancaster, Massachusetts. Indeed, the Prescotts and their extended family played an important and often heroic role in colonial history. These include settling Concord, fighting in colonial wars, and negotiating for the ransom of Mary Rowlandson.
Prescott followed in the footsteps of his older brother Benjamin (1745–1830) and apprenticed under his father, Abel Prescott, for about seven years. He appears to have kept an extremely low profile during pre-revolutionary times as well as afterward, as best can be attained. He did open a practice in Concord, just before or after which time he began to court Lydia Mulliken (1753–1789), daughter of a well-respected Lexington clockmaker who had died in 1767.
During the latter part of his apprenticeship or shortly after he began his medical practice, he became an active member in the patriot movement. There is strong circumstantial evidence that he was an express courier for the Sons of Liberty and Committees of Correspondence, and that he was an important liaison between the Concord Defense Committee and John Hancock and other leaders of the patriots.
On the evening of April 18, 1775, Paul Revere and William Dawes were dispatched by Joseph Warren to warn the countryside that the British were coming, Prescott was in Lexington to visit with his fiancée Lydia Mulliken. He was also there to report on Concord’s readiness, its status in hiding supplies and munitions from the British, and its success in moving cannon to Groton lest it fall into British hands. The British wanted the military stores at Concord and had hoped to capture Samuel Adams and John Hancock in the process.
When Prescott left Lexington, it was about 1 a.m. the next morning, April 19. On his way back to Concord he met Paul Revere (1735–1818) and William Dawes (1745–1799), who had just left Lexington shortly before him and were also on their way to Concord—to warn the town that the Regulars were on the march.
When the three continued on to Hartwell’s tavern in the lower bounds of Lincoln, they were cut off by four British horseman who were part of a larger scouting party sent out the preceding evening. Revere was captured but both Prescott and Dawes succeeded in making a daring run for it. Local boy Prescott did so with a show of artful horsemanship and knowledge of the forest. Finally losing his pursuers, he circled about and headed with the utmost speed to Concord, carrying Revere’s warning to his townsmen.
Dawes also escaped from his pursuers with much daring, but it was after a close chase, a frantic ruse on his part, and a little bit of luck. Once he was safe, he considered circling around the patrol and racing on to Concord much as Prescott had, but he heard the Concord town house bell and knew Prescott had made it there, and so he continued on his special mission, for he was only assigned to accompany Revere to Concord. Prescott, meanwhile, continued west to warn Acton, Massachusetts while his brother Abel Prescott (1749–1775) rode south to warn Sudbury and Framingham. By this time, countless riders were also dispatched from other towns to spread the warning—while bells and cannon were rung or fired to punctuate the danger at hand.
Because of the “midnight” rides of Revere, Dawes, Prescott, and many other expresses (couriers), Minutemen and Militia everywhere were on the ready, many marching to Concord to effectively engage the British Army at the Battles of Lexington and Concord. Prescott was there to witness the Battle of Concord, then tried to beat the British back to Lexington to see Lydia Mulliken and her family and to help with the wounded. He remained at Lexington as a volunteer surgeon for about two weeks, then seems to have disappeared into the war.
Prescott’s life following “The Ride”
There is evidence that Prescott went on to serve as a surgeon in the Continental Army, a tradition that he joined the crew of a New England privateer, and a report that he was in prison in Halifax, Nova Scotia, where he may have died between November 23, 1776 and December 26 (1777?). There is also circumstantial evidence that he served in some medical support capacity out of Fort Ticonderoga during the invasion attempts against Canada and until about the time of Benedict Arnold’s failed attempts against Sir Guy Carleton on Lake Champlain.
Prescott’s ride is re-enacted every Patriots Day eve (observed) in the Town of Acton. The re-enactment begins in East Acton, continues through Acton Center, and ends at Liberty Tree Farm, where once was the home of a minuteman named Simon Hunt. The distance is approximately five miles (8 km).
There are also re-enactments on Patriot’s Day (usually the third Monday of April) of the rides of William Dawes and Paul Revere, to commemorate the famous “midnight” ride that began in the evening hours of April 18 and continued on April 19.
Prescott’s ride is re-enacted every year at midnight April 18-19 at Concord’s First Parish Church. The re-enactment is preceded by a Patriots’ Ball. The Minute Men march with fife and drum leading the attendees from the armory to the church. The Captain of the Concord Minute Men reads a message handed him by “Prescott” on horseback.
- Caes, 49-50
- Marvin, 38-47
- Caes, 34, wherein regarding Rowlandson the reference is to John Hoar, father of the second wife of Capt. Jonathan Prescott (d. 1721). Captain Jonathan was Samuel Prescott’s great grandfather.
- “The Tale of Two Families Joined by Love, Shattered by War”. Concord Magazine. D. Michael Ryan. http://www.concordma.com/magazine/julaug01/samuelprescott.html
- Caes, 206
- Prescott, 66
- Wheildon, 7
- Dawes, 89, but this is taken, as cited in his book, from Revere’s deposition for Reverend Jerry Belknap, founder of the Massachusetts Historical Society. Revere actually produced three versions of the deposition, two in 1775 and one in 1798, but they are not contradictory though they are of varying lengths.
- Dawes, 119
- Caes, 248-253
- There is only hearsay of the privateering, and Caes provides other alternatives, beginning with the Battles of Breed’s and Bunker Hills at which he lists a number of Samuel’s relatives (some through marriage) who fought there.
- Speculations of which appear in Legend
- Caes, Charles J. (2009). Legend of the Third Horseman: Life and Times of Dr. Samuel Prescott, the Man Who Finished the Midnight Ride of Paul Revere. Bloomington, IND: Xlibris.
- Dawes, C. Burr (1975). William Dawes: First Rider for Revolution. Newark, Ohio: History Gardens Press.
- Prescott, William MD. (Orig. 1872). The Prescott Memorial or Genealogical Memoir of the Prescott Families In America.. Ashville, N.C.: Ward Press(1983).
- Wheildon, William C. (1885). New Chapter in the History of the Concord Fight: Groton Minute-Men at the North Bridge, April 18–19, 1775. Boston: Lee & Shepard.
- Marvin, Abijah P. (1879). History of the Town of Lancaster, Massachusetts: from first settlement to the present time 1643-1879. The Town of Lancaster, Massachusetts.