TRUTH vs. LITERARY LICENSE…..HOW ISRAEL BISSELL WAS CHEATED

HAPPY NEW YEAR!

On the first day of 2023, I print the truth. An historical correction.

Listen, my children, / And you shall hear / Of the midnight ride of Paul Revere.

The distinguished American poet Henry Wadsworth Longfellow made Paul Revere famous when he penned the above opening lines to his famous poem.

One problem, however. It was not Paul Revere who was the hero in 1775 at the time the first shots were fired at Lexington which marked the beginning of the Revolution. It was Israel Bissell. Historians suspect that Longfellow took a bit of literary license. Bissell did not rhyme as well as Revere.

Paul Revere did make a ride that day. Several men did. Historians conclude Revere only rode somewhere between 1.5 and 20 miles shouting….. To arms, to arms, the British are coming.

Israel Bissell rode 345 miles. The trip took 4 days and 6 hours. He rode from Watertown, Massachusetts to Philadelphia. The trip was over the Old Post Road.

Longfellow apparently took further literary license with the actual words Bissell shouted…..To arms, to arms, the war has begun. Again for rhyming purposes.

Bissell carried with him a message from the colonists’ General Joseph Palmer. The message told of the Lexington attack and what the colonists should do to prepare for the British invasion. The message also stated that its bearer, Israel Bissell, was charged with alarming the citizenry. He was to be given fresh horses along the way as needed.

Bissell rode two horses to their deaths on the four day trip. His first horse died 2.5 hours into the trip at Worcester. A second died further along the way.

Every community Bissell passed through rang Church bells and fired muskets. Many colonists supported a war with the British and were happy to know it had begun.

In the 1950s, two columnists writing for the Berkshire Eagle wrote poems finally giving Bissell credit for the ride. Gerard Chapman and Clay Perry.

Chapman’s poem was appropriately titled Israel Bissell’s Ride. Certain lines read as follows.

Listen, my children, and you shall hear / Of Israel Bissell’s yesteryear: / A port less patriot whose fame , I fear, / Was eclipsed by that of Paul Revere…..

Perry’s poem was titled I. Bissell’s Ride. Certain lines from the poem read as follows.

Listen, my children, to my epistle / Of the long, long ride of Israel Bissell, / Who outrode Paul by miles and time / But didn’t make a poet’s rhyme…

Two questions arose over the years having to do with Bissell.

The first is whether he actually made it to Philadelphia. Documents from the time indicate an Issac Bissell who only rode to Hartford. He stayed in Hartford. He did not continue the ride. He was a less than an honorable man. He billed the new United States government for a six day stay in Hartford.

Historian Lion G. Miles came up with the story. He found his information in only one source. The Massachusetts Archives. All other historians and documents disagree with Miles. Issac was not Israel.

The other issue that arose was whether Israel Bissell was of the Jewish faith. I was amazed at how much time and effort was spent to arrive at a definitive conclusion. Israel Bissell was not Jewish.

A few historians believe that Bissell’s ancestry was of a Norman French / Swiss source. The majority however concluded that Bissell was part of the Byshelle family who in 1639 left Birmingham, England. The family was part of a Puritan group. All Bissell’s were determined to have been descended from the Byshelles.

I suspect Bissell’s first name Israel is what caused the inquiries. Historians discussing the Bissell issue pointed out that most children born in the colonies in the 17th and 18th centuries were given Biblical names.

So goes the story of Israel Bissell. A man almost forgotten not by history, but by poetry.

Early last night, I was seated in my wing back watching television. I fell asleep. It was seven o’clock. Never even had dinner.

I woke at 11:57. The lord was with me. Timely for New Years Eve. I watched New Years come in on TV. Great shows!

Did not fall asleep till 3. A screwed up night. Up again this morning at 6:30.

Before this day is out, I’m going to feel like I was out partying all night!

New Years Eve in Key West 1976. The New Year celebration was marked by violence. Police and merry makers clashed. Fire hoses and tear gas were used to disperse the crowd. One hundred fourteen arrested, eight injured.

On this day in 1997, former President Jimmy Carter and family welcomed the New Year at The Little White House.

I recall a few years later, Howard Livingston told me about two other New Years Eves and President Carter. Howard lived on Summerland Key. He shared that Carter and his wife spent the holiday a few doors down at a friend’s home on Howard’s street.

There’s something in the Keys that modern day Presidents have found appealing.

One hundred three years later, the Casa Marina still stands. In all its glory!

The Casa Marina Hotel opened this day in 1921. It would remain open till April 1. The larger hotels were not kept open all year back then. Only during “the season.”

Syracuse beat Boston College in basketball yesterday afternoon 79-65.

Syracuse played better than it has been. Still not where it should be. The team is now into the ACC season. Syracuse will have to improve as it plays its way into its schedule.

Syracuse is now 9-5 overall and 2-1 in its ACC ranking.

Enjoy your day!

 

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