On the 18th of April in ’75 (1775), Paul Revere set out on the ride immortalized by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow. The tale of how “the fate of a nation was riding that night” and how “the British regulars fired and fled.”
Five months earlier, on December 13, 1774, Paul Revere rode into Portsmouth town on a similar mission. Greeting New Hampshire patriots including John Cutt at Stoodley’s Tavern (now the Strawbery Banke Museum Education Center and Administrative Offices), he warned that the British had eyes on the gunpowder stored at Fort William and Mary on neighboring New Castle.
The next day, a group of 400 New Hampshire revolutionaries marched on the fort and confronted the five British soldiers standing guard and their commander. Volleys from the three-pound cannon and the soldiers' muskets missed the raiders, who proceeded to carry 97 barrels of gunpowder up the river to Exeter (by gundalow).
History does report that the gunpowder seized that December was used at the Battle of Bunker Hill in June, where Gen. John Stark (of “Live Free or Die” fame) and his New Hampshireman held the beach against the British. His monument now guards the New Hampshire State House in Concord, while the USS New Hampshire (SSN-778), a Virginia Class nuclear submarine, carries his motto in harm’s way.
New Hampshire is filled with remembrances of the American War for Independence. Though Strawbery Banke does not open til May 1, you can take a walk around the grounds, year-round. Stoodley’s Tavern is the yellow, gambrel-roofed building across Hancock Street from the main entrance. Pitt Tavern on the Court Street side of the museum site is a reflection of the turbulent times of Paul Revere’s ride. Originally named the Lord Halifax, owner James Stavers changed the name to the more Revolutionary-sympathetic Pitt when his loyalties (along with many other Tory Loyalists who were prominent merchants in Portsmouth at the time) were challenged by the new Patriots. After the War, and following the election of America’s first President, George Washington stopped in at Pitt Tavern for a visit with the St. John’s Lodge of Masons who still meet in the upstairs room.
Around the corner from Strawbery Banke, the Governor John Langdon House, owned by Historic New England, offers tours the follow in Washington’s footsteps. For an authentic experience of what that midnight trip with the seized gunpowder might have been like, take a ride on a gundalow. The visitor center is at 69 Marcy Street (on the edge of Strawbery Banke) and the trips depart on the new gundalow Piscataqua, from the dock at Prescott Park.
For more Revolutionary War-era historic houses in Portsmouth, including the place John Paul Jones stayed while waiting for the completion of America, visit the Portsmouth Historic Houses Association.