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Paul Revere and Brown Beauty

Paul Revere and Brown Beauty: History site section Logo of ancient snaffle bit.
By Cheryl R. Lutring  (Horse History Article copyrighted by Saddle & Bridle Magazine.)

Horses have accompanied mankind throughout crusade, exile, toil and turbulence. They have added their speed to our travel; their strength to our labors; their nobility to our development. Often the effort and sacrifice of the horse has gone unrecorded and unrecognized. Yet also around the world, inspiringly the contributions of individual equines have been honored in stone and bronze. This series will take a look at some of them. Let s start with the legendary Brown Beauty.

When allegedly the American hero Paul Revere shouted the warning words The British Are Coming, he was mounted on a gallant mare of special stamina belonging to a Charleston merchant and patriot John Larkin. The borrowed Brown Beauty and Paul Revere a 40-year-old silversmith were destined to change the course of American history. And it did not take decades of commitment for the pair to pass into legend but merely an evening.

Over two hundred years ago,  Bostonians set their minds against the British presence and the town had become a hot bed of intrigue and insurgence. The streets were patrolled by 3,000 British soldiers charged with averting the increasing threat of rebellion. Meanwhile, a group of rebels calling themselves the Sons of Liberty set up a secret base at the Green Dragon Tavern who organized themselves into teams of express riders who would ride to spread the alarm whenever the British Army was preparing a sortie into the surrounding countryside.

On 18th April 1775, the alarm was raised and a message sent to Paul Revere at his house (which is still there and the oldest house in Boston). He was to ride the 12 miles to Concord via Lexington to warn the rebels, but before his ride could start he had to be smuggled across the River Charles to Charlestown where he collected Brown Beauty from her owner and they set off apace.

Brown Beauty was probably of a breed of horse that was very popular at that time on the East Coast. Instead of the jarring two-beat trot, the Narragansett offered a smooth four-beat saddle gait, favored for its speed and comfort. In addition the breed had an amiable, courageous temperament vital in times of crisis. The Narragansetts were a direct derivative from Old English Ambler (palfreys) which had been taken across the Atlantic by the pioneers and later became extinct in Britain; and of course are the forerunners of today s American Saddlebred.

Thus mounted on a horse of English descent, Paul Revere rode to warn his fellows of the threat of the British and in so doing ignited the American War of Independence. At midnight, flanks covered with sweat and blood, Brown Beauty slid to a halt outside  Hancock s house. A sergeant on guard warned Paul to stop making a noise. Noise?! Revere shouted, You ll have noise enough before long. The Regulars are coming out!

Paul Revere took a moment or two to refreshid himself at the Buckman Tavern before setting off yet again to Concord to raise the alarm. Not so fortunate this time, he dashed straight into British ambush. A marker indicates the spot where an English officer  shouted Blow his brains out. Fortunately he was spared, but Brown Beauty s story ends at that moment and nothing is known of what became of her. Maybe the British recognized her quality and confiscated her for themselves.

Revere lived on until 1818 and left several accounts of his ride mentioning that he had borrowed from John Larkin a very good horse.   In the years since 1775 many names have been given to the horse that made that monumental effort, perhaps most exotically Scheherazade. But the only name for which there is any evidence at all, is Brown Beauty.

A history of the Larkin family states: Samuel [Larkin] born October 22, 1701, died October 8 1784, aged 83; he was a chairmaker, then a fisherman and had horses and a stable. He was the owner of Brown Beauty, the mare of Paul Revere s Ride. The mare was loaned at the request of Samuel s son, deacon John Larkin, and was never returned to the owner.

Brown Beauty s end may have been unnoticed but her history-changing role has never been forgotten and is honored by a glorious statue in a square in Boston, as well as immortalized by the poet Longfellow:

Listen my children, and you shall hear
Of the midnight ride of Paul Revere,
On the eighteenth of April, in Seventy-Five;
Hardly a man is now alive
Who remembers that famous day and year.

A hurry of hoofs in a village street,
A shape in the moonlight, a bulk in the dark,
And beneath, from the pebbles, in passing, a spark
Struck out by a steed flying fearless and fleet:
That was all! And yet, through the gloom and the light,
The fate of a nation was riding that night;
And the spark struck out by that steed, in [her] flight
Kindled the land into flame with its heat.

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