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Israel Bissell (1752-1823) was a patriot post rider in Massachusetts who brought news to American colonists of the British attack on April 19, 1775. He reportedly rode for four days and six hours covering the 345 miles from Watertown, Massachusetts to Philadelphia along the Old Post Road, shouting "To arms, to arms, the war has begun," and carrying a message from General Joseph Palmer which was copied at each of his stops and redistributed:
- Wednesday morning near 10 of the clock - Watertown.
- To all the friends of American liberty be it known that this morning before break of day, a brigade, consisting of about 1,000 to 1,200 men landed at Phip's Farm at Cambridge and marched to Lexington, where they found a company of our colony militia in arms, upon whom they fired without any provocation and killed six men and wounded four others. By an express from Boston, we find another brigade are now upon their march from Boston supposed to be about 1,000. The Bearer, Israel Bissell, is charged to alarm the country quite to Connecticut and all persons are desired to furnish him with fresh horses as they may be needed. I have spoken with several persons who have seen the dead and wounded. Pray let the delegates from this colony to Connecticut see this.
- J. Palmer, one of the Committee of Safety.
According to legend, at the end of Bissell's first leg, in Worcester, his first horse collapsed and died from having been driven so hard. Bissell then returned to Connecticut, where he joined the army alongside his brother, Justis. After the war, he moved to Middlefield, Massachusetts. Bissell died in 1823 and was buried in the Maple Street Cemetery in Hinsdale, Massachusetts.
Timeline of 1775 ride
- April 19, 10 am, Watertown, Massachusetts
- April 19, noon, Worcester, Massachusetts
- April 19, 9 pm Pomfret, Connecticut
- April 20, 11 am, Brooklyn, Connecticut
- April 20, 4 pm, Norwich, Connecticut
- April 20, 7 pm, New London, Connecticut
- April 21, 1 am, Lyme, Connecticut
- April 21, 4 am, Old Saybrook, Connecticut
- April 21, 10 am, Guilford, Connecticut
- April 21, noon, Branford, Connecticut
- Fairfield, Connecticut
- April 23, 4 pm, Wall Street, New York City
- Elizabeth, New Jersey
- New Brunswick, New Jersey
- Trenton, New Jersey
- April 24, 5 pm, Philadelphia
This timetable appears in Elias Boudinot's book Journal of Events in the Revolution.
In popular culture
Although Paul Revere is better known due to the epic poem by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, Bissell was the subject of the less well known "Ride, Israel, Ride," an epic poem by Marie Rockwood of Stockbridge. According to Syracuse University professor of television and popular culture, Robert Thompson, this is not representative of the relative importance or heroism of each feat; rather, "Paul Revere rhymes with a lot more than Israel Bissell". Bissell's place in history was even further smudged by several historical documents which refer to him as "Trail Bissel", or even, as in the document reproduced here, "Tryal Russell". The error occurred when his name was transcribed hastily from the handwritten copy by the printer rushing to get the news set in type. There were also an unknown number of other riders whose names are now completely forgotten.
Bissell's exploits have been noted in magazines, newspaper accounts, and an anthology of Revolutionary era documents published during the U.S. Bicentennial celebration in 1976. Bissell was first honored in the Berkshires by Hinsdale historian Marion Ransford, who drew upon historic documents in the archives of Western Reserve Historical Society in Cleveland. At the behest of Mrs. Ransford, the Daughters of the American Revolution installed a special marker at Bissell's grave. Realtor Isadore Goodman donated the Bissell homestead site on Plunkett Lake Road to the town in 1972.
Bissell was mentioned in comedian Robert Wuhl's 2006 HBO special, "Assume the Position with Mr. Wuhl". Wuhl timed Bissell as having left at the same time as Revere (which clearly conflicts with Boudinot's timeline), and joked that his name sounded like a Jewish vacuum cleaner to demonstrate why Longfellow decided to use Paul Revere as the poem's hero instead.
Historian Lion G. Miles extracted several documents from the Massachusetts Archives which seem to erroneously question whether an "Israel Bissell" actually rode all the way to Philadelphia. The documents reportedly support that an "Isaac Bissell" did indeed ride with news of the attack on Lexington—but only as far as Hartford, Connecticut. Bissell billed for six days of expenses while in Connecticut, rather than a full trip to Philadelphia.
- Miles, Lion G. "The True Story of Bissell's Ride in 1775". iberkshires.com.
- Boston Globe, April 20, 1997
- Boston Globe, April 19, 1982
- Bissell Outrode Paul Revere, But History Left Him in the Dust, Hartford Courant, April 16, 2007