William Dawes

April 6, 1745–February 25, 1799

William "Billy" Dawes was a member of the Sons of Liberty and the first rider sent by Joseph Warren on the night of April 18, 1775, to warn Samuel Adams and John Hancock that the British were marching to Lexington and Concord. Dawes went on to serve in the Continental Army during the American Revolutionary War.

William Dawes, Billy, Midnight Rider, Sons of Liberty, Portrait

William Dawes was a member of the Sons of Liberty and the first “Midnight Rider” that Joseph Warren sent on the night of April 18, 1775. Image Source: AmericanRevolution.com.

Who was William Dawes?

History of the Life and Career of William Dawes

William “Billy” Dawes lived in Boston, Massachusetts where he worked as a tanner and was involved in the resistance to British taxation policies that developed as part of the American Revolution.

Sons of Liberty

He was a member of the Boston Sons of Liberty and the Boston Militia. After Parliament passed the Coercive Acts, General Thomas Gage was made Governor of Massachusetts and given the authority to put an end to the rebellious activity of the Sons of Liberty and others in Boston.

Massachusetts Militia Gathers Military Supplies

After the Massachusetts Powder Alarm took place in September 1774, the Massachusetts Militia forces started to hide weapons and ammunition in towns around Boston, including Concord.

British Troops Ordered to Concord

Gage learned about the supplies hidden in Concord and on the night of April 18, 1775, he sent troops on a mission with orders to go to Concord and destroy the supplies. On the road to Concord was the village of Lexington, where Samuel Adams and John Hancock were staying the night.

The Midnight Riders

Joseph Warren was the leader of the Patriot resistance in Boston. When he learned the British were marching to Concord, he called for Paul Revere and Dawes and ordered them to ride to Lexington – each by a different route – to warn Adams and Hancock that the British were headed their way.

William Dawes’ Route to Lexington

Dawes left Boston first and took the land route to Lexington:

  1. He rode out of Boston over Boston Neck.
  2. He went through Roxbury.
  3. He rode through Brookline.
  4. He passed through Cambridge, where Harvard College is.
  5. He rode past Menotomy and followed the Bay Road to Lexington.

He arrived in Lexington, but Revere was already there and had raised the alarm.

More information about the Midnight Riders can be found in our entries on the Battle of Lexington and the Battle of Concord.

Siege of Boston and Service in the American Revolutionary War

After the fateful night, Dawes returned to Boston where he stayed in the city during the Siege of Boston and is believed to have fought in the Battle of Bunker Hill. He became a member of the Continental Army and was appointed a commissary by Congress.

Battle of Bunker Hill, Painting, Moran
This painting by Percy Moran depicts the British advance on the American redoubt at the Battle of Bunker Hill. Image Source: Library of Congress.

Interesting Facts About William Dawes

  1. William Dawes was born on April 6, 1745, in Boston, Massachusetts, and died on February 25, 1799, in Marlborough, Massachusetts.
  2. In 1768, Dawes signed the Boston Non-Importation Agreement, along with about 650 other Bostonians, in protest of the Townshend Acts. Dawes and others agreed not to buy shoes, clothes, and other products from Britain. Dawes was an early supporter of non-importation and was well-known for wearing a suit that was made entirely in North America when he married Mehitable May on May 3, 1768.
  3. In 1768, Dawes joined the Ancient and Honorable Artillery Company of Massachusetts.
  4. In the fall of 1774, Dawes was very likely involved in stealing two small brass cannons, which were hidden from the British and then used by the Americans during the war.
  5. After he met Revere in Lexington, the two of them rode to Concord. They met Dr. Samuel Prescott and he joined them. However, they were spotted by a British patrol around 3:00 a.m. Dawes and Prescott escaped. Revere was captured, held for questioning, and eventually released.

Why was William Dawes Important?

William Dawes is important to United States history because of his role in the Midnight Ride on April 18, 1775. His involvement in resistance to British policies was also important, along with his involvement in the theft of cannons that were used by American forces during the war.

William Dawes APUSH Review

Use the following links and videos to study William Dawes, the Sons of Liberty, and the Battles of Lexington and Concord for the AP US History Exam. Also, be sure to look at our Guide to the AP US History Exam.

William Dawes APUSH Definition

William Dawes was a patriot and militia officer known for his role in the American Revolutionary War, particularly his participation in the Midnight Ride alongside Paul Revere. On the night of April 18, 1775, Dawes, along with Revere and Samuel Prescott, rode to warn the colonial militias of the approaching British troops. While not as widely remembered as Revere, Dawes was also a member of the Sons of Liberty and was known for his opposition to British taxation policies.

Learn More About William Dawes

Frequently Asked Questions About William Dawes

Who joined Paul Revere on the famous Midnight Ride?

William Dawes and Samuel Prescott were the men who joined Paul Revere on the famous Midnight Ride that preceded the Battles of Lexington and Concord.

Did William Dawes make it to Concord?

No, Dawes did not make it to Concord. After he and Revere left Lexington, they road west toward Concord. However, they were stopped by a British patrol. Revere was arrested and Dawes fled. Samuel Prescott also escaped and was the only Midnight Rider who made it to Concord.

Who had orders to take away the weapons of the Massachusetts Militia?

General Thomas Gage had orders to take away the weapons of the Massachusetts Militia. Gage was the Governor of Massachusetts and the Commander-in-Chief of British forces in North America. He received his orders from London on April 14, 1775.

When was William Dawes born?

William Dawes was born on April 6, 1745, in Boston, Massachusetts. His parents were William Dawes and Lydia Boone, and he was baptized at Boston’s Old South Church.

How did William Dawes die?

William Dawes died on May 19, 1794, in Marlborough, Massachusetts. He was 53 years old. The cause of his death is unclear.