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Palin defends Revere comments

She insists her narrative is accurate

Sarah Palin left The Paul Revere House in the North End in Boston on Thursday. Yesterday she was questioned by anchor Chris Wallace on Fox News Sunday. Sarah Palin left The Paul Revere House in the North End in Boston on Thursday. Yesterday she was questioned by anchor Chris Wallace on Fox News Sunday. (Pat Greenhouse/ Globe Staff)
By Stewart Bishop
Globe Correspondent / June 6, 2011

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Former Alaska governor Sarah Palin took to the airwaves yesterday to defend assertions, made during a visit to the North End on Thursday, that Paul Revere’s iconic ride was as much to warn to the British as it was to warn American colonists of an impending British attack on arms stores.

Appearing on Fox News Sunday, Palin bristled when anchor Chris Wallace suggested she had erred in her retelling of Paul Revere’s role in the event leading up to the Revolutionary War.

“You realized that you messed up about Paul Revere, don’t you?’’ said Wallace.

But Palin defended her previous statement on the purpose of Paul Revere’s famous ride.

“You know what? I didn’t mess up about Paul Revere,’’ said Palin, a paid Fox News contributor and possible GOP presidential candidate. “Part of his ride was to warn the British that we’re already there. That, hey, you’re not going to succeed. You’re not going to take American arms.’’

Palin had initially spoken to reporters about Paul Revere during a North End visit to Parziale’s Bakery on Thursday as part of her recent “One Nation’’ tour of some of the East Coast’s famous historical sites.

After a visit to Old North Church, Palin was asked about Paul Revere’s ride and said he “warned the British that they weren’t going to be taking away our arms. By ringing those bells and making sure as he’s riding his horse through town to send those warning shots and bells that we were going to be secure and we were going to be free.’’

Online video of Palin’s initial telling of Paul Revere’s ride quickly went viral, drawing much criticism from those who said Palin was unaware that the famous ride was to warn American patriots that the British were planning to attack.

Palin, a frequent guest on Fox News Sunday, called the reporter’s inquiry a “shout-out, gotcha type of question’’ and insisted her grasp on American history was firm.

“Here is what Paul Revere did. He warned the Americans that the British were coming . . . and they were going to try take our arms and we got to make sure that we were protecting ourselves and shoring up all of ammunitions and our firearms so that they couldn’t take it,’’ Palin said yesterday. “But remember that the British had already been there, many soldiers for seven years in that area. And part of Paul Revere’s ride — and it wasn’t just one ride — he was a courier, he was a messenger. Part of his ride was to warn the British that we’re already there. . . . You are not going to beat our own well-armed persons, individual, private militia that we have. He did warn the British.’’

It appears that the confusion caused by Palin’s comments may have come from blending two separate bits of history — the ride itself, and what happened when it was over, when Paul Revere was captured by British soldiers.

Brendan McConville, professor of history at Boston University, said yesterday that — contrary to what Palin seemed to suggest — the intent of Paul Revere’s ride was to warn the Concord area that the British were coming to seize their munitions cache, and to warn Revolutionary leaders Samuel Adams and John Hancock that they faced arrest.

“His intent was to mobilize the countryside,’’ McConville said. “His intent was to warn them.’’

However, McConville said that while Revere wasn’t looking to attract British attention as he rode, after he was captured he did give a warning to the British soldiers, telling them that American patriots were ready to take them on.

“What she’s saying there is essentially right,’’ he said. When Paul Revere was stopped by British soldiers the night of his famous ride, “he did say to them that the countryside is mobilizing and you’ve lost the element of surprise.’’

McConville said that while some of what Palin said is historically accurate, her wording is misleading. “I would describe her as lucky in her history as opposed to knowledgeable in her history,’’ he said.

Christen Varley, president of the Greater Boston Tea Party, said while she wasn’t exactly sure of the specifics of Paul Revere’s ride, the reaction to Palin’s statements on history is an example of the intense animosity many bear to the former Alaska governor.

Said Varley: “I think she’s in a tough position; there are all these people just waiting for her to screw up.’’

E-mails to Palin were not returned yesterday; she couldn’t be reached for comment last night.

Globe Correspondent L. Finch contributed to this report. Stewart Bishop can be reached at sbishop@globe.com.