The legend of Israel Bissell

Listen, my children, to my epistle
Of the long, long ride of Israel Bissell,
Who outrode Paul by miles and time
But didn’t rate a poet’s rhyme

I was in Lexington the other day, conducting research in the town’s library. I was researching the Lexington Alarm, specifically trying to find out when members of the Connecticut militia first arrived. During my search, I came across a man named Israel Bissell. If any of you already know about him, you can skip this post; but I have to claim ignorance!

The story goes that on 19 April 1775, Israel Bissell, a professional post rider, under the orders of Colonel Joseph Palmer, traveled along the Old Post Road from Watertown to Worcester, then on to towns in Connecticut and New York, finally arriving in Philadelphia, to spread the alarm; 345 miles in five days! I was intrigued, and a little skeptical, that a rider in 1775 could cover so much distance in a very short time.

Isaac Bissell broadside 1776 reprint of broadside delivered by Bissell, courtesy of Wikimedia Commons under the Creative Commons Share-Alike License 3.0.

Israel Bissell had supposedly carried the message that you see to the left, alerting those along his route that a brigade had landed at Phip’s farm in Cambridge and had marched to Lexington. Interestingly, his name was printed as Tryal Russell.

For a long time, no proof had been found to support this story, and the legend persisted until historian Lion G. Miles of Stockbridge, Massachusetts, located relevant documentation in the Massachusetts State Archives.[ii] He found that an Isaac Bissell of Suffield, Connecticut, “petitioned the Provincial Congress of Massachusetts for his six days of expenses ‘to Hartford’” at Colonel Joseph Palmer’s order. Further documentation found Colonel Palmer supporting this claim. Clearly Isaac Bissell never left Connecticut for New York and Philadelphia.

Israel Bissell has not been found in records, yet it is this name that carries the legend.

You can read more about this legend at, as well as Clay Perry’s entire poem, along with another one by Gerard Chapman here:


[i] “Bissell’s Ride” by Clay Perry;


Nancy Bernard

About Nancy Bernard

Nancy holds a certificate from the Boston University Genealogical Research program. She has a master’s degree in history and media study from SUNY University of Buffalo, where she focused on American cultural history and writing and producing documentary videos. She also has a B.A. from Hamilton College. She has interned at the American Jewish Historical Society, now at NEHGS, as well as the National Heritage Museum in Lexington, MA. Her areas of interest include New England and New York history and researching house histories and the families who lived in those homes.View all posts by Nancy Bernard