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;


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.

8 thoughts on “The legend of Israel Bissell

  1. How interesting. My ancestor, Heli Foote, lived in Connecticut and enlisted in Branford, Connecticut in April 1775 due to the Lexington Alarm. His name is listed on the document entitled “March from Branford for the relief of Boston etc. in the Lexington Alarm April 1775”. I always wondered how news spread so quickly to Branford. Maybe he heard Isaac or Israel Bissell.

  2. So when exactly did members of the Connecticut militia first arrive at the Lexington Alarm? I have a great grandfather that Iʻm trying to ʻproveʻ as a supplemental for DAR…

    1. I am a descendant of Col. Seldon Spencer of Hinsdale, Mass. Also Isaac Bissell of Litchfield or Windsor, Conn. In 2013, we were at Hinsdale Cemetery to locate graves of Spencer family. We found them and were surprised to notice grave of Isreal Bissell nearby with a plaque from DAR noting his ride. Helen Garverick

  3. Both Israel and Isaac Bissell were present at Lexington. Isaac and Israel can both be found in the musters from Connecticut. Isaac Bissell (spelled Bissel in the archives) was a post rider, which is different than the men who delivered the alarm.

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