Every schoolboy knows and loves the story of the midnight ride of Paul Revere. But hardly anybody has heard of the twenty-day, fifteen-hundred-mile ride of “Billy” Phillips, the President’s express courier, who in 1812 carried to the Southwest the news that the people of the United States had entered upon a second war with their British kinsmen. William Phillips was a young, lithe Tennesseean whom Senator Campbell took to Washington in 1811 as secretary. When not more than sixteen years old he had enjoyed the honor of riding Andrew Jackson’s famous steed, Truxton, in a heat race, for the largest purse ever heard of west of the mountains, with the proud owner on one side of the stakes. In Washington he occasionally turned an honest penny by jockey-riding in the races on the old track of Bladensburg, and eventually he became one of a squad of ten or twelve expert horsemen employed by the Government in carrying urgent long-distance messages.
After much hesitation, Congress passed a joint resolution at about five o’clock on Friday, June 18, 1812, declaring war against Great Britain. Before sundown the express couriers were dashing swiftly on their several courses, some toward reluctant New England, some toward Pennsylvania and New York, some southward, some westward. To Phillips it fell to carry the momentous news to his own Tennessee country and thence down the Mississippi to New Orleans. That the task was undertaken with all due energy is sufficiently attested in a letter written by a Baptist clergyman at Lexington, North Carolina, to a friend, who happened to have been one of Jackson’s old teachers at the Waxhaws. “I have to inform you,” runs the communication, “that just now the President’s express-rider, Bill Phillips, has tore through this little place without stopping. He came and went in a cloud of dust, his horse’s tail and his own long hair streaming alike in the wind as they flew by. But as he passed the tavern stand where some were gathered he swung his leather wallet by its straps above his head and shouted—’Here’s the Stuff! Wake up! War! War with England!! War!!!’ Then he disappeared in a cloud of dust down the Salisbury Road like a streak of Greased Lightnin’.” Nine days brought the indefatigable courier past Hillsboro, Salisbury, Morganton, Jonesboro, and Knoxville to Nashville—a daily average of ninety-five miles over mountains and through uncleared country. In eleven days more the President’s dispatches were in the hands of Governor Claiborne at New Orleans.
The joy of the West was unbounded. The frontiersman was always ready for a fight, and just now he especially wanted a fight with England. He resented the insults that his country had suffered at the hands of the English authorities and had little patience with the vacillating policy so long pursued by Congress and the Madison Administration. Other grievances came closer home. For two years the West had been disturbed by Indian wars and intrigues for which the