Famous as one of the people sent on a midnight horseback mission at the start of the American Revolutionary War to alert the colonial militia that the British were approaching, he went on to serve in the war as a member of a Boston regiment.
In the late 1760s, he joined a military regiment known as the Ancient and Honorable Artillery Company of Massachusetts.
The son of William Dawes and Lydia Boone, he spent his youth in Boston, Massachusetts. His first marriage to Mehitable May produced six children. He later married Lydia Gendall; they had one child together.