Friday, July 4, 2014

Paul Revere

Boston, MA  Visited July 2003

July is Patriot Month here at ISDP.  There may be no person whose genuine contributions to the American Revolution are more shrouded and obscured by legend than Paul Revere.  This true patriot did ride the ride, but his contribution to the cause of building a new nation was far more than one night on a horse.  Here’s the story.

Revere family seal

Paul Revere was born December 21, 1734 in Boston.  His father was a Protestant Huguenot, who had emigrated from France to the American colonies.  The elder Revere was a silversmith who apprenticed his son into the craft.  One thing the son didn’t tend take to was his father’s puritan spiritual bent.  But after a contentious relationship over religious matters, the father and son eventually came to similar Christian convictions.   The elder Paul Revere died when his son was 20 years old, leaving the silversmith business in limbo because young Paul was not of legal age to master it. 

Paul Revere House in Boston

Paul Revere’s early twenties included a short stint in the colonial army during the French and Indian War.  In the years following the war Revere was married (in 1757) and built his name as an artisan in silver.  But in the mid-1760s the local economy in Boston went into the tank, forcing the silversmith to learn dentistry.  One of Revere’s early patients was a doctor, Joseph Warren, who also happened to be one of the key early leaders in opposition to England’s rule of the colonies.  Revere’s friendship with Warren radicalized him and he became part of the Sons of Liberty, a band of colonists committed to disrupting the English presence in Boston.  Revere was one of the key ‘partiers’ among the Sons of Liberty during their Boston Tea Party on December 16, 1773. 

Depiction of Revere's ride by N. C. Wyeth

“The Midnight Ride” was just the most prominent mission of many that Paul Revere took as a patriot in the build-up to the Revolutionary War.  From 1773-75 he had signed on as courier rider for the various groups opposing the prevailing crown rule.  His job was to carry news between Boston and Philadelphia to help in the coordination of colonial resistance.   The Midnight Ride was all in a day's work. 

With the increasing presence of British troops in New England,  the colonists began to prepare for possible armed conflict.  They collected arms and ammunition in small town armories and developed a militia who became known as the Minute Men because of their commitment to mobilize at a moment’s notice.  On April 14, 1775 British General Gates received orders to move into the countryside to disarm the colonials and seize weapons stores.  

"One if by land...." Work by contemporary artist David Dibble

With the mobilization of troops on April 18 Revere was to set out on horseback with fellow patriot William Dawes to warn the colonials.  In order to determine the route of the British expedition Revere had previously arranged a signal system using lanterns (“One if by land, two if by sea”) in Old North Church, the tallest point in the city. 

Receiving the land route signal Revere set off on the road to Lexington and Concord west of Boston, alerting the militia along the way.  He arrived in Lexington around midnight and met with John Hancock  and Samuel Adams, who were lodging in the town (and were additional targets of the British excursion).  After conferring on the situation, Revere, Dawes and Samuel Prescott set out for Concord, where the largest stores of arms were hidden.  Revere was caught by the British and questioned about what was up ahead.  His answers had the effect of alerting the British that they had lost the element of surprise, so they reversed march and headed back to Boston.  By this time the Minute Men had taken up positions from which they could harass the British force on its return march.   

Location of Paul Revere's capture by the British on the way to Concord

Reaching Lexington the morning of April 19, the redcoats encountered a formed colonial militia on the Lexington Green, where ‘the shot heard round the world’ was fired; beginning the initial battle of the Revolutionary War.  During the battle Revere was released by the British at the expense of his horse but managed to make his way to Lexington where he assisted John Hancock's escape from town.   

Your blogger on Lexington Green
With the war begun Paul Revere enlisted as a major in the Massachusetts militia,  where he had a rocky experience.  His part in a failed military operation known as the Penobscot Expedition resulted in a court martial.  While he was exonerated by the trial his wartime military career was effectively ended.  However, Revere found numerous ways as a businessman and metalworker to assist in the war effort.  Though these activities brought him a certain amount of business and name recognition, there is no evidence that he profited unduly from the war.  In fact his activities seemed to have modeled the effective cooperation of the merchant class who underwrote much of the war effort for the ad hoc colonial army.  

Nighttime view of the Paul Revere statue in Boston with the Old North Church in the background

Paul Revere came out of the war not just a silversmith, but also a merchant and business and industrial innovator.  He worked with new technologies to produce a broad range of metal goods for high end and working class use.  He expanded into iron and copper working and became noted for his bell casting and armaments.  Revere also innovated in employment practices, becoming one of the first tradesmen to establish a hire for pay workforce to assist him.  He eventually passed on his diverse metalworking enterprises to his son, who kept the family business in operation through the 1800’s.  Revere Copper Works continues to produce housewares though it is now a subsidiary of another company.  And Revere’s personally designed and crafted silverware is highly valued not only for its historic merit but for its artistic quality as well.  

Crafty Revere Teapot at the Metropolitan Museum of Art

Unlike many first generation patriots of his stature, Paul Revere never sought or served in national office.  Yet he remained active in Massachusetts politics through his life.  In his personal life he was married twice.  His first wife Sarah, whom he married in when he was 23, bore him eight children and passed away in early 1773.  Less than a year later he married his second wife, Rachel, just two months before the Boston Tea Party.  They also had eight children over a forty-year marriage.  Tragically, only five of Revere’s sixteen children survived him.  

Revere late in life as painted by Gilbert Stuart

Paul Revere retired as a well-respected craftsman and successful merchant around the time of the War of 1812, leaving his businesses to his children.  He died of natural causes on May 10, 1818, at the age of 83, at his home on Charter Street in Boston.  In the Boston Intelligencer his obituary noted, "seldom has the tomb closed upon a life so honorable and useful."  He is buried in Boston’s Old Granary Burial Ground along with a number of other well-known patriots.  I have visited the burial ground on two occasions, most recently with my brother John and friend Bauer Evans. 


My view in July 2003 as I lurk just beyond the crowd of tourists


 Straightforward epitaph for a straightforward man.

For the next forty plus years Paul Revere would be a respected but historically obscure Boston patriot and merchant.  But in 1860 Henry Wadsworth Longfellow published a poem entitled “Paul Revere’s Ride”.  Though accurate in some of the basic details, the poem was a creative work intended to build civic lessons out of the story to stir the Union cause on the eve of the Civil War.  It worked and the poem, and its subject, have gone down in American history as emblematic of the spirit and resolve of liberty.        
Listen, my children, and you shall hear
Of the midnight ride of Paul Revere….

The full text of the poem can be found here.

One relatively modern reference point for the Boston silversmith is the Sixties pop band "Paul Revere and the Raiders".  Dressing in dandy colonial garb the group was supposedly a U.S. music answer to the 'British Invasion'.  As such the band scored a few minor hits.  But it was no match for the Beatles, Rolling Stones, Who and other British bands who owned the US charts in the mid Sixties.  If you're looking for some real Sixties Americana check out Paul Revere and the Raiders as The Penguin's house band in a weird episode of "Batman"

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