Paul Revere

Paul Revere (1735-1818) was a silversmith and engraver who became an American folk hero after his midnight ride to warn patriots of impending British troop movements.

Paul Revere by J S Copley 1768

Paul Revere by J S Copley 1768

Paul Revere’s life as a silversmith and engraver was changed by the conflict between Britain and its colonies and the American War of Independence. His ride from Boston to Lexington in 1775, and its commemoration in a ballad by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, turned him into an American folk hero.

Family and Early Life

Paul Revere was born on 1 January 1735. His father, Apollos De Revoire, was a Huguenot refugee who settled in Boston, Massachusetts as a child, where he was apprenticed to a silversmith. This trade was passed down to the young Paul, along with enough education to enable him to read books on metallurgy later in his life.

After serving in the army as a lieutenant of artillery in 1756, Revere continued his father’s trade, creating some fine pieces of silverware. To supplement his income he also took work engraving, making surgical instruments and replacing missing teeth.

The Boston Massacre

A great deal of tension existed between the American colonies and the British government with regard to taxation. British troops were deployed to police areas that were seen as becoming ungovernable, 3500 in Boston alone. On 5 March 1770 a platoon of eight soldiers were sent to disperse an angry crowd that had gathered around an argument between a soldier and a wigmaker’s apprentice. The crowd threw icy snowballs at the platoon, who panicked and opened fire. Five people were killed, including an Irish leather breeches-maker, Patrick Carr, and a black sailor, and former slave, Crispus Attucks.

The soldiers were tried for murder but were successfully defended by patriot, and future president, John Adams. The popular opinion of the colonists was that the shootings, which became known as the Boston Massacre, were a deliberate act and an engraving by Paul Revere helped to promote this view. Prints of Revere’s engraving, showing defenceless civilians being fired upon by a line of British soldiers, were widely circulated. It was also used on the front page of the Boston Gazette.

The Boston Tea Party

By 1773, the arguments over taxation without representation had escalated in Boston to a trade boycott against Britain. Although most of the Townshend Acts, imposing duties on goods imported into the colonies, had been repealed in 1770, a duty on tea was still in place. The 1773 Tea Act granted a monopoly on tea imports to the British East India Company. At some ports consignments were cancelled, but in Boston the royal governor, Thomas Hutchinson, declared that ships would be allowed to dock and all duties had to be paid. Three ships, the Dartmouth, the Eleanor and the Beaver, docked in Boston harbour but the consignees refused to pay the duties.

On the evening of 16 December 1773, when a meeting to discuss the fate of the cargoes broke up without agreement, a crowd of 50 to 60 men dressed as Mohawk Indians marched to the dock. Paul Revere was among them. After using hatchets to break open the 342 chests on board the ships, the men pushed the wreckage into the water, spilling 45 tons of tea into the harbour. It has been estimated that this was enough to make 24 million cups of tea. The acts passed in the British Parliament as punishment for The Boston Tea Party, known as the Intolerable Acts in the colonies, served only to unite opinion against the British government.

Paul Revere’s Ride

As an enthusiastic patriot, Paul Revere served as a rider for Boston’s Committee of Safety. He made frequent journeys to New York and Philadelphia. But it is for his ride in 1775 that he is famous. Knowing that British troop movements were imminent, Revere rode to Concord on 16 April to urge the patriots to move their military stores. He also arranged a signal as a warning of the British approach. Lanterns were to be placed in the steeple of Boston’s Old North Church, one if troops were moved by land and two if by sea.

Two days later, on 18 April 1775, three riders were despatched from Boston to warn John Hancock and Samuel Adams that the British were about to move and had orders to arrest them. One rider was arrested before departing, but Paul Revere and William Dawes evaded capture. Under the cover of darkness, Revere rowed across the Charles river and picked up a horse at Charlestown. Despite taking a longer route than Dawes, Revere arrived first at the vicarage of Reverend Jonas Clarke by Lexington Green. With the warning delivered, Hancock and Adams were able to flee to Woburn and spread the word. Revere and Dawes tried to continue on to Concord but were stopped by a British patrol before arriving. Revere returned to Lexington on foot after being released. Because of Revere’s warning, the minutemen were ready the following morning to oppose the British forces at Lexington Green.

War of Independence

During the American War of Independence Paul Revere served as a lieutenant colonel. He was put in command of Castle William in 1776 in defence of Boston Harbour. It was, however, as an industrialist that he made his most significant contribution to the war effort. By constructing a powder mill Revere was able to supply much-needed arms to the colonial forces.

Postwar Industrialist

After the war Revere continued his industrial endeavours. His engraving skills were put to good use when he designed and printed the first issue of continental money. In 1801 he created the Revere Copper Company at Canton, Massachusetts. The sheet copper produced by his mill was used for the dome of the Massachusetts statehouse and the sheathing for many ships, including the Constitution.

Commemoration

After Paul Revere’s death, on 10 May 1818, his life was commemorated in several ways. In 1863 a romanticised ballad of his ride from Boston to Lexington, The Midnight Ride of Paul Revere, was written by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow. And in 1871 the city of North Chelsea in Suffolk County, Massachusetts, just north-east of Boston, was renamed Revere in his honour.

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