Sunday, December 4, 2011

Paul Revere

Portrait of Revere by Copley, circa 1768
Paul Revere was a silversmith and patriot in the American Revolution. He is most famous for alerting local militia of the approaching British forces shortly before the battle of Lexington and Concord.

Born in the North End of Boston in December of 1734, Revere's father was Apollos Rivoire, a French Huguenot immigrant who later changed his name to Paul Revere to fit in with the other English immigrants in the city. Revere's mother was Deborah Hichborn, a daughter of a local artisan family.

Paul Revere served as an apprentice in his father's goldsmith shop. After his father died when Paul Revere was 19 years old, he took over his father's shop and became responsible for his large family. At age 21, Revere volunteered to fight in the French and Indian War at Lake George in New York and was appointed second lieutenant in the colonial artillery. He soon returned to civilian life and married Sarah Orne in 1757. Together they had eight children. Three of Paul and Sarah's daughters later married into Abraham Lincoln's family.

Although Paul Revere's silversmith shop was successful and his work was sought after, the economic depression before the American Revolution hit his business hard and he was forced to supplement his income by working as an engraver, a courier and also as a dentist.

An important step in Paul Revere's life was when he joined the Masonic Lodge of St. Andrew in September of 1760. Here he met patriot activists such as Joseph Warren, James Otis and John Hancock and soon became involved in the activities of the American Revolution.

The Green Dragon Tavern
Paul Revere also joined the Sons of Liberty, a group of political militants who organized protests against British forces. The Sons of Liberty were responsible for dumping millions of dollars worth of tea into Boston harbor during the Boston Tea Party in 1765. The group would often meet at the Green Dragon Tavern, a pub owned by his mason lodge, to hash out their plans.

 Unlike many other patriot activists at the time, such as Samuel Adams and John Hancock, Paul Revere was not a member of the noble class and aside from his activities in the mason lodge, his limited education and vocation as an artisan prevented him from traveling in the same social circles as many of the other activists.

Tragedy struck when Revere's wife died in childbirth in 1773, leaving him a widower with a newborn and many children to care for. He remarried later in the year to a woman named Rachel Walker, with whom he had eight more children.

It was Revere's job as a courier for the Boston Committee of Public Safety and his involvement in the mason lodge that led to his famous ride. On the night of April 18, 1775, fellow lodge member Dr. Joseph Warren instructed Revere, as well as William Dawes, to ride to Lexington and warn John Hancock, Samuel Adams and local militia of approaching British forces. Along the way, Revere and Dawes met local physician Samuel Prescott, who decided to join them. The ride was later immortalized in a poem by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow titled Paul Revere's Ride.

Revere also wrote his own account of his famous ride and his eventual capture by British troops: "When we had got about half way from Lexington to Concord, the other two stopped at a house to awake the men, I kept along. When I had got about 200 yards ahead of them, I saw two officers as before. I called to my company to come up, saying here was two of them, (for I had told them what Mr. Devens told me, and of my being stopped). In an instant I saw four of them, who rode up to me with their pistols in their bands, said ''G---d d---n you, stop. If you go an inch further, you are a dead man.'' Immediately Mr. Prescot came up. We attempted to get through them, but they kept before us, and swore if we did not turn in to that pasture, they would blow our brains out, (they had placed themselves opposite to a pair of bars, and had taken the bars down). They forced us in. When we had got in, Mr. Prescot said ''Put on!'' He took to the left, I to the right towards a wood at the bottom of the pasture, intending, when I gained that, to jump my horse and run afoot. Just as I reached it, out started six officers, seized my bridle, put their pistols to my breast, ordered me to dismount, which I did. One of them, who appeared to have the command there, and much of a gentleman, asked me where I came from; I told him. He asked what time I left. I told him, he seemed surprised, said ''Sir, may I crave your name?'' I answered ''My name is Revere. ''What'' said he, ''Paul Revere''? I answered ''Yes.'' The others abused much; but he told me not to be afraid, no one should hurt me. I told him they would miss their aim. He said they should not, they were only waiting for some deserters they expected down the road. I told him I knew better, I knew what they were after; that I had alarmed the country all the way up, that their boats were caught aground, and I should have 500 men there soon. One of them said they had 1500 coming; he seemed surprised and rode off into the road, and informed them who took me, they came down immediately on a full gallop. One of them (whom I since learned was Major Mitchel of the 5th Reg.) clapped his pistol to my head, and said he was going to ask me some questions, and if I did not tell the truth, he would blow my brains out. I told him I esteemed myself a man of truth, that he had stopped me on the highway, and made me a prisoner, I knew not by what right; I would tell him the truth; I was not afraid.”

Portrait of Revere by Stuart, circa 1813
After the war began, Paul Revere served as a lieutenant colonel in the Massachusetts State Train of Artillery and commanded Castle Island in the harbor. Paul Revere's military career was unremarkable and ended with the failed Penobscot expedition in 1779 during which he disobeyed orders and was charged with insubordination, ordered to resign command of Castle Island, was dismissed from the military and placed temporarily under house arrest. Revere was eventually acquitted.

After the revolution, Paul Revere expanded his business and began exporting his goods to England. He also ran a small hardware store until 1789 and ran his own foundry where he made bolts, spikes and nails for local ships such as the U.S.S. Constitution. Revere also produced cannons and cast bells. In 1801, he opened the first copper rolling mill in America and created copper sheeting for the hull of the U.S.S. Constitution and the dome of the Massachusetts States House in 1803.

Paul Revere continued to work well into his old age before he finally retired at the age of 76. He became a widower again in 1813 when his wife Rachel died after a short illness. Five years later, Paul Revere died of natural causes on May 10, 1818 at 83 years of age and was buried in Boston's Granary Burying Ground.
Paul Revere's Grave in Boston

A True Republican: The Life of Paul Revere; Jayne E. Triber

The Paul Revere House: Paul Revere Biography

America's Homepage: Paul Revere's Account of His Midnight Ride to Lexington

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