Paul Revere was a colonial Boston silversmith, industrialist, propagandist and patriot immortalized in the Henry Wadsworth Longfellow poem describing Revere’s midnight ride to warn the colonists about a British attack. He gave the local militia a key advantage during the Battles of Lexington and Concord, sparking the Revolutionary War and eventual American independence.
Who Was Paul Revere?
Paul Revere was born in Boston’s North End at the end of 1734 (the exact date is unknown) to a French Huguenot father who ran a silversmith shop and a mother from a local family.
The young Revere was educated in reading and writing in school before completing his training as an apprentice to his silversmith father. At age 19, Revere inherited the business upon is father’s death. But he would leave the business briefly and show his political tendencies as he enlisted in a provincial army in 1756 during the French and Indian War.
Revere returned to Boston after a failed military expedition and started to build his family life and business. He wed Sarah Orne in 1765, and they would have eight children before she died nearly two decades later.
The silversmith was resourceful and dabbled in a range of work, taking on apprentices and workers who created specialty flatware, silver bowls, tea sets and even casting the first bell in Boston in his foundry. He turned to dentistry to augment his income when the colonial economy faltered during a recession.
Revere’s network was also expanding to include local activists angered by British rule. In the mid-1760s, as tensions were rising between the colonists and the British, he joined the rebellious Sons of Liberty.
Revere took part in the Stamp Act protests in 1765, which eventually led the Crown to repeal a tax that ignited the colonists’ hatred of taxation without representation.
With British troops in Boston and a rebellion stewing, Revere became a master propagandist, using his artisan skills to craft engravings that incited the colonists to join in the rebellion.
The growing unrest boiled over on March 5, 1770, when British troops and a crowd of colonists faced off on Boston’s King Street near the Customs house. The tense standoff ended in the Boston Massacre, as the British used their bayonet rifles to shoot and kill five unarmed colonists.
One of Reveres’ best-known pieces of propaganda depicted the violent night. He reworked a Henry Pelham drawing in an engraving and widely distributed prints of the stark image of armed British troops taking aim at the colonists.
Paul Revere’s House
Amid the growing political tensions in Boston, Revere continued to strengthen his roots in the colonial harbor city. In 1770, he bought the now-landmarked Paul Revere House at 19 North Square for his growing family.
Revere would live in his North End home on-and-off for 30 years as his family continued to evolve. After the death of his wife Sarah in 1773, he married Rachel Walker and they had eight additional children.
Revere sold the home in 1800, and it was purchased by his great-grandson roughly a century later to ensure it was preserved. The 1680 structure still stands today as the oldest building in downtown Boston.
The Midnight Ride of Paul Revere
As Revere was settling into his Boston home in the early 1770s, his activism continued.
He responded to the new laws about tea imports that bypassed Boston’s merchants by attending secret meetings with the inner circle who planned the Boston Tea Party. Revere joined other activists and dumped tea from the British East India Company on December 16, 1773, into Boston’s harbor.
His activism extended beyond the confines of Boston when Revere began work as a courier and rode from Boston to New York on horse to spread information about the colonies.
When his associates learned the British were moving troops out of Boston and planned to arrest revolutionary leaders Samuel Adams and John Hancock in Lexington, Massachusetts, Revere was tasked with tipping them off to help them avoid arrest.
He first used his signal system and had two lanterns placed on the Old North Church steeple in Boston to alert those on the harbor that the troops had left Boston and were crossing the Charles River.
Then, at about 10 p.m. on April 18, 1775, Revere set out in the dark from his North Boston home by horse with two other riders to reach Adams and Hancock. The riders met the pair in Lexington and enabled the revolutionaries to avoid arrest.
Revere’s next stop that late night was Concord, Massachusetts, a hotbed of the resistance and the suspected location of the British troops’ second attack. But Revere was captured by the British en route and never reached Concord.
He was soon released, but Revere had already helped give the colonial militia a key advantage by alerting them to the impending attack by the British. The Battles of Lexington and Concord would spark the Revolutionary War.
Paul Revere’s Ride
Revere remained active in the Revolutionary War, building Boston’s first gunpowder mill and joining a Massachusetts infantry, but his remaining war record was lackluster, and he was largely unknown in his lifetime.
He would become an American folk hero about 100 years later because of Henry Wadsworth Longfellow’s stirring retelling of his act of patriotism in “Paul Revere’s Ride.”
It begins with the now-famous lines, “Listen, my children, and you shall hear of the midnight ride of Paul Revere” and depicts a dangerous, midnight ride as Revere aggressively warns the colonists about the British attack. The poem recounts his lantern signal system in the lines “one if by land, two if by sea.”
The riveting poem made him an American hero, and while it contains historical inaccuracies, such as claiming Revere rode alone, the poem highlights the risks taken by this patriot at the start of the American Revolution and brought attention to the acts of heroism that led to American independence from the British.
The Paul Revere House. Paul Revere Memorial Association.
"Paul Revere's Ride." Academy of American Poets.
Revolutionary War Battles. American Battlefield Trust.
Paul Revere. Boston Tea Party Ships & Museum.