American revolutionary Paul Revere was immortalized in the Henry Wadsworth Longfellow poem “The Midnight Ride of Paul Revere,” for bearing news of an impending British invasion to the town of Lexington, Massachusetts, a hotbed of radical activity.
Although most familiar as the hard-riding hero of Longfellow’s poem, Paul Revere’s claims to historical significance rest even more on his talent as a craftsman and on his industrial perspicacity. The son of a Huguenot silversmith, Apollos Rivoire, and Deborah Hitchbourn, Revere received a rudimentary “writing-school” education before turning to his father’s trade. Upon the latter’s death, Paul at nineteen assumed artistic responsibility for the family’s shop. Over the next twenty years, he became one of the preeminent American goldsmiths–a term that encompassed every phase of the eighteenth-century precious-metals craftsman’s art. Besides silver bowls, utensils, pots, and flatware (many of which are museum pieces today), Revere and his apprentices and journeymen turned out a variety of engravings: pictures, cartoons, calling cards, bookplates, tradesmen’s bills, and even music. As a sideline, he practiced what passed for dentistry in his day, developing as well a rudimentary form of orthodontia.
From the beginning, Revere participated in public affairs. During the French and Indian War, Richard Gridley (who had commanded the artillery at the siege of Louisbourg and was later to direct the American digging-in at Bunker Hill) organized an artillery regiment. Commissioned a second lieutenant, Revere participated during 1756 in the failed expedition against Crown Point.
Revere became a Freemason in 1760, and soon joined two more overtly political groups–the Sons of Liberty and the North End Caucus. Through them, he participated in Samuel Adams’s gradually accelerating movement toward independence, serving primarily as a courier and an engraver of propaganda pictures, the two best-known examples of which are a “view” of British ships landing troops in 1768 and a wildly inaccurate cartoon depicting the Boston Massacre of 1770.
The highlight of his Whig activity came the night of April 18-19, 1775, when on Joseph Warren’s orders he crossed the Charles River and rode to Lexington to warn Samuel Adams and John Hancock that British troops were coming through on their way to Concord. Revere got the word to the radical leaders, but a British patrol prevented any further progress. Once hostilities began, Revere once again joined the artillery, serving without note until the disastrous expedition to Castine, Maine. In the aftermath of the American rout there, he faced charges of disobedience and incompetence that, although ultimately refuted, permanently ended his service.
Thereafter, Revere turned his energies to commerce. Developing a profitable foundry and hardware business, he planned and established the nation’s first successful sheet-copper mill. The navy could now copper-bottom all its ships, including the frigate ussConstitution, with American-rolled copper. In his later life, Revere served as grand master of the Masonic Grand Lodge, as one of the organizers of Boston’s first successful mutual fire insurance company, as Suffolk County coroner, and as the first president of the Boston Board of Health.
Esther Forbes, Paul Revere and the World He Lived In (1942; reprint, 1962).
HILLER B. ZOBEL
The Reader’s Companion to American History. Eric Foner and John A. Garraty, Editors. Copyright © 1991 by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company. All rights reserved.