Who was Paul Revere, Really?

Silversmith and statesman, artist and family man, ardent patriot and the subject of one of America’s best-loved poems, Paul Revere was a fascinating and multi-faceted real-life person whose legacy is as enduring as the nation he helped to establish.

Gravestone engraved Revere Tomb

Paul Revere’s Gravestone, Granary Burial Ground, Boston, Massachusetts, United States. Photo by Robert Linsdell, (CC BY 2.0) via Flickr

Remembering the Midnight Ride of Paul Revere – April 18, 1775

The story of Paul Revere’s historic Midnight Ride to warn New England residents of the movements of the enemy British forces, on April 18, 1775, at the beginning of the American Revolution, is more than just an iconic tale from one nation’s history.

The wild ride through the night to alert colonists to be on defence of their fledgling country is a symbol of the ability of one individual’s actions to make a difference in the world – and that’s something we can all celebrate. Many others rode out that night with the same message, but it was Paul Revere who really rallied the population to rise up and rebel the British forces. This was in large part, it is argued by historians, because he was a well-established man with many social contacts and a strong reputation in his own and neighboring communities.

When a man like Paul Revere rode hard to bring an urgent message to his neighbors in the night, people got up, listened, paid attention, took up arms, and rode out in their turn to help spread the word.

Paul Revere and his historic ride may have entered the realm of American folktale, thanks to many re-tellings of the story in film, books, and most notably Longfellow’s famous poem, but rest assured – Paul Revere was a very real person in history, and a man of many different facets.

Read on and get to know this distinguished 18th-century American!

So, Who was this Man called Paul Revere?

American Patriot, Artisan, Silversmith, Artist, Businessman, Dentist, Family Man, and Figure of Folk Legend

Paul Revere and the Old North Church

Paul Revere and the Old North Church. Photo: Ben+Sam [CC BY-SA 2.0] on Flickr

Son of French Huguenot Immigrant and Boston Shipping Heiress

Paul Revere was a prominent silversmith, engraver, and patriot in Massachusetts in the time of the American Revolution (American War of Independence). He was born in Boston on New Year’s Day 1734/35 (due to the change from the Julian to the Gregorian calendar, dates before 1750 can often be given as two different years – confusing to beginning genealogists and students of history!) and died May 10, 1818.

He was the son of a French Huguenot immigrant named Apollos Rivoire, who had anglicized his name to Paul Revere sometime before his 1729 marriage to Deborah Hitchbourn, daughter of a prominent Boston shipping family.

Paul (Apollos) Rivoire, the father, was a skilled goldsmith and silversmith by trade. It was natural that his son Paul (the hero of our story) followed him into that craft.

Silverware shown here was created circa 1785-1810 by American silversmith Paul Revere, and forms part of the collection of the Worcester Art Museum, Worcester, Massachusetts, USA.

The “Reverware” Silverware shown here was created circa 1785-1810 by American silversmith Paul Revere, and forms part of the collection of the Worcester Art Museum, Worcester, Massachusetts, USA. Photo: Daderot (Own work) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Many Children and Many Skills

Paul Revere, the American patriot and folk hero, saw brief military service in 1756 in the French and Indian War, but he soon returned to Boston to take over his father’s business.

In 1757 he married his first wife, Sarah Orne. The couple had eight children, but only one son lived to maturity. Shortly after becoming a widower in 1773, Revere was married a second time, to Rachel Walker. Their union produced another eight children.

To support this large family – the market for fine silverware was rather tight, in those final days of the colonial era on the eve of revolution – Paul Revere turned his hand to a variety of other business ventures.

He made surgical instruments, sold spectacles, and engraved copper plates for printing pieces and news illustrations – the dramatic and somewhat fictionalized Boston Massacre engraving being one of his most famous works today.

This engraving by Paul Revere was created in 1770

Engraving of The Boston Massacre, 1770, by Paul Revere: “The bloody massacre perpetrated in King Street Boston on March 5th 1770 by a party of the 29th Regt.” This engraving by Paul Revere was created in 1770. Image source: Paul Revere [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Believe it or not…  Paul Revere even advertised his services as a dentist and denturist (someone who makes false teeth and dental plates. In fact, Revere worked in that field for a number of years – but he did not make a set of false teeth for George Washington (according to Frank E. Grizzard, George Washington: A Biographical Companion), despite a persistent modern rumor to the contrary. That idea is just an attractive myth, not true. But wouldn’t it have made a good story?!

Rider for the Whig Patriots

Revere took his most famous ride in 1775, but it was not his only mission for the Patriot Cause

It was in the 1770s that Paul Revere became politically active in the movement for American independence, meeting with such notable patriots as Joseph Warren, John Hancock, James Otis,and Samuel Adams.

He acted frequently as a “rider” or courier in the Whig patriot cause, carrying messages on horseback to New York, Philadelphia and around New England for Boston’s Committee of Safety.

The feat for which Paul Revere is best remembered and celebrated, however, is of course the famous Midnight Ride of April 18, 1775, commemorated in the well-known poem by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, “Paul Revere’s Ride”:

Listen, my children, and you shall hear

Of the midnight ride of Paul Revere,

On the eighteenth of April, in Seventy-Five:

Hardly a man is now alive

Who remembers that famous day and year…

Henry Wadsworth Longfellow wrote his famous poem in 1861, more than 40 years after Paul Revere’s death. Although the poet did research the event before writing about it, he did depart from strict historical accuracy in relation to the facts of the ride, in the interests of poetic license and to create an American folk hero.

The full text of the poem “Paul Revere’s Ride” may be found online as part of the collection, The Children’s Own Longfellow, courtesy of Project Gutenberg; the poem Paul Revere’s Ride alone at the Atlantic magazine online, and many other locations. The poem long ago passed out of copyright and into the public domain. A dramatic reading of the Longfellow poem has for many years been a popular piece for school pageants and skits around the Fourth of July.

Icon of Boston History

Today, visitors to Boston, Massachusetts, are further reminded of the legacy and legend of Paul Revere by many historic sites and landmarks. One of these sites is the Old North Church, the rallying point where the signal for the famous Midnight Ride shone out into the night. Equally interesting is the landmark building that was Paul Revere’s own home, which was the starting point of his legendary midnight ride.

Old North Church

Tower of the Old North Church, Boston, Massachusetts, USA. Source: Shibby777 [CC BY-SA 2.0] on Flickr

Boston’s Old North Church is the location from which the famous “One if by land, two if by sea” signal was sent out – as a result of Revere’s famous ride – to warn the patriots across the river at Charleston of the British Army’s impending arrival in force.

A plaque mounted on the brick portion of the steeple of the Old North Church (Christ Church, on Salem Street, Boston) – reads:

The signal lanterns of

Paul Revere

displayed in the steeple of this church

April 18 1775

warned the country of the march

of the British troops to

Lexington and Concord.

The Home of Paul Revere

Paul Revere House, North End, Boston, Massachusetts, USA.

Paul Revere House, North End, Boston, Massachusetts, USA. Photo: Jameslwoodward (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0], via Wikimedia Commons

Paul Revere House, North End, Boston, Massachusetts, USA.
Source: Jameslwoodward (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0], via Wikimedia Commons

The house at 19 North Square was built in 1680 and is the oldest surviving building in downtown Boston. Paul Revere owned it from 1770 to 1800, and it was from this house that he set out on his legendary Midnight Ride.

Learn more about Paul Revere

If you’d like to learn even more about Paul Revere, his life, and his role in the American Revolution, Biography.com has a wonderful 42-minute film documentary on Paul Revere that you can watch online.

See also the interesting links listed on this page, for further online learning.

There are also many excellent books about the life and times of Paul Revere, especially a couple of imaginative “introduction to American history” books created for elementary school-aged children.

A Picture Book of Paul Revere by David A. Adler

A Picture Book of Paul Revere by David A. Adler

This charming picture book is ideal for bedtime reading by a parent or caregiver of preschoolers and pre-readers, as well as an excellent choice for early readers to enjoy independently at story time.

The pictures carry something of the mood of a fairytale, with soft colors and simplified, almost whimsical landscapes, but there is plenty of detail and action to hold a child’s attention at the same time. Recommended for ages 6 and up.

Paul Revere's Ride by Xavier W. Niz

Paul Revere’s Ride by Xavier W. Niz

For children who are reluctant readers, or who need a little help in visualizing the characters of the past as real people at the heart of desperate times and life-or-death real-world events – those on the brink of the American War of Independence, for example, such as Paul Revere’s famous ride to warn New Englanders of the impending British invasion. A graphic novel can be an easy-to-read entry point for reluctant readers or kids who don’t have a pre-existing interest in American history. We’ve found that boys in particular will enjoy the Graphic Library’s lively “comic” book.   Paul Revere’s Ride by Xavier Niz, illustrated by Brian Bascle, is recommended for ages 8 and up.

Best Links to More Facinating Facts about Paul Revere

 

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likes to make and do and think and explore and share what is discovered. She is also incurably curious. If you are, too, you can find her posting as Flycatcher...r...r on Twitter and Google Plus.

One comment

  • This was perfect timing to read this as I went to the fort in New Hampshire where Paul Revere also rode. They told about his famous ride, which wasn’t that far from Massachusetts. It’s great for kids (and adults) to read about this, then visit some of the places. I wish I had gone to his house that you mentioned in this article. Oh well, next time 🙂

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