Paul Revere–Silversmith, Soldier, Spy
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.
Paul Revere’s Ride, by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow
Every American school child is familiar with Longfellow’s 1860 poem, which begins with these iconic lines, and outlines the famous ride of Paul Revere at the start of the Revolutionary War. As with most authors, however, Longfellow rearranged and simplified some of the facts of Paul Revere’s ride to better make a rhyme for children to remember.
Paul Revere was a member of the Sons of Liberty, a band of men in Boston headed by Samuel Adams. They had formed in retaliation to the British troops that had occupied the town for a number of years, making life miserable for the inhabitants, and their members were well-known among the British troops.
On April 18, 1775, Revere got in touch with Dr. Joseph Warren, one of the last remaining patriots left in Boston. Warren had intelligence that the British were going to move out that evening and march into the countryside where they would destroy the armaments of the colonists. They were planning to march to Lexington and Concord. One messenger had already been sent, and Revere was to be the other, giving warnings to Samuel Adams and John Hancock in Lexington before galloping on to Concord.
The only missing piece of intelligence was whether the British would exit Boston by sea or land. The patriots needed all the extra time they could get, so Paul Revere contacted a friend of the cause whose responsibility it was to hang the famous signal in the bell tower of Christ Church, now known as the Old North Church. One lantern if by land, two if by sea. As most everyone now knows, two lanterns were hung and the British began loading up their vessels for the crossing. Progress was so slow that the advantage of a fast sea voyage was lost. Regardless, Paul Revere slipped past the British in the Charles River and landed in Charlestown, where he set off by horseback on his famous ride, where he issued an alarm to the countryside that the British were on their way. In actuality, Revere was but one messenger in an alarm and muster system that had been established months before. Also riding this same night were William Dawes and Samuel Prescott. The system proved so effective that people in towns twenty-five miles away were made aware of the troops’ movements while they were still disembarking from their ships in Cambridge.
Paul Revere was born December 21, 1734, the third of twelve children of Apollos Rivoire, later anglicized to Revere, a French Huguenot who arrived in Boston when he was 13 and became an apprentice silversmith and Deborah Hitchborn, from a prominent Boston family.
Revere received his military training during the French and Indian War. Returning to Boston upon his father’s death, he took over the family business and made a name for himself in Boston as a master silversmith. He was a prominent entity in the city and his work with the Sons of Liberty allowed him to pull together an intelligence and alarm system against the British. These were the early days of the American militia and Revere played a dominant role, serving as a Massachusetts militia officer.
Fearing for his safety and that of his family, Paul Revere left Boston following the battles of Lexington and Concord. His eldest son, Paul, Jr. stayed in town to keep an eye on the business, but Paul and the rest of his family moved to Watertown, MA where he continued to support the rebellion.
Following the Revolutionary War, he returned to his silversmith trade, eventually becoming the first American to roll copper into sheets for use on naval vessels. He was married twice, first to Sarah Orne, then, upon her death, to Rachel Walker. He sired eight children with each wife, five of whom didn’t survive infancy.
The Revolutionary War was fought by men such as Paul Revere–artisans, farmers, merchants, fur trappers–whose only ambition was to make a better life for themselves and their families. I’m getting to know these men while writing my children’s series. The war as seen through the eyes of a child puts things in a different perspective from the history books and makes for a great learning experience, for both myself and for those children who will read the story.