Paul Revere and the Midnight Ride

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Paul Revere’s Early Life

Paul Revere was the eldest son of Apollis Rivoire – an immigrant from France who came to Boston at the tender age of 13 – and Deborah Hichborn, who was a Boston native and hailed from a family of artisans. In fact, both of Revere’s parents were artisans. Paul’s father, who changed his name to the more English-sounding Paul Revere, apprenticed with a Boston goldsmith and soon set up his own goldsmith shop in the North End of Boston. As soon as the young Paul Revere was old enough, he started as an apprentice with his father.

The Paul Revere home in Boston.

Revere, who was the eldest of seven children, seems to have been a dedicated and studious apprentice to his father. Tragedy struck the family when Revere was just 19 as his father passed away suddenly. Paul was forced to take over the family business. In addition to his mother and siblings,the young goldsmith soon had his own family to support. He married Sarah Orne in 1757 and had eight children with her.  Soon after she died in 1773, Revere remarried Rachel Walker, with whom he had another eight children.

Not only was Revere a master goldsmith, he supplemented his income by becoming a dentist and an engraver. His clients included the city’s upper class, along with other artisans, and the business was thriving. However, it was clear to the young smith that Boston as a whole was struggling economically, and he, like many others, believed this was due to the harsh taxes that the British were imposing on the American colonies.

The Path to Revolution

Revere soon joined the Freemasons, whose members included many colonial activists, and he befriended other activists, including James Otis and Dr. Joseph Warren. Revere soon began to take positions of leadership, and was given more and more responsibility. As tensions between the British and the Colonists grew, Revere was asked to spy on the British soldiers who were stationed nearby, and to report on their movement.

Not only was he a Freemason, but Revere also worked as a courier for Boston Committee of Correspondence and the Massachusetts Committee of Safety. Revere and other members of these groups took part in the Boston Tea Party, in which they dressed as Native Americans and dumped tea into Boston Harbor as a protest against British tea taxes. While Revere’s part in the Boston Tea Party is notable, it was his role as a messenger on the night of April 18, 1775 that etched his name in American history.

The Midnight Ride

On the evening of April 18, Dr. Warren summoned Revere to his house and asked the goldsmith to ride to Lexington, Massachusetts with news that the British troops were on the move and marching on the countryside northwest of Boston. According to Warren, the British planned to capture John Hancock and John Adams (two important figures in the American Revolution), and then to go to Lexington, where they would destroy or capture military supplies that were kept there. After meeting with Warren, Revere then went to the home of a friend, and asked him to shine two lanterns in the tower of a local church as a sign that Revere would be unable to leave town. Shining the lanterns meant that the British were rowing “by sea” across the Charles River to Cambridge, rather than marching “by land” out Boston Neck.

An artist’s rendering of Revere’s midnight ride.

After stopping by his own house to pick up supplies, Revere proceeded to the waterfront where he was met by two friends who would row him across the river to Charlestown. The three men slipped past a British warship in the darkness and landed safely on the other side. Revere confirmed with local members of the Sons of Liberty that they had seen lights in the Church Tower (meaning the British intended to come “by sea”), and then set off to meet John Larkin, who was a member of the Committee of Safety; Revere was to borrow Larkin’s horse so he could make his way to Concord. While the horse was being made ready, Larkin warned Revere that there were quite a few British army officers in the area who might try to stop him. Revere left Charlestown at around eleven at night and, after a short stop in the town of Medford, he arrived in the town of Lexington shortly after midnight.

When he arrived in Lexington, Revere approached the house where Hancock and Adams were staying. The guard of the house told Revere to be quiet and that he was making too much noise, to which Revere answered “Noise! You’ll have noise enough before long. The regulars (British soldiers) are coming out!” John Hancock, who was still awake, told the sentry to let Revere in, and Revere was able to deliver his message to Hancock and Adams. After giving the message, Revere was joined by William Dawes, another messenger, and they left for Concord at about half past twelve.

While on their journey, Revere and Dawes were joined by Dr. Samuel Prescott who they determined was a fellow “high son of liberty.” Soon afterwards however, the three men were captured by a British Patrol. Only Revere was captured, while the other two men were able to escape. Revere’s horse was confiscated and given to a British officer whose own horse was too tired to ride. Revere made his way to Lexington on foot, where he witnessed the latter part of the battle on Lexington Green.

Later Years

After the war, Revere returned to his life as an artisan and a businessman. He learned to learn copper and opened the United State’s first copper-rolling mill. He also operated a hardware store and later a foundry. Revere retired from working life in 1811, and died in Boston in 1818 at the age of 76.  

Paul Revere Fun Facts

  • Revere’s military record was not great. Four years after his midnight ride, Revere was commander of American Forces during the disastrous Penobscot Expedition of 1779. Despite at first outnumbering the British, the Americans failed to attack on time, and eventually had to retreat.  Revere was charged with cowardice and insubordination. He was court-martialed and dismissed from the American militia.
  • Henry Wordsworth Longfellow wrote a famous poem about Paul Revere’s ride. While the poem helped make Revere famous, much of it was fabricated and thus contributed to Revere’s legendary status.
  • Revere led the country’s first spy ring. According to th CIA, Revere began the first patriot intelligence network on record, a group known as the “mechanics.”
  • Revere was something of an artist. In addition to his smith work and dentistry, Revere created engravings that were used in books, magazines, political cartoons, and tavern menus.

Sources

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