Celebrating 17 years

The True Story of Paul Revere

Chapter 1: The Patriotic Engraver

Paul Revere was born in Boston on January 1, 1735. His father, for whom he was named, had come to this country from the isle of Guernsey to learn the goldsmith's trade, and in 1723, after a visit to his boyhood home, had returned to America, determined to settle here for life.

Young Paul was put to school under Master John Tileston, who for eighty years was connected with the North Grammar School on North Bennet Street. When Revere left his school-books it was to graduate at once into his father's shop. There he quickly learned the trade, or, to speak more accurately, the art of the gold and silver smith. He proved as skilled in drawing and designing patterns for pitchers, ewers, tankards, spoons, braisers, mugs, etc., as in the actual mechanical work of manufacturing them.

In 1756 he had his first military experience, being then twenty-one years old. This was in the expedition against Crown Point, in which he held a commission from Governor William Shirley as a second lieutenant in the artillery. The service, however, proved uneventful.

The summer following this service Revere married Sarah Orne (born in Boston April 2, 1736) becoming his bride on the 17th of August, 1757. From that time forward he took and increasing and a prominent part in the political life of the time, and one occasion, at least, his pugnacious disposition got him into the police court, where he had to pay a fine and be bound over to keep the peace.

But for the most part Revere was no doubt a law-abiding citizen. He was certainly an industrious one, and increased his income from his regular business by turning his mechanical skill to account in many ingenious ways. He even tried dentistry, his ads appearing in the Boston Gazette and Country Journal.

An instance of Revere's dentistry came to light and served an important purpose when in 1776, after the evacuation of Boston, General Joseph Warren's body was exhumed by his friends from its unmarked burial place on Bunker Hill for the purpose of proper interment. The brothers of General Warren and his physician were reinforced in their identification of the body by Revere, who had set an artificial tooth for the general, and who testified that he recognized the wire he used in fastening it.

But it was as an engraver on copper that Revere saw an opportunity for his skill as a draftsman to find perhaps its most congenial outlet, since the exciting political events of the time readily lent themselves to pictorial treatment, and in a period long before the days of illustrated newspapers could be turned to good financial account. By 1765 his reputation as a clever, if somewhat crude, caricaturist was established.

Probably the best known of Revere's copper-plate engravings, because it was the most generally reproduced, is his view of "The Bloody Massacre perpetrated in King-Street, Boston, on March 5th 1770, by a party of the 29th Regt." But the painful fact must be recorded that Revere is under grave suspicion of having in this instance appropriated the work of another.

The basis of this charge is the following letter written to Revere by Henry Pelham, a contemporary engraver and miniaturist:

"SIR, When I heard you was cutting a plate of the later Murder, I thought it impossible as I knew was not capable of doing it unless you copied it from mine and as I thought I had intrusted it in the hands of a person who had more regard to the dictates of Honour and Justice than to take the undue advantage you have done of the confidence and trust I reposed in you.

"But I find I was mistaken and after being at great Trouble and Expence of making a design, paying for paper, printing &c, find myself in the most ungenerous Manner deprived not only of any proposed Advantage but even of the expence I have been at as truly as if you had plundered me on the highway.

"If you are insensible of the Dishonour you have brought on yourself by this Act, the World will not be so. However, I leave you to reflect and consider one of the most dishonourable Actions you could well be guilty

"H. Pelham."

This is a serious charge against Revere's honor and integrity, for if Pelham's statement is to be accepted, he loaned Revere a drawing he had made of the Massacre, from which Revere made an engraving, and marketed it without even so much as giving the real artist credit for his sketch, since the Revere plate bears only the inscription, "Engraved, Printed and Sold by Paul Revere."

Revere also drew a pen-and-ink plan of the massacre, showing King Street, with the houses facing on the street and the places where the military was drawn up and the victims fell. An engraving of five coffins, which appeared in the Boston Gazette and Country Journal, March 12, in illustration of an account of the massacre, was contributed by him.

As the first anniversary of the massacre approached, the town prepared to celebrate it with fitting ceremony. Revere made an interesting, picturesque and long-remembered contribution of his own to the observances.

He prepared a series of transparencies, which he displayed from the upper windows of his North Square house and which greatly impressed the crowds in the square below. The Boston Gazette reported that "the spectators were struck with solemn silence and their countenances were covered with a melancholy glow."

Revere's "views" of the town of Boston and the harbor, of which there are three different engravings, constituted a popular series of prints. They commemorated the coming of the obnoxious 14th and 29th regiments of British troops, which were quartered upon the town and the presence of which led to the massacre.

Revere subsequently furnished many engravings for the Royal American Magazine, including portraits of Sam Adams and John Hancock and numerous allegorical caricatures.

On the 3d of May, 1773, Revere's wife died. In the sixteen years since their marriage eight children had been born to them. Revere's wife died in May; he buried his youngest child, an infant of nine months, in September; and a fortnight after the letter event he married again. His second wife was Rachel Walker 9born in Boston, December 27, 1745), and they were married by the Rev. Samuel Mather, October 10, 1773.

Revere at thirty-nine, the father of a considerable family whose mother was scarcely five months in her grave, appears to have been a light-hearted swain, notwithstanding his household was doubtless, as a descendant charitably has explained, "in sore need of a mother's care."

One may find in the official records of the time ample evidence of Revere's active participation in the affairs of the town during this period. Whenever there was an important message to be carried to the sister colonies, he was the man to whom it was intrusted to be conveyed as speedily as horses' legs could take him, and in the petty matters of local administration he also helped as befitted the good citizen.

He was repeatedly appointed on committees, serving among others on the Committee on Lamps "when about to fix the Places for Erecting said Lamps." In August 1774 his name appears with twenty-one others in a list of those who refused to serve on the Suffolk grand jury, the last to sit under the Crown.

Among the numerous acts of Parliament intended to break the spirit of the colonists was one making the justices of the Supreme Court in Massachusetts independent of the people for their salaries. The grand jurors, Paul Revere being of the number, who had been returned to serve at the first term of the court after the news of the passage of this act was received, held a private meeting and caucused on the situation before appearing in court. After a solemn deliberation all but one of them signed an agreement declining to serve, and this objector ultimately also refused.

When court opened and the jurors were called, they refused to be sworn. The last name on the list was that of Thomas Pratt of Chelsea, who inquired, when he was called, whether the justices' salaries were to be paid by the Province or the King.

"Mr. Pratt," retorted the chief justice, "this court is organized as it always has been, and it can be of no importance to you, as a juror, whether our salaries be paid from the treasury of the crown or of the province"; to which Pratt replied with spirit: "I won't sarve." Revere used often in after life to relate this incident with keen relish.

Public opinion during the revolutionary period found opportunity to crystallize in both public and private gatherings. It would probably not be possible to exaggerate the influence of the numerous secret organizations of the time--- the Freemasons, the "Sons of Liberty," the North and South End "Caucuses"--- upon the events which helped to bring on the conflict with the mother country. In most of these Revere was a moving spirit.

The "Sons of Liberty" met in a distillery and also the Green Dragon Tavern, and arose out of the excitement attending the passage of the Stamp Act, being first called "The Union Club," but later taking a more descriptive name from an illusion in a speech of Colonel Barre, a friend of the colonists, in Parliament.

John Adams in his diary gives some interesting glimpses of these clubs:

"Feb. 1, 1763--- This day learned that the Caucus Club meets at certain times in the garret of Tom Dawes, the adjutant of the Boston regiment. He has a large house, and he has a movable partition in his garret, which he takes down, and the whole club meet in one room. There they smoke tobacco till you cannot see from one end of the garret to the other. Then they drink flip, I suppose, and there they choose a moderator, who puts questions to the vote regularly; and selectmen, assessors, collectors, wardens, firewards, and representatives, are regularly chosen before they are chosen in the town.

"Jany. 15, 1766--- Spent the evening with the Sons of Liberty at their own apartment in Hanover-Square near the Tree of Liberty. It is a counting-room, in Chase and Speakman's distillery; a very small room it is. There were present John Avery, a distiller of liberal education; John Smith, the brazier; Thomas Chase, distiller; Joseph Fields, master of a vessel; Henry Bass; George Trott, jeweler; and Henry Welles. I was very cordially and respectfully treated by all present. We had punch, wine, pipes and tobacco, biscuit and cheese, etc. They chose a committee to make preparations for grand rejoicings upon the arrival of the news of a repeal of the stamp act."

From which it appears that politicians are much the same in all times. Public officials were chosen by a ring in Boston in the year of our Lord 1763 before they were "chosen in the town," and the Revolution was hatched in a rum-shop, while those upon whom history has placed the seal of greatness and statesmanship filled themselves with "flip" in an atmosphere dense with tobacco smoke, as they plotted and planned the momentous events of the time!

 

End of Chapter One. Continue to
Chapter Two of The Story of Paul Revere