Celebrating 17 years

The True Story of Paul Revere

Chapter 4: The Citizen and Soldier
1775-1777

Immediately after the battle of Lexington Revere decided to take up his residence for a time in Charlestown, conceiving, no doubt, that this would be a more congenial place of abode during the troublous times then upon the country than Boston, where persons known to be in sympathy with the patriots were having life made not particularly comfortable for them by the royalist authorities and the red-coat soldiery.

So Revere told his wife to pack up the household goods, and leave his shop in the custody of a friend, who was given leave to conduct the business for himself.

He wrote his wife:

"My Dear Girl "I received your favor yesterday. I am glad you have got yourself ready. If you find that you cannot easily get a pass for the Boat, I would have you get a pass for yourself and children and effects. Send the most valuable first. I mean that you should send Beds enough for yourself and Children, my chest, your trunk, with books, Cloaths &c to the ferry tell the ferryman they are mine.

I will provide a house here where to put them & will be here to receive them. After Beds are come over, come with the Children, except Paul. Pray order him by all means to keep at home that he may help bring the things to the ferry. Tell him not to come till I send for him.

You must hire somebody to help you. You may get brother Thomas. Lett Isaac Clemens if he is a mind to take care of the shop and maintain himself there, he may, or do as he has a mind. Put sugar in a raisin cask or some such thing & such necessarys as we shall want. Tell Betty, My Mother, Mrs. Metcalf if they think to stay, as we talked at first, tell them I will supply them with all the cash & other things in my power but if they think to come away, I will do all in my power to provide for them, perhaps before this week is out there will be liberty for Boats to go to Notomy, and then we can take them all.

If you send the things to the ferry send enough to fill a cart, them that are the most wanted. Give Mrs. Metcalf [the letter is torn at this place] in, their part of the money I don't remember the sums, but perhaps they can. I want some linen and stockings very much. Tell Paul I expect he'l behave himself well and attend to my business, and not be out of the way. My Kind love to our parents & our Children Brothers & Sisters & all friends."

To his fifteen-year old son Paul, Revere added this postscript:

"My Son.

"It is now in your power to be serviceable to me, your Mother and yourself. I beg you will keep yourself at home or where your Mother sends you. Don't you come away till I send you word. When you bring anything to the ferry tell them it is mine & mark it with my name.

"Your loving Father "P.R."

It would appear from these admonitions to young Paul that that young man was addicted to running away from home. Probably he stayed out nights with the other boys of the North End. Certainly there were plenty of exciting things to talk about and prowl into in those stirring weeks to tempt the adventurous spirit of any normally constituted boy. Without a doubt Paul, Jr., was a chip of the parental block.

There was some further correspondence between Revere and his wife relative to the securing of the necessary passes for the ferrying of herself, family, and household goods across the river to Charlestown, and we may assume that the little expedition reached its destination in safety. Quite likely the family remained in this retreat until after the evacuation of Boston by the British in March, 1776.

Revere's exploits in the colony's service had attracted wide attention and were even chronicled in the London newspapers.

One of the first acts of the second Continental Congress, which met in Philadelphia May 10, 1775, was to authorize the issue of a sum not exceeding two millions of Spanish milled dollars in bills of credit "for the defence of America." John Adams and Benjamin Franklin were members of the committee appointed to superintend the printing, and they gave the job to Paul Revere, who engraved the plate and printed the bills on such thick paper that the British called it the "paste-board currency of the rebels."

On the 8th of the following December the Massachusetts Provincial congress entered into a contract on its own account with Revere1, who agreed as follows:

[Watertown December 8, 1775]

"I, the Subscriber agree to Engrave the Plates & make the necessary alterations in the same, and Print the number of bills the Hon. House of Representatives shall order, for the sum on one penny half penny, old Tenor, each bill, and finde the Paper, and all the materials, the paper to be equal to the last Emmission. As the alteration & engraving will not be quite so much work as the last, I agree to alow thirty shillings L. Money, out of the whole."

Paul Revere

"Memorandum.

"The Paper for the last cost me Six dollars a Rheam, when I did not expect to give but four, which made 44 dollars odds. The Committee of the House ordered the paper to be made, & did not agree for the price, & I was obliged to pay the paper maker his demand."

On May 3, 1775, a committee of the Provincial congress sitting at Watertown was authorized to procure a copper-plate for printing securities amounting to £1000,000, issued at six per cent, for war purposes, payable June 1, 1777. A contract was made with Revere to prepare the notes, and he engraved the plate, built a press, and did the printing. The scarcity of ready money in those troublous times is seen in the vote passed on the 3d of June, directing Revere to "attend the business of stamping the notes for the soldiers, all the ensuing night, if he can, and to finish them with the greatest dispatch possible."

The importance of taking precautions against theft and counterfeiting was duly impressed upon the engraver by a committee appointed June 21 to wait upon Revere and advise "that he does not leave his engraving press exposed, when he is absent from it." The committee was likewise instructed to see that the plates were placed in possession of Congress as soon as the notes were printed.

At this period Revere busied himself also in making designs for coins, medals, etc., and probably in designing the frames, ornate but full of character, which surround many of John Copley's famous portraits and have been preserved to this day. He made the seal with the familiar Indian figure upon it which the colony began using in 1775 and was in use until 1780. One of the first acts of the governor's council after the adoption of the new State constitution was to provide for an official seal, and Revere was of course given the work of engraving it.

He estimated it as being worth £900 and sent in his bill accordingly; but it met the usual fate of Revere's charges when dealing with the government, for the Council, esteeming it to high, reduced it to £600 or £8 hard money, equal to £15 New Emission."

The rebellious spirit among the colonists was, as is now perhaps more generally appreciated than formerly, by no means unanimous, nor anywhere near so. Many of the leading citizens viewed the extremes to which Sam Adams and the "Sons of Liberty" were going with very dubious forebodings.

By this class Adams and his fellows were regarded as political agitators and demagogues of a dangerous type. It is not strange, therefore, that in their loyalty to the King there should be persons among the Tories who should deem it but true patriotism toward the mother country to report to the authorities the deeds and sayings of the plotters against the King's peace.

One such, Dr. Benjamin Church, was so bold in his public alliances with the fomenters of rebellion that he for a long time escaped detection. He was a well-known character, being, in 1774, a member of the Provincial congress from Boston, and also physician-general to the army then forming. Essaying an active interest in the plans for resisting British aggression, he became a member of the "Sons of Liberty," and was in the habit of attending the caucuses at the Green Dragon Tavern.

In his letter to Jeremy Belknap, secretary of the Massachusetts Historical Society, in 1798, Revere thus describes the strange conduct of Dr. Church, which, with other circumstances, served at length to fix suspicion upon him: "We held our meetings at the Green Dragon Tavern. We were so careful that our meetings should be kept secret, that every time we met every person swore upon the Bible that they would not discover any of our transactions but to Messrs Hancock, Adams, Doctors Warren, Church, and one or two more.

About November, when things began to grow serious, a gentleman who had connections with the Tory party but was a Whig at heart, acquainted me, that our meetings were discovered, and mentioned the identical words that were spoken among us the night before. We did not then suspect Dr. Church, but supposed it must be some one among us. We removed to another place, which we thought was more secure; but here we found that all our transactions were communicated to Governor Gage. (This came to me through the then Secretary Flucker; he told it to the gentleman mentioned above.) It was then a common opinion, that there was a traitor in the Provincial Congress, and that Gage was possessed of all their secrets.

As I have mentioned Dr. Church perhaps it might not be disagreeable to mention some matters of my own knowledge respecting him. He appeared to be a high Son of Liberty. He frequented all the places where they met, was encouraged by all the leaders of the Sons of Liberty, and it appeared he was respected by them, though I knew that Dr. Warren had not the greatest affection for him. He was esteemed a very capable writer, especially in verse, and as the Whig party needed every strength, they feared as well as courted him. Though it was known that some of the liberty songs which he composed were parodized by him in favor of the British, yet none dared charge him with it.

I was a constant and critical observer of him, and I must say that I never thought him a man of principle; and I doubted much in my own mind whether he was a real Whig. I knew that he kept company with a Captain Price, a half-pay officer, and that he frequently dined with him and Robinson, one of the Commissioners. I knew that one of his intimate acquaintances asked him why he was so often with Robinson and Price. His answer was that he kept company with them on purpose to find out their plans.

The day after the Battle of Lexington, I met him in Cambridge, when he shewed me some blood on his stocking, which he said spirted from a man who was killed near him, and he was urging the militia on. I well remember, that I argued to myself, if a man will risk his life in a cause, he must be a friend to that cause; and I never suspected him after, till he was charged with being a traitor.

"The Friday evening after, about sunset, I was sitting with some, or near all that committee, [the Committee of Safety] in their room, which was at Dr. Hastings' house in Cambridge. Dr. Church all at once, start up. Dr. Warren, said he, I am determined to go into Boston tomorrow (it set them all a-staring). Dr. Warren replied, are you serious, Dr. Church? They will hang you if they catch you in Boston. He replied, I am serious, and am determined to go at all adventures.

After a considerable conversation, Dr. Warren said, if you are determined, let us make some business for you. They agreed that he should go to get medicine for their and our wounded officers. He went next morning; and I think he came back on Sunday evening. After he had told the committee how things were, I took him aside and inquired particularly how they treated him. He said, that as soon as he got to their lines, on Boston Neck, they made him a prisoner, and carried him to General Gage, where he was examined, and then he was sent to Gould's barracks, and was not suffered to go home but once.

After he was taken up, for holding a correspondence with the British, I came across Deacon Caleb Davis; -- we entered into conversation about him; -- he told me, that the morning Church went into Boston, he (Davis) received a billet for General Gage (he then did not know that Church was in town) when he got to the general's house, he was told, the General could not be spoke with, that he was in private with a gentleman; that he waited near half an hour, when General gage and Dr. Church came out of a room, discoursing together, like persons who had been long acquainted.

He appeared to be quite surprised at seeing Deacon Davis there; that he (Church) went where he pleased, while in Boston, only a Major Caine, one of Gage's aids, went with him. I was told by another person, whom I could depend upon, that he saw Church go into General Gage's house at the above time; that he got out of the chaise and went up the steps more like a man that was acquainted than a prisoner.

Some time after perhaps a year or two, I fell in company with a gentleman who studied with Church; in discoursing about him, I related what I have mentioned above; he said, he did not doubt that he was in interest of the British; and that he know for certain, that a short time before the Battle of Lexington (for he lived with him, and took care of his business and his books), he had no money by him, and was much drove for money; that all at once, he had several hundred new British guineas; and that he thought at the time where they came from."

When Boston was evacuated by the British in March, 1776, the province, through the General Court, immediately proceeded to raise companies of militia to assist in the defence of the town. The tem companies in the artillery regiment were styled the "Massachusetts State's Train." Revere, after serving for a month as a major of infantry, was transferred April 10 to the artillery, being promoted November 27 to be lieutenant-colonel. His son, Paul, Jr., a lad of scarce sixteen, was given a lieutenant's commission in one of the companies.

Revere entered this service with some disappointment. He would have preferred a commission in the continental army, where he might have found a wider field of activity; and in a letter dated April 5, 1777, he complained to his friend, Colonel lamb: "I have never been taken notice off, by those whom I thought my friends, am obliged to be contented in this State's service." In this letter he also remarks: "Friend Sears is here — a very merchant; in short I find but few of the Sons of Liberty in the army" from which it would appear that some of the patriots who were great agitators and plotters before the Revolution were careful to keep away from the firing line when actual hostilities broke out.

The artillery "train" was stationed at Fort William, on an island in Boston harbor. Here Revere, notwithstanding his impatience at this circumscribing of his ambitions, faithfully performed the services that came to him in the line of duty, being a part of the time in full command.

On August 27, 1777, Revere was placed in command of a large body of troops assigned to proceed to Worcester to take into custody the British prisoners captured at the battle of Bennington by General Stark. The following day, before starting upon the journey, the regiment was ordered to march to the meeting-house, "dressed in their uniform, clean & Powder'd," to listen to a sermon by the Rev. Mr. Thacher. After receiving this spiritual nourishment, the troops started for "the heart of the commonwealth." They got no further than Watertown when the commander found it necessary to issue this suggestive order:

[Watertown August 29, 1777]

"A Strict Discipline, and Good Order is the life & Soul of a Soldier, the Lieut Colonel expects that there will be the best Order observed on the March, the Commissioned Officers are to see that the men behave well, that they by no Means hurt or destroy any man's property, that they Abuse no person, but in everything behave like men Belonging to the Massachusetts State Train of Artillery. When there is a halt the Sergts are to be Accountable for the behaviour of the Men. Should any of the Non Commis'd Officers or Soldiers be so hardy as to act Contrary to the above directions they may depend upon being punished with the utmost Severity.

"By Order COL REVERE"

It is not difficult to imagine that the soldiers accustomed to a tedious confinement in the fortifications at Castle William on an island were very willing to be ordered on this junketing trip out into the country, and left Boston determined to enjoy it without a too fine regard for the rights and peace of mind of the farmers along the route. The regiment, after a three-hours' march, reached Watertown at 9 P.M. and encamped for the night. The march was resumed at six the next morning.

The monotony of life at the fort was varied by other incidents, such as a court-martial, of which Revere was president, on September 6. Thomas Cleverly and Caleb Southard were charged with the heinous offence of playing cards on the Sabbath day, and found guilty, sentence being passed upon them as follows: "The Court are of the Oppinion that Cleverly ride the Wooden Horse for a Quarter of an hour with a Muskett at each foot & that southward Clean the Streets of the Camp. ---Paul Revere, Presid."

Cleverly was also subsequently found "guilty of a Breach of the 16th article of war [stealing], and do sentence him to be Whip'd ten lashes on his naked back with a Cat O Nine tails." John Gowin, tried for "Stealing and being Drunk, Deserting a file of Men & Abusing Sergt Griffith" at the same time as Southard and Cleverly, was acquitted for lack of evidence.

In September the regiment was ordered to Rhode Island; but after participating in the short campaign there, returned to Boston, and spent the winter at Castle William.

Colonel Revere and his son accompanied the expedition ordered to Rhode Island in July, 1778, to reinforce General Sullivan. The month of August was passed there in what proved to be an unimportant and ineffective campaign, and the Massachusetts troops were back in their old quarters by the 9th of September. We get a glimpse of the affectionate relationship of Revere and his wife in a letter which has come down to us, written during this absence:

"MY DEAR GIRL, --

Your very agreeable letter came safe to hand, since which I have wrote, but received no answer. I believe you are better: what a pleasure to hear! Pray take care of yourself & my little ones. I hope ere this to have been in Newport; my next I hope will be dated there. We have had the most severe N. East Storm I ever knew, but, thank Heaven, after 48 hours it is over. I am in high health and Spirits, & [so is] our Army.

The Enemy dare not show their head. We have had about 50 who have deserted to us; Hessians & others. They say many more will desert, & only wait for opportunity. I am told by the inhabitants that before we came on, they burned 6 of their Frigates; they have destroyed many houses between them & us. I hope we shall make them pay for all. The French fleet are not returned, but I just heard they were off Point Judith with 3 frigates, prizes; this, I am told, comes from Head Quarters. I do not assert it for fact, but hope it is true.

You have heard this Island is the Garden of America, indeed it used to be so; but those British Savages have so abused & destroyed the Tress (the greatest part of which was Fruit Trees), that it does not look like the same Island; some of the Inhabitants who left it hardly know where to find their homes. Col. Crafts is obliged to act under Col. Crane, which is a severe Mortification to him. I have but little to do with him, having a separate command.

It is very irksome to be separated from her whom I so tenderly love, and from my little Lambs; but were I at home I should want to be here. It seems as if half Boston was here. I hope the affair will soon be settled; I think it will not be long first. I trust that Allwise being who has protected me will still protect me, and send me safely to the Arms of her whom it is my greatest happiness to call my own. Paul is well; send Duty & love to all. I am surprised Capt. Marett has not rote me. My duty to my Aunts, my love to Brothers & Sisters, my most affectionate love to my children. It would be a pleasure to have a line from Deby. Lawson desires to be remembered to you. My best regards to Mrs. Bennet, Mr. Burt, Capt. Pulling & all enquiring Friends. Col. Mareschall, who is one of Gen. Sullivans Adj Camps, tells me this minute that the French have took a Transport with British Grenadiers, but could not tell the particulars."

Your Own,

PAUL REVERE

September 1 an order was issued by the Council directing Lieutenant Colonel Revere to be placed in full command at Fort William. The winter of 1778-1779 was spent at the "castle" without excitement or incident of note. The regiment under Revere formed a defensive force that was expected to prove effective in the event of attack by the enemy, and in this capacity it rendered patriotic and necessary, if monotonous and unpicturesque, service.

During all this period of service at Fort William, Colonel Revere continued active in the affairs of the town and the counsels of the Revolutionary leaders. The General court on the 13th of February, 1776, had authorized the establishment of a Committee of Correspondence to be chosen in town meetings of the several towns, and twelve days after the evacuation of Boston by the British, that is, on March 29, the citizens met in the Old Brick Meeting-House for the purpose of carrying out the resolution.

A committee of Twenty-six was chosen, Paul Revere being of the number. Among his colleagues were John Hancock, Sam Adams, Nathaniel Appleton, Oliver Wendell.

At this meeting of the "Freeholders and other Inhabitants of the Town of Boston" it was voted that "Thomas Crafts, Esp., Col. Thomas Marshall, Major Paul Revere be a Committee to wait on General Washington, & to acquaint him that it is the Desire of the Town, that the Four Pieces of Cannon which are in the Continental Train of Artillery, & belonging to the Town of Boston, may not be carried out of this colony, if his Excellency should apprehend the general interest of the Colony will permit their remaining here."

When one realizes the active and systematic preparations for hostilities which were being made long before the clash of arms at Lexington, the evidence that rebellion against the mother country was deliberately plotted, and was only awaiting open provocation in order to break forth, is well-nigh conclusive.

Thus we find a committee of the Provincial congress, which had been appointed to inquire into the condition of manufactures in Massachusetts, reporting, December 8, 1774, "that gunpowder is also an article of such importance, that every man among us who loves his country, must wish the establishment of manufactories for that purpose; and as there are the ruins of several powder mills, and sundry persons among us who are acquainted with that business, we do heartily recommend its encouragement by repairing on or more of said mills, or erecting others, and renewing said business as soon as possible."

Bust the "sundry persons" acquainted with the gunpowder business do not appear to have responded very generously to this suggestion that their services would be in demand, and the Provincial congress accordingly was moved to commission a capable man to go to Philadelphia, where the only powder mill known to be in actual operation was located. For this mission Paul Revere was selected.

Revere made the journey to Philadelphia in ten days. He, no doubt, called at once on John Hancock, who was in attendance on the Continental Congress, and communicated his mission, obtaining a letter of introduction from Robert Morris to the proprietor of the powder mill, a Mr. Oswell Eve:

[PhiladA Novr 21st 1775]

"Mr. OSWELL EVE

"SIR

"I am requested by some honorable Members of the Congress to recommend the bearer hereof Mr. Paul Revere to you. He is just arrived from New England where it is discovered they can manufacture a good deal of Salt Petre in consequence of which they desire to erect a Powder Mill & Mr. Revere has been pitched upon to gain instruction & knowledge in this branch. A Powder Mill, in New England cannot in the least degree affect your manufacture nor be of any disadvantage to you, therefore these Gentlm and Myself hope you will cheerfully & from Public Spirited motives give Mr. Revere such information as will enable him to construct the business on his return home. I shall be glad of any opportunity to approve myself."

"Sir

"Your very obed Servt

"Robert Morris"

"P.S. Mr. Revere will desire to see the Construction of your mill & hope you will gratify him on that point."

The note was endorsed by John Dickinson, but its appeal, as it proved, was not made to a man of generous heart and instincts; for Mr. Oswell Eve was a fair type of the thrifty patriot who is to be found in every great crisis when the country's welfare, or even its life, is at stake, and who does not scruple to coin her distress into personal gain.

In this case neither the character of Revere's mission upon which he had traveled hundreds of miles at the instance of the Massachusetts miles at the instance of the Massachusetts Congress, nor the pleas of Morris and Dickinson, could induce Eve to part with The secrets of gunpowder-making. He had, he thought, a monopoly of what in modern commercial terminology would have been regarded as "a good thing," and he proposed to keep it so that the war managers would be obliged to pay him his own price.

So he flatly refused to give Revere the desired facilities for acquiring information relative to the manufacture of powder. Fortunately, however, he softened to the extent of condescending to permit his visitor to pas through his establishment, not reckoning upon retributive justice defeating the ends of private greed.

For Revere was no ordinary sight-seer. If not allowed to ask questions and receive informing answers he kept his eyes wide open, and filed a mental note-book with the results of his observations. This he was able to do intelligently, for he had a good practical knowledge of chemistry, gained from reading and experience, as well as a familiarity with mechanics. So, when he reached home, he was ready to put his skill at even the dangerous business of powder-making to the test.

The General Court at once ordered the rebuilding of an abandoned powder mill at Canton. Work was begun upon it in February, 1776, and it was completed in May, Revere taking charge and succeeding so well in mastering the details of the manufacture that he was soon able to supply tons of powder for the Continental army. Forty barrels, containing one hundred pounds each, were supplied in October, 1777, to the fort in Boston harbor, at which Revere was then the commanding officer.

In December of the following year, while still in command of the fort, we find Revere praying for permission to have eight hundredweight of "gunpowder dust" made into powder, apparently for his own personal use, thought to what purpose he intended it is something of a mystery. The fact that he offered to pay "a reasonable consideration" for this service in case the Council would "grant leave to Thomas Crane, Esq., Keeper of Said mill to make the above dust into Powder: would seem to indicate that it was not intended for the use of the army.

In 1777 Revere was temporarily detached from the fort to make a trip to Titicut, where brass and iron cannon were being cast at a "state furnace," there to superintend the "proveing" of cannon and hasten the transportation to Boston of all that were shown to be effective.

This ride of the 16th has never received much attention. It is not famed in song and story, and Revere himself alludese taken as evidence that the lanterns had already been displayed and withdrawn ere he reached the Charlestown shore. The arrangement, he says, was that "we would show" the lanterns, not that they would be hung out and left

 

End of Chapter Four. Continue to
Chapter Five of The Story of Paul Revere