January 1, 1731 - May 10, 1818
Painting by: John Singleton Copley, 1768
Paul Revere Biography from the Paul Revere House
Henry Wadsworth Longfellow’s poem “Paul Revere’s Ride,” written in 1860 and published in 1861 in the Atlantic Monthly, transformed Paul Revere from a relatively obscure, although locally known, figure into a national folk hero. As a result, most people know him only for his famous ride to Lexington on the night of April 18-19, 1775. Revere’s life, however, was a long and productive one, involving industry, politics, and community service.
Born in Boston’s North End, Paul Revere was the son of Apollos Rivoire, a French immigrant, and Deborah Hichborn, daughter of a local artisan family. Rivoire, born in France in 1702, changed his name to Paul Revere some time after immigrating. He was a goldsmith. Paul Revere was their third child and eldest surviving son.
Revere’s primary vocation was that of a goldsmith, a trade he learned from his father. Although goldsmiths worked in both gold and silver, they are generally referred to today as silversmiths. His silver shop was the cornerstone of his professional life for more than 40 years. His shop produced pieces ranging from simple spoons to magnificent tea sets. His work was well regarded during his lifetime and valued today.
Revere’s political involvement arose through his connections with members of local organizations and his business patrons like activist Dr. Joseph Warren. In the year before the Revolution, Revere gathered intelligence by “watching the Movements of British Soldiers,” as he wrote in a 1798 account of his ride. He was a courier for the Boston Committee of Correspondence and the Massachusetts Committee of Safety, riding express to the Continental Congress in Philadelphia. As a member of the North Caucus, Revere took part in meetings that planned the destruction of East India Company Tea in December 1773. The next day, he spread the word of the Boston Tea Party to New York and Philadelphia.
At 10 pm on the night of April 18, 1775, Revere received instructions from Dr. Joseph Warren to ride to Lexington to warn John Hancock and Samuel Adams of the British approach. Following the Battles of Lexington and Concord, Revere printed paper currency for the Massachusetts government, and helped to acquire powder and ammunition for the colonial troops. Revere went on to serve as lieutenant colonel in the Massachusetts State Train of Artillery and commander of Castle Island in Boston Harbor. Revere and his troops saw little action at this post. Revere’s rather undistinguished military career ended with the failed Penobscot expedition in 1779.
Revere died of natural causes on May 10, 1818 at the age of 83. The son of an immigrant artisan, not born to wealth or inheritance, Revere died a modestly well-to-do businessman and a popular local figure of some note. An obituary in the Boston Intelligencer commented, “Seldom has the tomb closed upon a life so honorable and useful.” Paul Revere is buried in Boston’s Granary Burying Ground.
The Real Story of Revere’s Ride
In 1774 and the spring of 1775 Paul Revere was employed by the Boston Committee of Correspondence and the Massachusetts Committee of Safety as an express rider to carry news, messages, and copies of important documents as far away as New York and Philadelphia.
On the evening of April 18, 1775, Paul Revere was summoned by Dr. Joseph Warren of Boston and given the task of riding to Lexington, Massachusetts, with the news that regular troops were about to march into the countryside northwest of Boston. According to Warren, these troops planned to arrest Samuel Adams and John Hancock, who were staying at a house in Lexington, and probably continue on to the town of Concord, to capture or destroy military stores — gunpowder, ammunition, and several cannon — that had been stockpiled there (in fact, the British troops had no orders to arrest anyone — Dr. Warren’s intelligence on this point was faulty). Revere contacted an unidentified friend (probably Robert Newman, the sexton of Christ Church in Boston’s North End) and instructed him to show two lanterns in the tower of Christ Church (now called the Old North Church) as a signal in case Revere was unable to leave town. The two lanterns meant that the British troops planned to row “by sea” across the Charles River to Cambridge, rather than march “by land” out Boston Neck.
Revere then stopped by his own house to pick up his boots and overcoat, and proceeded the short distance to Boston’s North End waterfront where two friends waited to row him across the river to Charlestown. Slipping past a British warship in the darkness, Revere landed safely. After informing Colonel Conant and other local Sons of Liberty about recent events in Boston and verifying that they had seen his signals in the North Church tower, Revere borrowed a horse from John Larkin, a Charlestown merchant and a patriot sympathizer. While the horse was being made ready, a member of the Committee of Safety named Richard Devens warned Revere that there were a number of British officers in the area who might try to intercept him. About eleven o’clock Revere set off. After narrowly avoiding capture just outside of Charlestown, Revere changed his planned route and rode through Medford, where he alarmed Isaac Hall, the captain of the local militia. He then alarmed almost all the houses from Medford, through Menotomy (today’s Arlington) — carefully avoiding the Royall Mansion whose property he rode through (Isaac Royall was a well-known Loyalist) — and arrived in Lexington sometime after midnight.
In Lexington, as he approached the house where Adams and Hancock were staying, a Sergeant Monroe, acting as a guard outside the house, requested that he not make so much noise. “Noise!” cried Revere, “You’ll have noise enough before long. The regulars are coming out!” At this point, Revere still had difficulty gaining entry until, according to tradition, John Hancock, who was still awake, heard his voice and said “Come in, Revere! We’re not afraid of you” and he was allowed to enter the house and deliver his message.
About half past twelve, William Dawes arrived in Lexington carrying the same message as Revere. After both men had “refreshed themselves” (gotten something to eat and drink) they decided to continue on to Concord, Massachusetts to verify that the military stores had been properly dispersed and hidden away. A short distance outside of Lexington, they were over-taken by Dr. Samuel Prescott, who they determined was a fellow “high Son of Liberty.” A short time later, a British patrol intercepted all three men. Prescott and Dawes escaped; Revere was held for some time, questioned, and let go. Before he was released, however, his horse was confiscated to replace the tired mount of a British sergeant. Left alone on the road, Revere returned to Lexington on foot in time to witness the latter part of the battle on Lexington Green.
As is clear from Revere’s own accounts, patriot leader Dr. Joseph Warren, who dispatched both Revere and Dawes by separate routes into the countryside, was unsure of the British troops’ objective. Revere quotes Warren in his 1775 deposition “it was supposed, that they were going to Lexington, by way of Cambridge River, to take them [Hancock and Adams], or go to Concord, to destroy the Colony Stores.” The fact that they might be halted at any point was assumed by both men, as they were well aware that British officers were patrolling the roads that night for the specific purpose of intercepting messengers like themselves.
The alarm system devised by the patriots, and set in motion by Revere and Dawes, was specifically designed to insure that the capture of any one rider would not prevent the alarm from being sounded. The mission was too important to leave to one rider alone, even one as experienced and trustworthy as Paul Revere.