The American Revolution: A History in Documents

By Steven C. Bullock | Go to book overview

Chapter Six
Paul Revere
Craftsman of the Revolution

In John Singleton Copley's portrait,
painted in the late 1760s when Revere
was about thirty-five years old, Revere
is depicted as a working silversmith.
Looking thoughtfully out a window—
the reflection appears on the silver he is
holding—Revere is preparing to engrave
a teapot. His open shirt and vest reveal
him as a what was then called a [mid-
dling] man, one clearly successful but
not wealthy enough or with sufficient
free time to be a leisured gentleman
.

Popular culture today remembers Paul Revere as a man on horseback riding through the night and crying [The British are coming! The British are coming!] His ride warned the Patriot militias and minutemen of the advance of British troops on Lexington and Concord, helping to assemble the Patriots and setting off the first battle of the American Revolution. But Revere may have been just as important when he was not on horseback. He was also one of the finest—perhaps the finest—silversmith in America, an important (although less impressive) engraver, and a pioneering manufacturer, whose boilers powered some of the world's first working steamboats, whose copper sheets covered ships and the Massachusetts capitol dome, and whose bells still ring from many New England churches.

Revere is also significant for what he was not. Unlike many other Revolutionary leaders, he did not belong to a prominent family. Instead, he was the son of an immigrant and received only a short formal education before becoming an apprentice. Furthermore, Revere's military service did not bring him glory; it ended in public failure and court-martial, a trial before a military court. He received neither the Continental Army commission nor the office in federal government he had hoped for. Although in later life he became quite well-to-do, he remained a craftsman who worked with his hands well into his seventies. When Revere died in 1818, Bostonians recognized his importance but they did not always consider his April 1775 ride the most significant event of his life. The fullest newspaper obituary failed even to mention it.

-155-

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