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Paul Revere¬†(December 21, 1734‚ÄďMay 10, 1818)

‚ú™ Paul Revere was an American¬†silversmith,¬†engraver, early industrialist,¬†Sons of Liberty¬†member and¬†Patriot. He is considered a¬†folk hero and historic cultural icon¬†for¬†his midnight ride in April 1775¬†to alert the colonial militia to the advancing approach of¬†British forces¬†before the¬†battles of Lexington and Concord, as dramatized in¬†Henry Wadsworth Longfellow’s 1861 poem, “Paul Revere’s Ride.”

At the age of 41, Revere was already a prosperous, established and prominent Boston silversmith. He had helped to organize an intelligence and alarm system to keep watch on the British military. Revere later served as a Massachusetts militia officer, though his service ended after the Penobscot Expedition, one of the most disastrous campaigns of the American Revolutionary War. Later, Revere was absolved of any blame by a military court.

Revere was born in the North End of Boston on December 21, 1734, according to the Old Style calendar then in use, or January 1, 1735, in the modern calendar. His father was Apollos Rivoire, a French Huguenot who came to Boston at the age of 13 and was apprenticed to the silversmith John Coney.

By the time Revere’s father married Deborah Hitchborn in 1729, a member of a long-standing Boston family that owned a small shipping wharf, Rivoire had anglicized his name to Paul Revere. Their son, Paul Revere, was the third of 12 children and eventually became the eldest surviving son.

Paul Revere grew up in the environment of the extended Hitchborn family, and never learned his father’s native language.¬†At age 13, he left school to become an apprentice to his father. The silversmith trade would afford him connections with a cross-section of Boston society, which would serve him well when he became active in the¬†American Revolution.

As for Revere’s religious orientation, he was drawn to involvement in the Church of England; although his father attended¬†Puritan¬†services.

In 1750 at the age of 15 , Revere was part of the first group of¬†change ringers¬†to ring the new bells (cast in 1744) at Christ Church in the north of Boston (the¬†Old North Church).¬†Revere eventually began to attend the services of the political and provocative¬†Jonathan Mayhew¬†at the¬†West Church.¬†His father did not approve, resulting in father and son coming to blows on one occasion. However, Revere eventually relented and returned to his father’s church. Revere would still remain friends with Mayhew, and return to the West Church in the late 1760s.

Revere’s father died in 1754 when Paul was legally too young to officially become the master of the family silver shop.¬†In February 1756, during the¬†French and Indian War¬†(the North American theater of the¬†Seven Years’ War), he enlisted in the provincial army. He possibly made this decision because of the weak economy at the time in the Colonies, since army service promised to provide consistent pay. Commissioned a second lieutenant in a provincial artillery regiment, he spent the summer at¬†Fort William Henry¬†on the southern end of¬†Lake George¬†in¬†New York.

Revere did not remain in the army for very long; but instead returned to Boston to assume control of the silver shop in his own name. On August 4, 1757, he married Sarah Orne (1736‚Äď1773) and their first child was born eight months later. He and Sarah had eight children, but two died young, and only one, Mary, lived long enough to survive her father.

Revere’s business began to suffer when the British economy entered a recession in the years following the¬†Seven Years’ War. It declined further when the¬†Stamp Act of 1765¬†resulted in a sharper downturn in the Massachusetts economy.¬†At one point, his business was so poor that an attempt was made to seize his property in late 1765.¬†

To help make ends meet, he even took up¬†dentistry; a skill set he was taught by a practicing surgeon who lodged at a friend’s house. One of his patients was¬†Joseph Warren, a local physician and political opposition leader with whom Revere formed a close friendship.¬†Revere and Warren, in addition to sharing common political views, were also both active in the same local¬†Masonic lodges.

Revere did not participate in some of the more raucous protests against British rule in the Colonies such as the attack on the home of Lieutenant Governor Thomas Hutchinson. In 1765, a group of militants who would become known as the Sons of Liberty formed, and Revere became a member. 

From 1765 in support of the dissident cause, Revere produced engravings and other artifacts with decidedly political themes. Among these engravings are a depiction of the arrival of British troops in 1768 (which he termed “an insolent parade”) and a famous depiction of the March 1770¬†Boston Massacre.

In 1770 Revere¬†purchased a house, (which is now a museum)¬†on¬†North Square¬†in Boston’s North End. The house provided space for his growing family while he continued to maintain his silver shop at nearby Clark’s Wharf.¬†Sarah died in 1773, and on October 10 of that year, Revere married Rachel Walker (1745‚Äď1813). They had eight children, three of whom died young.

In November 1773, the merchant ship Dartmouth arrived in Boston harbor carrying the first shipment of tea made under the terms of the Tea Act. This act authorized the British East India Company to ship tea (of which it had huge surpluses due to colonial boycotts organized in response to the Townshend Acts) directly to the colonies, bypassing the customary colonial merchants. Passage of the act prompted calls for renewed protests against the tea shipments, on which Townshend duties were still levied. Revere was one of the ringleaders in the infamous Boston Tea Party of December 16, when colonists dumped tea from the Dartmouth and two other ships into Boston Harbor.

From December 1773 to November 1775, Revere served as a courier for the Boston Committee of Public Safety, and regularly rode to New York and Philadelphia from Boston to report on the political unrest happening in Boston. Research has documented 18 such rides. Notice of some of them were published in Massachusetts newspapers. British authorities also received further intelligence of them from Loyalist Americans.

In 1774, the military governor of Massachusetts, General Thomas Gage, dissolved the provincial assembly on orders from Great Britain. Governor Gage also closed the port of Boston and forced private citizens all over the city to quarter (provide lodging for) British soldiers in their homes.

During this time, Revere and a group of 30 “mechanics” began to meet in secret at his favorite haunt, the¬†Green Dragon and coordinate the gathering and dissemination of intelligence by “watching the Movements of British Soldiers.”¬†Around this time Revere regularly contributed politically charged engravings to the recently founded Patriot monthly,¬†Royal American Magazine.

Revere’s famous¬†Midnight Ride¬†was the alert to the American colonial militia in April 1775 to the approach of¬†British forces¬†before the¬†battles of Lexington and Concord. The ride occurred on the night of April 18, 1775, immediately before the first engagements of the¬†American Revolutionary War.

Paul Revere¬†and¬†William Dawes¬†prepared the alert, which began when¬†Robert Newman,¬†sexton¬†of¬†Boston’s¬†Old North Church, used a lantern signal to alert colonists in¬†Charlestown¬†to the British Army’s advance by way of the¬†Charles River. Revere and Dawes then rode to meet¬†John Hancock¬†and¬†SamuelAdams in Lexington, ten miles distant, alerting up to 40 other riders along the way.

By giving the Colonists advance warning of the British Army’s actions, Revere’s ride played a crucial role in the Colonists’ victory in subsequent battles.

After he was denied a commission in the Continental Army, Revere tried to find other ways he could be useful to the colonial rebel cause. He was eventually retained by the Provincial Congress as a courier; and printed local currency which the Congress used to pay the troops in Boston.

Since there was a desperate shortage of gunpowder during this time, the Provincial Congress decided in November 1775 to send Revere to Philadelphia in order to study the working of the only powder mill in the colonies, in the hopes that he might be able to construct & operate a second one in Massachusetts.

Revere was able to discern the necessary, useful information from his visit. He also acquired, through the work of Samuel Adams, plans for another powder mill. This information enabled Revere to set up a powder mill at Stoughton (present-day Canton). During the Revolutionary War, this mill produced tons of gunpowder for the Patriot cause.

Upon returning to Boston in April of 1776, Revere was commissioned a¬†major¬†of¬†infantry¬†in the Massachusetts Militia; and transferred to artillery¬†a month later.¬†In November, he was promoted to¬†lieutenant colonel and stationed at¬†Castle William to defend Boston Harbor. There, he applied his engineering skills to maintaining the fort’s armaments, even designing and building a¬†caliper¬†to accurately measure cannonballs and cannon bore hole.

In June 1779, the British established a new base on Penobscot Bay in present-day Maine (which was then part of Massachusetts). Massachusetts authorities called out the militia and pressed into service all available shipping to organize a major expedition to dislodge the British forces. The expedition was a complete failure & fiasco. Its land and naval commanders squabbled over control of the expedition and could not agree on strategy or tactics. As a result, the subsequent arrival of British reinforcements led to the destruction of the entire Massachusetts fleet. Revere commanded the artillery units for the expedition, and was responsible for organizing the artillery train.

A variety of charges were made against Revere, some of which were exaggerated assignments of blame made by enemies he had made in his command at Castle William. The initial hearings on the matter in September 1779 were inconclusive, but he was asked to resign his post. He repeatedly sought a full court-martial to clear his name, but it was not until February 1782 that a court martial heard the issue and finally exonerated him.

During the Revolutionary War, Revere would continue his efforts to move upwards in society into the gentry. After his failed efforts to become a military officer he attempted next to become a merchant, but was hindered by a number of factors. While he was a fairly well-off member of the artisan class, he did not have the resources to afford the goods he desired to sell as a merchant. Nor were investors and lenders in England willing to lend him the required startup capital.

Another factor preventing Revere’s success as a merchant was the economic climate of the time after the war known as the¬†Confederation Period. While the colonies had experienced a time of strong economic growth before the war, the end of the war brought a severe post-war depression which constrained the overall success of his business.

As Revere struggled as a merchant, his success as a silversmith enabled him to pursue and leverage more advanced technological developments for the purposes of mass production. For example, rolling mills greatly improved the productivity of his silver shop and enabled his business to move further away from manufacturing high-end, customized products and focus instead on the production of a more standardized set of goods.

Revere’s business responded particularly well to this trend because it did not rely exclusively on the manufacture of custom, high end purchases. Smaller products like teaspoons and buckles accounted for the majority of his work to allow him to build a broad customer base.

Revere’s increased efficiency left valuable financial and human resources available for the exploration of other products and processes, which was essential to overcoming the fluctuating post-war economic climate in the Colonies.

After the war, Revere became more interested in metal work beyond gold and silver. By 1788, he had invested some of the profits from his growing silver working trade to construct a large¬†furnace, which would allow him to work with larger quantities of metals at higher temperatures. He soon opened an iron foundry in Boston’s¬†North End¬†that produced utilitarian cast iron items such as stove backs, fireplace tools, and¬†sash-window¬†weights. These items were marketed to a broad segment of Boston’s population.¬†

Many of Revere’s business practices changed when he expanded his practice into ironworking, because he transitioned from only being an artisan to also becoming an entrepreneur and manager. In order to make this transition successfully, Revere had to invest substantial quantities of his own capital and time in his foundry.

The quasi-industrialization¬†of his practice set Revere apart from his competition. Revere’s rapid foundry success resulted directly from his fortuitous timing, innate technical aptitude, research and the casting experience he gained from silver working.¬†This technical proficiency allowed Revere to optimize his work and adapt to a newer technological and entrepreneurial model.¬†

One of the biggest changes for Revere in his new business was the organization of labor. In his earlier days, Revere primarily utilized the apprenticeship model standard common for artisan shops at this time; but as his business expanded, he hired employees (wage laborers) to work in his foundry.

Many manufacturers of the era found this transition from master to employer difficult because many employees at the onset of the Industrial Revolution still identified themselves as skilled workers, and demanded to be treated with the respect and autonomy accorded to artisans. An artisan himself, Revere managed to avoid many of these labor conflicts by adopting a system of employment that still held trappings of the craft system in the form of worker freedoms such as work hour flexibility, wages in line with skill levels and liquor on the job.

After mastering the iron casting process and realizing substantial profits from this new product line, Revere identified a burgeoning market for church bells in the religious revival known as the¬†Second Great Awakening¬†which followed the war. Beginning in 1792, he became one of America’s best-known¬†bell casters, working with his son Paul Jr. and¬†Joseph Warren Revere¬†in the firm¬†Paul Revere & Sons. This firm cast the first bell made in Boston and ultimately produced hundreds of bells, a number of which still remain in use.

In 1794, Revere decided to take the next step in the evolution of his business by expanding his bronze casting work to cast cannon for the new Federal Government, state governments as well as private clients. Although the government often had trouble paying him on time, its large orders inspired him to deepen his contracting and to seek additional product lines of interest to the military.

During his earlier days as an artisan, especially when working with silver products, Revere produced mainly “bespoke” or customized goods. As he shifted to ironworking, he found the need to produce more standardized products which made production cheaper.¬†To achieve the beginnings of standardization, Revere used identical molds for casting, especially in the fabrication of mass-produced items such as stoves, ovens, frames and chimney backs.¬†

However, Revere did not totally embrace uniform production. For example, his bells and cannons were all unique products: these large objects required extensive fine-tuning and customization, and the small number of orders for bells and cannon minimized the potential benefits of standardizing them. In addition, even the products that he made in large quantities could not be truly standardized due to technological and skill limitations of the time. His products were rarely (if ever) identical, but his processes were well systematized.

Revere was a Freemason as a member of Lodge St. Andrews, No.81 in Boston, Massachusetts. This Lodge still continues to meet in Boston with the number 4 under and the jurisdiction of the¬†Grand Lodge of Massachusetts. The date he joined the Lodge is not known but was sometime after the inauguration of the Lodge on St Andrew’s Day, November 30, 1756 and before May 15, 1769, when he is recorded in the¬†Grand Lodge of Scotland¬†membership register as the Lodge Secretary. He subsequently became the¬†Grand Master¬†of the¬†Freemasons¬†of¬†Massachusetts¬†from 1795 to 1797.

Revere remained politically active throughout his entire life. His business plans in the late 1780s were often stymied by a shortage of adequate money in circulation. .Alexander Hamilton’s national policies regarding banks and industrialization exactly matched his dreams, and he became an ardent¬†Federalist¬†committed to building a robust economy and a powerful nation.

He continued to participate in local discussions of political issues even after his retirement in 1811; and in 1814, circulated a petition offering the government the services of Boston’s artisans in protecting Boston during the¬†War of 1812.

Revere died on May 10, 1818, at the age of 83 at his home on Charter Street in Boston. He is buried in the Granary Burying Ground on Tremont Street.

Revere’s original silverware, engravings and other works are highly valued & regarded today. Many of them can be found on display in museums including the¬†Museum of Fine Arts in Boston¬†and the¬†Metropolitan Museum of Art.

The copper works he founded in 1801 continues operations today as the Revere Copper Company, with manufacturing divisions in Rome, New York and New Bedford, Massachusetts.✪


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