Paul Revere: From Creating Dentures to His Midnight Ride
In American history, there are many individuals who are seen as heroes whose contributions helped mold the nation into what it is today. Paul Revere is one of these individuals. Considered a folk hero, Revere was active in the colonial resistance against the British before and during the American Revolution. His life is best known from Paul Revere’s Ride, a poem that cemented his place in history. He was a complex individual who accomplished more than what he is most recognized for. To best understand this historical figure, it is helpful to learn the details and accomplishments that made up his life.
Although there is some disagreement on the actual date of his birth, it was somewhere between late December 1734 and Jan. 1, 1735, that Paul Revere was born to Deborah Hichborn and Apollos Rivoire. Apollos, who had changed his name to Paul Revere prior to his son’s birth, was an immigrant from France and an artisan. His wife Deborah was the daughter of a Boston family who happened to be artisans as well. The Revere family also lived in Boston, where they owned and operated a goldsmithing shop. The younger Paul Revere was one of at least nine children and attended a school called the North Writing School until the age of 13, when he graduated.
Silversmithing and Metalworking
When Paul’s studies were complete, he began training as his father’s apprentice in the craft of goldsmithing and silversmithing. When he was 19, his father died, and Paul found himself in the position of supporting his mother and siblings. As he was the oldest living son and trained as a silversmith, he took over the running of the family business. He was a skilled silversmith and made various items, such as surgical equipment; however, he became known for producing objects such as tea sets that were and still are highly valued.
In efforts to supplement his income, Revere worked for a time as a dentist. As such, he cleaned teeth and would wire in false teeth. These teeth were typically made of animal bone or some form of metal material. It is believed that he became the first person to practice dental forensics when he identified a man by his teeth. The man was Maj. Gen. Joseph Warren, who had been killed in June of 1775 in the Battle of Bunker Hill. He had been shot in the head, stripped of any identifying garments or items, and buried in a mass grave by the British. As Revere had made a silver bridge for him, he was able to identify his work and as a result positively identify Warren’s body.
Paul Revere was very active when it came to resisting the British. He was a political leader with various Whig groups, including the Sons of Liberty and the North End Caucus. He joined the Whig Patriots and became a rider in 1770, and he also became one of the Boston Committee of Safety’s mounted messengers. He would also go on to become a Boston Committee of Correspondence courier. His revolutionary activities also extended to his art, with Revere often drawing or engraving political propaganda. He participated in the Boston Tea Party by posing as a Native American during the protest. Following the Boston Tea Party, he became a leader of the Mechanics. This group is thought of as the first intelligence agency or network, as they gathered information on the activities of the British.
During the American Revolution, Revere served in the militia. In 1779, he was part of a group sent to the area that is now Maine. The goal was to remove British forces that had seized a village located on Penobscot Bay. The patriots attacked by both land and sea, but although the battle started successfully, there came a point when the commander of the American army and the commander leading the American fleet could not come to an agreement on how to proceed with their attack. During that time, the British requested reinforcements and ultimately defeated the Americans, killing as many as 500. In the aftermath of the battle, Paul Revere, who was in charge of the artillery forces, was seen as a responsible party. As a result, he was charged with being a coward and was court-martialed, although ultimately, he was acquitted.
The Midnight Ride
On April 18, 1775, based on intelligence gathered by the Mechanics, Paul Revere was dispatched on a horseback mission to warn John Hancock and Samuel Adams that the British were approaching and were likely to arrest the two men. He rode alongside William Dawes and delivered his message. Upon their arrival in Lexington, they were to proceed to Concord with Samuel Prescott and warn the militia there of the impending arrival of the British. Revere was detained, however, before reaching Concord, and Dawes fell from his steed and was also unable to complete the mission. Instead, it was Samuel Prescott who successfully warned Concord. This ride was immortalized in Paul Revere’s Ride, a poem written by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow in 1861. Although not entirely accurate, the poem is a widely recognized depiction of these events.
During his later years, following the Revolution, Revere went back to his work as a silversmith. In addition, he opened several other businesses, including a brass and iron foundry, hardware store, and eventually a copper-rolling mill. His foundry became known for casting bells, some of which can still be seen today, as well as cannons, bolts, and fittings. With his copper-rolling mill, Revere was successful at rolling copper into sheets for commercial use. As he was the first American to successfully accomplish this, his customers ranged from the government to inventors. In May of 1818, Revere died at home in Boston at the age of 83.
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