Paul Revere

Paul Revere (1735-1818), American patriot, silver smith, and engraver, is remembered for his ride before the Revolutionary War to warn American patriots of a planned British attack. His silverware was among the finest produced in America in his day.

Paul Revere was born on Jan. 1, 1735, in Boston, Mass., the son of Apollos De Revoire, a French Huguenot who had come to Boston at the age of 13 to apprentice in the shop of a silversmith. Once Revoire had established his own business, he Anglicized his name. Paul, the third of 12 children, learned silversmithing from his father. On Aug. 17, 1757, he married Sarah Orne and eventually became the father of eight children.

As early as 1765, Revere began to experiment with engraving on copper and produced several portraits and a songbook. He was popular as a source for engraved seals, coats of arms, and bookplates, and he began to execute engravings which were anti-British. In 1768 Revere undertook dentistry and produced dental devices. The same year he made one of the most famous pieces of American colonial silver—the bowl commissioned by the Fifteen Sons of Liberty. It is engraved to honor the "glorious Ninety-two Members of the Honorable House of Representatives of the Massachusetts Bay, who, undaunted by the insolent Menores of Villains in Power … Voted not to rescind" a circular letter they had sent to the other colonies protesting the Townshend Acts. Revere's virtuosity as a craftsman extended to his carving picture frames for John Singleton Copley, who painted the famous portrait of Revere in shirt sleeves holding a silver teapot.


Paul Revere's Ride

Revere became a trusted messenger for the Massachusetts Committee of Safety. He foresaw an attempt by the British troops against the military stores which were centered in Concord, and he arranged a signal to warn the patriots in Charlestown. During the late evening of April 18, 1775, the chairman of the Committee of Safety told him that the British were going to march to Concord. Revere signaled by hanging two lanterns in the tower of the North Church (probably the present Christ Church). He crossed the river, borrowed a horse in Charlestown, and started for Concord. He arrived in Lexington at midnight and roused John Hancock and Samuel Adams from sleep; the two fled to safety. Revere was captured that night by the British, but he persuaded his captors that the whole countryside was aroused to fight, and they freed him. He returned to Lexington, where he saw the first shot fired on the green. It is this ride and series of events which have been immortalized by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow in his poem "Paul Revere's Ride."

In the same year, 1775, the Massachusetts provincial congress sent Revere to Philadelphia to study the only working powder mill in the Colonies. Although he was only allowed to walk through the mill and not to take any notes about it, he remembered enough to establish a mill in Canton. During the Revolutionary War, he continued to play an active role. He was eventually promoted to the rank of lieutenant colonel.

After the war Revere became a pioneer in the process of copper plating, and he made copper spikes for ships. In 1795, as grand master of the Masonic fraternity, he laid the cornerstone of the new statehouse in Boston. Throughout the remainder of his life, he continued to experiment with metallurgy and to take a keen interest in contemporary events. He died in Boston on May 10, 1818.


The Silversmith

Revere is also remembered today as a craftsman. His work in silver spanned two major styles. His earliest work is in the rococo style, which is characterized by the use of asymmetric floral and scroll motifs and repoussé decoration; this was done before the Revolution. From this, he evolved a neoclassic style after the Revolution. This style, developed in England, was based on the straight lines and severe surfaces of Roman design. In 1792 Revere produced one of the acknowledged American masterpieces in this style—a complete tea set commissioned by John and Mehitabel Templeman of Boston. The type of ornamentation employed in this tea set was being used in Massachusetts architecture by Charles Bulfinch and Samuel Mclntire.

Revere's silver is marked with the initials "P R" in a block. This was the usual type of marking on American silver of the 18th century. Revere commanded a very distinguished Boston clientele and was called on to make a number of memorial and commemorative pieces. Like many silversmiths of the period, he also worked in brass.


Master Engraver

Revere was also a master of engraving. An on-the-spot reporter, he recorded the events leading up to and during the Revolution with great accuracy. These engravings were advertised in Boston newspapers and were eagerly purchased by the public. In 1770 the Boston Gazette advertised for sale Revere's engraving A View of Part of the Town of Boston in New England and British Ships of War Landing Their Troops, 1768. Revere added to the print a description of the troops, who paraded "Drums beating, Fifes playing… Each Soldier having received 16 rounds of Powder and Ball." Today, all his silver and engravings are eagerly sought by collectors.

Further Reading on Paul Revere

A full-length study of Revere is Esther Forbes, Paul Revere and the World He Lived In (1942). For information on his work see the publication of the Boston Museum of Fine Arts, Colonial Silversmiths: Masters and Apprentices, edited by Richard B. K. McLanathan (1956).