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In this letter dated Boston, 2 May 1775, Rachel Walker Revere informs her husband Paul of the difficulties that she faced in leaving Boston, then under siege by the American revolutionary forces that surrounded Boston after the Battles of Concord and Lexington. Until the previous day, she had not heard directly from her husband since the eve of his famous ride. The outbreak of fighting had left her with six stepchildren, aged five to seventeen, and a new baby of her own behind British lines. Her previous attempt to contact her husband and forward money to him had been intercepted by the British and would be found--150 years later--among the papers of the British military commander in Boston (and last royal governor of the Massachusetts), Thomas Gage.
Few events in American history are as well known and celebrated as Paul Revere's ride on the night of 18-19 April 1775 to spread the alarm that a British army expedition was on its way out of Boston to capture Patriot leaders and supplies, but Revere was not a solitary hero. When he set out from Boston, he left behind his business, property, and, most important, seven children in the care of his formidable young wife, Rachel Walker Revere.
The absence of her husband on "out of doors" work for the Revolutionary cause was nothing new for Rachel Revere. During the eighteen months of their marriage, she already had seen Paul embark on nine separate trips on behalf of the Patriot leadership in Boston to places as far away as New York and Philadelphia, as well as on local trips to Portsmouth and Exeter, New Hampshire, and on two very recent trips, prior to the battle, to Concord and Lexington.
The Revere family papers held by the Massachusetts Historical Society contain only a small number of documents by or about Rachel Revere, so we know relatively little about her life--the life of an ordinary woman in 18th-century Boston--compared to that of her celebrated husband. In this letter, we get a brief glimpse of her character at a moment of crisis in their lives. It shows her to have been engaged by the momentous events taking place around her, but anxious to be of practical help to her husband. Torn by the necessity of offering bribes to the servant of a British officer she clearly detested to secure her family's safety, and by the necessity of leaving her fifteen-year-old stepson, Paul, behind the British lines in Boston, she concerned herself with settling family business affairs and supplying her husband with money and clothing.
The "Captain Irvin" that Rachel Revere rails against in her letter probably was the remarkably-named Paulus Aemelius Irving, then a young officer in the 47th Regiment, who often served as the field officer of the day during the Siege of Boston. Irving soon would be promoted to the rank of major, but in 1777 he was captured at the Battle of Saratoga and spent several years in American captivity. If he was Rachel Revere's nemesis, perhaps he received some of the same sort of treatment as a prisoner that caused her complaints. After the Revolution, he went on to gain a knighthood and become a general in the British army.
Rachel Walker Revere, born in Boston in 1745, was the daughter of Richard and Rachel Carlisle Walker. According to Revere family lore, Paul and Rachel met on a Boston street, soon after the death of his first wife, Sarah Orne Revere. With seven children including a dying infant daughter at home, Paul clearly had a practical need to remarry, but in surviving scraps of poetry and family tradition we find evidence of a love match as well; a bond that lasted through forty-one years of marriage. Five months after the death of Sarah, Paul married Rachel in October 1773. By May 1775, she had a six-month old son, Joshua, and six surviving stepchildren to care for, first at home, and then as refugees in the New England countryside. Paul and Rachel Revere would have seven more children, four of whom survived until adulthood, including a son, Joseph Warren Revere who followed his father into the copper rolling business and lived through the Civil War; a daughter, Maria who married Joseph Balestier and ended her days in Singapore, where her husband had served as United States consul; and their youngest child, John (the third son to bear that name), who graduated from Harvard College and became a professor of medicine in Philadelphia and New York. Having outlived all but five of her children and stepchildren, Rachel Revere died in Boston of a "bilious colic" in 1813, at age sixty-eight. Paul Revere died six years later at age eighty-three. They lie together in the Granary Burying Ground in Boston.
The Massachusetts Historical Society holds a large collection of Revere family papers, 1746-1964, which includes the letter from Rachel to Paul Revere displayed here .
Paul Revere's account of his famous ride is at the Historical Society's website, The Coming of the American Revolution; see the online presentation of Paul Revere's deposition, fair copy. The same website also includes an example of the kind of printed pass that Rachel Revere needed to leave Boston online presentation of Permit to pass through British lines.
Atkins, Tory. "Rachel Revere and Abigail Adams: Domesticity and Politics," Revere House Gazette, 96 (Fall 2009), 1-4.
Fischer, David Hackett. Paul Revere's Ride. New York: Oxford University Press, 1994.
Forbes, Esther. Paul Revere & the World He Lived In. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1942.
French, Allen. General Gage's Informers. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 1932.
Nielsen, Donald M. "The Revere Family," New England Historical and Genealogical Society Register, 145 (1991), 291-316.
Paul Revere: Artisan, Businessman, and Patriot--the Man behind the Myth. Boston: Paul Revere Association, 1988.