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Letter from Paul Revere to Jeremy Belknap, circa 1798

Letter from Paul Revere to Jeremy Belknap, circa 1798


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    [ This description is from the project: Witness to America's Past ]

    "It was then young flood, the Ship was winding, and the moon was Rising." Thus Paul Revere poetically described the scene he remembered from the evening of 18 April 1775, as he set off across the Charles River from Boston for Charlestown. Along with William Dawes, Paul Revere helped to spread word that night that British troops were preparing to march from Boston, either to make prisoners of John Hancock and Samuel Adams at Lexington or to capture the munitions that the colonists had been secretly storing at Concord. The skirmishes that followed at Lexington and Concord on April 19 marked the outbreak of the American Revolution.

    Upon reaching Charlestown, Revere obtained a horse from friends and set off for Lexington through Cambridge, but encountering several British soldiers, he was forced to elude them and ride instead through Medford. He alerted almost every house along the way that the British forces were assembled and marching. After reaching Lexington and warning Adams and Hancock, Revere and Dawes, joined by Samuel Prescott, decided to ride for Concord and alert the minutemen as they went. Revere was captured by British officers on the way but later released, whereupon he returned to Lexington in time to witness the opening volleys of the Revolutionary War.

    Jeremy Belknap asked Paul Revere to write this account of his now-famous ride for the Society's library, and then published it in the Collections for 1798. Despite the early publication of this letter, Revere's role in Lexington and Concord was relatively unnoticed in history books until after his death in 1818. However, by 1863, when Henry Wadsworth Longfellow penned his highly romanticized ballad that cast Revere as a national hero, he had achieved historical and biographical recognition from a number of sources for his role in the events of 18-19 April 1775.1

    During the war Revere rode express and printed money for the Massachusetts Provincial Congress, and in the fall of 1776, was commissioned lieutenant-colonel in charge of Castle Island in Boston Harbor, a post which he held through most of the war. After the war, as well as maintaining his silversmithing activities Revere kept shop for six years as an importer of English goods, then principally hardware, until 1789. This early entrepreneur, also involved in numerous civic activities, then set up a foundry in Boston to supply metal ship fittings and in 1792 cast his first bell in Boston for the Old North Church. In 1800 he engaged to build a copper rolling mill in Canton, Massachusetts, to supply sheet copper for the hulls of ships, including the USS Constitution. A quaint figure known for wearing Revolutionary-era garb for the rest of his days, Paul Revere died in 1818 at the age of eighty-three.2

    The Society also owns a draft and corrected copy of a deposition by Paul Revere giving an account of his ride, possibly prepared in 1775 at the request of the Massachusetts Provincial Congress, which was then gathering depositions from eyewitnesses to prove that the British fired first at Lexington. (See: Paul Revere's deposition, draft, circa 1775 and Paul Revere's deposition, fair copy, circa 1775.)  Revere never committed himself on that point, as he heard but could not actually see the first shot fired.

    The Society holds a large collection of Revere family papers, which includes personal correspondence and records for the various family businesses. The collection contains primarily the papers of Paul Revere, his sons Joseph Warren Revere (1777-1868) and John Revere (1787-1847), and his grandsons Edward Hutchinson Robbins Revere (1827-1862) and Paul Joseph Revere (1832-1863).

    1. Paul Revere's Three Accounts of His Famous Ride. Introduction by Edmund S. Morgan. Boston, 1968; Forbes, Esther. Paul Revere & the World He Lived In. Boston, 1942, pp.251-269.

    2. Esther Forbes. Paul Revere & the World He Lived In. Boston, 1942, chs.8-10; Patrick M. Leehey. “Reconstructing Paul Revere: An Overview of His Ancestry, Life and Work.” Paul Revere—Artisan, Businessman, and Patriot: The Man Behind the Myth. Exhibition catalogue, The Paul Revere Memorial Association, Boston, 1988, pp.15-33