Biography of Paul Revere: Patriot Famous for His Midnight Ride

Portrait of Paul Revere by John Singleton Copley
Portrait of Paul Revere by John Singleton Copley.

Hulton Archive/Getty Images​

Paul Revere (January 1, 1735–May 10, 1818) is perhaps best known for his famous midnight ride, but he was also one of Boston’s most ardent patriots. He organized an intelligence network called Sons of Liberty to help colonists fight against British troops.

Fast Facts: Paul Revere

  • Known for: Famous midnight ride alerting the people of Lexington and Concord of an impending British attack; one of the leaders of Sons of Liberty movement
  • Occupation: Silversmith, artisan, and early industrialist
  • Born: January 1, 1735 in Boston, Massachusetts
  • Died: May 10, 1818, Boston, Massachusetts
  • Parents’ Names: Apollos Rivoire and Deborah Hitchborn
  • Spouses' Names: Sarah Orne (m. 1757-1773); Rachel Walker (m. 1773-1813)
  • Children: 16, 11 of whom survived childhood

Early Years

Paul Revere was the third of twelve children born to Apollos Rivoire, a French Huguenot silversmith, and Deborah Hitchborn, the daughter of a Boston shipping family. Apollos, who emigrated from France as a teen, changed his name to the more English-sounding Revere at some point prior to Paul's birth—a common practice at the time.

The young Revere left school in his early teens to become an apprentice in his father's silversmithing business, which allowed him to interact with a wide variety of different people within Boston's society.

When Revere was nineteen, his father died, but he was too young to take over the smithy, so he enlisted in the provincial army. The French and Indian War was ongoing, and Revere soon found himself commissioned to the rank of Second Lieutenant. After a year in the Army, Revere returned home to Boston, took over the family silver shop, and married his first wife, Sarah Orne.

By the mid-1760s, the economy was sliding into a recession, and Revere's silver business was struggling. Like many craftsman of the era, Revere needed some supplemental income, so he took up the practice of dentistry. His skill in manufacturing false teeth from ivory was one that would serve him well later.

The Brink of Revolution

In the late 1760s, Revere formed a close friendship with Dr. Joseph Warren of Boston. The two men were members of the Masons, and they each had an interest in politics. Over the next few years, they became active participants in the Sons of Liberty movement, and Revere used his skill as an artist and craftsman to produce some of America's earliest political propaganda. He illustrated carvings and engravings, many of which included images of events like the Boston Massacre of 1770, and a parade of British troops through the city's streets.

As he became more prosperous, Revere and his family moved to a home in Boston's North End. However, in 1773, Sarah died, leaving Revere with eight children to raise; within a few months he married his second wife, Rachel, who was eleven years his junior. In November of that year, a ship called the Dartmouth docked in Boston Harbor, and history would soon be made.

The Dartmouth arrived laden with tea shipped by the East India Company under the newly-passed Tea Act, which essentially was designed to force colonists to buy tea from East India, rather than purchasing smuggled tea at a lower cost. This was extremely unpopular with the people of Boston, so Revere and many of the men of the Sons of Liberty took turns guarding the ship, preventing it from being unloaded. On the night of December 16, Revere was one of the ringleaders when American patriots stormed the Dartmouth and two other East India ships, and dumped the tea into Boston Harbor.

Over the next two years, Revere made regular rides as a courier, traveling from Boston to Philadelphia and New York City to carry information on behalf of the Committee of Public Safety. This was a grass-roots committee of patriots who did their best to make governing extremely difficult for British authorities. Around the same time, Revere and other members of the Sons of Liberty, and their associates, began a network of intelligence gathering in Boston.

Meeting in a tavern called the Green Dragon, which Daniel Webster called the "headquarters of the revolution," Revere and other men, known as "Mechanics," disseminated information about the movement of British troops.

The Midnight Ride

In April 1775, Dr. Joseph Warren was alerted to possible British troop movements near Concord, Massachusetts. Concord was a small town not far from Boston, and was the site of a large cache of patriot military supplies. Warren sent Revere to warn the Massachusetts Provincial Congress so they could move the stores to a safer location.

Paul Revere's Ride
Interim Archives / Getty Images

A few days later, British General Thomas Gage was ordered to move on Concord, disarm the patriots, and seize their cache of weapons and supplies. Although Gage was instructed by his superiors to arrest men like Samuel Adams and John Hancock for their roles as rebel leaders, he opted not to include that in his written instructions to his troops, because if word got out, there could be a violent uprising. Instead, Gage chose to focus his written orders on taking possession of the weapons he believed to be housed in Concord. Over the coming days, Revere instructed the sexton at the North Church to use a signal lantern in the steeple if he saw British soldiers approaching. Because the British could either take the road from Boston to Lexington or sail up the Charles River, the sexton was told to light a single lantern for land movement, and two if there was activity on the water. Thus, the phrase "one if by land, two if by sea" was born.

On April 18, Warren told Revere that reports indicated that British troops were secretly moving towards Concord and the neighboring town of Lexington, ostensibly to capture Adams and Hancock. Although the weapons supply had been safely moved, Hancock and Adams were unaware of the impending danger. When the sexton at the North Church placed two lanterns in his steeple, Revere moved into action.

He crossed the Charles River in a rowboat in the dead of night, careful to avoid the notice of the British warship HMS Somerset, and landed in Charlestown. From there, he borrowed a horse and rode to Lexington, sneaking past British patrols and alerting every home he passed along the way. Revere traveled through the night, visiting patriot strongholds like Somerville and Arlington, where additional riders picked up the message and traveled their own routes. By the end of the night, it is estimated that some forty riders had gone out to spread the word of the impending British attack.

Revere arrived in Lexington around midnight, and warned Adams and Hancock, and then headed towards Concord. On his way, he was stopped by a British patrol and questioned; he told the soldiers that if they approached Lexington they would find themselves face to face with an angry and armed militia. At some point, once they neared Lexington with Revere in tow, the town's church bell began to ring; Revere told them it was a call to arms, and the soldiers left him in the woods to walk the rest of the way to town alone. Once he arrived, he met up with Hancock, and helped him gather up his family so they could escape safely as the battle on Lexington Green began.

During the Revolutionary War, Revere was unable to return to Boston, but stayed in Watertown, where he continued his work as a courier for the provincial congress, and printed currency for payment of the local militias. Dr. Warren was killed at the Battle of Bunker Hill, and nine months after his death, Revere was able to identify his remains, exhumed from a mass grave, thanks to a false tooth he had mounted for his friend, making Paul Revere the first forensic dentist.

There is no evidence that Revere actually shouted out "The British are coming!" during his famous ride.

Later Years

After the Revolution, Revere expanded his silversmithing business and opened an iron foundry in Boston. His business produced cast iron goods such as nails, weights, and tools. Because he was willing to invest money into expanding his foundry, and embraced new technological ideas in the field of metalworking, he became highly successful.

Eventually, his foundry moved into iron and bronze casting, and he was able to mass produce church bells as America moved into a post-war religious revival. With two of his sons, Paul Jr. and Joseph Warren Revere, he founded Paul Revere and Sons, and gradually perfected the production of rolled copper.

He remained politically active throughout his entire life, and died in 1818 at his home in Boston.

Sources

  • “Joseph Warren Dies a Martyr in the Battle of Bunker Hill.” New England Historical Society, 16 June 2018, www.newenglandhistoricalsociety.com/death-gen-joseph-warren/.
  • Klein, Christopher. “The Real-Life Haunts of the Sons of Liberty.” History.com, A&E Television Networks, www.history.com/news/the-real-life-haunts-of-the-sons-of-liberty.
  • “Paul Revere - The Midnight Ride.” Paul Revere House, www.paulreverehouse.org/the-real-story/.
  • Strangeremains. “Paul Revere: The First American Forensic Dentist.” Strange Remains, 11 Oct. 2017, strangeremains.com/2017/07/04/paul-revere-the-first-american-forensic-dentist/.