For some reason, Boston just seemed to attract controversy. It is not that we wanted to be the center of attention, knowing it would bring the wrath of the King upon the people and our little town. But, nonetheless, trouble continued to find us and the center of a revolution is where we found ourselves.
I, though politically minded, was just a businessman. Living right in Boston in a three-story home, I operated a silversmith shop that was only a couple blocks from my home. Being somewhat of a perfectionist, my wares were sought after and I was able to make a decent living for the support of my family.
It may have been that my business being prosperous was one of the reasons I envisioned the unlimited potential that existed in the Colonies if only His Majesty would allow us to pursue our dreams less hindered. And, it was not just me, many of my friends and acquaintances were also growing restless concerning a steady barrage of regulations, restrictions and taxes being levied on the Colonies by England.
Several of us would routinely meet over a meal or drink and the subject would inevitably resort to politics and liberty. Most of us; including John Hancock (merchant), John Adams (lawyer), Benjamin Edes (journalist), and Sam Adams (a natural leader of protesters); were middle-class people. We, and many others at the time, were experiencing a surge in the concept of independence for the Colonies. This wave was spreading throughout most of the thirteen regions and the restlessness was growing among the common people.
Don’t get me wrong, everyone was not in agreement as to the direction that should be taken. Looking back, it seems that around one third wanted to leave well-enough alone and let England rule. Another third were so busy surviving and tending to their business that they chose to remain neutral in the controversy. It was just that the last third of us were keen on the idea of an experiment in freedom that was foreign to the modern world.
There were many “what ifs” running through our minds and bouncing across the tavern tables. What if the Colonies were to break away from England and declare their independence? What if we actually chose our leaders and they were responsible to answer back to us? What if England took all of her soldiers home? What if the burden of taxation was lifted and the level of regulation was gone so that we could prosper according to our ability and hard work?
It seemed that the more we shared ideas, the bigger the dreams became. Once the fire of freedom is set in the hearts of men, there is no happy retreat back into any form of slavery. The amazing thing is that if the King had recognized the direction England’s subjects were taking, he could have compromised and both sides could have been content. It was not a hatred of England that drove us, but a desire for freedom and self-rule. If he had let us have more say in the selection of our governors, more input concerning our laws, less burden under taxes, and a general level of respect from across the Atlantic; war probably would have been prevented. He would still have his colonies as the widespread support would not have grown for separation and we would have enjoyed an increased level of liberty. But, “win-win” was not in the cards being dealt.
For you to better understand my story, it would be prudent to understand who I am and how I came to be the one telling you this portion of our history.
I am a man of average size and possess what is slowly turning from brown to gray hair. My father was sent from France in 1715, at the age of 13 and arrived at Boston in 1716. Back then, he still used his French name of Apollos Rivoire. Being a young man in a new land, he found work with John Coney, a local goldsmith. Upon the death of Mr. Coney in 1722, my father set up his own shop in Dock Square.
Sometime during the 1720’s he took on, what he later described as his “American name”, Paul Revere. My father was proud to live in the New World and learned, early on, that the limits as to what he could do would only be established by he, himself.
In 1729, he married my Mother, Deborah Hitchbourn. They both worked hard, enjoyed each other’s company and soon started a family. The first-born was my sister, Deborah, born in 1732. I was next in line, born in December of 1734. Yes, both of us were named after our parents as that was customary then and still is now. There ended up being seven more children born into the family, but only seven of us lived to become adults.
Another custom was for the children, as they reached sufficient age, to begin helping the parents – girls at home and boys either in their father’s business or on his farm, etc. My family was no exception and as a teenager I began working in the shop, learning the trade of being a goldsmith and silversmith. I also attended school at North Writing School.
When I was 19, my father passed away. This left me, the oldest son, to be the main support for the family. I took over the family business and continued to operate as a silversmith. I not only learned the value of being a hard worker from my father, but I learned to follow the character he demonstrated in his life. He, being Protestant by faith, saw that we attended church and I continued this practice with my family.
In 1756, a couple years after the death of my father, I volunteered to fight the French in the French and Indian War. Being a man of character and being a hard worker, my superiors offered me a commission and I served as a second lieutenant in the colonial artillery. We entered battle at Lake George, New York.
Soon, I was back home to Boston and married Sarah Orne in 1757. Prior to her passing in May of 1773, our eighth child (Isannah, who also died in September of 1773) was born. One other had also passed away in her first year.
Being a widower and having six children, the oldest being 15 (Deborah) and the next 13 (Paul); I married Rachel Walker in October of the same year (1773). Rachel and I also had eight children. Only the oldest (Joshua) was born prior to the beginning of the war. Later on, as we had the other seven children, three died while very young. I was determined to have a son named John. Two of the babies who died young were each named John and it was not until 1787 that I had a son who lived and carried that name. Another son was named after one of my dear friends and co-patriots here in Boston, Joseph Warren.
While married to Sarah, we moved from a small home along Clark’s Wharf to a two-story home with a three-story addition. The frame home was near my shop on the North End, over-looking North Square. Not only was this convenient but it was also a home that would house a large family. This home was near the water of the harbor.
As my reputation improved, my business grew and I soon employed help. We produced a quality product for a fair price. I also took up printing in my shop. One of the most important times for this ability was right after the Boston Massacre. I printed a flyer showing an engraving of the scene where the British soldiers fired on the residents of Boston gathered to protest the actions of England. Five of my countrymen, most of which I knew very well, died as a result. We distributed the flyers around the general area and they helped to convince the colonists to take sides against the occupying army. This event took place on March 5, 1770. Over the next few years the tension grew, not only in Boston, but in the colonies, in general.
(The above mentioned flyer showing the Boston Massacre, which I printed and sold, brought a shadow upon my character. One, Henry Pelham, had drawn the same scene and presented it to me. While I studied the drawing, I became aware of the potential this scene held for uniting the people behind the resistance. Based on Mr. Pelham’s drawing, I did another etching which I could use for making the prints and proceeded to use them as intended. When Mr. Pelham discovered that I was distributing the flyers, he became upset and accused me of taking advantage of him and his work.)
You are probably well aware that this same tension reached another point on December 16, 1773; when we held a little party for the tea-drinking British. We, the Sons of Liberty in Boston, had gathered at the Old South Meeting House earlier in the day to discuss the Tea Act and decide what to do about the three ships docked, full of bundles of tea. As we listened to speakers and had several discussions, we received a message from the Governor that the tea was to be unloaded. This was all we needed to determine our course of action. Samuel Adams delivered the line, “This meeting can do nothing more to save the country.” Some adorned Mohawk Indian attire and many of us proceeded to Griffin’s Wharf where the three ships were docked. We succeeded in tossing 342 chests of tea into Boston Harbor. You can imagine what the soldiers, who were camping at our Boston Commons, thought the next morning as they woke to find empty tea cases floating in the harbor.
I mentioned the “Son’s of Liberty”, which met at the Green Dragon Tavern. Sam Adams was instrumental in the organization of the men into this group. Our roles, as members, changed somewhat over time. The Boston group became only one, though the most famous, of many similar groups in other towns that served as an organization for action and a source for information. Sam Adams and John Hancock became two of the most vocal of the local men. Each of them also served on the Provincial Congress, with Hancock as the president, once it was organized in October of 1774. They began to gain unwanted attention of the British and the more things escalated, the more the officers wanted to silence them both.
We also formed the “Committee of Correspondence” which was responsible for disseminating written and verbal information, from Boston to patriots in other towns. I was not only a part of this committee, but had the job of being one of the riders who would deliver the information. William Dawes was another of the riders and we each had made several deliveries over a time span of a few years. I had been called on to make deliveries of letters to New York and Philadelphia, multiple times. I also took correspondence to Samuel Adams while he attended the Continental Congress in Massachusetts. There were several other rides that I made to various communities.
One message proved to be very important as later events unfolded. The British had ordered that there were to be no more shipments of gun powder or military stores to the colonies. England also had sent ships to reinforce Fort William and Mary at Portsmouth. As we learned of such events, I was sent to warn the patriots in that area of the need to storm the fort and seize the gun powder stored there, before the ships arrived with more troops. This trip produced the desired results and the men in the area were successful in obtaining a large quantity of gun powder. This proved very important as there were limited supplies, other than that, for use when the fighting broke out.
I mentioned that I named a son after a friend. Dr. Joseph Warren was another of our leaders here in Boston. On March 6, 1775; he delivered a speech to a gathering of men at the Old South Meeting House. The occasion was the fifth anniversary of the Boston Massacre. This event helped stir up the patriotism in our hearts and our countrymen, but also further upset the British command.
In early 1775, at the age of 40, I was one of thirty men who formed a committee and accepted the responsibility to secretly watch the British in Boston. In pairs, were would take turns watching the troops and patrolling the streets. We sought intelligence as to the plans of the enemy.
This finally paid off around midnight on Saturday, April 15th. It was noticed that various groups of soldiers were preparing for some sort of assignment. There was movement in some of their ships in the harbor and smaller boats were positioned near Boston Commons.
The “ride” you are waiting to hear about was not the first made with similar warnings. On Sunday, April 16, 1775; Dr. Warren sent me to Lexington to deliver a message to Samuel Adams and John Hancock. At that time, they were both staying at the home of Rev. Jonas Clarke, who was married to a niece of John Hancock. Both were in that area due to attending meetings of the Provincial Congress that met in Concord, only a few miles further from Boston.
The message dealt with the expected movement of British troops (Regulars) and the expected goal of arresting or killing both Adams and Hancock and/or seizing the arms and supplies in Concord. With this warning, a group of around ten armed men guarded the home where they were staying and notice was sent to Concord to move as much as possible out of town, which they proceeded to do over the next couple days.
On Tuesday, April 18, 1775; General Thomas Gage issued orders to his men to march to Concord and seize and destroy the arms and supplies stored there. As General Gage and his troops were stationed in Boston and camped at Boston Commons, the secrecy of the mission was overcome and word got out that the troops would be on the move very soon.
As a part of the Sons of Liberty and being riders for the Committee of Correspondence, William Dawes and I were contacted to ride and issue a warning. About ten o’clock, Dr. Joseph Warren sent a messenger who found me at home. My wife, Rachel, understood the urgency of the situation and knew that I was the main rider used for such purposes as what was ahead of me that night. She, along with the older children, also realized the seriousness of my assignment. As we said goodbye, we both understood that before the night was over, I could be arrested or killed.
When I arrived at the home of Dr. Warren, he told me the intelligence indicated the British possibly had two missions. First, march to Lexington and place Samuel Adams and John Hancock under arrest. Second, march to Concord to seize and destroy the weapons, ammunition and supplies hidden there for use by the Minutemen.
As we were not absolutely sure as to what avenue of departure the troops would use to exit Boston, I had earlier come up with a signal to be used to let various people know whether they would be taken by barge to Cambridge, over Back Bay or exit Boston by way of Boston Neck. Most of Boston is located on a peninsula with the “neck” being the isthmus connecting it to the mainland. If the troops were to be ferried across the water to Cambridge, to the west of Boston Commons, it would actually be faster than if they marched around to exit the town by Boston Neck. Since one of the reasons to leave during the night was the desire to have a surprise arrival at Lexington, not marching out of town was another reason we believed they would go by water. Late in the day it had been observed that many soldiers had been gathering near the lower end of Boston Commons. This was further indication that they were preparing to leave and would go by boat across Back Bay.
There were two friends designated to row me across the Charles River to Charlestown, where I would depart on horseback, I desired to know for sure, by the time I departed Charlestown, which avenue the troops were taking. Plus, others had been made aware of the signal so the warning could be issued if I were arrested before leaving Boston. William Dawes was riding with the same message from Boston, exiting town on the neck. In order to improve the odds that at least one of us would make it to Lexington, we were to take different paths.
My plan was for a signal to be made from the steeple of Christ Church (also called the North Church). Robert Newman would hold one lantern if the troops were marching out of Boston by way of Boston Neck or two lanterns if they were crossing by water. As I was being rowed to Charlestown, the signal was given, using two lanterns.
Once across Charles River, we landed near Charlestown Battery and I proceeded into town where I met up with Colonel Conant, along with others. I explained what was happening. A horse was supplied from Deacon Larkin’s barn for me to use. Richard Devens, who was on the Committee of Safety, told me that earlier in the evening, he had witnessed nine or ten mounted officers going towards Lexington. After he returned to Charlestown and saw the signal, he had already sent a messenger to warn various men, including Adams and Hancock.
By the time I was able to begin my ride, it was about 11 o’clock and the moon was bright. I set out for Menotomy and Lexington, which was about ten miles away.
When I was just about past Charlestown Common, heading towards Cambridge, I noticed two mounted soldiers under a tree. One headed my way and the other went to cut me off further up the road. Both of them were armed. I cut my horse short and turned about. I rode as fast as I could, the horse at a full gallop, for Mistick Road. One soldier followed me about 300 yards before giving up the chase.
I was able to ride on to Lexington, through Medford and Menotomy spreading the warning that the Regulars were coming. In Medford, about 11:30, I woke the captain of the Minutemen and then alarmed every house on the way to Lexington. I finally arrived at Lexington where I gave the alarm to Mr. Adams and Col. Hancock around midnight. About half an hour after arriving, William Dawes arrived. I learned that the British officers who had been seen earlier in the evening heading towards Lexington had passed through town around 10 o’clock and went towards Concord. Rev. Clark told me that three men, from Lexington, had been sent to watch the movements of the officers.
Mr. Dawes and I then set off for Concord, which was another nine or ten miles. Soon we met up with a young man named Dr. Samuel Prescott, who was a high Son of Liberty from Concord and was heading home. We decided to warn the inhabitants along the road. Dr. Prescott knew many of them and they believed the warning we issued. About half way to Concord both of the others stopped at a house to warn the occupants and I went ahead. About 200 yards down the road I saw two officers who were armed with pistols and swords. I called back to William and Dr. Prescott to hurry and come. At that time, I saw four officers who rode up to me with their pistols drawn. They ordered me to stop. One said, “If you go an inch further, you are a dead man.” When William Dawes saw what was happening he turned his horse and rode back towards Lexington. Dr. Prescott caught up and the two of us attempted to get past them, to no avail. They ordered us into a pasture and said that if we did not go, they would blow our brains out. We proceeded to go into the pasture, through the opening in the fence they had made by removing the rails. As soon as we entered, Dr. Prescott said, “Put On!” and he took to the left, jumped a stone wall and made his way to Concord. I took to the right. My plan was to make it to the edge of the woods and flee on foot into the trees. About the time I reached the bottom of the pasture, six mounted officers appeared, seized my bridle and put their pistols to my chest. They ordered me to dismount, which I did. One of them, I assumed him to be in command, in a gentlemanly manner asked me where I came from and I told him. He inquired as to when I left and I told him. He appeared to be very surprised I had made it that far that fast. He wanted to know my name, to which I answered, “Revere”. He questioned, “Paul Revere?” and I told him that I was. As the other officers began to abuse me, he reassured me that I would come to no harm. Feeling fairly bold, I responded that they would miss their aim. He, feeling in complete control, assured me that they would not miss.
He then told me that they were waiting for some deserters that they expected to be coming down the road. I told him that I knew better and that I had alarmed the people in the houses all along the road. I told him I would have 500 men there soon, to which one of them told me they would have 1,500 men. The one in charge rode off to the road and told the ones who stopped me what I had said. They came back at a full gallop and one of them (who I was to learn was Major Mitchel of the 5th Regiment) put the barrel of his pistol to my head. He informed me he would ask me some questions and if I did not tell the truth he would blow my brains out. I told him that I was a man of truth. I asked him what right they had to stop me and make me a prisoner. He proceeded to ask me his questions and I answered him the same way I had before. After they searched me for pistols, he had me mount my horse. Once mounted, the Major took the reins from my hand and gave them to an officer on my right. He then ordered four other men that they had stopped, which included the three men from Lexington sent to watch them, to come out of the woods and then all of us were ordered to march.
Once on the road, the officers surrounded the prisoners and we headed towards Lexington at a quick pace. After about one mile, the reins were given to a sergeant who was ordered to shoot me if I tried to run. About half a mile from the meeting house in Lexington, we heard a shot, which I told the Major was a warning shot. He ordered the other four prisoners to dismount. The saddles and bridles were cut from their horses and they were told they were free to leave after their horses had been chased off. I asked the Major to dismiss me, but he refused and ordered us to begin marching again.
When we were close enough to see the Meeting House, we heard a volley of guns fired, which I supposed to be from the tavern as an alarm. The Major ordered us to halt. He asked me the distance to Cambridge and other questions. He had me dismount, gave my horse to the sergeant to ride, cut the saddle off of the sergeant’s horse and then they rode off down the road. This was about two o’clock in the morning of the 19th of April.
I went across the burying ground and some pastures to the house where I had left Mr. Adams and Col. Hancock and told them what had happened. Their friends advised them to leave the area for their own safety. I and Mr. Lowell, who was a clerk to Mr. Hancock, went with them for about two miles where we reached the house where they intended to stay in Burlington. After resting, Mr. Lowell and I returned to Buckman’s Tavern at Lexington. At the tavern we were told by Thaddeus Bowman that the troops were within one half mile. We went into the tavern to get a trunk of papers belonging to Col. Hancock. From a window I saw the troops and we hurried down to leave with the trunk. While passing through the militia gathered on Lexington Green (which is a triangle of open area bounded by roads) behind the Meeting House, I observed what looked to be 50 to 60 Minutemen gathered. As I passed through them I heard their commanding officer, Captain John Parker order the men to let the troops pass by without molesting them and “Don’t fire unless you are fired on, but if they want a war, it may as well begin here.”
When the troops appeared behind the Meeting House, they halted and then formed lines for engagement. Major John Pitcairn shouted for the militia to “Lay down your arms, you damned rebels, and disperse!” I heard one gun fire, which has later been called the “shot heard ‘round the world”. Then a British officer shouted, “Fire, by God! Fire!” Almost immediately, I turned my head and saw smoke in front of the troops as they opened fire. Several of the Minutemen had scattered and some were taking positions behind a stone wall. The troops ran a few steps and then a large group fired again. Then there was irregular firing and then more as I supposed it was the platoons. By this time I was not able to see the militia as a house was between them and me.
I later found out that of approximately 7-800 British troops which had left Boston, the battle at Lexington was between the Minutemen and around 200 of the troops which were leading the way towards Concord. These troops were under the leadership of Major Pitcairn, who may have fired the first shot with his pistol. During this battle, which only lasted a few minutes, there was one wounded and there were no deaths of British but eight of the Minutemen were killed and ten were wounded, some by gunshot and some by bayonet. Among the dead was Captain John Parker, who was cut down while reloading. By the time the battle was over, the rest of the troops had reached Lexington and all of the British troops marched on to Concord, where they had their second battle of the day.
Samuel Adams and John Hancock were protected from arrest and were safely away from battle on that day. This success, along with the British failure to destroy most of the powder and supplies in Concord, was due to the work of several of us, not just my ride on that night. As the King’s troops made their way back to Boston, they proceeded to burn homes, destroy property, abuse residents and even kill some. The Minutemen continued to attack the troops throughout much of their march. The troops were reinforced near Lexington by about 1,000 additional soldiers. By the end of the day the British losses were 73 killed, 174 wounded, and 26 missing for a total of 273 casualties. The Americans lost 49 killed, 41 wounded and five missing for a total of 95 casualties.
Even though it was not safe for me to return to Boston, the next day Mr. Warren, the president of the Committee of Safety, hired me to be in charge of the outdoor business of that committee. I returned to Charlestown and sent message to Rachel for her to gather the important belongings and the children and join me in Charlestown. We resided there during the siege of Boston.
On June 17, 1775, the battle of Bunker Hill took place. In this battle, two of the notable men in the above story were killed. Dr. Joseph Warren, age 34, a Bostonian was shot through the face and his body mutilated by British bayonets. On the British side, Major John Pitcairn was killed.
The British evacuated Boston in March of 1776, after General Washington ordered an attack on the British ships in Boston Harbor. During these months I was employed to design and print money for the government. Soon afterwards, when we had moved back into our home in Boston, I was given a commission with the assignment of helping to protect Boston from enemy attack.
(By: Mike Foil, based on various sources and stories from books and found on the Internet)