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A true republican [electronic resource] : the life of Paul Revere /
Jayne E. Triber.
Amherst : University of Massachusetts Press, c1998.
x, 314 p. : ill. ; 25 cm.
1558491392 (alk. paper)
More Details
Amherst : University of Massachusetts Press, c1998.
1558491392 (alk. paper)
Licensed for access by U. of T. users.
catalogue key
Includes bibliographical references (p. [197]-294) and index.
A Look Inside
First Chapter

Chapter One


    CROWDED AND NOISY, Boston's North End was dominated by wharves and shipyards and peopled with mariners, ropemakers, housewrights, and silversmiths, along with wealthy merchants like the Hutchinsons. Here Paul Revere, the second child and first son of Paul and Deborah Hichborn Revere, was born on December 21, 1734. His family was probably living on North Street (now Hanover) opposite Clark Street near the corner of Love Lane (now Tileston Street), where his father practiced the goldsmith's trade. In 1743 the Reveres moved to Clark's Wharf, where they rented a house or part of a house from Dr. John Clark. Young Paul grew up surrounded by the hustle and bustle of Boston's waterfront and by the numerous Hichborn clan. His world was bounded by family, the New Brick Church, the North Writing School, and a sense of his place in a stratified world.

    Paul's father, a French Huguenot, was born Apollos Rivoire in Riocaud, France, near Bordeaux, on November 30, 1702. On November 21, 1715, Apollos left his birthplace in the center of French Protestantism to join his Uncle Simon, who had emigrated to the English Channel Island of Guernsey ten years earlier. Simon Rivoire then paid for his nephew's passage to Boston and for his apprenticeship to goldsmith John Coney. In late 1715 or early 1716, thirteen-year-old Apollos Rivoire arrived in his new home. The warehouses and wharves, the densely packed streets, and the mingled voices of ship's captains, fishermen, merchants, and tradesmen speaking a foreign language must have bewildered a young French boy from the vineyard region of Bordeaux. Still, by the early 1700s, Boston was not an entirely alien city for French Huguenots.

    In the summer of 1686, less than a year after Louis XIV revoked the Edict of Nantes, which had provided religious toleration for French Protestants since 1598, the first group of Huguenots arrived in Boston. Soon after their arrival, they organized a church, although they did not erect a building until approximately the time that Apollos Rivoire landed in Boston. The Bowdoins, Johonnots, and Sigourneys became successful merchants and respected citizens. Peter Faneuil, a merchant, inherited the sizable estate of his Uncle Andrew and, in 1742, built a new market near the town dock. Donated to the town of Boston, Faneuil Hall is the most visible reminder of the Huguenot presence in Boston. By the time Peter Faneuil built his market, the Huguenots, small in number to begin with, had become thoroughly integrated into the Anglo-American society of Boston. Apollos Rivoire followed this pattern of anglicizing his name, joining an English church, and marrying into an English family.

    Settled into Mr. Coney's house on Anne Street near Dock Square, Apollos learned his craft from one of Boston's finest goldsmiths. When Coney died in August 1722, Apollos Rivoire had become anglicized enough to call himself Paul Rivoire and successful enough to be able to buy out the remainder of his apprenticeship from Coney's widow. Paul Rivoire spent the next few years establishing himself in his trade and establishing himself in Anglo-American society.

    When it came time to join a church, the French emigre did not join the Huguenot church of the Faneuils, Boutineaus, and Johonnots. Paul Rivoire became a member of the New Brick Church, also known as the Cockerel because of the shape of its 172-pound weathervane fashioned by Deacon Shem Drowne. In 1720 the New North Church, which had been established by seventeen "substantial mechanics" in 1714, installed the Reverend Peter Thacher of Weymouth as assistant pastor. Dissenting members of New North disapproved of Thacher's leaving his congregation for a better position in Boston, claiming, "Ministers shall not be vagrants, nor intrude themselves of their own authority into any place which best pleaseth them." Ten dissenters formed the New Brick Church, which was gathered on May 22, 1722. Largely composed of artisans, New Brick also numbered the Hutchinsons among their congregation. Indeed, Thomas Hutchinson's sister married William Welsteed, pastor of New Brick Church from 1728 to 1753.

    Paul Rivoire integrated himself into his Anglo-American community in another way in 1729, when he subscribed to The Life of the Very Reverend and Learned Cotton Mather , by Samuel Mather. In a list of subscribers top-heavy with ministers, scholars, and gentlemen, the name of Paul Rivoire stands out as one of two goldsmiths and two apothecaries who had the financial means and intellectual curiosity to purchase a life of Cotton Mather, the paragon of Calvinist rectitude. His subscription may testify to a young artisan's interest in improving himself with books, a habit inherited by his son. He may also have looked to Cotton Mather as a model of Christian piety, charity, and ethics. As Mather taught his children to act by "Principles of Reason and Honour" and "to fear God, to serve Christ and shun Sin," so too may Paul Rivoire have instructed his children. By the time his first son was born, Paul Revere, as he now called himself, was a thoroughly respectable member of the community. The first Paul Revere gave his son a good name, a church, and a trade that would establish his place in the community. But it was his mother's family that supplied Paul's Anglo-American heritage and dominated his childhood.

    Paul Revere's father must have known the Hichborns long before he married Deborah on June 19, 1729. Deborah's father, Thomas, owned Hichborn Wharf on Ann Street, along with several other buildings. A joiner by trade, he was also licensed to sell liquor from his house on Hichborn Wharf. The Hichborns descended from a long line of mariners, artisans, and entrepreneurs. Paul's great-great-grandfather Thomas Dexter possessed both an entrepreneurial spirit in business and a defiant attitude in politics. He was a substantial farmer and promoter of the Saugus Iron Works, whose purchase of Nahant from an Indian for a suit of clothes involved Massachusetts in lawsuits for forty years. Shortly after his arrival from England, he was fined for his "insolent carriage and speeches" to Governor Simon Bradstreet and later "sett in the bilbows, disfranchized and fined for speaking reproachfull and seditious words against the government ... saying this captious government will bring all to naught, adding that the best of them was but an attorney." Dexter's lack of deference so outraged John Endecott that Endecott slapped him. Endecott conceded that it was unlawful to strike Dexter, but as he explained to John Winthrop, "if you had seen the manner of his carriage, with such daring of me, with his arms akimbo, it would have provoked a very patient man."

    As the oldest son in an artisan's family of nine children, Paul would most likely assume his father's trade and eventually become a master goldsmith. If he were a younger son who showed exceptional intelligence or a particular talent, like his cousin Benjamin Hichborn, his family might educate him for the ministry, medicine, or law. Paul Revere's formal education began and ended at the North Writing School, but Benjamin Hichborn, a boatbuilder's son, graduated from Harvard in 1768 and became a lawyer and a gentleman. During the Revolutionary War, Paul Revere rose no higher than lieutenant colonel in the Massachusetts militia. Benjamin Hichborn held the rank of colonel in the elite Independent Cadets, the second-oldest military organization in Massachusetts after the Ancient and Honorable Artillery Company. Clark's Wharf and the New Brick Church may have been good enough for the other Hichborns and Reveres, but by the 1780s Benjamin Hichborn and his family owned a house on Brattle Street, a summer home in Dorchester, and sometimes attended King's Chapel. Paul Revere, whose boyhood was shaped by the North Writing School, the New Brick Church, and apprenticeship with his father, seemed destined for a future as a master goldsmith, an elite among his fellow artisans, but a man of mere middling rank in colonial society.

    As a boy growing up in Boston's North End, Paul could not help being aware of the differences that separated the ranks of his society. Artisans like the Reveres rented or owned two-story wooden houses with a central chimney and two rooms on each floor. In 1770, when Paul could finally afford to buy a house, something that his father never achieved, he purchased a seventeenth-century wooden row house in North Square. Built around 1680 for Robert Howard, a wealthy merchant, the house had been at the height of fashion in its day, but that day was long past by the time Revere bought the house. Yet, in the very same neighborhood of modest wooden row houses stood two of the finest mansions in Boston: the Clark-Frankland and the Hutchinson houses.

    William Clark, the merchant who gave his name to Clark's Wharf and Clark Square, built his handsome three-story brick dwelling in 1711, before he lost his fortune in the French wars. In 1756 his heirs sold the house to Sir Charles Henry Frankland, collector of Boston under Governor William Shirley. Its twenty-six rooms contained porcelain fireplaces, mantelpieces of Italian marble, floors inlaid with alternating pine and cedar squares, and walls ornamented with fluted columns and gilded pilasters and cornices. The equally magnificent Hutchinson house next door was built at the end of the seventeenth century by John Foster, a Boston merchant and grandfather of Thomas Hutchinson, the future governor of Massachusetts. The painted brick mansion ornamented with four Corinthian pilasters and the Crown of Britain surmounting each window contained an entrance hall with carved and gilded arch ornamented with busts and statues and a library decorated with a tapestry commemorating the coronation of George II, with gardens extending to Hanover and Fleet Streets. The Reveres and people like them would have to be content with their less fashionable houses filled with simple wooden furniture embellished with an occasional piece of plate, glass, or china.

    A gentleman and an artisan were immediately distinguished by their difference in dress. A gentleman was resplendent in his powdered wig, cocked hat, and clothing that was either imported from London or based on London designs. He wore a white ruffled silk or linen shirt, a richly embroidered and brilliantly hued broadcloth waistcoat, silk hose, and brocade, velvet, or silk breeches fastened at the knee with silver buckles made by silversmiths like the Reveres. His elegant lady made her appearance in an imported brocade, damask, or velvet gown with whalebone stays and hoop skirts, brightly colored shoes, and elaborate coiffure piled atop a frame erected on her head. In contrast, an artisan and his wife wore clothing more for practicality than appearance. While he helped his father make silver knee buckles for wealthy customers, Paul wore a rough linen shirt, leather apron, and leather knee breeches. His mother and his sisters wore linen or wool dresses, petticoats, and an undergarment called a shift. The homespun clothing of artisans and their families lacked the fine texture and bright color that marked the clothing of the gentleman and gentlewoman.

    Once inside their beautifully appointed homes, Boston's elites enjoyed lavish dining and drinking, perhaps from silver plate made by the Reveres. Their other leisure pursuits included tea drinking, needlework, theater, concerts, and dancing. Master craftsmen like the Reveres and their families enjoyed their tea, although they did not own the assemblage of imported utensils and commodities that their wealthier neighbors seemed to require for their tea-drinking rituals. Mrs. Revere's needlework was not simply a form of recreation or symbol of feminine accomplishment but a necessary part of the household economy. The Reveres did not attend the theater, concert hall, or dances with the Hutchinsons, Hancocks, or Apthorps, but they had their own amusements. At their taverns, Boston artisans enjoyed liquor and conversation, backgammon, billiards, cards, and traveling shows with their displays of camels, tame bears, or other unusual animals. As young Paul and his friends wandered about Clark's Wharf, they could see such wonders as a polar bear, a "sapient dog," and even a pirate's head "in a pickle." They could visit Mrs. Hiller's waxworks with its representations of kings and queens or the more exciting waxworks of John Dyer with its "Lively Representation" of the Countess of Heininburg, who had 365 children at one birth. For amusement as well as the chance to earn some money, Paul and six of his friends worked as bell ringers at Christ Church.

    Compared with English society, colonial society was less hierarchical, and it was easier for a master craftsman to acquire the property that would make him theoretically independent from the control of his social superiors. Certainly the Reveres lived more comfortably than the families of the laboring poor on Boston's waterfront, with adequate food, housing, and recreation, but they were still dependent on the merchants, whose success or failure affected their own economic situation. A decline in maritime activity, along with illness or death of the head of household, or a household with too many children could spell distress or disaster for an artisan's family. An artisan might well envy the gentleman for his independence, his life of contemplation and amusement, and the deference paid to him as a natural leader of society. A bright, ambitious boy need not resign himself to permanent status as an artisan, however. As Daniel DeFoe pointed out: "Wealth however got in England makes Lords of mechanics, gentlemen of rakes." In the more open social structure of the colonies, there were even more ways to rise in the world without benefit of family wealth or pedigree.

    At the same time that Apollos Rivoire was serving his apprenticeship to John Coney, another Boston apprentice was making his way in the world. Thomas Hancock, son of the esteemed Reverend John Hancock of Lexington, did not follow his father or two brothers into the socially respectable but financially precarious position of a country parson. In a society that valued education and books as a means of attaining upward mobility and social status, the trade of bookseller could be a bridge to the world of gentlemen. Apprenticed to Colonel Daniel Henchman, a prosperous Boston bookbinder and bookseller, Thomas Hancock took the first step upward by marrying Henchman's daughter, Lydia. He soon expanded his horizons in the 1730s by investing in trading vessels. When war broke out in 1740 between England and its perennial enemy, France, Hancock was well positioned to make his fortune by profiting from the bounty of his privateers on the high seas and the inflated prices of wartime contracts. His ability to curry favor with Massachusetts governor William Shirley resulted in Hancock's success in obtaining supply contracts for the British assault on Louisburg, Nova Scotia, in 1745. By war's end, Thomas Hancock's profits exceeded 12,000 [pounds sterling] sterling. His immense fortune, estimated at 100,000 [pounds sterling] and bequeathed to his nephew John Hancock, enabled the latter to grow up a gentleman instead of the impoverished orphan of a country minister.

    Thomas Hancock proved that a socially advantageous marriage, choice of the right trade, patronage, and the acquisition of enormous wealth could help a man of modest origins become a man of influence. Granted, his wealth was also the result of ruthless and questionable business practices and his proficiency at profiting from a war that brought an astonishing loss of life for Massachusetts recruits and severe economic anguish for those at the bottom of the social structure. Paul Revere Sr., an industrious, religious man and an admirer of Cotton Mather, might well disapprove of Thomas Hancock's life of acquisitiveness and luxury and hope that his son would find another model of success.

    While Paul Revere's father was establishing himself as a master goldsmith, another Boston apprentice was aspiring to a loftier status than that of a Boston printer. Born in 1706, Benjamin Franklin, a tallow-chandler's son, showed early promise as a scholar. His father sent him to grammar school in preparation for a potential career as a minister. But the expense of a college education persuaded Josiah Franklin to transfer his youngest son to a writing school in anticipation of a more probable future as an artisan. After several false starts in choosing a craft, Josiah Franklin decided that his son's "Bookish Inclination" would make the trade of printer an appropriate one. Benjamin soon chafed under the autocratic rule of his master, his older brother James. Abandoning his apprenticeship and Boston, Franklin found more pleasing opportunities in Philadelphia. Aided by his own hard work, the generous assistance of numerous patrons, and the more open, entrepreneurial society of Philadelphia, Franklin acquired sufficient wealth to retire from business at age forty-two. It was not wealth, however, that Franklin craved, but the kind of life that wealth supplied.

    As he surveyed the world around him, Franklin saw laborers dependent on employers, tenant farmers on landlords, and artisans on customers. His own father was an "ingenious" man with a "sound Understanding and solid Judgment in prudential Matters, both in private and public affairs." Unfortunately, his large family and the "straitness of his circumstances" meant that Josiah Franklin lacked the independence to hold public office. In a largely dependent world, only gentlemen had the independence to pursue the kind of life denied to those of the middling and lower ranks. Living off the profits of land ownership or investments, a gentleman devoted himself to a liberal education, scientific and agricultural experiments, and public service. Franklin expected to assume all the responsibilities of a gentleman's life and to enjoy all its advantages, especially access to political power and preferment.

    Royal officials, members of Parliament, and even the members of the Royal Society who scoffed at his paper on electricity never acknowledged Benjamin Franklin as a gentleman. He was the product of a society that had very different ideas about social structure and social mobility. In the colonies, individuals expected personal independence and upward mobility. A printer or a goldsmith could become a merchant and a gentleman through hard work and self-improvement. In this process of upward mobility, education played a crucial role.

    In Europe and England, education prepared a man for his station in life. While an individual of middling or lower status received a utilitarian education that taught him all he needed to know for his particular role in society, a gentleman received a "liberal" education, one that freed his mind from the narrow limits imposed by time, geographic boundaries, or dependence on one's social superiors. Colonel Thomas Hutchinson, father of Thomas Hutchinson, who later became governor of Massachusetts, helped found two schools in Boston following the traditional pattern of educating children to assume their proper station in life. He donated the building for a Latin school, where his son and his son's future political opponent, Samuel Adams, studied Latin, Greek, grammar, rhetoric, mathematics, and geography, in preparation for Harvard and the assumption of their roles as natural leaders of their society. Colonel Hutchinson and his brother also built the North Writing School, where Paul Revere learned to read, write, and "cipher," in preparation for his proper place in society as an artisan.

    Revere and his contemporaries, throughout the Revolutionary period and the Early Republic, believed that the leaders of their society should be men whose liberal education provided them with the ability to think broadly, clearly, and independently about the problems of their society. In 1776 John Adams proposed James Bowdoin, Harvard Class of 1745, amateur astronomer and scientist, and a future founder of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, as an excellent choice for governor because the office "will require the clearest and coolest Head and the firmest and Steadyest Heart, the most immoveable Temper and the Profoundest Judgment." That Bowdoin was the scion of a prominent mercantile family also pleased Adams, who stated his belief that the governor "ought to have a Fortune too, and extensive connections." Deferential though he was to an educated gentleman, Adams did not, however, believe that education was the exclusive province of the rich and wellborn. In American society, a gentleman could be made as well as born, and education could assist an individual in his aspirations.

    In Paul Revere's world, then, status and profession were not necessarily permanent. Benjamin Franklin, a tallow-chandler's son, rose from printer to scientist, statesman, and gentleman. Henry Knox, the orphaned son of a Boston shipmaster, rose from bookseller to Continental Army general to secretary of war. David Rittenhouse, the son of a Pennsylvania farmer, became an instrument maker, astronomer, mathematician, and, in 1793, the first director of the United States Mint, a position that Paul Revere sought unsuccessfully. All three men achieved prominence because of their intelligence and talent and because they were products of a society that encouraged education, both formal and informal, as an instrument of improvement and social mobility.

    Franklin supplemented his modest formal education by voracious reading and the formation of the Junto, a club of mutual instruction. He and fellow members Thomas Godfrey, a glazier and "self-taught mathematician" who published an almanac and invented a quadrant, and William Parsons, a shoemaker turned surveyor who loved reading and "acquired a considerable Share of Mathematics," wrote essays and discussed topics of moral, political, and natural philosophy. Knox's formal education ended at age twelve, when his father died, but through books and conversations with patrons at his bookstore, he became a student of military science. In his autobiography, John Adams recalled that Knox "had been a youth who had attracted my notice by his pleasing manners and inquisitive turn of mind." Adams was so "impressed with an opinion of your Knowledge and Abilities in the military Way for several years" that he assisted Knox in obtaining a commission as colonel in the artillery regiment of the Continental Army, a commission that Revere hoped he would receive. Rittenhouse had limited schooling but showed exceptional mathematical and mechanical ability, which was apparently stimulated by the inheritance of a chest of books and tools from an uncle. Through a combination of reading and his own powers of observation, Rittenhouse acquired proficiency in theoretical and practical astronomy. Admired for his celebrated orrery designed in 1767, his telescope, and his contributions to mathematics and astronomy, Rittenhouse became an educational and political leader in Pennsylvania.

    Revere's rudimentary education at the North Writing School, which probably ended at age thirteen, also helped his transformation from artisan to manufacturer. Like Franklin, Knox, and Rittenhouse, Paul Revere used the knowledge contained in books as ideas to be tested against the reality of observation and experimentation. His eventual success as a bell and cannon founder and copper manufacturer was a combination of trial-and-error experimentation and the application of lessons learned from reading such works as Watson's Chemical Essays . In the 1790s, as he developed his expertise in metallurgy, he enjoyed corresponding with educated experts on the subject, even writing to Reverend Richard Watson to correct an error in his chemistry text. In memoranda books, he jotted down "recipes" for silver copper and formulas for casting bells and cannons. When coppersmiths told him that copper could not be melted and hammered hot, Revere "determined if possible to gain the secret." He succeeded, not by finding the formula in a book, but "after a great many tryals and very considerable expense.

    For Revere, books and education were not just tools to make his way in the world. He maintained a lively interest in books, newspapers, and ideas throughout his life. His education did not end at the North Writing School but continued through his own reading and discussions at his shop, taverns, political clubs, and town meetings. Explaining to his cousin John Rivoire of Guernsey why the colonies had to fight a war with England, Revere offered a lengthy review of the Imperial Crisis, which seems to have been the result of an extensive reading of newspapers and pamphlets, along with attendance at political meetings. To support his interpretation of the American Revolution, he even cited Voltaire's assessment of the English as "the Savages of Europe." After the Revolution, he continued his course of self-education and monitored the progress of Freemasonry and republicanism, two causes to which he devoted a considerable part of his life, through subscriptions to numerous newspapers and magazines, membership in the Boston Library Society, and careful readings of Masonic discourses.

    Intelligent and well informed, Paul Revere was still largely a self-educated man who, like many self-educated people, had great respect for formal education. His own lack of education and social refinement meant that Revere would never quite become a gentleman, but he saw to it that his children were educated to fulfill his social ambitions. His sons Joshua, Joseph Warren, and John all graduated from the Boston Public Latin School. John continued his education at Harvard and the University of Edinburgh, where he received his medical degree, in preparation for a career as a physician, scientist, medical editor, and educator. Revere sent his younger daughters, Maria and Harriet, to William Turner's dancing school, perhaps hoping to instill in them one of the more important attributes of gentility. Maria also attended the Young Ladies' Academy in Woburn, where she studied reading, writing, grammar, history, geography, mathematics, needlework, painting, and drawing.

    With his formal schooling finished at age thirteen, Paul Revere entered the next stage of his education with his apprenticeship to his father. First by observation and then by practice, he learned to make flatware, tankards, buckles, buttons, thimbles, tea sets, children's whistles, and surgeon's instruments. He also learned to clean and burnish silver and mend everything from buttons to earrings to the lock on a pocketbook. His craft required a laborer's brawn for the incessant hammering necessary to turn silver sheets into tankards and coffeepots and an artist's discerning eye and delicate hand to design an object and cover it with surface ornamentation. Both a mechanic who made buckles and mended buttons for fellow artisans and their families and an artist who designed rococo-style "scalop'd salvers" for the merchant elite, the goldsmith moved back and forth between the worlds of artisans and gentlemen. The nature of his work made Paul Revere a useful bridge between the upper and lower echelons of his society, a point that would not escape the attention of leaders of the American Revolution.

    Paul Revere's customers ranged from merchants and ship's captains to his Hichborn relations and Clark's Wharf neighbors. His dual role as artist and mechanic enabled him to adapt to fluctuations in the economy. At a time when cash was chronically in short supply and the value of currency was unstable, the goldsmith was something of a banker who transformed specie into objects of lasting value that could be used or melted down to make new objects. In prosperous times, Revere made a silver sugar dish and a pair of silver canns for the merchant Benjamin Greene and a silver coffeepot and a silver child's porringer for Captain John Collings. In leaner years, he survived by making an almost continuous supply of buckles and buttons, repairing spectacles and picture frames, and cleaning silver for his family, friends, and neighbors. The richly ornamented rococo-style silver that Revere made for Boston's merchants and ship's captains brought him greater financial reward and eventually ended up in museum collections. But it was the steady stream of buckles, buttons, and other commonplace objects that he made for Uncle Thomas Hichborn, a boatbuilder, Joshua Brackett, a coppersmith who later became the owner of the Cromwell Head Tavern on School Street, and marry other artisans and mariners that sustained him through good years and bad.

    As a master goldsmith who worked in gold and silver, Revere had better than average prospects of success. Although most artisans never rose above the middling rank, master goldsmiths, distillers, tanners, ropemakers, and sugar refiners were often very well-to-do, with personal property averaging about two-and-a-half times the amount generally left by artisans and twice the amount for most colonists. A skilled metal craftsman possessed talents that were in demand in several auxiliary areas. In addition to making teapots and coffeepots, Revere could also engrave copperplates to produce bookplates, songbooks, and political cartoons; make false teeth fastened with gold or silver wire; and provide metal objects for clockmakers, saddlers, silversmiths, and other artisans.

    His specialized talents and the prosperity that often accompanied him made the master goldsmith an aristocrat among artisans. But in the overall social hierarchy, he stood in the middle ranks. Property and wealth could help an artisan move upward, but the absence of the other attributes of gentility would block his entrance into the highest ranks of society. Paul Revere might grow up to be a wealthy artisan, but he still lacked the liberal education, good breeding, refined manner, and independence from labor that marked the gentleman. Although his craft allowed Revere a certain degree of creativity and independence in the design and ornamentation of his silver, he was nonetheless confined to interpreting and adapting the English and European styles favored by Boston's merchant elite. He might be able to vary the design of finials and handle tips on his tankards, but in the end, he was dependent on the demands and whims of customers like Andrew Oliver, who wanted him to make a sugar dish out of an ostrich egg. Paul Revere, master goldsmith, could never forgot--nor would many a true gentleman let him forget--that for all the artistry involved in the design and production of his silver, he still wore a leather apron and worked with his hands as he hammered, soldered, cleaned, and filed each piece of silver.

    As he grew up in the 1740s, the young apprentice learned of events beyond his family or his neighborhood. From customers' conversations, from newspapers lying about his father's shop or on a tavern table, and from gossip in the streets, he heard about the latest London fashions, the state of trade, and politics. At first, the awareness that he was part of a wider world--that of the British Empire--came in small ways. On November 5 he and his friends and neighbors observed Pope's Day, in commemoration of the failed gunpowder plot to blow up James I and Parliament in 1605 to avenge the persecution of Roman Catholics. Rival gangs from the North and South Ends erected platforms and carriages with figures of the pope, monks, and the Devil, which were burned in effigy at the conclusion of the celebration. With their rambunctious ceremony, the rowdy young men and boys showed their contempt for popery and their allegiance to the Crown and Protestantism. Colonial citizens also marked the king's birthday, the anniversary of his coronation, and the anniversary of the execution of Charles I on January 30, 1649, the last event commemorated as a day of atonement for the murder of the king. As Englishmen, they took pride and delight in their victory over the French at Louisburg in 1745. Of course their connection to the Crown meant more than merely observing royal anniversaries or raising a toast to the king. It also meant that the Reveres and their neighbors were affected by royal policies concerning war, politics, and the economy.

    Their involvement in King George's War (1744-48), England's war against Spain and France, had far-reaching effects on the lives and livelihoods of the colonists. The war brought an influx of paper money, a financial windfall for privateers and those who supplied provisions for royal military expeditions, but suffering and privation for those who served in and paid for colonial campaigns. On August 14, 1744, the inhabitants of Boston petitioned for relief from heavy taxation, complaining that even the richest inhabitants were "groaning under the weight of them." The situation of the "middling sort" was even worse, with "many of them Sinking into extream Poverty.... many honest Tradesmen are without Employ, the Trade of Building Houses being in a manner stagnated, as well as that of Building Ships." Thomas Hancock and other wealthy merchants, anticipating the great fortunes to be made, rallied around Governor William Shirley's plans to fortify the Maine frontier, supply Britain's Caribbean expeditions, and capture the French fortress at Louisburg. As they left Boston on April 4, 1745, the primarily lower-class recruits who made up the largest expeditionary force ever assembled in the colonies were fired up with patriotism, Protestant zeal, and visions of the plunder that awaited them at Louisburg. The successful six-week campaign against papist France was a time for Englishmen on both sides of the Atlantic to rejoice, but joy in Massachusetts was short lived, as the colony soon faced the aftermath of war.

    The heavy loss of life, estimated at about 2 percent of the colony's population, plagued the inhabitants of Massachusetts for years to come. The number of taxable polls decreased from 3,395 in 1738 to 2,972 in 1741 to about 2,660 in 1745. The artisans and shopkeepers of the North End would have to make up the losses with an increased tax burden. On May 14, 1746, the Boston town meeting appointed a committee to draw up a petition to the General Court "that the Town may be Relieved as to their Proportion of the publick Taxes." The middling ranks feared the tax burden of war, but it was the mariners and laborers who were pressed into service to fight the Crown's wars who had the most to lose by prolonged periods of war. Against this background, it is not surprising that mariners and laborers rioted against the Crown's efforts at impressment, or that people of the middling ranks supported them.

    In November 1747 Commodore Charles Knowles, commander of the royal squadron that fought at Louisburg, put into port at Boston for the purpose of impressing colonial seamen to replace royal deserters. Knowles should have expected trouble, for the inhabitants of Boston's waterfront had rioted against impressment several times since 1741. A mob surrounded Governor Shirley's mansion on suspicion that royal officers had taken refuge there, and the militia ignored the governor's order to suppress the mob, forcing Shirley to seek safer quarters at Castle William in Boston Harbor. The danger of insurrection passed only when the General Court approved resolutions supporting the governor, the militia assured the governor of its protection, and Commodore Knowles, forced to acknowledge the governor's authority over military affairs in the province, released the impressed seamen. The Knowles riot could be dismissed as an example of lower-class antiauthoritarianism no different from the street politics of England. But it also revealed particular views about colonial society and government that were troubling to royal officials.

    Where Commodore Knowles saw the necessity of colonial submission to royal authority, the inhabitants of Massachusetts saw the invasion of their individual rights and colonial sovereignty. They invoked an interpretation of the proper authority over royal military forces in the province that was at odds with the Crown's view. After the Glorious Revolution of 1688, moderate Whigs in England accepted the necessity of a professional army to defend England, as long as it was under parliamentary control. The inhabitants of Massachusetts also accepted the presence of royal military forces, but in their interpretation of moderate Whig thought, they substituted the provincial legislatures for Parliament. They directed their anger at Knowles for ignoring colonial laws against impressment. Governor Shirley came in for his share of abuse from the mob and the militia because he had not stopped Knowles from landing his press gang in Boston. The Knowles riot showed that the reciprocal bond of protection and allegiance between the Crown and its colonial subjects was a fragile one that often hinged on colonial interpretations of that bond. The riot also showed how "men of all orders"--from "Persons of Mean and vile Condition" to artisans of the middling ranks to "Persons of Influence in the Town"--could unite in defense of their interpretation of the rights of Englishmen. That lesson would not be lost on Samuel Adams and Dr. Joseph Warren when they mobilized "men of all orders"--among them, Paul Revere--in the patriot cause of the 1760s and 1770s.

    Within a short time of the Knowles riot, another controversy broke out in Massachusetts over the actions of one of the Reveres' North End neighbors. In 1748, with the end of King George's War, Parliament granted Massachusetts 183,649 [pounds sterling] sterling as its share of war compensation. When Thomas Hutchinson drafted a bill for the immediate retirement of all paper currency, the mass of ordinary Bostonians saw that their interests would be sacrificed to the interests of wealthy merchants hoping to profit by their purchase of depreciated paper currency. Perhaps they also remembered that in 1740-41, when shopkeepers, artisans, and the working poor supported a land bank that would issue bills of credit backed by land, Thomas Hutchinson had opposed their interests by supporting a silver bank, whose bills of credit would be backed by silver. In the May 1749 elections, the Boston electorate withdrew its allegiance by voting Hutchinson and other supporters of immediate redemption out of office.

    Young Paul Revere might not have understood the issues of paper money, land banks, taxes, royal sovereignty, and colonial liberties that he heard discussed at the family dinner table, in his father's shop, or on the streets. But perhaps he wondered why a crowd of Bostonians shouted insults at Governor Shirley, why the militia ignored orders from a royal governor, and why people were so adamant that Commodore Knowles release colonial subjects from service to the Crown. He might also have wondered why his neighbors were so angry at Thomas Hutchinson for proposing immediate redemption that they threatened to let his house burn in 1748 and later forced him to withdraw to the safety of his country house in Milton. It is difficult to know when Paul Revere's political awakening began, but family tradition says that his attendance at the sermons of Dr. Jonathan Mayhew may have been a turning point?

    According to family tradition, Paul's father beat his fifteen-year-old son for attending Dr. Mayhew's West Church instead of the family's New Brick Church. Paul Sr. might have objected to his son's attendance at Mayhew's church on theological grounds, for Dr. Mayhew's enlightened views on religion and his belief in human goodness, reason, and ability to work with God toward salvation conflicted with the elder Revere's orthodox Calvinism, emphasizing human beings' depravity and inability to achieve their own salvation. But there were additional objections when Mayhew's pronouncements crossed the line from theology to politics, and he introduced dangerous ideas about resistance to authority.

    On January 30, 1749, the citizens of Massachusetts observed the anniversary of the execution of Charles I. For those in attendance at Dr. Mayhew's West Church, it was not an occasion for atonement or humiliation but an opportunity to consider the grounds of "Unlimited Submission and Non-Resistance to the Higher Powers." Dr. Mayhew based his discourse on Romans 13: "For there is no power but of God: the powers that be are ordained of God. Whosoever therefore resisteth the power, resisteth the ordinance of God." Mayhew preached that submission was due "only to those who actually perform the duty of rulers, by exercising a reasonable and just authority, for the good of human society." When magistrates "act contrary to their office" and "rob and ruin the public ... they cease to be the ordinance and ministers of God ." To resist Charles I, whose reign was marked by "wicked councellors and ministers," taxes without parliamentary consent, arbitrary courts, and unjust imprisonment, was not rebellion "but a most righteous and glorious stand, made in defence of the natural and legal rights of the people." Dr. Mayhew proposed that his audience observe January 30 not as a day to atone for their ancestors' treason against the king but rather as "a standing memento , that Britons will not be slaves , and a warning to all corrupt councellors and ministers , not to go too far in advising to arbitrary, despotic measures."

    Paul Revere Sr. may have thought that Dr. Mayhew's notions about submission to rightful authority were dangerous ideas for a fifteen-year-old boy. They would be no less dangerous when Paul Revere Jr. grew up and thought even more deeply about the rights of colonial Englishmen.

Copyright © 1998 The University of Massachusetts Press. All rights reserved.

Full Text Reviews
Appeared in Choice on 1998-12:
Paul Revere was reared in North End Boston, the eldest son of a French Huguenot goldsmith and an Anglo-American mother. His ancestors were artisans and entrepreneurs. He grew up with a sensitivity to class lines but learned that in America one was comparatively free to enjoy the fruits of labor. Revere attended North Writing School, New Brick Church, mastered his craft, and joined St. Andrew's Lodge of Freemasons. He served briefly in the Seven Years War, married, and became a prominent mason. He formed business relations with men such as John S. Copley, who purchased his silver, and studied the activist intellectuals such as Otis, Henry, the Adamses, and Joseph Warren. The latter was an inspiration to Revere as he challenged entrenched bureaucracy and Boston Tories. As tensions mounted, Revere joined the forces of change and liberty to make the famous "midnight ride" in 1775. He volunteered for Continental service but was passed over, a frustration he bore with dignity. Revere continued to espouse creeds of virtue and republicanism, became a postwar Federalist, supported the Constitution, and engaged briefly in the unfortunate Penobscot expedition. His life and times have been beautifully portrayed and masterfully balanced in Triber's work. Illustrations. Notes. All levels. J. D. Born Jr.; Wichita State University
This item was reviewed in:
Choice, December 1998
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Table of Contents
Acknowledgmentsp. ix
Introductionp. 1
Clark's Wharfp. 7
An Artisan and A Freemasonp. 21
The Political Awakening of Paul Reverep. 37
A Son of Libertyp. 55
"My Worthy Friend Revere"p. 73
"Mr. Revere Will Give You the News"p. 89
"Am Obliged to Be Contented in This State's Service"p. 107
No Laurels on His Browp. 123
Paul Revere, Esqp. 141
A True Republicanp. 159
"In My Last Stage, How Blest Am I, to Find Content and Plenty By"p. 177
Notesp. 197
Bibliographyp. 279
Indexp. 295
Table of Contents provided by Publisher. All Rights Reserved.

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