The Man, the Myth, and the Midnight Ride
April 1977 | Volume 28, Issue 3
Paul was not an orator or a writer, but he understood all these propositions and had a knack for putting them crisply in a small frame. Toward the end of the Revolution, he wrote a letter to a Rivoire cousin who had settled in Guernsey, an English-owned island. In the letter, he explained the war as if for the benefit of a beginner. Britain, he said:
With ideas such as that running through his mind, it was natural for Revere to be one of the strong figures in Boston’s resistance from the start—to be what was called a “high Son of Liberty.” Long before April 18,1775, he had compiled a record of hostility to “Brittain” that no London jury would have faited to find treasonable. The specifications of the indictment might have run as follows:
—in 1765, said Paul Revere engraved the plate for a cartoon on the Stamp Act, entitled “A View of the Year 1765,” and did later append a card to these representations describing the cartoon as “The odious Stamp Act represented by the Dragon, confronted by Boston with drawn sword.”
—in 1768, Revere made a punch bowl in honor of Massachusetts legislators who signed a “Circular Letter” urging the other colonies to join in a boycott of British goods until the Townshend taxes were repealed. And he did further engrave a plate for a cartoon condemning seventeen signers who rescinded their names under pressure. Called “A Warm Place Hell,” it shows them being prodded into the jaws of a fire-breathing beast.
—in 1770, Revere did engrave the well-known malicious and scandalous depiction of the so-called “Boston Massacre.”
—in 1771, on the anniversary of said “Massacre,” March 5, he placed illuminated transparencies in the windows of his house, one of them a figure of a woman “representing AMERICA sitting on a Stump of a Tree, with a Staffin her Hand & the Cap of Liberty on the Top thereof—one foot on the head of a Grenadier lying prostrate grasping a Serpent.”
—on December 16, 1773, Revere was almost surely one of a band of “Mohocks"—Bostonians gotten up as Indians—who marched, over one hundred strong, from the Green Dragon tavern down to Griffin’s wharf, seized the chests of taxed, imported tea in the holds of three ships lying there, and dumped them into the water. In proof whereof is the fact that a widely known “Rallying Song of the Tea Party” sung afterward included these lines:
—and on the day following the said “Boston Tea Party,” Revere rode to carry the news of it to New York and Philadelphia, and on at least three other occasions acted as a courier for those planning to disobey the lawful acts of their sovereign.
It is that last errand which brings into focus the most familiar image of Paul—the one that has obliterated so many others: Revere the messenger. How he came to be cast in that role shows something about his taste in recreation. By 1773, Paul Revere owned a mare, which he kept in a barn behind his house on land belonging to his back-yard neighbor, Manasseh Marston. This was in no way a business necessity. Boston was still a “walking city” (and therefore warmed by a familiarity among both enemies and friends that we shall not likely ever again know). Revere could do all the coming and going he needed to afoot. But he evidently enjoyed riding, and probably spent many holidays cantering into the countryside for bird shooting, fishing, and rural pleasures.
Being in possession of a horse, he was picked in the fall of 1773 to ride out to several neighboring towns with messages from the Boston Committee of Correspondence. And on the morning of December 17,1773, he was an eager recruit to spread the good word of the taxed, despised tea floating in Boston’s bay. We know, because one of the letters he carried declared: “The bearer is chosen by the committee from a number of gentlemen, who volunteered to carry you this intelligence.” A thirty-eight-year-old “gentleman,” with no sleep the previous night, who asked to be sent at once on a seven-hundred-mile round trip at the beginning of winter obviously had to be a man who enjoyed the saddle.