When Paul Revere Got the Scoop

Many of us use Paul Revere’s image of the Boston Massacre when we teach the American Revolution.

Revere massacre


But over at the blog of the New York Historical Society, we learn that Henry Pelham was the first person to produce an engraving of the Boston Massacre.  Here is a taste:

Pelham came from prominent Boston family and was the half-brother of the artist John Singleton Copley, one of the most renowned painters in 18th-century America. (A teenage Pelham is the subject of one of Copley’s famous early works, the 1765 portrait The Boy With the Squirrel.) It’s not known if Pelham witnessed the Massacre. But as a Bostonian and engraver by trade, he certainly understood how earth-shattering it was. He quickly produced a copperplate engraving depicting the events. At some point in the days afterwards, he showed a colleague a version of it, perhaps an early proof. The image, called Fruits of Arbitrary Power, or the Bloody Massacre perpetrated in King Street Boston, on March 5th, 1770, was highly inflammatory—more propaganda than journalism—showing an organized British squad following an order to fire on the colonists, several of whom fall wounded in the street. It leaves no doubt of the patriot point-of-view: This was cold-blooded murder.

Pelham’s intent was to get the engraving printed and disseminated as widely as possible. There was only one problem: He got scooped. The colleague he conferred with was silversmith, fellow engraver, and Son of Liberty Paul Revere, who quickly realized how powerful the image was and set about engraving one of his own that was remarkably similar to Pelham’s. Revere called his version The Bloody Massacre, Perpetrated in King Street Boston on March 5th 1770 by a Party of the 29th Regt and rushed it to press, beating Pelham by several days.

Read the entire piece here.

Paul Revere’s Church Bell

Revere Bell

Yesterday we reported on “The Nation We Build Together,”  a new floor of exhibits at the National Museum of American History in Washington D.C.  One of those exhibits is “Religion in Early America.”  It was curated by Peter Manseau, the Lilly Endowment Curator of American Religious History at the museum.

Over at “O Say Can You See,” the blog of the museum, Manseau writes about one of the featured items in the exhibit.

Here is a taste:

For several decades after the Revolution, Paul Revere was as famous for his church bells as for his midnight ride. His role as a horse-powered early warning system filling the Massachusetts countryside with shouts of “The British are coming!” in 1775 did not become the stuff of legend until Henry Wadsworth Longfellow published his heroic poem “Paul Revere’s Ride” in 1861. Yet he was always known as a man who could use sound in the service of his country.

While he is often remembered simply as a patriot silversmith, Revere’s career and reputation were far more complex during his lifetime. The opening days of the struggle for independence included the events that would eventually make him known to history, but he spent the latter part of the war under a cloud for the charges of insubordination leveled against him during the disastrous Penobscot Expedition, a chaotic naval operation that cost Continental forces hundreds of lives in 1779. Eventually exonerated of any wrongdoing, he continued to work to clear his name and improve his standing in the new nation.

With military laurels beyond his reach, Revere sought to rise socially through business. He broadened his metal-working to include a bell foundry in 1792, when the congregation to which he belonged, the New Brick Church, required a replacement bell for its tower. Between 1792 and his death in 1818, Revere’s company—Revere and Son—made more than 100 bells. The family-run foundry would ultimately cast 398, with the last bell sold in 1828.

Read the entire post here.


The Wall of Smoke That Divides Us: Serena Zabin on the Boston Massacre

RevereOver at “We’re History,” Serena Zabin, a history professor at Carleton College, offers a slightly different perspective on the so-called “Boston Massacre” and Paul Revere’s famous engraving of it.

There is a lot going on in this short piece. Zabin offers an uncommon reading of Revere’s image that focuses on the shield of smoke billowing between the British and the colonists. She situates both the colonists and the British soldiers in the context of 1770s Boston, suggesting that all the people pictured in this image were neighbors.

In the process, she offers a lesson about what Revere’s engraving and the 246th anniversary of the Boston Massacre might mean for us today.

Here is a taste of her piece:

There certainly were tensions in Boston in 1770. A year and a half before the “massacre,” 2,000 soldiers, along with hundreds of women and children, had crammed into a city of 16,000 inhabitants that sat on a peninsula not much more than a single square mile in size. There was little room to spread out, so it was no wonder that resentments flared. But the conflicts were between neighbors, not strangers. Soldiers and Bostonians found that their daily lives were tangled and knotted together. No bright white line divided them.

Political spin as blatant as that of Revere’s engraving seems to pervade our world today, and we often believe that we can see through the manipulation. But sometimes the most obvious sleight of hand is precisely the one we overlook, because it plays to our assumptions about the world. We let our focus on political difference blind us to the strength of our human relationships. Sometimes the lines that we believe divide us from each other really are no more than smoke.

Read the entire essay here.

Paul Revere’s Religion

In the wake of the recent Brown University uncovering of a Paul Revere engraving of the baptism of Jesus, Brad Hart offers some thoughts on the religious beliefs of this eighteenth-century engraver and patriot.

Apparently, Revere was deeply influenced by Rev. Jonathan Mayhew, the pastor of Boston’s West Church. But according to Hart, it is not clear whether he rejected Trinitarianism in favor of Mayhew’s Unitarianism.

Here is a taste of his post at American Creation:

…it is important that we be careful not to classify Paul Revere as a unitarian, closet unitarian, etc.  Revere maintained a very close alliance with Congregationalism throughout the course of his adulthood.  Boston’s New Brick Church was like a second home to Revere, as he was a regular in Sunday church services.  Clearly Revere maintained a love for his family’s orthodox faith.  As a result, I have no problem with those who wish to classify Revere as a devout disciple of Christian orthodoxy.  With that said, I do think that these apparent “heathen” blips on the radar are noteworthy because they reveal the fact that almost nothing about early American religion (or any religion of any era for that matter) is cut and dry.  Like many of his time, Revere was questioning and thinking about matters of faith.  Was God really the totality of an obscure Trinity?  Is infant baptism/baptism by sprinkling really a requirement for heaven?  Is there really such a thing as “the one true faith?”  In the end, these are questions that are just as relevant today as they were 200 or 2,000 years ago, which proves that Paul Revere was a pretty stereotypical Christian of his time. 

Jesus Was Immersed, not Sprinkled!

Or at least this is what Paul Revere thought.

What does Paul Revere, the “British are coming” guy, have to do with Jesus’s baptism?

Brown University recently announced that they found a very rare Revere engraving depicting John the Baptist baptizing Jesus by immersion in the Jordan River.  The engraving, of course, proves nothing about the mode of baptism used to baptize Jesus, but it does tell us about Revere’s interest in religion imagery.  Revere, by the way, was a Unitarian.

I also found it interesting that the print was discovered at Brown, a college founded by eighteenth-century Rhode Island Baptists.

You can see the print and learn more here.

The Vicar of Old North Church Weighs in on the Palin-Revere Incident

Stephen T. Ayres, the vicar of Old North Church, describes Sarah Palin’s visit and discusses how she got confused about Paul Revere. 

Read his blog post at Episcopal Cafe to learn more about the bomb-sniffing dog, the Sarah Palin impersonator shopping at the church gift shop, the bells, and The Daily Show‘s John Oliver.  Ayres concludes that we should put this entire episode to rest.  (I guess this blog post does not help matters!).  Here is a taste:

I was surprised and bemused when the video of Governor Palin’s impromptu history quiz went viral the next day. I knew where all the factoids she cited came from and take responsibility for putting them in her head. I will not take the blame for the odd order those factoids came out. Perhaps it was too much information in too short a period of time to digest properly. Maybe if we climbed to the top of the steeple and viewed the lanterns, the governor wouldn’t have focused on the bells. Who knows?

I am amazed that this silly story refuses to die. Lots of pundits berated Governor Palin’s grasp of history. Many of them have made their own mistakes, usually of the Revere cried out “The British are coming!” variety. If Revere yelled anything streaking across the countryside, he might have been shot by a local Tory or by one of the many British patrols out that night. He never would have said “The British are coming!”, because everyone was British then. He may have said “The Regulars are out!”

A story just came across the web from The Washington PostPaul Revere’s Ride, a political poem published on the eve of the Civil War. While Longfellow upset antiquarians in New England, he was not subjected to thousands of newspaper stories and blog comments attacking or defending his poem. One hundred and fifty years later most of the pundits and many of us assume Longfellow’s poem was historically correct. I hate to break it to you, but Revere was not standing on the opposite shore, did not make it as far as Concord (Massachusetts or New Hampshire) that night, and finished his ride to Lexington before midnight. that a battle is brewing over at Wikipedia, where some Palin supporters have attempted to rewrite the entry on Paul Revere to reflect the governor’s interview. This isn’t the first time Paul Revere’s story has been revised. Henry Wadsworth Longfellow took a great deal of poetic license in retelling the story in

As vicar of the Old North Church, I am profoundly grateful for Governor Palin’s visit. She succeeded in her stated intention of drawing attention to America’s historical sites and inadvertently provided us with priceless free publicity by misplacing a few facts when quizzed on her visit. I hope all of her political peers from both parties come to visit the church where historically Paul Revere’s ride began and where mythically, thanks to Longfellow, God blessed America. We will be happy to give any politician a thorough history lesson and a few crib cards in case the media is lurking in the weeds. You can’t go wrong with “One if by land, or two if by sea” when the cameras are rolling.

I am somewhat saddened by what passes for news and for fact these days. We can laugh at Governor Palin, who may not have gotten all her facts wrong, but certainly didn’t get them all straight. But what does this story, with its incredible legs, say about the rest of us? Why was such a large media contingent following the governor in the first place, particularly when many of them were publicly complaining that the trip was not newsworthy? What do we say to the pundits who accuse Palin of mangling history while treating Longfellow’s poetic interpretation of the ride as fact? Why have so many prominent historians weighed in on this story to criticize or defend Palin’s off the cuff remarks? For that matter, why am I weighing in?

Is spectacle more newsworthy than substance? Do firmly held opinions take precedence over fact? What is truth, or is it truthiness?

Palin Was Lucky

The debate over Sarah Palin’s remarks about Paul Revere’s ride continues.  Did Revere “warn the British” that the patriots were coming, or was it the other way around?  Well, both are true.  Revere did warn the people of the countryside that the British were coming.  But after his capture he did tell the British that the militia were on their way.

In this Boston Herald article, Boston University of Professor Brendan McConnville (who, by the way, was gracious enough to write a cover blurb for my Was America Founded as a Christian Nation), admits that what Palin said was technically true.  Indeed, Revere did “warn the British.”  But McConnville doubts that this is what Palin had in mind when she made her remarks.  He thinks Palin got lucky.  Here is a taste of the article:

Boston University history professor Brendan McConville said, “Basically when Paul Revere was stopped by the British, he did say to them, ‘Look, there is a mobilization going on that you’ll be confronting,’ and the British are aware as they’re marching down the countryside, they hear church bells ringing — she was right about that — and warning shots being fired. That’s accurate.”

Patrick Leehey of the Paul Revere House said Revere was probably bluffing his British captors, but reluctantly conceded that it could be construed as Revere warning the British.

“I suppose you could say that,” Leehey said. “But I don’t know if that’s really what Mrs. Palin was referring to.”

McConville said he also is not convinced that Palin’s remarks reflect scholarship.

“I would call her lucky in her comments,” McConville said.

Meanwhile, the state’s Democratic Party held a thin blue line on the issue, insisting on mocking Palin despite a brief historical review of the matter. State party chairman John Walsh wise-cracked that the region welcomes all tourists, even those with “an alternative view of history.”

“If you believe he was riding through the countryside sending text messages and Tweets to the British, still come to Boston,” he said. “There are a lot of things to do and see.”
But Cornell law professor William Jacobson, who asserted last week that Palin was correct, linking to Revere quotes on his conservative blog Legalinsurrection.com, said Palin’s critics are the ones in need of a history lesson. “It seems to be a historical fact that this happened,” he said. “A lot of the criticism is unfair and made by people who are themselves ignorant of history.”

This Week’s Patheos Column: The Midnight Ride of Sarah Palin

In case you have not yet heard, Sarah Palin has just finished what appears to be the first leg of a bus tour of some of America’s great historical sites. No one seems to know why she has decided to embark on this kind of tour at this particular time, but Palin has been drawing large crowds wherever she goes. So far the “One Nation” tour has taken her to Gettysburg, the Pentagon, Mount Vernon, Philadelphia, Times Square (where she ate pizza with Donald Trump), the Statue of Liberty, and, of course, New Hampshire.

The highlight of the trip thus far, at least from the perspective of the media, occurred last week when Palin was asked about her experience touring the Old North Church in Boston, the site where church sextons hung two lanterns to alert the people of the Boston area that British troops were on the move. Later that evening, Paul Revere would get on his horse and warn the people of Lexington that indeed the British were coming.

Read the rest here.

Andrew Sullivan: Paul Revere and Palin’s Mind

Andrew Sullivan, writing at his blog, “The Dish,” discusses what he calls Sarah Palin’s “latest piece of nuttery.”  Apparently Palin’s followers have tried to rewrite the Wikipedia entry on Paul Revere “to align it with Palin’s ramblings….”

Sullivan writes:

Even Chris Wallace cannot help laughing at this preposterous grifter. But creepier still is the fact that her cult followers responded to this perfectly predictable gaffe by trying to edit the Wikipedia entry on Revere to align it with Palin’s ramblings about his “warning the British” that … oh, let’s not even bother.

Check out this surreal Wiki page in which the cultists are trying to insist that Revere did indeed warn the British, and use Palin’s own quote as a source! I love this succinct response from a Wiki editor:

In the article on Paul Revere, someone has added false information in an effort to support Sarah Palin’s FALSE claims about Paul Revere. “Accounts differ regarding the method of alerting the colonists; the generally accepted position is that the warnings were verbal in nature, although one disputed account suggested that Revere rang bells during his ride.[8][9]” This must be removed as it is a LIE designed to mislead. dj

One of the most pernicious and dangerous features of Palin is her clinical refusal to understand reality, to accept error, to acknowledge when the facts she has cited are not actually facts, but delusions. And her vanity and pathologies are so deep she will insist that black is white until her minions actually find a source to prove it.

Boston 1775 Sets the Record Straight on Paul Revere

As we reported yesterday, Sarah Palin, when asked what she saw during her recent visit to Boston, had some problems explaining exactly what happened on Paul Revere’s famous ride.

Over at Boston 1775, J.L. sets the record straight and notes that some of the websites that criticized Palin’s also got a few things wrong.  (Actually, Palin may not have been too far off about the “bells” ringing).

Here is a taste of Bell’s post:

It sounds like Palin got an accurate description of Revere, the Lexington alarm, and his adolescent bell-ringing at Old North Church during her travels, but that history got garbled in her attempt to spin it into modern right-wing talking points (“Put the government on warning!” “We need our arms!”). The result was her typical stew of folksy phrases without logical or grammatical connections.

In the comments section of my previous post on Palin’s encounter with Revere, “CG” makes some good points about the way visitors to historic sites understand what they see:

What if we take her summary of Paul Revere’s ride as the summary of an actual average American visitor to a history museum. We all have “lenses” through which we learn history, and granted her’s are not average, but no visitor comes out of a museum (or reads a history book) with the narrative the curators (or authors) intended. (As a former history museum curator and aspiring author, this is infinitely frustrating.) Apparently she visited Old North Church, the Paul Revere House, and Bunker Hill while in Boston. I wonder how the narrative she told about Revere’s ride compares to the narrative those museums exhibit? I’m sure that before she visited these museums, her Revere narrative, if she had one–and who does besides us dorks?–would have been even more disappointing. I’m sure those museums had some influence on what she said, even if how she said it is uniquely her own creation.

Anyhow, it’s a basic public history question that isn’t asked enough. What and how do people with a sketchy conception of history learn from lovingly crafted historical exhibits? In my experience, it’s usually NOT what the curators expect. 

While historians certainly have a responsibility to clarify historical misinformation that comes out of the mouths of politicians, perhaps the most important lesson we should learn from this whole Sarah Palin-Paul Revere incident has something to with how average visitors process what they see and learn from historical sites.  I am sure public historians have grappled with this question before.

Sarah Palin Offers a History Lesson on the Midnight Ride of Paul Revere

Where is David Hackett Fischer when you need him?

Not only did Sarah Palin think Paul Revere’s ride included “bells,” but I love her version of the three lessons one might learn from the ride:

1.  “We’re gonna be secure.”

2.  “We were gonna be free.”

3.  “We were gonna be armed.”

When I heard this I immediately rewrote the Revolutionary War lecture I give in my U.S. Survey course.  Thank you Sarah.  And stay tuned…her tour of American historical sites is not yet over!

Online Inventory of Paul Revere’s Works

The American Antiquarian Society has just released an online inventory of the engravings of Paul Revere.  Here is a taste of the description of the collection on the AAS website:

The name evokes much for historians, silver collectors, art historians and printmakers. Among his other trades were dentistry, ventures into an iron and brass foundry, innovator of rolled copper and, of course, ardent patriot. While Revere (1735-1818) is most famously known for his legendary midnight ride as well as his three-dimensional wares, his prints and works on paper remain some of the most iconic images of the late eighteenth-century. This online inventory celebrates the extensive Revere collection of the American Antiquarian Society (AAS), including items within eight boxes in the Graphic Arts collection.1 Additionally, the Illustrated Inventory page contains his separately published prints, currency, receipts and bookplates, illustrations and plates, political pieces and descriptions of the folders of reproductions of the originals. Provided are titles, sheet and plate sizes, approximate dates, subject-tags, links to bibliographic records and detailed descriptions as well as images for both viewing and downloading. To keyword search or browse across the collection, we have also provided a Searchable PDF of the entire inventory as well as a Thumbnail Gallery with reduced-sized images.

Boston 1775 discusses the collection here.

Jill Lepore on the Midnight Ride of Paul Revere

In a recent article in The American Scholar, Jill Lepore argues that Henry Wadsworth Longfellow’s famous poem, “The Midnight Ride of Paul Revere,” was more about slavery than it was about Paul Revere.

What is perhaps most interesting about her piece is the way she shows how Longfellow’s poem was appropriated by Martin Luther King Jr., Ted Kennedy, Robert Byrd and George Pataki.  Here is the passage on Pataki: 

Last year, on the anniversary of Paul Revere’s ride, George Pataki turned up in Boston. Pataki, the former Republican governor of New York, was thinking about running for president; in this, the age of the Tea Party, Pataki was in need of a Founding Father. In the North End, he positioned himself in front of an equestrian statue of Paul Revere. He was there to launch “Revere America,” a nonprofit “dedicated to advancing common sense public policies rooted in our traditions of freedom and free markets, and that will once again make America secure and prosperous for generations to come.” Its goal was “to harness and amplify the voices of the American people to give them a greater say in fighting back against the threats to freedom posed by Washington liberals.” Mainly, though, Pataki wanted to gather signatures on a petition “to repeal and replace Obamacare,” which you could sign at the Revere America website by clicking on an icon of a quill and inkwell on a piece of parchment. “We’re standing near where Paul Revere, on this day, 235 years ago, began a ride,” Pataki said. “He was looking to tell patriotic Americans, ‘Our freedom was in danger.’ We’re here today to tell the people of America that once again our freedom is in danger.” From health care.

Massachusetts Historical Society Lands William Dawes Account Book

Paul Revere did not ride alone on that famed April night in 1775.  He was joined by many riders, including William Dawes, who took their horses to spread the word of the movement of the British regulars toward Lexington and Concord.

Today the Beehive is reporting that the Massachusetts Historical Society has acquired the account book of William Dawes.  Here is a snippet of the official announcement:

The Massachusetts Historical Society has recently acquired a rare account book of William Dawes, Jr. (Ms. N-2321 Tall; catalog record), the man most famous for riding with Paul Revere on the night of 18 April 1775 to warn the inhabitants of Lexington and Concord that British regulars were on the march. John Hancock and Samuel Adams, then at Lexington, were in imminent danger of arrest. Dr. Joseph Warren commissioned Revere and the 30-year-old Dawes – a Boston militiaman and member of the Sons of Liberty – to spread the warning. Though neither man reached Concord, Dawes’ achievement that night was as great, and arguably even greater, than Revere’s: his land route over the Boston Neck was longer, and he managed to escape the British ambush in which Revere was captured. But Dawes’ role in the “midnight ride” has largely been overlooked, due in part to the popular poem by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, which credited Revere with sole responsibility.

When he wasn’t rousing the colonists to revolt, Dawes worked as a tanner and grocer in Boston. During the Siege of Boston, he moved his growing family to Worcester and served in the war effort as quartermaster for the colonial troops. After the Revolution, he returned to Boston. This account book documents in detail his tanning and grocery business from 1788 to his death in 1799. Dawes had extensive dealings with a wide range of Massachusetts merchants and tradespeople, including shoemakers, carpenters, printers, ship captains, hatmakers, and blacksmiths, to name just a few. Neatly itemized in this tall, narrow ledger book are cash transactions, sales, and purchases of textiles, skins, tools, rum, tea, tobacco, candles, indigo, and many other products.

Many of the names that appear in Dawes’ account book are those of well-known New England families: Adams, Fessenden, Parsons, Sweetser. Also included are a handful of women, among them Susanna Wiley and Mrs. Elizabeth Belcher, as well as one man called simply “Cato, a black man.” Dawes also lists transactions with his sons William and Charles.

Paul Revere’s Ride Turns 150

Most of what my students know about Paul Revere comes from Henry Wadsworth Longfellow’s 1860 poem “Paul Revere’s Ride.

LISTEN, my children, and you shall hear Of the midnight ride of Paul Revere, On the eighteenth of April, in Seventy-Five: Hardly a man is now alive Who remembers that famous day and year.

Boston 1775 has a nice post on the 15oth anniversary of the publication of Longfellow’s poem and some of its apparently missing or forgotten lines. Here is a taste:

This year marks the 150th anniversary of one of the most important events in determining how Americans remember the start of the American Revolution: Henry W. Longfellow wrote and published “Paul Revere’s Ride.” Before then, Revere was recalled locally; now more people probably know his name and what (Longfellow wrote that) he did than know what Samuel Adams did for independence...

I’m helping the effort by building the 150 Years of “Paul Revere’s Ride” website with announcements of more events, and resources for teachers and readers. For example, the text originally published in The Atlantic Monthly turned out to be missing several lines from Longfellow’s draft—and he had no one to blame but himself.

Anyone interested in knowing more about Revere and his famous ride should read David Hackett Fischer’s Paul Revere’s Ride