Paul Revere

The Life of a Patriot

A Man of Many Trades

Paul Revere by Copley, 1768

Paul Revere was born in the North End of Boston on December 21, 1734. He was educated at the North Writing School and at the age of 13 began working as an apprentice at his father’s gold and silversmith shop. The elder Revere was also named Paul Revere (originally Apollos Rivoire) and his shop was located on Fish Street at the head of Clark’s Wharf. In 1750, when Paul was 15, he and 6 friends were paid to ring the bells at Christ Church, known today at the Old North Church. In 1754, a 19-year-old Revere was in the midst of a seven-year apprenticeship as a silversmith when his father died. At that time, Paul’s widowed mother Deborah Revere may have become proprietor of the family business and supervised the financial end of the operation where Paul, his brother Thomas, and others worked. When Paul reached the age of 21, he was old enough to take over the business himself.

After volunteering for a summer of service in the French and Indian War in 1756, Paul returned to run the family shop at the Clark’s Wharf location where he produced most of his work in silver, as gold was very expensive. In August, 1757, he married Sarah Orne. The couple had eight children. During his career as a silversmith, Paul Revere supplemented his income in numerous ways including work as a dentist and engraver. He advertised as a dentist in 1768 and 1770, offering to clean teeth and wire in false teeth, and served as a dentist until the Revolutionary War began. After his good friend Doctor Joseph Warren was killed at the Battle of Bunker Hill, it was Paul Revere who help identify Warren’s body by the two false teeth he had wired in.

Revere’s North Battery Certificate

As a copper plate engraver, one of Paul Revere’s first efforts was the North Battery certificate produced about 1762. Shown above is a restrike made in 1882 from his original plate. Later copper plate prints include the well-known engraving of the Boston Massacre; the Landing of the Troops—an engraving showing the British troops landing at Long Wharf in 1768; and engraving work for Massachusetts currency, books, and magazines. After nearly 16 years of marriage, Paul’s wife Sarah died in May of 1773. In October of that year, Revere married Rachel Walker. Together, they also had eight children. Paul Revere was the father of 16!

Revere also did lead metal engravings for newspapers including the mastheads of both the Boston Gazette and the Massachusetts Spy shown below. The events of his midnight ride are covered in the “April 18-19, 1775” section. When the Revolutionary War broke out, Paul Revere learned how to manufacture gunpowder from the owner of a powder factory in Philadelphia. He returned to Boston and oversaw the construction of a powder mill in Canton that would supply gunpowder for the newly formed Continental Army.

Massachusetts Spy masthead

Revere spent most of the American Revolution as lieutenant colonel in the Massachusetts State Train of Artillery and commander of Castle Island in Boston Harbor. Newspaper ads placed by Paul Revere after the Revolution tell us that he moved his silversmith shop multiple times; operated a hardware store as early as 1783; and housed both businesses together in 1787 as the original ad shown below from the June 13, 1787 issue of the Massachusetts Centinel notes. Beneath that ad is a photo of a plaque you can see today marking the location of Revere’s shop in 1787—No. 50 Cornhill at the time. The final ad from the March 10, 1790 issue of the Massachusetts Centinel tells us that Revere had moved his gold and silversmith shop to No. 8 Union Street by that time and was again relocating to No. 16 Ann Street.

Revere ad from June 13, 1787

Site of Revere’s shop in 1787

Revere ad from March 10, 1790

By 1788, while still operating his silversmith shop (run on a day-to-day basis by his son Paul Jr.) and hardware store, Revere opened a foundry and produced bolts, spikes, and nails for local shipyards. After 1792, he began to cast bells at his foundry in the North End of Boston, and was assisted by his sons Paul Revere Jr. and Joseph Warren Revere. Today some 148 bells made at the Revere Foundry still survive. Most are located in New England. In 1794, Revere began casting cannon (naval and field pieces) for the federal government and various state governments.

In 1801, at the age of 65, Paul Revere opened the first copper rolling mill in North America. He was the first American to successfully roll copper into sheets. At his mill in Canton, Massachusetts, Revere produced sheet copper for the dome of the new Massachusetts State House in 1802 and for the hulls of many ships. Paul Revere retired in 1811 at the age of 76 at his property known as Canton Dale. Revere passed his copper business, and the good reputation it had earned, on to his son Joseph Warren Revere and two of his grandsons. He spent his final years surrounded by his grandchildren (he had 51!) and great-grandchildren.

Revere died on May 10, 1818 at the age of 83. The notice of his death in the Columbian Centinel included these words: “During his protracted life, his activity in business and benevolence, the vigor of his mind, and strength of his constitution were unabated.” He is buried in Boston’s Granary Burying Ground. Paul Revere was not born to wealth—he was an ordinary man who lived an extraordinary life. Revere was a patriot, a businessman, an involved citizen, and a popular and well-respected member of his community.

Paying tribute to Paul Revere

Revere’s marker in Granary

Today, the staff at the Paul Revere House is dedicated to preserving Paul Revere’s memory and his place in American history for future generations. Because of their work, the intriguing story of Paul Revere’s Boston is alive and well at the patriot’s former home at 19 North Square. Visit the Paul Revere House and learn more about his work as an artisan, his political and civic connections, and many messenger rides including the one that would make Paul Revere famous thanks to a poem by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow. You can see samples of his silverwork on display and also view a 931-pound bell produced at the Revere Foundry in 1804.