Paul Revere – A Man of Many Trades
December 1, 2009 by Ben Edwards
When most people think about Paul Revere they usually recall his famous Midnight Ride on the evening of April 18-19, 1775 and perhaps his involvement in the Sons of Liberty. When it comes to his work as an artisan however, besides his fine efforts as a silversmith (master goldsmith), few can name any of the other trades this talented craftsman practiced. Paul Revere was a man of many trades – in fact he is rightfully considered one of America’s first industrialists. His entrepreneurial spirit was so strong that he began what might be considered his most daring business venture, opening the first copper rolling mill in North America, when many of his contemporaries were contemplating retirement. Paul Revere loved a challenge and long hours and hard work were nothing new to him. That work ethic started at a very young age when Revere initiated his career as an apprentice in the gold and silversmith shop of his father also named Paul. The elder Revere’s shop was located on Fish Street at the head of Clark’s Wharf. Nineteen-year-old Paul was in the midst of what was likely a seven year apprenticeship when his father died in 1754. 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.
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. After his good friend Doctor Joseph Warren was killed at the Battle of Bunker Hill, it was Paul Revere who was eventually able to identify Warren’s body by the two false teeth he had wired in. A reference to that identification, what may be the first example of forensic dentistry, is made in this original article from the April 25, 1776 issue of the Pennsylvania Evening Post. As a copper plate engraver, one of Paul Revere’s first efforts was the North Battery Certificate produced about 1762. 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. Paul Revere also did lead metal engravings for newspapers including the mastheads of both the Boston Gazette and the Massachusetts Spy.
When the Revolutionary War broke out, 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. 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 this original ad from the June 13, 1787 issue of the Massachusetts Centinel mentions. 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 147 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. 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 and great-grandchildren. These young boys and girls surely asked Paul Revere about the events of April 18-19, 1775, but they also knew of his many other accomplishments. 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. 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.
For more insight into Paul Revere’s life read:
- Paul Revere – Artisan, Businessman and Patriot – The Man Behind the Myth
- Paul Revere: Work & Family – a curriculum packet
- What Was the Name of Paul Revere’s Horse? – Twenty Questions About Paul Revere – Asked and Answered
All are available from the Revere House Museum Shop.
One hundred years after it opened to the public on April 18, 1908, the Paul Revere House is in the process of dramatically improving the visitor experience by converting an 1835 building that stands directly behind its property into a 3,600-square-foot Education and Visitor Orientation Center. The facility will include youth and family program space, restrooms, museum shop, midnight ride exhibit and displays. It will also include an elevator offering full handicapped access to all floors as well as to the second floor of the Paul Revere House for the very first time. Click on the graphic at left to learn more and see floor plans. Consider making a Symbolic $76 contribution to this wonderful project and play a part in renewing and expanding this historic treasure!
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