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!
For the past six years, I’ve had the opportunity to teach Colonial American history to grade school students while walking in the footsteps of my early Boston ancestors. During my field trips of Historic Boston, students walk the same streets my Edwards ancestors once strode with well known Bostonians like John Hancock, Samuel Adams and Paul Revere. As a tour guide and a teacher, I find this personal connection to history — and the stories I’m able to convey about it — to be a wonderful way to engage students. What makes it even more interesting for them is that these stories continue well after the tour is over. They come to life in my children’s book One April in Boston, and every student participating in a Boston field trip or any of my school programs receives the downloadable MP3 audio version for free.
Through the tour and the book, students learn that my Edwards ancestors arrived in Boston around 1700. My sixth great grandfather Captain Benjamin Edwards (pictured in this post) was 19 years old and living in the North End of Boston in 1706 – the same year Benjamin Franklin was born on Milk Street! That year he was married by Cotton Mather according to an entry in the 1708 Edwards Family Bible which still exists today. Benjamin Edwards was a sea captain and I discovered records of his many voyages including a battle with pirates in the Caribbean in 1722. His son Dolling Edwards, my fifth great grandfather, was a mastmaker at a shipyard in the North End and his son Benjamin was a cooper.
My fourth great grandfather, cooper Benjamin Edwards was an orphan by the time he was eight. Ben lived with his Aunt Sarah and his Uncle Alexander Edwards, a cabinetmaker and member of the Sons of Liberty. The family lived a few blocks down the street from the Old North Church and Ben was 10 when the signal lanterns were shown from its steeple and Paul Revere made his Midnight Ride. Toward the end of the Revolution, Ben’s older sister Sally Edwards married silversmith Paul Revere Jr., firstborn son of the famous patriot.
Ben’s son Joseph Edwards, my third great grandfather, was born in 1799. He was my last Edwards ancestor to live in Boston his entire life. Joseph was a paver who set granite paving stones in the city streets. He was also an innkeeper. Joseph lived in the West End not far from Boston Common, where most days you can spot me surrounded by enthusiastic schoolchildren and teachers heading off on my one-of-a-kind walking tour of Historic Boston.
Teachers: If you are interested in integrating family stories or genealogy into your history curriculum, the following genealogy resources will prove very helpful.
The events that lead up to the American Revolution come to life in my children’s book One April in Boston. The book is written for students in grades 3-6. The audio book version narrated by Phil Rosenthal is 3 hours long. Readers of the Teach History blog receive exclusive access to download a 30-minute sample of this product – see link below. The chapters contained in this download cover the lantern signal from the Old North Church, Paul Revere’s Midnight Ride and the battle on Lexington Green.
One April in Boston is the story of several generations of an American family and a special gift that was passed down from one generation to the next. It revisits the life of 10-year-old Ben Edwards, my direct ancestor. We follow young Ben and his family, learn of their connection to the Sons of Liberty and Paul Revere and witness historic events through their eyes. We also learn about Ben’s goals, the process he sets in motion to help achieve them and the special spyglass he uses to glimpse the future.
The story passes through a timeline of American history, traveling from Revolutionary Boston to the present. On the journey, readers discover what happens to Ben’s spyglass and learn where it can be found today. They leave with a newfound appreciation for the choices and sacrifices made by patriotic Americans from the time of the American Revolution to the present day. The book teaches children about the value of goal setting in a creative and memorable fashion.
I hope you enjoy listening to the audio sample below. I offer author visits annually to schools located throughout New England. Presentations for grades 3-6 are highly praised by teachers, interactive, educational, inspirational and fun! I discuss One April in Boston and introduce students to Colonial Boston with the aid of photos, engravings, maps and original colonial newspapers from my personal collection. For more information, or to book a school visit, contact me (Ben Edwards) in Boston at 617-670-1888.