Boston and its surrounding communities are rich with American history. After all, it was here that the Sons of Liberty inspired colonists to fight for their freedom against the domination of British Rule. So many famous and fierce patriots of the American Revolution can be traced back to the city of Boston including James Otis, Samuel Adams, John Adams, John Hancock, and our city’s namesake Paul Revere.
As Bay Staters, sometimes it is easy to take for granted the fact that we live in the birthplace of American Independence. Therefore, in honor of Paul Revere’s birthday on January 1, 1735, let’s take some time to look into one of our favorite Patriots who made that famous “Midnight Ride.”
Who Was Paul Revere?
A silversmith by trade, Paul Revere came from humble beginnings. Born in Boston in 1735 to a French Huguenot father who ran a silversmith shop and a mother from a local family, Revere was educated in school until he became an apprentice for his father’s silversmith shop.
Sons of Liberty
As a successful businessman of a major colonial city, Revere was well aware of the constraints that British rule was having on businesses across the area. Due to the rising tensions between the colonists and the British Revere became involved in the rebellious group known as the Sons of Liberty.
As such, Revere took part in events like the Stamp Act protests in 1765 and the planning of the Boston Tea Party in 1773, after the new laws about tea imports were passed by the British. In each circumstance, Revere was an integral part of the patriot intelligence network that would spy on British troops and report findings to members of the Sons of Liberty.
The Boston Massacre 1770
Along with being a member of the Sons of Liberty, Revere was an artist who used his skills as an engraver to incite the colonists to join in the rebellion.
One of Reveres’ best-known pieces of propaganda depicted the violent events of March 5, 1770, when British troops and a crowd of colonists faced off on Boston’s King Street near the Customs House. The engraved depiction (a reworked Henry Pelham drawing) showed the tense stand-off between bayonet-armed British soldiers and colonists which ended in the shooting death of five unarmed colonists. Revere’s engraving became the image that spread like wildfire around the colonies and will forever be known as the Boston Massacre.
“One If By Land, and Two If By Sea”
Revere’s activism extended far beyond the confines of Boston harbor and the streets of the city when Revere began work as a courier and rode from Boston to New York on a horse to spread information about the colonies.
Perhaps one of the roles that Paul Revere is most remembered for in the American Revolution was made famous in the Henry Wadsworth Longfellow’s Poem, “Paul Revere’s Ride.”
Here is a partial transcription of the poem.
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?
He said to his friend, “If the British march
By land or sea from the town to-night,
Hang a lantern aloft in the belfry-arch
Of the North-Church-tower, as a signal-light,—
One if by land, and two if by sea;
And I on the opposite shore will be,
Ready to ride and spread the alarm
Through every Middlesex village and farm,
For the country-folk to be up and to arm.
Longfellow’s poem describes Paul Revere’s role in the midnight ride from Boston to warn revolutionary leaders Samuel Adams and John Hancock in Lexington, Massachusetts, of the movement of the British troops toward Lexington and Concord.
One particular line in the poem describes the ingenious signal system that Revere proposed. Two lanterns were placed on the Old North Church steeple in Boston to alert those on the harbor that the troops had left Boston and were crossing the Charles River. The lanterns would show that the British were headed west by land or sea: “One if by land, and two if by sea.”
The events of this famous night and Revere’s role in it led directly to the Battles of Lexington and Concord, the Battle of Chelsea Creek (fought in Revere and East Boston), and then the Battle for Bunker Hill. This Siege of Boston put both Paul Revere and what would eventually end up being the city he was named after at center stage for some of the most pivotal moments of the Revolution.
While Revere remained active through the duration of the Revolution, he did not amass any acclaim for his bravery until nearly 100 years later in the retelling of his part in the Longfellow poem.