Henry Wadsworth Longfellow’s poem “Paul Revere’s Ride,” written in 1860 and published in 1861 in the Atlantic Monthly, transformed Paul Revere from a relatively obscure, although locally known, figure into a national folk hero. As a result, most people know him only for his famous ride to Lexington on the night of April 18-19, 1775. Revere’s life, however, was a long and productive one, involving industry, politics, and community service.
Born in Boston’s North End in December 1734, Paul Revere was the son of Apollos Rivoire, a French Huguenot (Protestant) immigrant, and Deborah Hichborn, daughter of a local artisan family. Rivoire, born in France in 1702, changed his name to Paul Revere some time after immigrating. He was a goldsmith and eventually the head of a large household. Paul Revere was their third child and eldest surviving son.
Paul Revere’s actual date of birth is unknown. His baptismal date is December 22, 1734, according to the records of the “New Brick” Congregational Church in Boston. This date is in the “Old Style” uncorrected calendar in use in the British Empire until 1752. When translated into the “New Style” or modern calendar, this date becomes January 2, 1735, still the date often quoted as Revere’s birth date is January 1, 1735. Since it is unlikely that Revere was baptized the day he was born, his actual birth date must have been a few days earlier, some time in late December 1734.
Paul was educated at the North Writing School and learned the art of gold and silversmithing in his father’s shop. When Paul was nineteen (and nearly finished with his apprenticeship) his father died, leaving Paul as the family’s main source of income. Two years later, in 1756, Revere was commissioned as a second lieutenant in the Massachusetts artillery, and sent to fight the French in upstate New York. When he returned in the Fall of 1756 he began in earnest to build the family silver business.
Revere’s political involvement arose through his connections with members of local organizations and his business patrons. As a member of the Masonic Lodge of St. Andrew, he was friendly with activists like Dr. Joseph Warren. In the year before the Revolution, Revere gathered intelligence by “watching the Movements of British Soldiers,” as he wrote in a 1798 account of his ride. He was a courier for the Boston Committee of Correspondence and the Massachusetts Committee of Safety, riding express to the Continental Congress in Philadelphia. As a member of the North Caucus, Revere took part in meetings that planned the destruction of East India Company Tea in December 1773. The next day, he spread the word of the Boston Tea Party to New York and Philadelphia. At 10 pm on the night of April 18, 1775, Revere received instructions from Dr. Joseph Warren to ride to Lexington to warn John Hancock and Samuel Adams of the British approach.
In 1811, at the age of 76, Paul Revere retired and left his well-established copper business in the hands of his son Joseph Warren Revere and two of his grandsons. Revere seems to have remained healthy in his final years, despite the personal sorrow caused by the deaths of his wife Rachel and son Paul in 1813. Revere died of natural causes on May 10, 1818 at the age of 83, leaving five children, several grandchildren, and many great-grandchildren. The son of an immigrant artisan, not born to wealth or inheritance, Revere died a modestly well-to-do businessman and a popular local figure of some note. An obituary in the Boston Intelligencer commented, “seldom has the tomb closed upon a life so honorable and useful.” Paul Revere is buried in Boston’s Granary Burying Ground.