Grave Sightings: Paul Revere

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Stacy Conradt

For years, every time we so much as touch a toe out of state, I’ve put cemeteries on our travel itinerary. From garden-like cemeteries to boot hills, whether they’re the final resting places of the well-known but not that important or the important but not that well-known, I love them all. After realizing that there are a lot of taphophiles (cemetery and/or tombstone enthusiasts) out there, I’m finally putting my photo library of interesting tombstones to good use.

Listen my children, and you shall hear, of the midnight ride of Paul Revere. You probably know that the Henry Wadsworth Longfellow poem is catchy, but historically inaccurate. But here are a few things you may not know.

Mr. Revere almost certainly never shouted the line famously attributed to him: “The British are coming! The British are coming!” Because there were Redcoats stationed everywhere, and because many colonists were sympathizers, blatantly announcing the arrival of the Brits in such a manner could have been a fatal mistake, and at the very least would have compromised the mission. Additionally, most colonists still thought of themselves as British, so to say "The British are coming!" wouldn't have been terribly clear. "The Regulars are coming out" is how he actually announced the impending arrival to villagers.

Another misconception: Although the silversmith is hailed as the hero of this story, he wasn’t the only man to ride through towns warning people—in fact, he wasn’t even the most successful one.

The original plan was for Revere and William Dawes to get news of the invasion to Concord, where military supplies were stored, and also warn John Hancock and Samuel Adams, who had been targeted for capture. To get to them, the pair rode across Somerville, Medford, and Arlington, warning patriots as they passed through. In Lexington, they came across Samuel Prescott, a doctor who was probably coming home from a booty call. (At least, that’s how the history books paint the late-night encounter when they say he was “returning from a lady friend’s house at the awkward hour of 1 a.m.”) Prescott joined them in their quest.

About three miles into the six-mile ride to Concord, the trio was intercepted by Redcoats. Dawes and Prescott managed to get away, while Revere was captured and interrogated. Redcoats threatened several times to “blow [his] brains out,” which is something you don’t learn during this unit in elementary school. They eventually took his horse and abandoned him in the middle of road. He was able to walk to town to warn John Hancock and Samuel Adams, but Prescott is the real hero—he was the only one who made it all the way to Concord.

So why did Revere get all the credit? First of all, he was the most famous, even then. Secondly, Longfellow’s 1863 poem, “The Midnight Ride of Paul Revere,” cemented that fame. Historians have joked that the only reason it wasn’t “The Midnight Ride of William Dawes” is because “Revere” was easier to rhyme.

After the war, Revere tried his hand in the Massachusetts militia before turning to silversmithing and ironworking, which, as you might know, he did pretty well at. By 1792 he was one of the best bell-casters in America, which gave Paul Revere & Sons foundry a steady line of work. The company moved into rolled copper production in 1801—in fact, the Revere Copper Company was hired to cover the original dome of the Massachusetts State House.

Image: Wikimedia Commons

On May 10, 1818, Revere died at the ripe old age of 83. He was buried at the Granary Burying Ground on Tremont Street in Boston, which is also the final resting place of Sam Adams, John Hancock, and five of the Boston Massacre victims.

Upon his death, The Boston Intelligence wrote, “Seldom has the tomb closed upon a life so honorable and useful.” Since then, we’ve honored one of our most famous patriots by not only naming a pizza chain after him, but also a 1960s American band that emulated the sound of the British Invasion. Let’s hope Revere had a sense of humor.

See all entries in our Grave Sightings series here.

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May 23, 2014 - 12:00pm
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