Everyone knows about Paul Revere’s midnight ride, but this patriot did a lot more to help America gain its independence. Here are 11 little-known facts about the Founding Father.
1. His father was a Huguenot.
Revere’s father, Apollos Rivoire, was a French Huguenot refugee who fled his country as a result of religious persecution. He was born in Riocaud in 1702, but with time he lost most of his connection to France—he could not read or write the language. The Frenchman later changed his name to Paul Revere, "on account that the Bumpkins pronounce it easier." He married Deborah Hitchbourn, a member of a very old Boston family, and passed the anglicized name, Paul, to his eldest son.
2. As a teen, Revere worked as a church bell ringer.
When he was around fifteen, Revere would ring the bells at the Eight Bell Church near his home. The young patriot and his friends set up a bell ringers’ association. They drafted a document that detailed the rules and guidelines for membership. Members could only be allowed into the group through a unanimous vote, members could not beg for money, and a moderator was chosen every three months to delegate work and changes within the group. The simple document focused on the fundamentals of public duty, majority vote, and community.
3. Revere made some interesting items in silver.
Revere’s father came to Boston as an apprentice smith. He worked for a man named John Coney for several years and purchased his freedom for forty pounds. After Revere was born, he apprenticed under his father and learned how to craft things from gold and silver. Some items include a chain for a pet squirrel, an ostrich egg snuffbox, and sword hilts. You can tell an item is made by Revere by his maker’s mark—either his last name in a rectangle, or his initials in cursive.
4. The silversmith was also a dentist.
When dental surgeon John Baker moved to town, Revere happily studied under him. He learned how to create false teeth out of ivory and insert them using wire. Revere became so confident in his abilities that in 1768, he placed an ad declaring he “can fix [teeth] as well as any surgeon dentist who ever came from London, he fixes them in such a manner that they are not only an ornament but of real use in speaking and eating.”
5. He made a lot of money. Literally.
During wartime, Revere used his smithing skills to engrave printing plates to print money in Massachusetts. He was also commissioned to design the Continental currency, money used to pay the rebel army. The new bills strangely ranged from one-sixth of a dollar to 80 dollars.
6. During the war, Revere accidentally engaged in some super early forensics.
After Dr. Joseph Warren was killed at the Battle of Bunker Hill in 1775, he was buried like others in an unmarked grave. Ten months later, the bodies were exhumed and examined. Revere was Warren’s dentist, and recognized him by his teeth: Revere had given Warren a false tooth fastened with wire. This was the first body identification done by teeth in recorded history.
7. He had a large family.
Revere had two wives, Sarah Orne and Rachel Walker, and he had eight children with each of them. Revere was a doting father who referred to his kids as his “little lambs.” Ten of Revere’s children perished at a young age, but he still managed to acquire 52 grandchildren.
8. Revere was unfailingly polite and dapper.
The patriot even dressed well on his famous midnight ride. Impressed by his garb, his captors saluted him as one of equal rank (before threatening to shoot him in the head). Even with a gun in hand, the redcoat politely asked, “May I crave your name, sir?”
9. He was not drunk on his midnight ride.
This urban legend took hold when the media was eager to discredit the Founding Fathers during the tumultuous era surrounding the Vietnam War. One Boston newspaper ran a story in 1968 claiming that Revere drank some rum early into his midnight ride. Revere’s drunken yelling apparently roused the patriots accidentally. While Captain Hall, a patriot stationed in Medford, did own a distillery, there is no evidence suggesting that Revere’s booze-fueled yelling truly occurred. Regardless, the unfounded accusations caught on and are often still suggested as truth.
10. He wasn’t the only one to go on a midnight ride.
Paul Revere and William Dawes originally planned to carry news of the invasion to Concord, where military supplies were stored, and then warn John Hancock and Samuel Adams, who had been targeted for capture. On the trip there, the duo would ride through Somerville, Medford, and Arlington, warning patriots as they passed through. They ran into Samuel Prescott (who was just leaving a lady friend’s house at one in the morning) in Lexington, and asked him to come along.
Revere was captured about halfway through the ride, but the others managed to escape and keep going. Revere had his horse confiscated but still managed to warn John Hancock and Samuel Adams. The true hero was Prescott, who actually went through with the plan and reached Concord.
So why were the more successful criers left out of the story? One very popular—but incorrect—poem is to blame. Henry Wadsworth Longfellow’s "Paul Revere's Ride" starts with this very familiar stanza:
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.
This poem is filled with intentional inaccuracies. Longfellow did his research, but took many liberties in order to properly convey his message. The poet wanted to create a folk hero by painting a lone man as the midnight rider. In order to do such, he removed the extra players.
11. We’ve all been misquoting him.
Paul Revere and his fellow patriots never shouted, “The British are coming!” That wouldn’t have made sense, since most colonists were British. The actual warning was "the Regulars are coming out.” This misconception is another result of Longfellow’s creative license—he found the real sentence to be too wordy for his poem.
Whatever he shouted, Revere’s role in the American Revolution is beyond question. To learn more about Revere and his fellow rebels’ fight, tune in to Sons of Liberty, a three-night event, premiering on HISTORY Sunday, January 25th 9/8c.