11 Things You Probably Didn’t Know About Paul Revere

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.

The Time Baby Ruth Sued Babe Ruth

Allsport/Hulton Archive/Getty Images
Allsport/Hulton Archive/Getty Images

In 1920, the Curtiss Candy Company introduced the Baby Ruth candy bar, causing a certain baseball player with a very similar name to take notice. Babe Ruth was having a monstrous year—his 54 home runs in the 1920 season were more than any other team in the American League. If you were going to misappropriate someone’s name for a candy bar, Ruth’s was a logical choice.

Sensing opportunity, the Great Bambino struck back by creating his own Babe Ruth Home Run Bar. Curtiss quickly sued Ruth’s company for trademark infringement. But what happened next was surprising: When the Sultan of Swat accused the company of using his name, Curtiss feigned shock. Its bar was named after “Baby” Ruth Cleveland, daughter of President Grover Cleveland.

For years, this has been the oft-repeated explanation, but the argument makes no sense. Cleveland had been out of office for more than two decades and dead for 12 years when the bar debuted. “Baby” Ruth herself had died of diphtheria in 1904, at just 12 years old. Although the country’s most famous baseball star would seem much more likely to have a namesake candy than a former president's departed child, the courts sided with Curtiss.

When Ruth learned of the verdict, he bellowed, “Well, I ain’t eatin’ your damned candy bar anymore!” Somehow, the Baby Ruth bar survived without his support.

What Is the Wilhelm Scream?

iStock
iStock

What do Star Wars, The Lord of the Rings, Pirates of the Caribbean, Harold and Kumar Go to White Castle, Toy Story, Reservoir Dogs, Titanic, Anchorman, 22 Jump Street, and more than 200 other films and TV shows have in common? Not much besides the one and only Wilhelm Scream.

The Wilhelm Scream is the holy grail of movie geek sound effects—a throwaway sound bite with inauspicious beginnings that was turned into the best movie in-joke ever when it was revived in the 1970s.

Just what is it? Chances are you’ve heard it before but never really noticed it. The Wilhelm Scream is a stock sound effect that has been used in both the biggest blockbusters and the lowest low-budget movies and television shows for over 60 years, and is usually heard when someone onscreen is shot or falls from a great height.

First used in the 1951 Gary Cooper western Distant Drums, the distinctive yelp began in a scene in which a group of soldiers wade through a swamp, and one of them lets out a piercing scream as an alligator drags him underwater.

As is the case with many movie sound effects, the scream was recorded later in a sound booth with the simple direction to make it sound like “a man getting bit by an alligator, and he screams.” Six screams were performed in one take, and the fifth scream on the recording became the iconic Wilhelm (the others were used for additional screams in other parts of the movie).

Following its debut in 1951, the effect became a regular part of the Warner Bros. sound library and was continually used by the studio’s filmmakers in their movies. Eventually, in the early 1970s, a group of budding sound designers at USC’s film school—including future Academy Award-winning sound designer Ben Burtt—recognized that the unique scream kept popping up in numerous films they were watching. They nicknamed it the “Wilhelm Scream” after a character in the first movie they all recognized it from, a 1963 western called The Charge at Feather River, in which a character named Private Wilhelm lets out the pained scream after being shot in the leg by an arrow.

As a joke, the students began slipping the effect into the student films they were working on at the time. After he graduated, Burtt was tapped by fellow USC alum George Lucas to do the sound design on a little film he was making called Star Wars. As a nod to his friends, Burtt put the original sound effect from the Warner Bros. library into the movie, most noticeably when a Stormtrooper is shot by Luke Skywalker and falls into a chasm on the Death Star. Burtt would go on to use the Wilhelm Scream in various scenes in every Star Wars and Indiana Jones movie, causing fans and filmmakers to take notice.

Directors like Peter Jackson and Quentin Tarantino, as well as countless other sound designers, sought out the sound and put it in their movies as a humorous nod to Burtt. They wanted to be in on the joke too, and the Wilhelm Scream began showing up everywhere, making it an unofficial badge of honor. It's become bigger than just a sound effect, and the name “Wilhelm Scream” has been used for everything from a band name, to a beer, to a song title, and more.

But whose voice does the scream itself belong to? Burtt himself did copious amounts of research, as the identity of the screamer was unknown for decades. He eventually found a Warner Bros. call sheet from Distant Drums that listed actors who were scheduled to record additional dialogue after the film was completed. One of the names, and the most likely candidate as the Wilhelm screamer, was an actor and musician named Sheb Wooley, who appeared in classics like High Noon, Giant, and the TV show Rawhide. You may also know him as the musician who sang the popular 1958 novelty song “Purple People Eater.”

Have you got a Big Question you'd like us to answer? If so, let us know by emailing us at bigquestions@mentalfloss.com.

SECTIONS

arrow
LIVE SMARTER
More from mental floss studios