Tucked in Boston’s historic North End sits the oldest house in Boston: an unassuming two-story brown wooden building, with diamond-paned windows that have gazed out on over 300 years of history. Considered a rich man’s mansion when it was built in 1680 by Puritan merchant Robert Howard, it has survived the American Revolution, British occupation, and cosmopolitan expansion – because it once belonged to the legendary Paul Revere.
Silversmith and engraver, bell-maker and businessman, Revere purchased the home in 1770 when the North End was a bustling Boston community. He owned it for 30 years, raised 11 children (he had 16 by two wives), and departed in 1800. During the Revolution, since Revere’s son was living there, the home escaped the fate of many nearby wooden houses which were demolished by the British for fuel while they occupied the city.
By 1800, waves of immigration started, and the house became a tenement building, the bottom remodeled for shops, common with many buildings in the North End. Over the century, it became dilapidated, filled with debris. Paul Revere’s great-grandson, John P. Reynolds Jr., purchased the building in 1902 to prevent its being demolished.
A group of concerned citizens felt it both their patriotic and economic duty to preserve the home, recognizing its historic appeal, and formed the Paul Revere Memorial Association. Opened in 1908 after extensive renovation, it’s the oldest house museum in the nation (PaulRevereHouse.org).
Restored by architect Joseph Chandler, he made the decision to remove materials that he believed were added after the time the Reveres lived there. However, as he went along, he realized some of his assumptions were in error – afterthings had been removed. Many of the original structural elements have been preserved such as the staircase and clapboards; others were recreated. The result is a house that combines both 17thand 18thcentury features.
Tiny by today’s standards, visitors are surprised to learn that each room served multiple purposes, such as a bedroom doubling as a parlor. The first room you enter is the kitchen – originally in the basement, but relocated during renovation. Period furnishings are authentic – with many donated back by Revere’s descendants. Knowledgeable guides and a recently-added museum provide fascinating insights on not only the house, but Revere himself.
The Truth About “Paul Revere’s Midnight Ride”
Most of us know Paul Revere from our history books as the gallant folk hero galloping through the dark country side, shouting “The British are coming.” Much of what we have heard originated with the 1861 poem written by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, one of the most popular poets of the time. And it has many inaccuracies.
On April 15th, 1775, at 10PM, Revere was assigned to go to Lexington to warn Samuel Adams and John Hancock that there were soldiers marching to arrest them. The warning lamps in the North Church steeple were lit not to signal Revere, but to alert the Charlestown Committee of Safety that the British troops were advancing, so they could also pass the word. Revere had met with them two days earlier, and discussed what to do in case he and the other two messengers could not leave Boston.
Revere didn’t ‘leap upon his horse’ – he had to first take a boat across the Charles River before borrowing a horse to give alarm to the houses along the road to Lexington – not ‘every Middlesex village and farm’. And documents reveal that he did not shout ‘The British are coming’ because everyone was still a British subject. Instead, he is quoted as saying to a member of Lexington Militia who questioned the noise, “Noise! You’ll have noise enough before long. The Regulars are coming out.”
Revere’s efforts were considered by himself and his peers as just being a part of the Revolution, and nothing extraordinary. In fact, his 1818 obituary didn’t even mention the ride. Instead, in the Boston Intelligencer,he was referred to as an “indefatigable Patriot and Solder of the Revolution” – a respected local hero. However by the Centennial, thanks to Wadsworth’s dramatic poem, Revere had become a national hero.
In the ensuing century, as a result of careful research, the truth has broken free of the legend. Yes, he made the ride, one of many patriots determined to support Liberty for what would become the USA.