Paul Revere was born in the North End on Jan. 1, 1735. His father was a French Huguenot born Apollos Rivoire. Apollos married Deborah Hitchborn of a well-known Boston family. He later changed his name to the Anglicized “Paul Revere,” which was the name given to his son, the third of 12 children. Paul Revere Jr. has a long and interesting history, though his current notoriety centers on his famous ride of April 18, 1775.
Many of you may already know that the actual ride of Paul Revere was different from its portrayal in Henry Wadsworth Longfellow’s poem, “Paul Revere’s Ride” of 1861. For example, the Revere of Wadsworth’s poem climbs the steeple of the church, hangs the lanterns, rides alone, and warns Concord and Lexington. Revere in fact never entered the church or hung the lanterns; that was Robert Newman’s task. Moreover, Revere was not alone on his ride; he was accompanied by William Dawes and Samuel Prescott. Finally, while he made it to Concord and warned them of the British move, he was captured before he got to Lexington.
Longfellow knew the actual events, but his goal was not to write history, it was to make legend, which he succeeded in doing. His poem, as you may recall, begins as follows:
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.
My purpose here is not to discuss Revere or the making of Longfellow’s poem (though I will do so at some future time). It is rather to tell of yet another legend of Paul Revere. It is the history of Paul Revere as told to tourists by North End boys. It was told me by Paul Scola and Vito Aluia. So listen my friends and you shall here, of the North End version of the history of Paul Revere:
“Yes, the history of Paul Revere is a history that was handed down from generation to generation. It goes like this. This is the home of Paul Revere. Paul Revere was married twice, had 16 children, 11 girls and five boys. Right beside the door was an old hitching post. That’s where Paul Revere tied his horse. The horse kicked the bottom, kicked the top and ran away three times. On the door were 144 handmade spikes. The last three were knocked off by the British. The half-moons on the shutters were hand carved by Paul Revere himself and stained glass was shipped all the way from England. Paul Revere was a man of many smiths. He was a goldsmith, tinsmith, blacksmith, silversmith, also a dentist. He made the first set of false teeth for General Judge Washington. That’s why you never see him smile in a picture. He also made the first set of false teeth for Joseph Warren, who died in the Battle of Bunker Hill. Across the street from the Paul Revere house was a playground which once was the Roma Hotel. There were two kinds of rooms: a 40-cent room and a 60-cent room. The 40 cent room had a rat trap. The 60-cent room had a rat trap and an extra piece of cheese to catch the rat. Thank you ladies and gentlemen.”
North End boys like Paul and Vito would wait at North Square during the summer for cabs and buses of tourists to arrive. They would run up and share their own version of the history of Paul Revere to the pleasure and tips of the tourists. They would also do this during the re-enactments of Revere’s ride in April, at times reciting for notables like the mayors of Boston. I do not know when this tradition started. Paul, Vito and others were reciting this in the ‘50s and ‘60s, and they said kids were still doing it in the 1970s. They also said that the story was passed down to them by their fathers and uncles, so it must at least go back to the 1930s.
I’m hoping to find out more and I’ll share it when I do.