Henry Wadsworth Longfellow
By Ken Zurski
Paul Revere’s horseback ride into history has been told and retold by generations, widely disputed, often embellished, and ultimately adored. As the story goes, on April 18, 1775, in the middle of the night, Revere rode his horse into Lexington, Massachusetts and warned the colonists that the British army’s invasion was imminent.
“The British are coming, the British are coming,” he shouted along the way.
Whether it happened as told, is debatable. However, nearly a century later in 1861, Henry Wadsworth Longfellow’s poem The Midnight Ride of Paul Revere immortalized its importance and in effect created an American legend:
Through all our history, to the last,
In the hour of darkness and peril and need,
The people will waken and listen to hear
The hurrying hoof-beats of that steed,
And the midnight message of Paul Revere.
But Revere’s own recollection of the events that night is far less fanciful than Longfellow’s version. Revere stressed the importance and necessity of the act rather than the heroic implications. He asked for no more recognition than his duty as a patriot. Nonetheless, it is what it is. And as one biographer writes, “Paul Revere started on a ride which, in a way, never ended.”
But long after America was free from British rule, Revere is credited with another significant contribution: Bells.
A foundry man by trade, Revere was good at casting silver bowls, not bells. Still, most church bells needed repair and nearly all had been cast in England. So Revere set out to change that. He found an expert in recasting and got to work in his Boston studio. A bell’s tone was important and Revere meticulously tested each one himself, oftentimes blaming poor sound quality on the hanging of the bell, not the production. “We know we can cast good bells as can be cast in the world,” he boasted.
Regardless of the craftsmanship, between 1792 and 1826, Revere made over 300 bells.
So, although he is best known for “The British are coming, The British are coming,” Revere’s legacy – one you can see and hear – still hangs in Boston’s historic King’s Chapel Stone Church where it has been rung at every Sunday service for well over two centuries.