Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Revere Family Papers Finding Aid

The Swain Report, Number Two

In his second installment, David Swain, the David Library's volunteer researcher, describes a couple of interesting items he discovered in the Revere Family Papers. For those interested in Paul Revere or in the military action in Rhode Island, it might hold a few gems.

Patrick Spero

Paul Revere Family Papers

by David Swain

Biographical information

Paul Revere (1734-1818) lived his entire life in Boston, becoming a wealthy and prominent silversmith. His niche in history has been assured by the endurance of the tradition about the role he played as messenger of the Lexington-Concord patriot victories. The papers discussed here focus more on Revere and his family’s business in metalworking.

Microfilmed Documents

The David Library owns two reels of microfilmed papers from the Paul Revere family papers. Although some of the documents date from the revolutionary period and from the life of Paul Revere, most date from the 19th Century and pertain to the lives and family business of Revere’s descendents. The original manuscripts are owned by the Massachusetts Historical Society, which has also provided a summary description of the contents.

First Reel

This very short reel contains a few letters apparently by or to Paul Revere from the period 1778-1796. The word “apparently” is used advisedly because much of the content of these letters, including the “to” line and the “from” line are either illegible, undecipherable, or not clearly identifiable.

Most of the papers on this reel date from 1803, beyond the time of DLAR’s particular interests. For instance, a large collection of student papers (short essays “on _______” is included, dating apparently from the 1830s The MHS’ descriptive paragraph on this reel says “1930s,” but this is not possible, as one essay describes William Lloyd Garrison’s speech in Boston after which he was pursued by an angry mob out to punish him for expressing his strong, antislavery views in public. Also included is a 34-page diary of an 1843 trip apparently to Sweden. Although not identified in the documents, both the school papers and the voyage diary were apparently written by members of the Revere family.

Among the few letters before 1800:

One was written from Paris by Thomas Randall (or Ramsdelle or something similar) dated December 30, 1796. It is charmingly addressed to W. Paul Revere, care of Wm. Woodhead, Boston, America. Another, dated June 28, 1799, from Matthew L Davis in New York, contains matters concerning 1) a property sale, 2) some personal, family news, and 3) a complaint about a mutually known gentleman who, the writer thought, was not acting in a gentlemanly fashion—apparently something about a business deal.

The only other letter of much interest, as far as legibility allowed, might be from Paul Revere to his mother (the “to” line is undecipherable and the “from” line too faint to be legible). It is dated August [?], 1778 from Newport, RI. Much of the content is difficult or impossible to read, but the Massachusetts Historical Society descriptive paragraph says it describes the British siege of Newport. This interesting piece of text is legible: “You have heard this Island is the Garden of America, indeed used to appear it; but those British Savages have so abused it & destroyed the [??]...”

Second Reel

This reel contains a variety of manuscript items:

Paul Revere’s diary

In (apparently) 1777, Paul Revere was directly involved in military duty, (presumably) in the Massachusetts Militia. The manuscript diary contained on microfilm reel 6 of the Revere family papers is a mere fragment, covering three days on two manuscript pages. The diary itself reveals few clues for historians, not even the year of the entries for August 28, 29, and 30. The Massachusetts Historical Society notes tell us the diary dates from 1777.

The diary’s contents describe marching from Boston, via Watertown, Westtown, Sudbury, Northborough, and Shrewsbury, to Worcester. Their first night out, they got as far as Watertown. The next night, the men “lodg’d” at “Marlborough’s in Sudbury. By the third night they arrived at Worcester, where they were put up in the “Town house.” Whether Worcester was their destination or just another way station on the route to a more distant destination is not revealed.

The march was apparently pretty unremarkable, except that while in Sudbury, some sugar was apparently stolen in the town. Some locals accused the soldiers of being the thieves, but an inspection of the soldiers’ wagon did not find the missing sugar. Revere’s (and probably his compatriots’) view was that Tories were to blame. Revere’s description of this incident is brief and not very clear—which probably makes little difference because the incident seems not of major significance in the broader sweep of Revolutionary-Era history.
Other contents on the reel

The remainder of this lengthy microfilm reel contains the following:

--A series of small blank-paper notebooks filled with copies of receipts for financial transactions, apparently by the Paul Revere & Sons business. The entries on the many pages of these notebooks date from 1813 through 1827.

--A number of even smaller notebooks, a few identified as “a Memorandum Book” filled mostly with entries of money transactions and goods bought and sold. A couple of notebooks appear to be bank account books for the Union Bank. These notebooks contain dated entries that run from 1773 through 1801, yet they are not neatly consecutive, and gaps probably exist. The bulk of the entries were made in the 1790s.

--A few larger notebooks with business accounting records and records of a Boston Bank account, all dated between 1807 and 1810.

--A series of large notebooks containing copies of outgoing business letters, dated between 1783 and 1814, signed by Paul Revere and, beginning sometime in 1803, Paul Revere & Son (Paul Revere lived from 1835 to 1818). Note that one or more of these notebooks was once damaged by fire or water, partially damaging a large number of entries.

Scattered among the financial papers, written in the same notebooks, are a number of interesting anomalies, including:

--Detailed pencil diagrams of two heavy-duty winch mechanisms in the midst of 1799 financial records. Other such diagrams appear elsewhere.

--A recipe, recorded in 1792, for making “silver copper [??],” a formula that makes no sense to me. Other formulas and recipes are found in other entries, including several pages, written in 1800 or 1801, about the making of signal rockets, shells, fuses, gun powder, and the like, along with the formula for gunpowder. Also included is a chart showing the diameters of cannon bores compared with the proper size of shot (slightly smaller) for each bore.

--Two pages, dating from the 1790s, from an incomplete description of the jury’s decision in a murder trial, as well as several pages of information about and a form for oath taking by witnesses.

-- Entries about 45 “inquisitions” concerning dead bodies found, apparently by public officials (probably what we would call coroner investigations) between 1796 and 1800, including notes of the cause of death and that the jury in each case had been paid. (What Paul Revere’s role was in the inquisitions is not clear from the records he left us.)

--A 1793 entry about how to make the “mud” cast within which a bronze bell was cast, including the formula for the “mud,” “one part horse dung one Sand & one part Clay….” (No wonder they reverberate!)

A Note on the Revere Family Business

Paul Revere was known as a “silversmith.” However, the manuscript business records on this microfilm reel reveal that he and his son were involved in a broader range of metalworking enterprises. These include the copper plating of ship hulls, the making of explosive ordnance, cannon shot, and cannon themselves, as well as bolts and nails for the US Navy (tradition has not pictured Paul Revere as a defense contractor), and the crafting of other copper, bronze, and brass objects. In addition, one of the “memorandum books” was dedicated to the family’s “goldsmith shop.”

A careful examination of all these Revere family business records from 1803 to 1839 (including those not on the two microfilm reels owned by the David Library) would probably reveal to a historian a fascinating story of the family’s business, along with details of the metalworking crafts of the time and of entrepreneurial business in general.

Have something you want to share, such as a question, research find, or a personal story about the Library? Email Will Tatum at tatum@dlar.org

No comments:

Post a Comment