Paul Revere Entrepreneur

Paul Revere Entrepreneur

The Paul Revere we all learned of in school, immortalized in Henry Wadsworth Longfellow’s poem “Paul Revere’s Ride“, tells of only a single, isolated event in Revere’s life. Although mostly forgotten, perhaps Revere’s greatest contribution to his country may be in his transition from gifted silversmith to businessman, entrepreneur and industrialist, much of which occurred in the Town of Canton, Massachusetts.

Gilbert Stuart’s portrait of a 78 year old Paul Revere commissioned by his son Joseph Warren Revere

Sketch of copper mill (on left) and Revere family house (on right) in Canton, Massachusetts. Attributed to Paul Revere. Photo courtesy of the Canton Historical Society of a drawing in the collection of the Massachusetts Historical Society, Boston.

In 1801, at age 65, Paul Revere risked “every farthing” he owned to set up a mill to roll copper into the sheets that would keep the hulls of the fledgling U.S. Navy’s boats barnacle-free and protected from rot and worms. He chose a site in what is now Canton, Massachusetts to be home to the new mill. Revere was familiar with the site. In 1776 the Continental Congress commissioned him to oversee the construction of a gunpowder mill there. The land’s proximity to waterpower provided by the Neponset River made the site a natural choice for a business that needed large amounts of energy to build new products.

Revere purchased the site, using $25.000 of his own money and a $6,200 loan, from two men who owned and operated a large iron forge and two nearby factories. The site included a two-story frame house, a triphammer shop, and a “cole” (sic) house. A legal question of his rights to use water power supplied by the Neponset was eventually resolved.

The venture involved considerable financial risk – Revere most likely would have been ruined if the venture failed. But the gamble may have been characteristic of Paul Revere. Even at age 65 – at a time when American life expectancy was 45 years – Revere felt confident he could build a thriving business molding hot copper into thin sheets. To seed the effort, the United States government loaned Paul Revere $10,000 and 19,000 tons of copper.

The Revere Copper Company landed its first major contract in 1802 — an order for 6,000 feet of copper sheathing to cover the dome of the relatively new Massachusetts State House in Boston.

The copper-domed Massachusetts State House
“CONSTITUTION” watercolor and gouache attributed to Michele Felice Corne, c.1803; Courtesy the Navy Art Collection/Naval History & Heritage Command
In 1803, the company was commissioned to provide copper sheathing to protect the hull of the Constitution or “Old Ironsides.”
In subsequent years, the company manufactured copper boilers for Robert Fulton’s early experimental steamships, produced muskets and brass cannons for the War of 1812, and manufactured the copper dome of the New York City Hall.
Copper-domed New York City Hall

Singapore’s Revere Bell on display at the National Museum of Singapore in February 2015. The inscription of the bell is: “Revere, Boston 1843. Presented to St Andrew’s Church, Singapore, by Mrs Maria Revere Balestier of Boston, United States of America”.

While the Revere Copper Company grew in Canton, Revere’s son, Joseph Warren Revere, was managing the family’s bell foundry in Boston. In October 1804, after a gale blew the roof off the foundry, Paul Revere moved this operation to Canton as well.

The bells were reportedly “of superior metal and sound” and typically weighed about 900 pounds. At least two of the Revere bells hung in Canton. One, installed in the First Parish Unitarian Universalist Church in 1824, remains there today, according to late Canton Historical Society member Ed Bolster. Another hung in the belfry of the Baptist Church in South Canton in 1839, but was later replaced with a steel bell.

Canton Dale

Though the Revere family wintered in Boston, they spent summers in their Canton home — a place which Paul Revere affectionately referred to as Canton Dale.

Paul Revere wrote a poem to express how much he enjoyed his busy and productive Canton Dale life that included managing the mill, hunting, reading, socializing with neighbors and relaxing. A few verses are reproduced below:

At early morn I take my round,
Invited first by hammer’s sound;
The furnace next; then Roleing-Mill;
‘Till Breakfast’s call’d, my time doth fill;
Then round my Acres (few) I trot,
To see what’s done and what is not.
Give orders what ought to be done,
Then sometimes take my Dog and Gun.
Under an aged spreading Oak.
At noon I take my favorite Book
To shun the heat and feed the Mind,
In elbow chair I sit reclined…
At eve’ within my peacefull Cot,
Sometimes I meet, and sometimes not,
The Parson, Docter; or some Friend,
Or neighbour kind, one hour to spend;
In social chat, our time we pass;
Drink all our Friends, in parting Glass
The Parson, Docter; neighbour gone
We prepare for bed, and so trudge on.

The Revere Family House in Canton, MA. The structure, built in 1717, was destroyed in the early 20th century.