Sunday, April 10, 2016

Presenting as Paul Revere: Dispelling the Myths

It was on Friday, October 16th of 2015 that I "came out" as Paul Revere for the first time.
Well, I suppose that's only partially true; I've portrayed Mr. Revere a few times before when I participated in Plymouth (Michigan) Historical Museum's 'Night at the Museum' parties for young elementary-age scholars; this is where a few of us living historians 'come alive' as famous people in history, whether as Abraham Lincoln, Abigail Adams, Amelia Bloomer, Civil War soldiers, or, ahem, Paul Revere, and teach the kids a little something about 'our' lives. We will each speak to the wee ones for about five minutes and then they move on to the next historical character. It is a very cool and fun learning experience for the kids - something I would have loved to have attended when I was young.
Here I am as Paul Revere at the Plymouth Museum's "A Night at the Museum" children's party.
This gave me a good start in my first 'famous historical person' endeavor.
Doing 'A Night at the Museum' was a great kick off for my future-past endeavor portraying one of my childhood heroes. However, the reason why I consider October 2015 as my first real presentation as Paul Revere is because rather than doing a five minute talk, I, instead, remained Paul Revere for around three hours in front of multiple middle school groups - 8th graders. To do something so extensive forced me to stay in that mode of thought for nearly the entire duration. That meant I had better know enough about the man to tell his story beyond the 'one if by land, two if by sea' knowledge that most folks have.
You see, throughout my dozen+ years in the living history world, I have had the privilege to meet and befriend amazing historical interpreters, among them being Fred Priebe, who portrays Abraham Lincoln, and Bob Stark, who interprets as Benjamin Franklin. Both men are first-rate at their craft and I consider them to be my mentors. When you speak to them while they are in character, you will feel that you are in the company of the real deal.
I want to be as good as they are.
I have been in the company of Mr. Abraham Lincoln.
Fred Priebe is known nationwide for his authentic portrayal
of our 16th president, and is well-respected among historical interpreters of all eras in time.
I have also had the good pleasure to meet Dr. Benjamin Franklin, as portrayed by Bob Stark.
Again, another very well respected and extremely knowledgeable historical interpreter who, like Mr. Priebe as Lincoln, has made me feel as if I actually met this so important Founding Father.
The two men you see in these two photographs are some of the best in the business, and I can only hope to learn from them on how to bring Paul Revere to life in such a manner as they have with Lincoln and Franklin.
~Preparing for my midnight ride ~ 
It's a pretty dark journey between 
Boston and Lexington...
Like Mssrs. Priebe and Stark, I want to do more than teach - - I want to be. But to do so, I need to be able to speak comfortably of Revere, and not only of the famous ride, but of other occurrences in his life as well, for it is my intention to try to dispel the many myths so prevalent today about the man.  I mean, sure, nearly every American knows (or should know) the basics of what happened on the night of April 18 and early morning of April 19 in the year 1775, but for me to convincingly become Paul Revere, I had better know beyond the common information so widely spread. I need to delve deeper into what occurred to Revere on the night of his most famous ride, including material on those who rode with him - William Dawes and Samuel Prescott - as well as of the many mechanics who helped out in other areas. I would also like to tell the audience about a few of his earlier rides that he did before the night of April 18th as a patriot courier.  
Then there are the other notable details in Revere's life such as his occupation as a tinsmith, of his two wives and sixteen children, the Boston Massacre, and of his Sons of Liberty adventures, including the Boston Tea Party (I was never taught in school that Revere took part in this). 
And I haven't even touched upon his military "career."
Finally, I need to be able to retain all of this biographical information; that will be the hard part for me.
There's so much to remember! 
I know I have quite a bit of homework to do here, and I can't be expected to know all from the get-go. It's going to take time to build up on my knowledge of the man. But I have the basics down and I pretty much can discuss the most popular aspects of his life, beyond the myths, fairly easily.
The additional information will come…a little at a time.
"My" rendition of 
the Boston Massacre. 
Mr. Revere freely "stole" from
another artist's print, 
something that was a common
practice at the time.
However, Revere's is the one 
that is well known today.
I must say, I was happy with the way my first real Paul Revere presentation at the middle school went; I feel I am off to a good start:  
each of the multiple presentations began with the history teacher reciting the infamous poem by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, "Paul Revere's Ride."
Now, modern society in general (including quite a few politicians and celebrities) have tended to get their Paul Revere knowledge from this poem, believing it to be accurate. Unfortunately, most people don't realize that what Longfellow wrote back in 1861 was a dramatization, and he took liberties on facts. This is exactly why I had the history teacher read it - to allow me the opportunity to dispel the myths. And it was when the teacher came to the line in the poem, "It was two by the village clock, when be came to the bridge in Concord town..." that I, as Paul Revere, had had enough of the untruths and interrupted him to ask where he got such nonsense 
"Why," he responded, surprised, "from this poem, Mr. Revere, that was written about you by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow!" 
Now, Revere might not recognize the name 'Longfellow,' but he certainly would have known 'Wadsworth,' for a man named Peleg Wadsworth was Revere's commander during the Penobscot Exhibition in 1779 (a botched event that occurred while Mr. Revere was an officer in the Massachusetts militia. I am sure he would rather forget about it). Peleg Wadsworth was Henry Wadsworth Longfellow's maternal grandfather. Quite a connection in history, eh?
The Old North Church Lantern
A bicentennial replica from 1975 - 
200 years after the historic ride.
I then explained to the teacher and students that “I” never made it to Concord on the night of April 18th - I, instead, got captured by the Regulars not too long after leaving Lexington, and my borrowed horse was taken from me, so I had to walk back to Lexington, arriving by dawn in time to witness the beginning of the battle.
The teacher replied to this by asking me to please tell “my" story in my own words of the events of that fateful April night.

And that was where I took over and began to tell of my life as Paul Revere.
As I concluded my presentation, I told the audience of all the great men who were my/Revere's contemporaries, such as George Washington, James Madison, Thomas Jefferson, Samuel Adams, Benjamin Franklin, John Hancock, John Adams, Thomas Paine, Alexander Hamilton, Patrick Henry...the list goes on. And I pointed out the fact that all of these great men came out of a New England population of only around 2.5 million people (1776 figures) as compared to the current United States population amount of about 320 million people.
Fun with facts and figures, eh?
 My presentation partner, Larissa, as 
Sybil Ludington - the female Paul Revere.
She has her own tale to tell.

But I am not alone in presenting at school events, by the way. I have a friend, Larissa, who I have partnered up with, and she portrays Sybil Ludington, a young girl considered to be the female Paul Revere. Once I concluded my part of the presentation, Larissa stepped up as Miss Ludington to tell her story, and how, on a stormy evening in 1777, this young 16 year old girl volunteered to warn the countryside of the attack from the British Regulars in Danbury, Connecticut. Combining our two stories helps to give our audience an idea of the Revolutionary War from the female perspective.
Larissa and I have formed our own little business we call "Our Own Snug Fireside" (after the excellent book of the same same), and we do presentations of not only Revere and Ludington, but also as an 1860s farming couple. It's in this way that we have been able to expand our social history coverage beyond one era.
We not only present at schools, but we've been to libraries, historical societies, and other places as well.
Who knows, maybe we can even do the the stories of Mr. Revere and Miss Ludington at reenactments.

Whether I am in front of a captive audience of a few hundred at a school as Paul Revere or speaking to a dozen visitors passing by my tent at a reenactment, I do my best to represent history in an accurate and realistic way. I do enjoy having historical discussions with the the folks who come to see us no matter where I am at - many come to reenactments with quite a bit of knowledge of their own and enjoy striking up great conversations, something I love. And it's great when they can share some of their knowledge - we can all learn from each other. But sometimes we have those who come out for the sole purpose of attempting to be know-it-alls and try to make reenactors look bad. This can create an uncomfortable situation because, well, let's face it, as a reenactor I am not here to have a personal discussion/disagreement/argument with a visitor. I am here to teach what I know. But some do try to entice us into a verbal battle. Kind of like the trolls on Facebook. When something like this occurs, I will generally give a kind response of "maybe we can save this for another time" and proceed on as I was in hopes they'll get the hint. After all, I am only human and bound to make mistakes or forget a few things once in a while. Also - shhhh! don't say this too loud, but---I am not an actual person from the past. (and for this year I may have to say) I am not really Paul Revere! I'm a living historian - I'm pretending!
Yes, believe it or not, I have used similar verbiage a few times during events when an armchair "History Channel" historian will not know when to stop interrupting and allow me to do my thing.
This comment usually shuts them up...usually.
Gotta have fun, no matter what, right?
Speaking of fun, did you notice the photograph earlier in this posting of me lighting my lantern? Yeah...I've been posing for photos here and there to help promote my Paul Revere presentations. The following pictures show a few more of me as Mr. Revere to accent my (hopeful) authenticity:
Paul Revere's silver shop was the cornerstone of his professional life. Although he became involved in other businesses, silversmithing was his earliest and most enduring pursuit.
(Not really Mr. Revere's shop, but a good substitute, eh?) 
Revere's business ledgers reveal that his shop was an active place. As the master of the shop he was responsible for both the workmanship and the quality of the metal. Silversmithing requires the heavy labor of pounding metal flat or raising it into shapes, a good eye for design, knowledge of the elements of style and a steady hand for engraving.

Silver & pewter...just as Mr. Revere advertised.
Yes, I did purchase some silver and pewter items to accent my presentation. Not all you see here, however!

So, finally, with all this talk about how Longfellow unintentionally revised history with his "Paul Revere's Ride," let's look at a few of these poetic myths he included and maybe de-mythologize a few of the poet's re-tellings::

~myth: The sole credit for the success of the ride was given to Revere only and he rode alone.

Fact: Revere was accompanied by two other riders, William Dawes and Samuel Prescott

~myth: All the events described in the poem occurred on the night of April 18, 1775.
 Fact: The poem distorted the occurrence of events. The planning of the signals “one, if by land, two, if by sea” happened on April 16th, two days before the actual ride. The dead bodies in the Old North Church courtyard occurred the day after the initial battle at Lexington.

~myth: The signal in the North Church “One, if by land, and two, if by sea” was meant for Paul Revere
 Fact: The signal was from Revere to the Patriots.

~myth: He climbed the tower of the Old North Church the night of the ride
 Fact: Two days before the Midnight Ride he went to Charlestown and met Colonel Conant with whom he set up the plan to place the lanterns that would signal what route the British were taking. He did not climb the tower. It was the church sexton Robert Newman who climbed the tower and lit the lanterns.

~myth: There were dead bodies in the yard of the Old North Church
 Fact: He did not go to the Old North Church that night and there were not dead bodies. The battle did not start until the next day in Lexington.

~myth: Revere rode triumphantly into Concord
Fact: He rode to Lexington to warn Samuel Adams and John Hancock but never made it further to Concord because he was captured but soon released by the British soldiers. Another messenger Dr. Samuel Prescott, rode from Lexington to Concord to warn the residents.

~myth: His ride through the night was enjoyable and uneventful
Fact: He was captured and interrogated by the British and then let go.

~myth: The purpose of Revere’s Midnight Ride was to solely prevent the British troops from capturing the secret store of ammunitions in Concord
Fact: It is not widely known that it was not just the weapons that were stockpiled by the Patriots. Here are some of other items that were safeguarded by Revere’s early warning: spades, axes, medicine chests, tents, hogsheads of flour, pork, beef, salt, boxes of candles, wooden spoons, dishes, canteens and even casks of wine and raisins.

Well, there you have some corrections.

I have high hopes for my new endeavor as I continue to pursue colonial-era reenacting. I won't "be" Paul Revere each and every time I'm at an event, but, especially this coming year, I plan to give it a good go.
Wish me luck...

Other postings you may like:
To read a more extensive post I put together about Paul Revere's ride, please click HERE
To read of how colonists stood up to the British Regulars during an earlier raid, click HERE
To see a visual of the early days of the fight for liberty, click HERE
To read a general overview of life in the 18th century colonies, click HERE

Until next time, see you in time.


1 comment:

Ruth Hodges said...

Nice job, Ken. Sounds like fun.

Here are a few facts to add to your repertoire:

Revere was captured in the town of Lincoln. Lincoln is the town that lies between Lexington and Concord. Some of the heaviest fighting that occurred on April 19th was in Lincoln.

Oh, and I believe there were about sixty alarm riders out on the night of April 18th.

Enjoy, and keep up the good work!