Beyond Midnight: Paul Revere On View Through January 12, 2020
This fall, the New-York Historical Society explores the life and accomplishments of Paul Revere (1735–1818), the Revolutionary War patriot immortalized in Henry Wadsworth Longfellow’s 1861 poem, “Paul Revere’s Ride.” On view now through January 12, 2020, Beyond Midnight: Paul Revere separates fact from fiction, revealing Revere as a complex, multifaceted figure at the intersection of America’s social, economic, artistic, and political life in Revolutionary War-era Boston as it re-examines his life as an artisan, activist, and entrepreneur. The exhibition, featuring more than 140 objects, highlights aspects of Revere’s versatile career as an artisan, including engravings, such as his well-known depiction of the Boston Massacre; glimmering silver tea services made for prominent clients; everyday objects such as thimbles, tankards, and teapots; and important public commissions, such as a bronze courthouse bell.
Organized by the American Antiquarian Society in Worcester, Massachusetts, and curated by Nan Wolverton and Lauren Hewes, Beyond Midnight debuts at New-York Historical before traveling to the Worcester Art Museum and the Concord Museum in Massachusetts for a two-venue display (February 13 – June 7, 2020) and to Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art in Bentonville, Arkansas (July 4 – October 11, 2020). At New-York Historical, Beyond Midnight is coordinated by Debra Schmidt Bach, New-York Historical’s curator of decorative arts.
“When many of us think of Paul Revere, we instantly think of Longfellow’s lines ‘One if by land, and two if by sea’, but there is much more to Revere’s story,” said Dr. Louise Mirrer, president and CEO of the New-York Historical Society. “This exhibition looks beyond the myth of Paul Revere to better understand the man as a revolutionary, an artisan, and an entrepreneur, who would go on to become a legend. We are proud to partner with the American Antiquarian Society to debut this exhibition in New York.”
On arrival, visitors are welcomed by a nine-foot-tall re-creation of the grand obelisk made for a 1766 Boston Common celebration of the repeal of the Stamp Act, the first tax levied on the American colonies by England. Originally made of wood and oiled paper, and decorated with painted scenes, portraits, and text praising King George while also mocking British legislators, the obelisk was illuminated from inside and eventually consumed by flames at the Boston event. The only remaining visual evidence is Revere’s 1766 engraving of the design, also on view.
A Revolutionary activist, Paul Revere was a member of the Sons of Liberty, a secret group opposed to British colonial policy including taxation that kept track of British troop movements and war ships in the harbor. The exhibition displays Revere’s 1770 engraving of the landing of British forces at Boston’s Long Wharf. Four versions of Revere’s provocative engraving of the 1770 Boston Massacre are also reunited in the exhibition. The engravings capture the moment when British soldiers fired upon a crowd of unruly colonists in front of the Custom House. The print inflamed anti-British sentiment, and different versions of it were widely disseminated as Patriot propaganda. Revere also helped plan and execute the Boston Tea Party in 1773, hurling tea into Boston Harbor. When war erupted in 1775, he delivered messages from the Continental Army to New York, Philadelphia, and Connecticut.
Paul Revere was a master craftsman specializing in metalwork, including copperplate engravings and fashionable and functional objects made from silver, gold, brass, bronze, and copper. An innovative businessman, Revere expanded his successful silver shop in the years after the war to produce goods that took advantage of new machinery. His fluted oval teapot, made from machine-rolled sheet silver, became an icon of American Federal silver design. Among the silver objects on view are two rare wine goblets possibly used as Kiddush cups made by Revere for Moses Michael Hays—his only known Jewish client—as well as grand tea services, teapots, tankards, teaspoons, and toy whistles created in Revere’s shop. Also featured is a 1796 cast-bronze courthouse bell made for the Norfolk County Courthouse in Dedham, Massachusetts. The exhibition also explores how Revere’s trade networks reached well beyond Boston. He frequently bought and sold raw and finished copper from New Yorker Harmon Hendricks and supplied copper for Robert Fulton’s famous steamship.
The son of a French Huguenot immigrant artisan, Revere belonged to an economic class called “mechanics,” ranked below merchants, lawyers, and clergymen. However, Revere was a savvy networker, and what he lacked in social status, he made up for by cultivating influential connections. Membership in the Sons of Liberty led to commissions from fellow Patriots, but he also welcomed Loyalist clients, setting aside politics for profit. On view are nine elements from a grand, 45-piece beverage service that Revere created in 1773 for prominent Loyalist Dr. William Paine—the largest commission of his career—just two months before the Boston Tea Party.
Paul Revere died in 1818, but his fame endured, initially for his metalwork and then for his patriotism. In the 1830s, Revere’s engravings were rediscovered as Americans explored their Revolutionary past, and his view of the Boston Massacre appeared in children’s history books. In 1860, poet Henry Wadsworth Longfellow was inspired to write “Paul Revere’s Ride,” romanticizing (and somewhat embellishing) the story of Revere’s journey to Lexington. The poem first appeared in the Atlantic Monthly in January 1861—an original copy of the magazine is on view in the exhibition. Artist Grant Wood’s painting Midnight Ride of Paul Revere (1931), also on display, depicts a dramatic scene of Revere riding past Boston’s Old North Church. This is also an embellishment: In reality, Revere was on foot until he crossed the Charles River to Cambridge and then rode a borrowed horse to Lexington. He was also one of three riders and was stopped briefly by British officers and then released. A map of the actual ride is on display. These works and others enshrined Paul Revere at the heart of the nation’s founding story. By the turn of the 20th century, the tale of Paul Revere and his midnight ride was firmly established in the nation’s psyche as truth, not fiction, and Revere’s contributions as a metalsmith and artisan were overshadowed.
Publication and Programming
Drawing on the American Antiquarian Society’s unparalleled collection of prints and books, a catalogue accompanies the exhibition, Beyond Midnight: Paul Revere, transforming readers’ understanding of the iconic colonial patriot. Essays examine Revere as a patriot, a manufacturer, a precious metalsmith, a printer, and an engraver. His legacy as a polymath is documented in the book’s complete illustrated checklist of the exhibition’s artifacts. The book is available exclusively from the NYHistory Store.
A robust line-up of engaging programs and family activities take place throughout the exhibition’s run that delve into Revere and his contemporaries. On October 17, historians Annette Gordon-Reed and Philip Bobbitt discuss Thomas Jefferson. On November 13, Nina Zannieri, Robert Shimp, and Carol Berkin explore the truth behind Revere’s famous ride. On December 12, George Washington is the topic of conversation between scholars Denver Brunsman and Carol Berkin. Also in the fall, architectural historian Barry Lewis traces the history of the colonial and federal style on a date to be announced.
On weekends during Beyond Midnight: Paul Revere, Living Historians are stationed at the Museum, bringing Paul Revere’s world to life for young visitors. Kids can interact with skilled tradespeople, like a milliner, apothecary, and bookbinder (October 5-6). Spies from the Continental Army’s intelligence system are on hand to teach their secretive methods (November 2-3) while hands-on explorations into historical tooth extraction, filings, and tooth replacement may give visitors a new appreciation for their dentists (November 23-24). On select Saturdays (October 19, November 16, and December 7), families can discover the history of colonial drinks, the global chocolate trade, and colonial silver-smithing in a multi-sensory program supported by American Heritage Chocolate. On October 20, aspiring young writers ages 12 and up can take part in a narrative poetry workshop with Writopia Lab and develop original narrative poems that reveal inspiring stories of key figures from the recent and distant past.
Major support for Beyond Midnight: Paul Revere was provided by the Richard C. von Hess Foundation and the Henry Luce Foundation. The exhibition at New-York Historical is made possible by the May and Samuel Rudin Family Foundation, Inc. Additional support provided by Richard Brown and Mary Jo Otsea. Exhibitions at New-York Historical are made possible by Dr. Agnes Hsu-Tang and Oscar Tang, the Saunders Trust for American History, the Seymour Neuman Endowed Fund, the New York City Department of Cultural Affairs in partnership with the City Council, and the New York State Council on the Arts with the support of Governor Andrew Cuomo and the New York State Legislature. WNET is the media sponsor.
Founded in 1812 by Revolutionary War patriot and printer Isaiah Thomas, the American Antiquarian Society (AAS) is both a national learned society and a major independent research library located in Worcester, Massachusetts. The AAS library today houses the largest and most accessible collection of books, pamphlets, broadsides, newspapers, periodicals, music, and graphic arts material printed through 1876 in what is now the United States, as well as manuscripts and a substantial collection of secondary texts, bibliographies, and digital resources and reference works related to all aspects of American history and culture before the 20th century. The Society sponsors a broad range of programs—visiting research fellowships, workshops, seminars, conferences, publications, lectures and performances—for constituencies ranging from school children and their teachers, through undergraduate and graduate students, postdoctoral scholars, creative and performing artists and writers and the general public. AAS was presented with the 2013 National Humanities Medal by President Obama in a ceremony at the White House.
The New-York Historical Society, one of America’s preeminent cultural institutions, is dedicated to fostering research and presenting history and art exhibitions and public programs that reveal the dynamism of history and its influence on the world of today. Founded in 1804, New-York Historical has a mission to explore the richly layered history of New York City and State and the country, and to serve as a national forum for the discussion of issues surrounding the making and meaning of history. New-York Historical is also home to the Patricia D. Klingenstein Library, one of the oldest, most distinguished libraries in the nation—and one of only 20 in the United States qualified to be a member of the Independent Research Libraries Association—which contains more than three million books, pamphlets, maps, newspapers, manuscripts, prints, photographs, and architectural drawings.