J. L. BELL is a Massachusetts writer who specializes in (among other things) the start of the American Revolution in and around Boston. He is particularly interested in the experiences of children in 1765-75. He has published scholarly papers and popular articles for both children and adults. He was consultant for an episode of History Detectives, and contributed to a display at Minute Man National Historic Park.

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Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Paul Revere “in want of iron”

The “Abolitionism in Black & White” symposium went very well, thank you. And while I was relying on posts prepared well in advance, the Salem News and Boston Globe reported on the discovery of a Paul Revere letter in the archives of Marblehead.

On 15 Nov 1787, Revere wrote to Jonathan Glover, who had been the Marblehead treasurer during the war and held other important offices:

When I was last at Marblehead, I took notice that there were a great many old cannon at different places, which appeared to me, to be good for nothing but the old iron; upon inquiry, I found that they mostly belonged to your town; I am informed that a person who had seen them, supposed that they belong to the State, he has petitioned the Governor [John Hancock] and Council to sell them to him.

As I am in want of iron, for the furnace which I have built in Boston, I should be glad to purchase them. . . . If you will be good enough, when your Town is to be call’d together, to git an Article inserted in the Warrant, for that purpose, you will oblige,

Sir your most humle. Servt.

Paul Revere. . . . .
Revere was starting to shift his business from a workshop creating luxury goods in silver and gold to a factory producing metal sheeting and other products. He was seeking a good deal on, in effect, army surplus goods—old cannons that Marblehead had mounted to protect its harbor during the war.

Revere asked Glover to put the sale of those cannon on the agenda (“Warrant”) for a town meeting. Meanwhile, he understood, someone else was angling for those cannons as well, working through the state government. Are there more documents on this story in the Marblehead town records, the Massachusetts Archives, or Revere’s surviving account books?


Stephanie Dyson said...

Yes, there are some commissary general records at the Massachusetts Archives related to this matter. There are copies of letters to Revere on March 6 and March 29th, 1788, certifying that Commonwealth's cannon at Marblehead (one 24-pounder, four 18-pounders, twelve 9-pounders, and one 6-pounder) were sold to Revere and Col. Benjamin Hichborne (Revere's cousin), and requesting that Revere collect the iron and render an account. A further letter to the Selectmen of Marblehead of August 6, 1788 clarified that the Governor had only authorized the sale of cannon deemed unfit for service. There were also a few other towns with cannon which the state sold to other individuals at about the same time. Starting in 1793 through 1812, Revere sold to the Commonwealth a steady stream of cannon and field pieces which he had produced.

J. L. Bell said...

Thanks for the additions to the record!