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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Saturday, April 21, 2012

Revere Rediscovery #1

The Northeast Document Conservation Center is offering a close look at how it conserved a letter that Paul Revere wrote to his wife Rachel on 2 May 1775, as the siege of Boston began.

Elbridge Goss printed a transcription of this letter in his two-volume biography of Revere in 1891, saying it was in the hands of a Revere grandson and already torn at one spot. But then the document dropped from sight. Recently it came to the Paul Revere House with other documents, and that museum sent it out to be conserved.

The letter begins “My Dear Girl,” which might reflect the eleven-year age difference between the silversmith and his second wife. Revere addressed the challenge of leaving the besieged town:

I receivd your favor yesterday. I am glad you have got yourself ready. If you find that you cannot easily get a pass for the Boat, I would have you get a pass for yourself and children and effects. Send the most valuable first. I mean that you should send Beds enough for yourself and Children, my chest, your trunk, with Books Cloaths &c to the ferry tell the ferryman they are mine.

I will provide a house here where to put them & will be here to receive them, after Beds are come over, come with the Children, except Paul, pray order him by all means to keep at home that he may help bring the things to the ferry, tell him not to come till I send for him.

You must hire somebody to help you. You may get brother Thomas. lett Isaac Clemmens if he is a mind to take care of the shop and maintain himself there, he may, or do as he has a mind, put some sugar in a Raisin cask or some such thing & such necessarys as we shall want.

Tell Betty, My Mother, Mrs Metcalf if they think to stay, as we talked at first, tell them I will supply them with all the cash & other things in my power but if they think to come away, I will do all in my power to provide for them, perhaps before this week is out there will be liberty for Boats to go to Notomy [Menotomy?], then we can take them all. If you send the things to the ferry send enough to fill a cart, them that are the most wanted. Give Mrs. Metcalf [torn]in, their part of the money I dont remember the sums, but perhaps they can.

I want some linnen and stockings very much. Tell Paul I expect he’l behave himself well and attend to my business, and not be out of the way. My Kind love to our parents & our Children Brothers & Sisters & all friends.
Revere appended a note to his oldest son, also named Paul, and fifteen years old. He told the boy to mind him and his stepmother, yet he was also asking young Paul to remain alone in the besieged town, behind the British lines, to look after the family property.
My Son.

It is now in your power to be serviceable to me, your Mother and yourself. I beg you will keep yourself at home or where your Mother sends you. Dont you come away till I send you word. When you bring anything to the ferry tell them its mine & mark it with my name.

Your loving Father
P. R.


Charles Bahne said...

The reference to "Boats to go to Notomy" in the 4th paragraph is a mystery. I doubt that it refers to Menotomy, since that community is landlocked.

J. L. Bell said...

The “Notomy” reference baffled me as well. I did some searching without finding an answer. There are definitely period references to Menotomy by that shortened name. But modern Arlington isn't boatable.

One possibility is a poor transcription. Another is that the name “Notomy” referred to someplace else, maybe the ferry landing at Chelsea. A third is that people (or Revere) conceived of (Me)notomy as extending past Arlington’s modern boundaries to a river.

Charles Bahne said...

It's not a transcription error; one of the images on the Document Conservation Center's website shows that part of the letter and it's clearly "Notomy". [3rd image down on the website, just below the paragraph that begins "The letter had been lined with a coarse cloth"; at the left edge of that image.]

Menotomy is on the upper part of the Mystic River but it wouldn't make sense to row a boat that far upstream, given that road travel was faster.