Paul Revere’s Impact on American History

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To the general public, Paul Revere is the man who rode on horseback that special night, warning that “the British are coming!” (Which, I am reading, apparently never came out of his mouth?!) That matter aside, Paul Revere played a much larger role in the Revolutionary War, a role that he rarely gets recognition for. Several years before Revere’s midnight ride, he was instrumental in sparking public interest–furthering their desire to become independent of Britain.

On March 5, 1770, the event known as the Boston Massacre took place. Three weeks later, Paul Revere would circulate the most effective piece of anti-British propaganda in the American arsenal. The image below is a color print entitled “The Bloody Massacre perpetrated in King Street.”

The-Bloody-Massacre-perpetrated-in-King-Street

The Bloody Massacre perpetrated in King Street

There is no doubt that Paul Revere capitalized on the tragedy to fan the flames of patriotism. In fact, he not only used the above image to quickly disseminate the news of the massacre in Boston, but he also took the opportunity to embellish–just a little. Below is a list of “elements Paul Revere used in his engraving to shape public opinion.” [1]

  • The British are lined up and an officer is giving an order to fire, implying that the British soldiers are the aggressors. 
  • The colonists are shown reacting to the British when in fact they had attacked the soldiers.
  • British faces are sharp and angular in contrast to the Americans’ softer, more innocent features. This makes the British look more menacing.
  • The British soldiers look like they are enjoying the violence, particularly the soldier at the far end.
  • The colonists, who were mostly laborers, are dressed as gentlemen. Elevating their status could affect the way people perceived them.
  • The only two signs in the image that you can read are “Butcher’s Hall” and “Customs House,” both hanging directly over the British soldiers.
  • There is a distressed woman in the rear of the crowd. This played on eighteenth-century notions of chivalry.
  • There appears to be a sniper in the window beneath the “Butcher’s Hall” sign. 
  • Dogs tend to symbolize loyalty and fidelity. The dog in the print is not bothered by the mayhem behind him and is staring out at the viewer.
  • The sky is illustrated in such a way that it seems to cast light on the British “atrocity.”
  • Crispus Attucks is visible in the lower left-hand corner. In many other existing copies of this print, he is not portrayed as African American.
  • The weather conditions depicted do not match the testimony presented at the soldier’s trial (no snow).
  • The soldiers’ stance indicates an aggressive, military posture.

So while this work of art is considered propaganda, it is good to see propaganda as a benefit and not just a tool used by men like Joseph Goebbels.

[1] Paul Revere’s engraving of the Boston Massacre, 1770. THE GILDER LEHRMAN INSTITUTE OF AMERICAN HISTORY

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