End of the Line

End of the Line

In Lincoln, Massachusetts, by the side of the road, there is a marker called the Paul Revere Capture Site. A circular stone wall marks the spot where Paul Revere was arrested by a British patrol. For Revere, it was the end of the line, but not the end of that night’s story.

Revere and William Dawes were on the road from Lexington, where they had just warned Samuel Adams and John Hancock of the coming British. Now it was after midnight, and they were on their way to warn the citizens of Concord, alarming households all along the way, when they were overtaken by Dr. Samuel Prescott of Concord. He was returning late from courting a Lexington woman. Sympathetic to the cause, Dr. Prescott joined them on their mission.

As the three came around a bend in the road, they were surprised by a British patrol. The patriots scattered. Dawes reversed direction and escaped. Prescott jumped a stone wall and, to elude capture, used a side path he knew of. He fled to Concord, where he alarmed the town to the approaching storm of trouble. Revere headed for the woods but was intercepted by the British patrol.

Surrounded by six British redcoats, he was interrogated and searched for arms. An officer “clapped his pistol to my head, called me by name, and told me he was going to ask me some questions, and if I did not give him true answers, he would blow my brains out.”*

Apprehended, Revere was lead back toward Lexington. A major told his sergeant that if Revere attempted to escape, he should “blow his brains out.”* About a mile from Lexington Common, the captors were alarmed to the sounds of the Lexington militia firing muskets. Revere was ordered to dismount and to suggest an alternative road for them to take to Cambridge The British then rode off, taking his horse, but leaving his brains intact.

Free again, Revere continued his nighttime adventure—running through Lexington’s Old Burying Ground to rejoin John Hancock and Samuel Adams at the Clark House and hasten their escape to the town of Woburn.

* From Revere’s personal account, a letter to Jeremy Belknap.

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Sidetracked: Amongst the Enemy

Sidetracked: Amongst the Enemy

The third Monday of April is a state holiday in Massachusetts as well as in Maine (which used to be a part of Massachusetts in Colonial times). The day commemorates the battles of Lexington, Concord and Menonomy, along with Paul Revere’s Ride. The Boston Marathon is also an annual Patriot’s Day affair.

Of all the holiday events, I chose to attend the Battle Road reenactments at the Minuteman National Historic Park which stretches through Lincoln and Concord, Massachusetts. The Park preserves sections of the original road that leads to and from Concord. Now returned to a dirt surface, the road and its surrounding landscape set the stage for the opening skirmishes of the Revolutionary War, complete with preserved farm houses, stone walls, fields and woods. 

As I walked along the road, I came upon the gathering point of the reenactors for the British side, at the Captain William Smith House, just beyond the point where Paul Revere was arrested the night before. So delighted they were to engage with each other in their fine red uniforms with historic accuracy down to very stitch. Some spoke in a phony British accent. They barked orders, marched, and fired their muskets as much for each other as for the scattered tourists like me. Perhaps even more amusing to see were the soldiers stepping out of their mini-vans and sedans in the parking lot to join their regiments.

I sat on a stone wall and quickly drew the edges of the British camp, complete with historically accurate Colonial witnesses. Later, back at home, I layered washes of ink to capture the contrast of lights and darks of that sunny morning, before the Brits were run out of town, again.

Sidetracked: Portrait of the Artist

Portrait of the Artist

To draw Paul Revere at the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston is to see him as a celebrity, and to be treated as a bit of one, too.

“Hey, that’s in our library!” kids say as they enter the new and beautiful American Wing of the MFA and face Paul Revere’s portrait welcoming them.

“Look, an artist!” and “I’m sorry, may I pass in front of you?” people say politely as I stand before the painting, drawing in my sketchbook. On the streets, there is no such interest or courtesy.

Paul Revere was painted by the preeminent colonial artist John Singleton Copley in 1768, seven years before his famous ride. Copley was 30 years old at the time and he painted portraits of many of the cast of characters in Boston’s revolutionary era. Many, such as John Hancock, Samuel Adams and Dr. Joseph Warren, hang in the same gallery as Revere’s portrait. The paintings of Loyalists and Tories (the British and supporters of the British) are kept apart and shown in another room entirely.

Revere’s portrait is unusual in its lack of formality. He wears no wig and is dressed casually. It’s an idealized portrait of a successful tradesman. The well-regarded silversmith and engraver looks up from his work in the painting, perhaps as he did when Copley ordered frames for his miniature paintings a few years earlier.

John Singleton Copley didn’t get involved in politics, although his family favored the British. He stated he was “desirous of avoiding every imputation of party spirit. Political contests being neighther pleasing to an artist or advantageous to the Art itself.” Copley was not untouched by Boston’s upheavals, however. An angry mob formed outside his house once, looking for a Loyalist counselor who had indeed been there earlier. And the Boston Massacre took place down the street from where Copley grew up.

Amazingly, it was the tea belonging to his father-in-law, Richard Clark, that was dumped overboard in the Boston Tea Party of 1773. Paul Revere, who had been painted by Copley five years before, was a participant in that notorious act of rebellion.

Copley left Boston for Europe in June of 1774 and never returned. He travelled first to England and then to France and Italy to study the masterworks of Western Art at the urging of another American expatriate painter, Benjamin West. Copley eventually settled in England. His wife and children joined him in May of 1775, one month after Paul Revere’s ride. Revere’s in-laws joined them in England soon after that.

John Singleton Copley eventually sold his house and land in what is now called Boston’s Back Bay neighborhood, but he wished at times in his later years that he never had. He was, he realized, more liberal than his relatives. He maintained contacts in his old city and painted portraits of future presidents John Adams and John Quincy Adams when they visited England. Copley’s daughter married an American and settled in Boston. His son, on the other hand, was British all the way, and later given the title “Lord Lyndhurst.”

Copley remembered Boston fondly and the city remembers him fondly, too. Copley Plaza, considered the city’s most beautiful public square and named in his honor, is situated near where his home once stood.

Sidetracked: The Museum of Fine Arts in Boston, it should be noted, is not on Paul Revere’s route.

Bloodbath

Bloodbath

“Do you know what happened here? It was a bloodbath. There were more dead in this section of Arlington than in Lexington and Concord combined!”

That’s what I learned from John Graham. Soon after I had started drawing the Jason Russell house, he came over to me next to the stone wall. He’s been the caretaker of the house for over seven years, and he’s an organizer and participant in Arlington’s annual reenactment of the bloody battle of April 19, 1775.

Paul Revere probably warned the occupants of this house of the oncoming British on his famous ride. But it wasn’t until the British returned from Lexington and Concord that this house became a battleground.

The owner, Jason Russell, was 58 years old and quite lame, barely able to walk. When warned that the British were marching back from Concord and that fighting had commenced, he could not be persuaded to escape harm by fleeing with the rest of his family. “An Englishman’s home is his castle!” he insisted, and he hunkered down with his gun behind a pile of shingles in his yard. (At that time, colonists still considered themselves “Englishmen.”)

Militia from nearby towns joined Russell, taking up positions in his orchard and behind his stone wall. Little did they know that some British troops were flanking them. They were suddenly attacked from behind as well as from the front, and were soon overwhelmed. A group ran into the house to escape gunfire but Russell couldn’t get there. He was killed in his doorway by both bullets and bayonet. The British stormed the house and fought room by room. When Mrs. Russell returned home later that day, she found her husband dead along with 11 other patriots.

John Graham wrote a little paperback book entitled “The Midnight Ride; A Pictorial History” and was kind enough to give me a copy. It features photos and a little information about all the historic sights that still exist along Paul Revere’s route.

John loves to recreate the momentous fight that took place at the Jason Russell house. He’s done it for years. But lately there’s been a problem. The town of Arlington has been insisting the reenactment take place on Patriots Day, following the town’s parade. It used to be on the day before the holiday, a Sunday. That’s caused problems. You see, Lexington and Concord are more popular venues for their Patriots Day reenactments. And there are only so many reenactors to go around.

“We can’t get British troops! They’re all overbooked!” John said, and then he went over and raised the flag.