Canton Historical Society
1400 Washington Street
Canton, MA 02021
Paul Revere's Canton Years
By Vickie Carr
My good friend.
I am yet among the living, thanks to the first Cause. I have enjoyed as much health since I last saw you as most people; I have not lost four days at any time by sickness since. I have spent the last three years most of my time in the country, where I have mills for rolling sheets and bolts, making spikes & every kind of copper fastening for ships. It has got to be a tolerable advantageous business. I have my son in partnership with me. He takes care of the business in Boston. I take care of Canton about 16 miles from Boston.
He has been immortalized as a hero of the American Revolution -- a sturdy figure on a horse, speeding across the moonlit countryside with news that the British were about to advance. But Paul Revere was also a businessman -- a gambler of sorts -- who spent the final years of his life establishing a major new American industry in Canton, Massachusetts.
At age 65, Paul Revere decided to spend "every farthing" he owned to set up a mill to roll copper into sheets. The patriot had already earned a fairly comfortable fortune as a silver and goldsmith. But his Boston-based business was surrounded by shipyards, and one historian has suggested that Paul Revere may have seen the economic promise in the idea of replacing corrosive iron fixtures on ships with rustproof copper.
He probably first learned of the Canton property while researching ways to manufacture gunpowder for the American Revolution. The investigation acquainted Revere with a government-owned gunpowder mill on the Neponset River in Canton. The land's proximity to water power made the property valuable, and probably played a major part in Paul Revere's decision to buy it in later years after the mill had blown up.
He purchased the site (which is the modern location of the Plymouth Rubber Company off Neponset Street) from two prominent local businessmen in 1801. For $65,000 he acquired the land, a two-story frame house, a triphammer shop, a cole house, and a few legal headaches. Paul Revere had to spend time in court battling over his rights to manipulate water power supplied by the Neponset, but the matter was eventually resolved.
The venture involved considerable financial risk. Paul Revere invested $25,000 of his own money in the Canton business, and most likely would have been ruined if it had failed. But the gamble may have been characteristic of Paul Revere, the businessman. Even as he entered old age, the patriot was thinking of the future. He felt a lucrative trade was to be had if he could perfect a method of molding hot copper. The United States government must have agreed since it loaned Paul Revere $10,000 and 19,000 tons of copper to start his new Canton firm.
Business got off to a booming start as Paul Revere landed his first major contract in 1802 -- an order for 6,000 feet of copper sheathing to cover the dome of the relatively new State House in Boston. A year later, the company was commissioned to provide copper sheathing to protect the hull of the Constitution or "Old Ironsides." In subsequent years, Revere's Canton company manufactured copper boilers for Robert Fulton's early experimental steamships, turned out muskets and brass cannons for the War of 18122, and manufactured the copper dome of the New York City Hall.
Meanwhile, Paul Revere's son, Joseph Warren Revere, named for a close Revolutionary comrade of his father, was managing the family's bell foundry on Lynn Street in Boston. In October 1804, a great gale blew the roof of the foundry, and Paul Revere moved this operation to Canton as well. Any number of bells which peeled from the steeples of churches during the early 19th century might have been manufactured by Paul revere in Canton. The bells were reportedly "of superior metal and sound." At least two of the Revere bells were hung in Canton. One was installed in the First Parish Unitarian Universalist Church in 1824 and remains there today, according to Canton Historical Society member Ed Bolster. A bell was also hung in the belfry of the Baptist Church in South Canton in 1839, but was later replaced with a steel bell.
Paul Revere also established a second home in the frame house on his factory site (it was located along modern day Revere Street near the town's police station, according to Mr. Bolster). It was not unusual then for factory owners to live in the shadows of their mills. And, although the revere family spent winters in Boston, they spent summers in their Canton home -- a place which Paul Revere affectionately referred to as Canton Dale. During the summers between 1801 and his death in 1818, the patriot probably enjoyed hunting in the abundant fields of Canton. He made several close friends in the town, and regularly traveled over dirt roads to visit friends in neighboring towns. Sometimes he would make the 16 mile trek to Boston.
Paul Revere's own words probably best describe what his life in Canton was like. For the charms of life in the country inspired the patriot to write a poem about Canton Dale which included some of the following verses:
At early morn I take my round,
Invited first by hammer's sound;
The furnace next; then Roleing-Mill;
'Till Breakfast's call'd, my time doth fill;
Then round my Acres (few) I trot,
To see what's done and what is not.
Give orders what ought to be done,
Then sometimes take my Dog and Gun.
Under an aged spreading Oak.
At noon I take my favorite Book
To shun the heat and feed the Mind,
In elbow chair I sit reclined
At eve' within my peacefull Cot,
Sometimes I meet, and sometimes not,
The Parson, Docter; or some Friend,
Or neighbour kind, one hour to spend;
In social chat, our time we pass;
Drink all our Friends, in parting Glass
The Parson, Docter; neighbour gone
We prepare for bed, and so trudge on.
When Paul Revere died, his son Joseph Warren Revere, and grandson, Frederick Walker Lincoln, took over the copper business. The Revere's continued to play an important role in Canton's political and economic life into the middle of the 19th century. Many local historians agree that the Reveres and their copper company were instrumental in bringing a railroad line through Canton. Getting copper to and from the Canton company had always been a problem. In the early days, copper was imported from overseas and carted in and out of Canton by teams of oxen hitched to wagons. When the Boston and Providence Railroad applied for its charter in 1834, 11 possible routes for the railway were considered. Joseph Warren Revere was on the B & P Board of Directors and was one of the company's chief stockholders. He lobbied heavily to get the railway into Canton.
"When they came along with the scheme to build the railroad, he got right on the ball," Canton Historical Society member Daniel Keleher said. "The reason that it was built there was because he had his copper rolling mill right there."
The Revere copper mill was situated less than a mile from the Canton Viaduct which brought the railway into Canton. A spur line lead to the Revere company, and undoubtedly gave a boost to their copper business. But the railway provided only a temporary stay for the business. As time passed, the Canton firm found competition rising, as the demand for copper dwindled. At the turn of the century, they merged with the Taunton Copper Manufacturing Company and the New Bedford Copper Company. The Canton plant was closed, and the entire factory site was sold at auction in May 1909 to the Plymouth Rubber Company.
The industry which Paul Revere began in Canton in 1801 eventually merged with several other companies in 1928 to become the Revere Copper and Brass Co. Inc. Today that company has its headquarters in New York City. One of the company's well-known products, Revereware, alludes to the company's origins. The cooking utensils are manufactured by a division of the company in Clinton, Illinois, and can be found in many contemporary kitchens.
Little physical evidence of the time Paul Revere spent in the town at the foot of the great Blue Hill remains today.The summer home which Paul Revere so loved grew dilapidated and was demolished earlier this century. The bell foundry was also demolished in recent decades. The last descendants of Paul Revere to reside in Canton also died earlier this century, Keleher said.
There are however, a few reminders of the patriot's days in Canton. The local historical society retains a footwarmer which the Revere family used during Sunday church services, and a bookkeeping tool used by the Revere company. A visitor to the Plymouth Rubber Company can still see the small brick building where Paul Revere began the final business venture of his life. A weathered barn, which is believed to have been built and used by Paul Revere, stands boldly against the sky. Walking past these buildings at dusk, it is easy to imagine what was. One hears the thunder of the copper mills, and feels the blasting heat of furnaces as shirtless men labor for their $2 daily wage. Nearby, a white hared patriot enjoys the crisp country air in a nation still new and full of promise -- content with the fruits of his final years.
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This Page Was Last Updated
10/28/04 02:47 PM