The Court-Martial of Paul Revere: A Son of Liberty and America's Forgotten Military Disaster
Michael M. Greenburg
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At the height of the American Revolution in 1779, Massachusetts launched the Penobscot Expedition, a massive military and naval undertaking designed to force the British from the strategically important coast of Maine. What should have been an easy victory for the larger American force quickly descended into a quagmire of arguing, disobedience, and failed strategy. In the end, not only did the British retain their stronghold, but the entire flotilla of American vessels was lost in what became the worst American naval disaster prior to Pearl Harbor.
In the inevitable finger-pointing that followed the debacle, the already-famous Lieutenant Colonel Paul Revere, commissioned as the expedition’s artillery commander, was shockingly charged by fellow officers with neglect of duty, disobeying orders, and cowardice. Though he was not formally condemned by the court of inquiry, rumors still swirled around Boston concerning his role in the disaster, and so the fiery Revere spent the next several years of his life actively pursuing a court-martial, in an effort to resuscitate the one thing he valued above all—his reputation.
The single event defining Revere to this day is his ride from Charlestown to Lexington on the night of April 18, 1775, made famous by Longfellow’s poem of 1860. Greenburg’s is the first book to give a full account of Revere’s conduct before, during, and after the disastrous Penobscot Expedition, and of his questionable reputation at the time, which only Longfellow’s poem eighty years later could rehabilitate. Thanks to extensive research and a riveting narrative that brings the battles and courtroom drama to life, The Court-Martial of Paul Revere strips away the myths that surround the Sons of Liberty and reveals the humanity beneath. It is a must-read for anyone who yearns to understand the early days of our country.
March 25, 1782. 26. Goss, The Life, 2:387. 27. Messieurs Edes, Boston Gazette and the Country Journal, March 25, 1782. 28. Jared Sparks, The Library of American Biography, vol. 13 (Boston: Charles C. Little and James Brown, 1847), 356–360. 29. Messieurs Edes, Boston Gazette and the Country Journal, March 25, 1782. 30. Ibid. 31. Ibid. 32. Paul Revere to Mathias Rivoire, October 6, 1781, in Gettemy, The True Story, 220. 33. Paul Revere to John Rivoire, July 1, 1782, in Gettemy, The True
Majabigwaduce, 78 engraving commissions, 23–24, 30, 39, 60, 201–2. See also goldsmith and engraving trades Falmouth, Maine, 75–76 Faneuil Hall, 25, 34, 164 Farley, Maj. Gen. Michael, 165 Farmer, Maj. Capt. Edward, 205 Fennecy, Elizabeth (Mrs. T. J. Carnes), 216 Flood, Charles Bracelen, 73, 215 Forbes, Esther, xiv, 33, 48, 58, 59, 62, 200 Fort George, 91–92, 107–8, 110, 145, 215. See also Majabigwaduce Fort Independence, xiii. See also Castle Island Fort Pownal, 129, 131 Fort
of his master and hung in chains as a hideous forewarning to any other slave contemplating similar acts of disloyalty.28 He wondered, perhaps, of his own punishment should he be captured by the king’s soldiers. Just beyond Charlestown Common on a narrow in the road to Cambridge, Revere approached two soldiers on horseback beneath the moonlit shade of a tree. He was close enough to discern that they were British officers, and he nervously eyed their holsters and ornamental cockades. Instantly,
“Have you come to take care of [your] private baggage, or to Serve the State?” With that, the man whose grandson would one day immortalize the name of Paul Revere now promised his immediate arrest as soon as the army could be collected.39 With darkness shrouding the river narrows and the presence of burning transports preventing further safe passage, Sir Collier’s frigates anchored downriver and bided their time. Following his last futile encounter with the commodore, General Lovell had gone
that he ought to “pocket the chagrin and humiliation”17 and put the Penobscot Expedition behind him. But Revere was not a man to put away his pride—especially in matters of character and reputation. He fully believed that he had been falsely accused, and it was not within him to let others have the final word regarding his personal or professional integrity. On January 17, 1780, Revere once again took quill to paper and, in a flourish of obdurate frustration, reproved the Massachusetts Council