Fierce patriots required again.
When Revere sat for artist John Singleton Copley he had not yet carried out the acts that would make him famous, like his illustrious April 18, 1775
Midnight Ride from Boston to Lexington to warn patriots of British troop movements.
He was nevertheless deeply involved in the Sons of Liberty, that underground organization of patriots whose “no taxation without representation” slogan
came to epitomize the anti-colonial struggle. Only five years after Copley painted Revere, the Sons of Liberty initiated the legendary Boston Tea Party of
December 16, 1773, when patriots, including Revere, seized three ships in Boston Harbor in order to dump the cargo of British tea overboard in an act of
protest against British taxation.
That fact is not insignificant when considering the portrait of Revere, since Copley’s father-in-law was the merchant
who owned the British tea that was tossed overboard during the Tea Party! The issue of British taxation went back to 1767, a year before Copley painted
Revere, when the British Parliament imposed heavy new taxes on tea in the colonies. Given that evidence, Copley’s painting takes on new meaning.
Revere had Copley paint him as a master craftsman in the silversmith trade, he was after all one of the most famous silversmiths in colonial America. On
the mahogany table at which Revere sat, you can see his silversmith tools set out before him, and he had himself pictured holding a silver teapot. It has
generally been accepted that Copley’s painting of Revere is simply a portrait of a successful artisan, but I think there is ample evidence to suggest
One must take into account that at the time of the painting’s creation, people living in the thirteen colonies were entering a period of intense political
conflict that would ultimately lead to revolutionary war. Viewed in that context, it is incorrect to see the portrait merely as an expression of Revere
being proud of his profession, rather, it appears he meant his portrait as a political statement. An outspoken radical, Revere was no doubt infuriated by
the 1767 British tax on tea, and so it was probable that by having himself painted holding a teapot, he was expressing his
challenge over British rule. Holding the teapot, Revere stares directly at the viewer as if to ask, “Which side are you on?”
It was also unusual for a gentleman to have himself painted wearing anything other than his finest frock coat, yet Revere had himself depicted wearing an
open sleeveless waistcoat (the undergarment worn beneath a fine coat) and a linen shirt, which at the time was a form of “undress” appropriate only for
hard work or relaxing at home in private.
The British controlled the economy of the colonies through the importation of goods and by imposing taxes. As the
anti-colonial movement gained strength, patriots found multiple ways of resisting British hegemony, such as boycotting imported goods. When the colonists
began producing linen as an act of resistance, those using imported British linen were isolated as Tories, conservative supporters of British rule.
By having himself portrayed wearing a billowing shirt of American-spun linen, Revere was making a statement in favor of
independence; the shirt was not so much a symbol of being a craftsman as it was an affirmation of revolutionary politics.
Petitioned by Paul Revere to protect USA manufacturers.
"Not only the wealth, but the independence and security of a country, appear
to be materially connected with the prosperity of manufacturers. Every nation ... ought to endeavor to possess within
itself all the essentials of a national supply. They comprise the means of subsistence, habitation, clothing and
defense ... The expediency of encouraging manufactures in the United States, which was not long since deemed very
questionable, appears at this time to be pretty generally admitted." ... Alexander Hamilton