Advisory: This story includes descriptions of abuse and oppression of Black people, which were the norm in colonial-era Boston.
This stop on the Freedom Trail is the house where Paul Revere lived when he took his famous ride on April 18, 1775 — but it hadn’t been his house for long.
The home was built in about 1680 by a merchant named Robert Howard, who enslaved as many as five people, according to research by the Paul Revere Memorial Association. Howard had become wealthy through the shipping trade, and while there is no record of him shipping slaves, he was moving cargo that was harvested by enslaved people, including logwood and tobacco. Howard’s wealth from that business allowed him to build a home of relative grandeur for the period.
The Revere family moved into the home in 1770, five years before Paul Revere’s famous “midnight ride” to alert the countryside of the impending British assault. They sold the property in 1800.
Revere’s other brush with the slave industry comes from his trade as a silversmith. Boston’s Museum of Fine Arts notes in its Revere silver collection that while Paul Revere likely melted down old coins or silver objects for his raw material, “the metal itself likely came from Mexico, mined by enslaved laborers.”
Then, of course, there were his customers: wealthy Bostonians who may have enslaved people themselves or made their money through the slave trade.
One of Revere’s most famous pieces is the “Sons of Liberty Bowl,” which he made to commemorate the heroes of the American Revolution. Among the names engraved on the bowl is Daniel Malcolm, who died in 1769. According to the city of Boston’s slavery database, probate records from that year show he enslaved two people.
“This system [slavery] touched everyone,” including artists and patrons of the arts, said Ethan Lasser, chair of the Art of the Amercia’s department at the MFA. “Many of the people involved with the Liberty Bowl are the same patrons of portraits and furniture. And a lot of their wealth is either directly or indirectly connected to the Caribbean and to slavery.”
This story is part of the project Enslavement History of the Freedom Trail, a collaborative effort between GBH News and Boston University students to detail the mostly hidden history behind some of Boston's most well-known sites.