Paul Revere's Vision of Occupied Boston   

The Vault
Historical Treasures, Oddities, And Delights
June 3 2013 10:00 AM

Paul Revere's Vision of Occupied Boston

The Vault is Slate's new history blog. Like us on Facebook; follow us on Twitter @slatevault; find us on Tumblr. Find out more about what this space is all about here.

Paul Revere produced this View of Part of the Town of Boston in May 1770. The engraving depicts the landing of British troops in the town in 1768, after colonial resistance to the passage of the Townshend Acts, which established new taxes and restrictions on the colonists, prompted the British monarchy to take steps to ensure compliance.

Around the border of the print, Revere labels each of the ships that arrived in the harbor and tells the story of the occupation from the point of view of the patriotic Bostonian:

On Friday Sept 30 1768 the Ships of War, armed Schooners, Transports &c Came up the Harbor and Anchored round the town, their Cannon loaded a Spring on their Cables, as for a regular Siege….there Formed and Marched with insolent Parade, Drums beating, Fifes playing and Colors flying up King Street Each Soldier having received 16 rounds of Powder and Ball.
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In keeping with Revere’s description of the stark experience of being occupied, the stream of British soldiers walking down the wharf is colored bright red and draws the eye to the center of the print. Catharina Slautterback, curator for the Boston Athenaeum, points out the rest of Revere’s Boston is empty of citizens, making the troops appear all the more out of place in their surroundings.

Slautterback writes that this print was published and distributed after Revere’s more familiar engraving of the Boston Massacre found a wide audience. The depiction of the Native American in the lower right-hand corner was a reference to that event:

America, represented by a Native American with a bow and arrow, [has] her foot on the throat of a British soldier whose military headdress is emblazoned with the Roman numerals XX.
Revere Print

GLC02873, Paul Revere, "A view of... Boston... and Brittish [sic] Ships of War... 1768," May 1770. (Courtesy of The Gilder Lehrman Institute of American History.)

Rebecca Onion, who runs Slate’s history blog The Vault, is a writer and academic living in Ohio. Follow her on Twitter.

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