Paul Revere's Ride: the Story, the Hero, the Truth
Lesson created by: Deerfield Teachers' Center Staff
Grade Level: High School
2-A John Singleton Copley, Paul Revere, 1768
John Singleton Copley (American, 1738–1815) Paul Revere, 1768. Oil on canvas, 89.22 x 72.39 cm (35 1/8 x 28 1/2 in.). Museum of Fine Arts, Boston. Gift of Joseph W. Revere, William B. Revere and Edward H. R. Revere, 30.781 Photograph © 2008 Museum of Fine Arts, Boston.
3-A Grant Wood, The Midnight Ride of Paul Revere, 1931
Grant Wood (American, 1892–1942), The Midnight Ride of Paul Revere, 1931. Oil on Masonite; H. 30, W. 40 in. (76.2 x 101.6 cm): The Metropolitan Museum of Art, Arthur Hoppock Hearn Fund, 1950 (50.117) Photograph © 1988 The Metropolitan Museum of Art. Art © Estate of Grant Wood / Licensed by VAGA, New York
Students will understand that artists and writers depicting events from the past make deliberate choices about what facts to include or not, and how accurate to make their creations based upon the purposes they want their pieces to serve.
It is said that some people thought Grant Wood's 1931 painting "The Midnight Ride of Paul Revere" poked fun at Revere's exploits. However, Wood said that he was aiming to "save bits of American Folklore that are too good to lose." But was the story of Paul Revere's ride folklore? How much truth was there depicted in the painting and in Henry Wadsworth Longfellow's poem, "Paul Revere's Ride"? In this lesson you will read Revere's own words about his famous ride and compare it to the poem and the painting to discover the fact and fiction in each. You will discuss why the poet and artist might have added fiction to their pieces. This will involve briefly examining the times in which both men were living and thinking about our society's need for heroes. You will also examine John Singleton Copley's painting of Paul Revere for evidence of why Revere might have been considered an influential figure before his 1775 ride. Finally, you will choose a different scene from Revere's deposition, illustrate that scene via a piece of art or poetry, and tie it to the time in which you are living.
Grant Wood (1891-1942) is best known for the widely recognized painting, "American Gothic", clearly one of America's most iconic paintings. Born and raised in Iowa, Wood chose to primarily depict the landscapes and simple, hard-working farmers of the rural Midwest. Much of his work, completed during the Great Depression, lifted people's spirits. He was classically taught in Chicago and studied the great art of Europe during four overseas trips he made in the 1920's. Wood rejected the prevailing European abstract approach to painting in favor of the clarity of the 15th c. Flemish master Jan van Eyck, which he adapted to his Midwestern subjects. In addition, Wood chose to illustrate at least two iconic American stories, in "Parson Weems' Fable", referring to young George Washington, and "The Midnight Ride of Paul Revere." Grant Wood's American Regionalist style has been very popular, as it is easy to grasp and understand.
Examining Expressive Content
"The Midnight Ride of Paul Revere"
- What do you see?
- What mood did Grant Wood set in his painting?
- How did he achieve it?
- What effect does looking down upon this scene create?
- How does he focus the viewer's eye on the most important activity happening in the picture?
- What ties the scene together?
- Wood was not concerned with historical accuracy with this image. What evidence do you see of that? Why might he have chosen to not be historically accurate with his details?
Examine the image of Paul Revere painted by John Singleton Copley in 1768.
- Where does the artist focus your eye and how does he do that?
Copley commonly painted images of colonial America's wealthy, leading citizens—people who did not make a living working with their hands. He made an exception here, given that Paul Revere was an artisan and was not considered to be wealthy, but Revere commissioned Copley to paint his portrait. This painting was created before Revere went on his famous ride.
- Why might Paul Revere have considered himself to be worthy of a Copley portrait?
- What did Copley, or possibly Revere, do to make Revere's craft of silversmith appear to be a worthy art?
- What clues do you get from this painting about what Revere thought of himself? What did he want viewers to see?
- In most portraits from this time period male sitters were fully dressed in their best clothing, which included a coat, something around the neck, and sometimes a wig. What message did Revere want to give by dressing this way?
Suggested answers to these questions
- Instruct students to read the "Excerpts from 'Paul Revere's Ride' for the High School Lesson", by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, and Excerpts from Paul Revere's 1775 deposition. In 1775, The Massachusetts Provincial Congress requested eyewitness accounts such as Revere's in an attempt to prove that the British fired the first shot in Lexington.
- How do the poem and deposition differ?
- Why might Longfellow have chosen to depict Revere as riding alone and why might he have omitted Revere's capture and release?
- Longfellow wrote this poem in 1860. What was going on in the nation then? Why might he have chosen to write this poem at that time?
- Read the following background information about Paul Revere. Combine this information with what you learned about him via his deposition and Longfellow's poem. Why, in Longfellow's eyes, might Revere have made a good hero?
"Paul Revere was a silversmith and engraver in Boston and a devoted patriot. He
was a participant in the Boston Tea Party and printer of an inflammatory
illustration of what became known as the "Boston Massacre". Revere was also a
family man, fathering eight children with his first wife, and, after her death, eight
with his second wife. After the events described in Longfellow's poem, he served
with the poet's maternal grandfather, Peleg Wadsworth, in the failed Penobscot
expedition. By 1860, he and his place in history had been largely forgotten."
- Grant Wood created his image of Paul Revere's ride in 1931. He had achieved national renown the year before with his painting, "American Gothic" that depicted an older farmer with his daughter from Wood's home state of Iowa.
- What was going on in the nation in 1930 and 1931?
- Why might this have been a good time to "save bits of American Folklore that are too good to lose", and this story in particular?
- Why might it have been a good time to highlight an American hero from the past in this way?
Suggested answers to these questions
Putting It All Together
Revisit Revere's deposition and choose a scene to depict via a piece of art or poetry. Return to Copley's portrait of Revere and note what traits you see now that you would like to illustrate in your depiction. Consider the effect of Wood's and Longfellow's uses of artistic license as compared to Copley's more accurate depiction. Be ready to discuss:
- Why you chose that scene
- Which traits of Revere you chose to highlight
- How much artistic license you will use and why
- How your creation connects to the present time. Fifty years from now, how will your creation provide insight about the times in which you live?
Massachusetts Art Curriculum Framework
Observation, Abstraction, Invention, and Expression. Students will demonstrate their powers of observation, abstraction, invention, and expression in a variety of media, materials, and techniques.
Critical Response. Students will describe and analyze their own work and the work of others using appropriate visual arts vocabulary. When appropriate, students will connect their analysis to interpretation and evaluation.
Interdisciplinary Connections. Students will apply their knowledge of the arts to the study of English language arts, foreign languages, health, history and social science, mathematics, and science and technology/engineering.
By the end of extended study in grades 9–12 students will:
5.11 Analyze a body of work, or the work of one artist, explaining its meaning and impact on society, symbolism, and visual metaphor
5.12 Demonstrate an understanding how societal influences and prejudices may affect viewers' ways of perceiving works of art
Common Core Standards
English Language Arts Standards » Reading: Literature
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RL.9-10.1 Cite strong and thorough textual evidence to support analysis of what the text says explicitly as well as inferences drawn from the text.
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RL.9-10.7 Analyze the representation of a subject or a key scene in two different artistic mediums, including what is emphasized or absent in each treatment (e.g., Auden's "Musée des Beaux Arts" and Breughel's Landscape with the Fall of Icarus).
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RL.9-10.9 Analyze how an author draws on and transforms source material in a specific work (e.g., how Shakespeare treats a theme or topic from Ovid or the Bible or how a later author draws on a play by Shakespeare).
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RL.11-12.3 Analyze the impact of the author's choices regarding how to develop and relate elements of a story or drama (e.g., where a story is set, how the action is ordered, how the characters are introduced and developed).
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RL.11-12.7 Analyze multiple interpretations of a story, drama, or poem (e.g., recorded or live production of a play or recorded novel or poetry), evaluating how each version interprets the source text. (Include at least one play by Shakespeare and one play by an American dramatist.)
English Language Arts Standards » History/Social Studies
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RH.9-10.1 Cite specific textual evidence to support analysis of primary and secondary sources, attending to such features as the date and origin of the information.
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RH.9-10.8 Assess the extent to which the reasoning and evidence in a text support the author's claims.
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RH.11-12.6 Evaluate authors' differing points of view on the same historical event or issue by assessing the authors' claims, reasoning, and evidence.
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RH.11-12.7 Integrate and evaluate multiple sources of information presented in diverse formats and media (e.g., visually, quantitatively, as well as in words) in order to address a question or solve a problem.
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RH.11-12.8 Evaluate an author's premises, claims, and evidence by corroborating or challenging them with other information.
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RH.11-12.9 Integrate information from diverse sources, both primary and secondary, into a coherent understanding of an idea or event, noting discrepancies among sources.