Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Paul Revere and His Engravings

   The above engraving was executed by Paul Revere in 1772 for Ezra Stiles'* edition of Benjamin Church's Entertaining History of King Philip's War; but, as is so typical of Paul Revere, it is not of King Philip. In fact, there is no known image of King Philip, who had been dead nearly a century when this engraving was executed, and only a very few details of his personal appearance, which I will address in a future post, survive.  So, just how did Revere come up with this portrait? In fact, this is an engraving taken from mezzotints first published in 1710 in London shortly after the visit there by two Iroquois sachems - Ho Nee Yeath and Sa Ga Yeath. Revere's Philip is a fabrication that borrowed heavily from these images including shoes, capes, weapons, postures, and faces. It's also possible that he used a 1764 Benjamin West painting for inspiration and further details.
Ho Nee Yeath Portrait

Sa Ga Yeath Portrait

   One may now wonder if, since Colonel Benjamin Church had been dead over 50 years at the time of the etching of him by Revere for the new edition of his account of King Philip's War, if the portrait of him by Revere is authentic. It is not. Revere probably used a tint of Charles Church, the English Poet, as the basis for his portrait of Church.
   In a time without copyright laws, Revere often used other people's works for his own purposes. Indeed, there is little doubt that Revere's famous etching of the Boston Massacre was in fact "taken" from the drawings of Henry Pelham. Documentation has come to light over the years indicating that Revere copied engraver Henry Pelham's drawings of the Massacre, produced his own engraving, and three weeks after the occurrence was advertising his prints for sale in Boston's newspapers. By the time Pelham's prints hit the street, Revere's print had flooded the market. Jonathan Mulliken also issued a third engraving depicting the event. Except for a number of minor differences, all three prints appear alike. In his rush to produce his engraving Revere employed the talents of Christian Remick to colorize the print.
Pelham's Boston Massacre
Revere's Boston Massacre

    Often overlooked in any discussion of the origin of Revere's Boston Massacre Engraving's origin is a mention of just who Henry Pelham was. Henry Pelham was the half brother of John Singleton Copley, eleven years his junior. Copley's portrait of Pelham entitled The Boy with the Squirrel brought Copley his first success in England after it was exhibited in London in 1766. Pelham was a virulent, outspoken Loyalist who was once attacked by a mob for his Tory sympathies and left with the British troops when they evacuated Boston in 1776. Pelham, undoubtedly, received training from his half-brother and was a talented miniaturist,  engraver, cartographer, and civil engineer. He died in Ireland in 1806, drowning from a boat while supervising the building of a defensive fort.

The Boy With The Squirrel
   * See my Aug 10 and Sep 4, 2010 posts.



  1. The picture labeled as Henry Pelham’s Massacre print above in fact comes from the mid-1800s. I discussed the source of the confusion at here.

    Pelham’s true Massacre print looks so much similar to Revere’s, with better perspective and more detail than any other image Revere produced, that it leaves no doubt that the silversmith copied the young artist’s work. One detail in Revere’s print not in Pelham’s is the rhyme at the bottom. And who composed that?

  2. @J. Bell: That would be a certain Ben C____h. But of course, Pelham's version has it's own little doggerel.

    You know, speaking of Pelham, the MFA has a miniature which is supposed to be an adult Pelham. You can find it by searching their online catalog. If it truly is him, he didn't age well...

  3. Oh, and to give Revere some credit he did make ONE addition to Pelham's version, the sign with the words "BUTCHER'S HALL".

    Paul loved to put labels on things in his engravings.