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Paul Revere Court-Martial: 1782

Revere Court-martialled At His Own Insistence

Several months after all hostilities in the Revolutionary War had ceased and only after several more petitions, Revere was reluctantly granted the courtmartial he wanted. By this time, all references to cowardice had disappeared from the charges, and the allegations had been reduced to two:

  1. "For his refusal to deliver a certain Boat to the order of General Wadsworth when upon the Retreat up Penobscot River, from Major Bagwaduce."
  2. "For his leaving Penobscot River without Orders from his Commanding Officer."

The court, consisting of one general and 12 captains, met in February 1782. Its ruling, though late and not entirely without qualification, provided Revere with the vindication of his character that he sought:

The Court finds the first charge against Lieu't Col Paul Revere to be supported (to wit) his refusing to deliver a certain Boat to the Order of General Wadsworth when upon the Retreat up Penobscot River from Major Bagwaduce: but the Court taking into consideration the suddenness of the refusal, and more especially that the same Boat was in fact employed by Lieu't Colo Paul Revere to effect the Purpose ordered by the General as appears by the General's Deposition, are of the Opinion that Lieu't Colo Paul Revere be acquitted of this Charge … On the second charge, the Court considers that the whole army was in great Confusion and so scattered and dispersed, that no regular Orders were or could be given, are of the Opinion, that Lieu't Colo Paul Revere, be acquitted with equal Honor as the other Officers in the same Expedition.

Revere accepted this as a vindication of his character, in spite of its ambiguous wording; some have thought there was a particular sting in its tail, since no officers seemed to have come away from Penobscot with much honor. Revere lived for almost 40 years after the war, becoming renowned as a craftsman. Pioneering in a number of areas, he designed and printed the first issue of Continental paper currency, cast cannons and bells in bronze, and built the first copper-rolling mill in America. Ironically, he even engaged in a successful trading venture with Dudley Saltonstall. While his conduct as a military officer was perhaps less than exemplary, the circumstances were unusual and neither he nor his forces were professional military men.

David l. Petts

Suggestions for Further Reading

Flood, Charles Bracelen. Rise, and Fight Again. New York: Dodd, Mead, 1976.

Forbes, Esther. Paul Revere and the World He Lived In. Boston: Houghton Miflin, 1942.

Triber, Jayne E. A True Republican: The Life of Paul Revere. Amherst, Mass: University of Massachusetts Press, 1998.

Additional topics

Law Library - American Law and Legal InformationNotable Trials and Court Cases - 1637 to 1832Paul Revere Court-Martial: 1782 - The Penobscot Expedition, Initial Allegations Against Revere, Revere Court-martialled At His Own Insistence