MARBLEHEAD MEMORIES: The mystery of the town’s Paul Revere letter

Mark Hurwitz
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I recently visited Abbott Hall to vote in the recent election and decided to check out the Selectman’s Room and look at some of the town’s historic documents displayed on the walls of the room.

One of the documents that caught my eye was a letter Paul Revere wrote to Jon Glover, Esq., the brother of General John Glover of Marblehead.

Revere’s letter is dated Nov. 15, 1787.

He reached out to Jon Glover about his interest in the town’s cannons.

Though best known for his “Midnight Ride” and silversmithing, Paul Revere also established New England’s first foundry in Boston in the 1780s.

Looking for surplus cannons left over from the American Revolution to purchase, Revere visited a number of towns including Marblehead. He made four trips to Marblehead and later wrote to Jon Glover. 

In his letter, he shared his concerns that another interested party had reached out to the governor of Massachusetts and suggested to him that since the cannons in Marblehead were the property of the Commonwealth and not Marblehead, the governor should sell the cannons to him.

Paul Revere and the unidentified interested party wanted to “recycle” the cannons at their foundries and turn them into other types of metallic objects such as firebacks and window weights.

In his letter to Jon Glover, he wrote:

“When I was last at Marblehead, I took notice that there were a great many old cannons at different places, which appear to me, to be good for nothing but the old iron,”  

He then asks if he can purchase the cannons from the town and asked if an article could be written into the Town Meeting warrant that would authorize the town to sell them to him only:

“As I am in want of iron for the furnace which I built in Boston, I should be glad to purchase them, I should be willing to give as much for them as anybody. I believe the highest price delivered at Marblehead, would be __ hundred, if you will be good enough, when your town is to be called together, to get an article inserted in the warrant, for that purpose you will oblige.”

After reading the original letter on display, I realized that there was a faded word or symbol next to the word hundred in the letter that I couldn’t read. 

I reached out to the town and asked if they might know what the word/symbols in the letter were and what they might mean.

After I was informed that nobody knew, I decided to solve the mystery for myself and share it with the town. 

A few years ago, I read a biography on Paul Revere by Robert Martello entitled “Midnight Ride, Industrial Dawn: Paul Revere and the growth of American Enterprise.” His book focused primarily on Paul Revere’s work in metallurgy. 

I looked him up on the internet and found his contact information.

I emailed him a copy of the Revere’s letter with the mystery word/symbol and asked for his best educated guess. 

He kindly returned my email with a possible answer.

“Around 1787 when this letter was written, Revere was still using pounds, shillings, and pence as his monetary units. My best guess is that this mystery phrase is 4’/Pr Hundred which probably translates as 4 shillings per hundred. I assume this means he will pay four shillings for every hundred pounds of cannon weight.” 

Martello also mentions in his email that in 1787, Revere was only working in iron, and iron is referenced in the letter. He was hoping to melt down these cannons and re-cast them into the many different iron goods that he produced and sold. His work in bells and cannons came a few years later, and for those the metal was bronze.

Unfortunately, the town has no record of selling the cannons to Paul Revere and Robert Martello didn’t know either.  One mystery ends and another begins. 

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