Follow the Stories | Boston, MA (2012)
Paul Revere: Plagiarizing Patriot?
Paul Revere's version of the Boston Massacre (top) is slightly more colorful, but suspiciously similar in almost every detail to the drawing (bottom) that Henry Pelham, a Boston engraver and acquaintance of Revere's, had made only days before and planned to print. Unfortunately for Pelham, it was Revere's print that would gain wide circulation and acclaim.
During ANTIQUES ROADSHOW's June 2012 visit to Boston, appraiser Wesley Cowan and host Mark Walberg visited The Old State House to discuss the little-known pre-Revolutionary feud between one-time friends Henry Pelham and Paul Revere. Their dispute stemmed from a picture that Pelham had designed depicting the deadly incident, later dubbed the Boston Massacre, that had erupted in front of the Custom House on the evening of March, 5, 1770.
"... as if you had plundered me on the highway ..."
Not long after the incident, Pelham, an established artist and engraver in Boston, showed his drawing to Revere, but before it could be printed, Revere liberally borrowed (shall we say) from Pelham's work to create, print, and distribute his own remarkably similar version of the scene. As fate would dictate, it was Revere's print ― entitled "The Bloody Massacre" and bearing the mark "Engrav'd Printed & Sold by PAUL REVERE Boston" ― that would gain widespread circulation. The Revere print is today recognized as having been one of the most important pieces of political propaganda in America's early history, helping foment the anti-British feeling in the Colonies that a few years later would lead to all-out revolt.
What follows is the full text of the deeply indignant letter Henry Pelham wrote to Revere complaining of his "dishonourable" deed. You can also click on the image at right to see an enlarged side-by-side comparison of the two pictures and see for yourself just how alike the prints actually are.
Letter from Henry Pelham to Paul Revere
Thursday Morng. Boston, March 29, 1770.
When I heard that you were cutting a plate of the late Murder, I thought it impossible, as I knew you was not capable of doing it unless you coppied it from mine and as I thought I had entrusted it in the hands of a person who had more regard to the dictates of Honour and Justice than to take the undue advantage you have done of the confidence and Trust I reposed in you.
But I find I was mistaken, and after being at the great Trouble and Expence of making a design paying for paper, printing &c, find myself in the most ungenerous Manner deprived, not only of any proposed Advantage, but even of the expence I have been at, as truly as if you had plundered me on the highway.
If you are insensible of the Dishonour you have brought on yourself by this Act, the World will not be so. However, I leave you to reflect upon and consider of one of the most dishonorable Actions you could well be guilty of.
P S. I send by the Bearer the prints I borrowed of you. My Mother desired you would send the hinges and part of the press, that you had from her.
See the See the Boston, Massachusetts (2013) page for a list of all appraisals from this city.
Luke Crafton is the senior digital producer for Antiques Roadshow.