- Associated Press - Sunday, November 2, 2014

ASHLAND, Mass. (AP) - Chronicling Paul Revere’s life, author and attorney Michael M. Greenburg reveals the little-known vices and virtues of the American Revolution’s most elusive patriot in a fascinating new biography.

After finishing “The Court-Martial of Paul Revere,” many readers will leave Henry Wadsworth Longfellow’s fictionalized poem “Paul Revere’s Ride” on the bookshelf next to children’s books and wonder what they ever really knew about the enigmatic Son of Liberty who still gallops through the national imagination.

For his third book of popular history, the 58-year-old Ashland-based lawyer examines Revere’s dubious role as commander of artillery in the disastrous Penobscot Expedition of 1779 against British forces that resulted in the nation’s worst naval defeat until Pearl Harbor.

Greenburg uses Revere’s disputed role in the military fiasco that resulted in about 474 Patriot casualties and the loss of 44 American vessels to re-examine his reputation as a popular artisan and patriot, leading to his historic “midnight ride.”

Subtitled “A Son of Liberty & America’s Forgotten Military Disaster,” Greenburg’s meticulously researched book uses newspapers from the 1770s, more than 100 books and 234-year-old transcribed testimony from a Committee of Enquiry investigating charges of cowardice and disobedience against Revere for his role in the disaster.

“The common thread in my three books has been my search for untold stories,” said Greenburg. “I ask myself, ‘Why haven’t I heard of this story.’ “

He did just that in two earlier books.

While practicing real estate law since 1993, the Natick native has written well-received books that mixed social history with an entertaining examination of very different men gripped by obsession. They are “Peaches and Daddy: A Story of the Roaring 20s, the Birth of Tabloid Media and the Courtship that Captured the Heart and Imagination of the American Public” and “The Mad Bomber of New York: The Extraordinary True Story of the Manhunt that Paralyzed a City.”

As if cross-examining the historical record, Greenburg has sorted out the tangled accusations against Revere and documented his battle of several years to restore his tarnished reputation.

While most Revere biographies mention the Penobscot debacle, Greenburg said many “tend to perpetuate the patriotic myths” of his prior accomplishments.

“I wanted to find the truth. Sometimes it was startling,” he said in his Main Street office filled with boxes of his research and framed photos of the Red Sox, Celtics and Bruins. “There is a divergent side of Paul Revere. I asked myself, and I want readers to ask themselves, what they think they know about Paul Revere.”

That’s what makes “Court Martial” interesting. A fine writer, Greenburg incorporates plenty of historic detail and atmosphere about Revere’s life and times into his 282-page book but never bogs it down with academic arcana.

Revere emerges as an ambitious, multifaceted man, hungry to establish his reputation as a silversmith who continued to do business with British soldiers occupying Boston while he was covertly carrying messages for the Sons of Liberty.

While John Singleton Copley’s 1768 portrait of Revere depicts him as a down-to-earth artisan in his shirtsleeves, Greenburg informs readers he charged his mother rent to stay in his house and “misappropriated” - perhaps stole - Boston engraver Henry Pelham’s image of the Boston Massacre which he used without credit for his most famous engraving, “Bloody Massacre.”

Former U.S. Army Chief of Staff, retired Gen. George W. Casey, Jr., called Greenburg’s book “a fascinating look into the life of an American legend, and a good reminder that even the greatest among us are subject to man’s foibles and failings.”

Greenburg’s strength as a researcher and lawyer familiar with the conflicting “Rashomon”-like points of view that bedevil historians reveals itself in his account of Revere’s role during the Penobscot Expedition, especially the key chapter “What’s Become of Colonel Revere?”

Some witnesses, who held earlier grudges, claimed Revere slept comfortably in his boat while his soldiers camped amid hardship and danger. More seriously, it was claimed he disobeyed a superior’s orders and displayed cowardice at crucial times.

Patrick Leehey, director of research at the Paul Revere House in Boston, described “Court-Martial” as “a very well-written and extremely well-sourced” account of its subject’s life.

Since he’d read a draft but not the just published book, he observed “the whole Penobscot Expedition didn’t make much military sense and nobody came out looking very good.”

Leehey said the Colonials’ initial decision to divide command of the naval and ground forces made coordination nearly impossible and that Revere’s reluctance to sacrifice men and material made sense. With little faith in the expedition’s outcome, he cautioned against interpreting Revere’s “lack of boldness” in a lost cause for timidity.

“I think Michael (Greenburg) got the basic narrative of events very well. It’s definitely a good book,” he said.

Greenburg devotes the book’s final third to Revere’s relentless struggle to restore his reputation after the Commission of Inquiry initially dismissed him from the militia.

Breaking new ground, he presents Revere as a “man of contrasts” struggling to re-establish himself in war and peace in a new country that he helped make.

For all his faults, virtues and a refusal to have his honor and service besmirched, Greenburg’s Revere comes alive as a recognizable man of flesh and blood, more human than the literary legend children learn about from a catchy poem.

Sign up for Daily Newsletters

Manage Newsletters

Copyright © 2020 The Washington Times, LLC.

Please read our comment policy before commenting.


Click to Read More and View Comments

Click to Hide