The Paul Revere House  

During the months of March and April 1764, Paul Revere closed his silversmith shop and locked himself and his family inside their house.

Why?

One of Revere's three children (Deborah, age 5; Paul Jr., age 4; or Sarah age 2) had fallen ill with a disease called smallpox. Although this disease is rare today, it was a serious threat to people living in colonial America. Smallpox is similar to chicken pox but far more deadly. People who catch smallpox run a high fever, and pustules break out on their skin. In Revere's time, one out of six people who caught smallpox died. Those who survived often bore deep scars. In cities, where people lived in close quarters, the disease spread quickly from one person to another.

When a smallpox epidemic struck Boston in 1764, hundreds of people closed their homes and fled the city, hoping to get out before they fell ill. The Reveres, however, did not leave. When one of the Reveres' children became sick, Paul Revere had to appear before the selectmen of Boston to tell them. It was important for city leaders to know who was infected so that they could quarantine them.

The selectmen told Revere that he had to send his child to a pesthouse. Cities often set up pesthouses during epidemics in abandoned buildings on the outskirts of town. Pesthouses were designed simply to separate sick people from those who were healthy in hopes of stopping the disease from spreading. Patients in pesthouses received little or no medical attention and their condition often became worse rather than better. Paul Revere did not want to send his child to such a place.

For this reason, he requested permission to keep his child at home under the family's care. The town agreed to Paul's request but assigned a guard to make certain that none of the Reveres left the building and no visitors entered. The town hung a white flag on the house to warn passersby that a sick person was inside.

What was life like for the Reveres for the two months they were locked inside their house? Unfortunately, the Reveres left no records. It is possible that other children, or even Paul and his wife Sarah, also became sick. The fact that Paul and Sarah Revere chose to care for their sick child at home, even at the risk of becoming sick themselves, demonstrates the great affection they had for their children. Although hundreds died during the 1764 smallpox epidemic in Boston, all of the Reveres survived, perhaps because of the loving treatment they received at home.

Definitions

pustules - pimples filled with liquid
epidemic - a disease affecting many people at one time
selectmen - men elected to run a town
quarantine - separating goods or people to help prevent the spread of pests or disease

Questions for children who like to do research:
Why is smallpox no longer a threat to Americans today? What diseases now pose the greatest danger to humans?

A question for children who like to use their imaginations:
Imagine a conversation between Paul Revere and Sarah Revere as they try to decide whether to keep their sick child at home or send the child to the pesthouse.


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