BARNSTABLE — The Paul Revere of Revolutionary War fame is a mythic figure in the national story: patriot, silversmith, military man, bell caster. In John Singleton Copley’s famous portrait, Revere’s direct and steady gaze symbolizes a confident, no-frills America.
But being the Paul Revere who was immortalized for a midnight ride in 1775 is one thing. Being Paul Revere in 21st-century Massachusetts is another.
“I don’t consider myself all that special,” said Paul Revere III, slightly bemused that he might be seen differently. “I’m just a person.”
A person with quite the family backstory.
Revere, 58, is the great-great-greatgreat-grandson of the famous patriot, and he’s aware of the honor and responsibility of being a direct descendant — and namesake — of a touchstone figure of American history.
“When we were young, we were made fun of,” Revere said with a chuckle as he sat with his sister, Avery, near Cape Cod Bay. “I can remember getting crank calls. I give away more business cards just because people will say, ‘Sure.’ ”
But it’s a legacy that he and Avery Revere cherish, in no small part because of the sense of civic responsibility they gleaned from their father, Paul Revere Jr., the longtime president of the organization that runs the Paul Revere House in Boston’s North End.
The elder Revere died Oct. 15 at age 88.
Across 53 years as president of the Paul Revere Memorial Association, and through his daily interactions with others, their father handed them a template for how to live with a famous name and use it for the betterment of others, his children said.
“He would say, ‘I was given this opportunity because it was in my family,’ ” Paul Revere III said of his father. “He treated everybody from janitors to US senators the same way.”
Along his journey, the elder Revere became the driving force behind the transformation of the Paul Revere House from a simple attraction staffed by retired firefighters to a professionally managed site visited by a record 323,000 tourists last year.
“Paul was not only the legacy guy, but he also knew how to manage a team of board members and how to let a professional staff do its work,” said Nina Zannieri, executive director of the Paul Revere Memorial Association since 1986. “He knew the right time to make the place a little bit bigger and reach a little bit further.”
Avery Revere recalled that the 1976 bicentennial of the American Revolution was a catalyst for her father’s determination to use the Revere name and legacy to attract more people to Boston’s historic places, and to improve the local economy in the process.
“That legacy is important to both of us,” said Avery, a fly-fishing guide and president of the Friends of Barnstable Harbor. Avery also serves as president of the Paul Revere Memorial Association; Paul III sits on its board of directors.
For 250 years, the Revere legacy has been passed down in myriad other ways. Paul III is outside legal counsel for Revere Copper Products, a company founded in Canton by the patriot and his son in 1801.
Paul Revere Jr. had been a sales manager for the firm, which now is headquartered in Rome, N.Y., but has been continuously associated with the family for 218 years. A large standing clock made by Paul Revere stood in the offices of Revere Products on Neponset Street in Canton until 1905.
The legacy is not only the stuff of legend.
“We can actually feel and touch what our ancestor more than 200 years ago actually touched, felt, and did,” Paul Revere III said. “Not too many people except royalty can do that.”
The Copley portrait, another heirloom, had been in the family for generations until it found a home last century in the Museum of Fine Arts. Paul and Avery recalled passed-down tales of how a relative had drawn an archery target on the back of the portrait, only to be foiled before disaster left the bow.
Once while perusing the portrait at the Museum of Fine Arts, Paul Revere Jr. “looked at the guard and said, ‘It is my understanding that there’s a target on the back of it,’ ” his son said with a laugh.
Paul Jr. had a lifelong sense of fun, even when his name made him the target of pranks, his children said.
While pledging a fraternity at Bowdoin College, where he played hockey and tennis, he was ordered to decamp from Maine to Boston, sit on a horse, and recite “Paul Revere’s Ride,” the 19th-century poem by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow that introduced the patriot to many Americans.
Apparently, Paul Jr. found the humor in it.
“My father was not fancy,” Avery said. “He was a people guy, and he was a storyteller, and he loved being a salesman because he loved people.”
Sometimes, that empathy was tested.
His son recalled one memorable exchange: “Hello, I’m Paul Revere,” his father said. “Oh, yeah? I’m Donald Duck,” the stranger replied.
Through it all, however, being a Revere was easier because of his protectiveness, Avery said. Her father, for example, kept the family’s telephone number unpublished to prevent harassing and unwanted calls. The name also was not to be flaunted for self-promotion, she said.
“I don’t feel like the name gives me a leg up,” Avery said. “Most people are just really interested and excited about it. They think it’s really cool.”
Paul III has carried on the family’s long connection to charity. He is a member of the Massachusetts Charitable Society, founded in 1762. He also is involved with the Massachusetts Charitable Mechanic Association and the Massachusetts Charitable Fire Society, both of which the patriot helped found.
Good intentions from the past continue in the present. A relief fund for the family of fallen Worcester Fire Lieutenant Jason Menard, killed Nov. 13 in the line of duty, will receive a $5,000 check from the fire society, Revere said.
Much of the family’s work goes unheralded. When hearing his name, Revere acknowledged, many people probably think he’s “a boring Boston Brahmin.” Actually, he added with a smile, “we’re petty bourgeoisie at best.”
Bourgeoisie or not, being a 21st-century Revere can be persuasive.
“Sometimes, ‘Paul Revere’ has to make the call,” Paul III said. “If ‘Paul Revere’ goes to a meeting, it gets a little panache.”
But in the end, the name is what it’s always been, the children said: a mixture of history, expectation, and responsibility.
It’s the hand they’ve been dealt. And besides, Paul III said, “I don’t know what it’s like not to be Paul Revere.”
And neither does his son, whom he named Paul Revere IV.
Brian MacQuarrie can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.