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Josiah Flagg and Paul Revere: Friends, Engravers, and Patriots

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The following post draws upon research detailed in David W. Music’s article, “Josiah Flagg,” published in American Music, Vol. 7, no. 2 (Summer, 1989), pp. 140-158. Access the article via the JSTOR database on-site at the Library of Congress or via your local library’s subscription.

Sheet Music cover for “Paul Revere won’t you ride for us again?” by Halsey K. Moore and Joe Goodwin,1918.

Happy Patriots’ Day to all, and especially to our New England readers! As the Longfellow poem goes (and you can listen to it here on the National Jukebox):

Listen, my children, and you shall hear
Of the midnight ride of Paul Revere,
On the eighteenth of April, in Seventy-Five:
Hardly a man is now alive
Who remembers that famous day and year.

In some states, the third Monday of April commemorates the first battles of the Revolutionary War in Massachusetts. On April 19, 1775, these battles marked the colonies’ first official combat with Great Britain’s military. The night before, Boston-born Paul Revere learned the news that British troops were advancing in pursuit of revolutionaries Samuel Adams and John Hancock. Revere was instructed to warn Adams and Hancock as well as colonial militias along the way, a task now remembered as “the midnight ride of Paul Revere.”

But why write about Paul Revere on the Music Division’s blog? As I will reveal, Revere is present in our music collections, both on paper and through his friendship with the musician and publisher Josiah Flagg (1737-1794). In fact, the two colonists are linked together even as teenagers when they signed a petition to play and care for the bells at Christ Church in Boston (now known as the Old North Church). Flagg’s interest in the bells perhaps sparked his dedication to music, and Revere would later do work in casting bells himself. In fact, many know that the famous Paul Revere was a silversmith; fewer realize that he also found work as an engraver, as we’ll see later.

It is interesting, if not timely, to note that in 1764, a Smallpox outbreak in the Massachusetts colony touched families in the north part of Boston, including the Flaggs and Reveres, and both men were forced into quarantine. While quarantined, Flagg and Revere collaborated to publish A Collection of the best Psalm Tunes, in two, three, and four Parts. From the most approv’d Authors, fitted to all Measures, and approv’d of by the best Masters in Boston New England; to which are added some Hymns and Anthems the Greater part of them never before Printed in America. By Josiah Flagg. Engraved by Paul Revere. Printed and sold by him and Josiah Flagg. Boston, 1764. The collection holds several points of significance; by 1764 it was one of the largest collections of published music in America, was the first collection in New England to feature musical settings in more than three parts, included two of the first English anthems ever published in New England, and was reportedly the first collection of music to be printed on American-made paper. A few tunes in the collection may have been composed in the colonies, though most of the music was European, including possibly the first printing of George Frederick Handel’s music in the colonies.

Sixteen Anthems by Josiah Flagg (1766).

Two years later in 1766, Flagg published his second collection of music with his Sixteen Anthems, collected from Tans’ur, Williams, Knapp, Asworth & Stephenson. To which is added, a few psalm tunes. Proper to entertain and improve those who have made some proficiency in the art of singing, fully digitized and available to view online. Unlike his first collection, Flagg also engraved Sixteen Anthems himself, without the help of his friend.



Frontispiece for William Billings’s The New-England psalm-singer (1770). Frontispiece engraved by Paul Revere.

Many readers may also be familiar with another famous music collection published in the colonies: William Billings’ famous 1770 New England Psalm Singer, also digitized and fully available online. The collection is notable as the first collection of music written by a single American composer to be printed in the colonies. Additionally, the charming frontispiece is often featured in music history books; the engraving depicts men sitting about a round table, singing from music books, encircled in musical notation of a canon in six parts. In the bottom right corner of the illustration is signed: P. Revere. It is undoubtedly Paul Revere who engraved this beautiful frontispiece and, for a long time, it was assumed that Revere engraved the entire collection; however, looking at details and comparing publications leads to reconsideration. The title page of the Billings collection does not identify the engraver, but does identify the various sellers and sales locations which include Josiah Flagg on Fish Street. Additionally, it is striking that the music engravings for both Sixteen Anthems and the New England Psalm Singer are quite similar (a fact you can see for yourself in our digitized offerings!), whereas the engraving for A Collection of the Best Psalm Tunes… and Sixteen Anthems poses noticeable differences in style. These observations, along with other supporting details, lead to speculation that it was actually Josiah Flagg who engraved the music for Billings’ New England Psalm Singer, and that Paul Revere was in fact responsible for engraving solely the famous frontispiece. Interested in more details? I encourage you to locate David W. Music’s “Josiah Flagg” article I cite in the introduction to this blog post.

Josiah Flagg lived to be 57 years old and carries many titles to his credit: he was a publisher and engraver, a vocalist and singing school teacher, possibly an organist, an impresario, and a jeweler. In 1769, Flagg attended a dinner at the Dorchester Liberty Tree where he was listed along with Paul Revere as one of the “Sons of Liberty.” Eight years later, Flagg joined the military service in Rhode Island to serve alongside his fellow Revolutionaries. I hope that today’s blog post not only brings light to Paul Revere’s connections to music history, but shines new light on Josiah Flagg, his friend and fellow Patriot, whose music publications hold special significance on the Music Division’s shelves.

Comments (2)

  1. The quarantine connection is fascinating! Yet another story to make us feel like underachievers…

  2. Great to see this wonderful historical post recognizing the Flagg’s- especially speaking as a Flagg descendant of the Mass. Flagg’s. Thank you on behalf of the Flagg’s! We were there at the beginning and we are still here supporting Independence, Democracy, and the fundamental ideals of the Revolution. We did understand quarantine during those times better than we do now. Today, we are spoiled by the “drive-through” medicines available to us.

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