Paul Revere’s midnight ride, in which he warned American colonials of the approach of the British army, is the stuff of legend. It has been immortalized in both poetry and painting and stands out as an example of American ingenuity. This was not Revere’s only achievement however. He actually also deserves the title of America’s first forensic crime scene investigator.
Revere started his working life as a silversmith. Although he was talented at his work, it did not always bring in enough money. To expand his business and hopefully earn more income, he studied under a dentist, learning how to make and insert false teeth. He then opened his own dentistry practice in 1768. He was soon providing false teeth for many prominent Bostonians.
One of Revere’s patients was General Joseph Warren, a physician who eventually became a leading American general at the start of the Revolutionary War. The two men even became friends, and it was Warren who sent Revere out on his legendary night ride to Lexington.
When fighting broke out between British and colonial forces, General Warren was in the middle of it all. He was present at one of the first major skirmishes of the war, the Battle of Bunker Hill, which was fought on June 17, 1775. Though the British officially won this battle by forcing the Americans to retreat, they actually suffered more losses. The British lost around 200 men, including a significant portion of their officer corps. The Americans, on the other hand, only lost 140. Unfortunately, Joseph Warren was among the dead.
After the battle, the British buried the dead Americans in a mass grave. Of course, Warren’s family wanted to recover the body and give it a proper burial, and Revere agreed to help locate his remains.
It was early 1776 before Revere could get near the mass grave due to British control of the area. By the time he arrived, the bodies had decayed so much that he could not tell one from another. Still, he set about his task, trying to find some identifying object to let him know he had located the body of his friend.
Revere almost literally struck gold when he happened to notice a dental prosthetic that had been attached to its owner using gold wire. He recognized the false teeth as his own creation. But that wasn’t all. He recognized it as the prosthetic he had made for Warren a few years earlier. Because of this, he was able to identify Warren’s body and return it to his family.
Today, it is common to use dental remains to identify dead bodies. But Revere’s pioneering use of this technique was the first time this method was ever used in the United States.