J. L. BELL is a Massachusetts writer who specializes in (among other things) the start of the American Revolution in and around Boston. He is particularly interested in the experiences of children in 1765-75. He has published scholarly papers and popular articles for both children and adults. He was consultant for an episode of History Detectives, and contributed to a display at Minute Man National Historic Park.

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Wednesday, May 24, 2006

Christopher Seider: shooting victim

If you go to the Old Granary Burying-Ground along the Freedom Trail in Boston, as John Hedtke did when he took this photo, you'll see a stone memorializing the five victims of the Boston Massacre. The local Sons of the American Revolution erected it in 1906.

After naming the men shot on 5 March 1770, the stone goes on to say:

Here also lies buried the body of
Christopher Snider,
Aged 12 years,
Killed February 22nd. 1770.

This boy was the first American killed in the political strife that became the American Revolution—eleven days before the Boston Massacre. The only problems with the memorial stone's statement about young Christopher are that his body does not lie there, his name was not Snider, and he wasn't twelve years old.

Most corpses were removed from this burying-ground in the 1800s. The remaining headstones were reportedly moved around to look neater, so by 1906 no one could be sure where anybody lay buried.

As for the boy's family name, it was most often spelled Seider, particularly in legal records. Spelling wasn't a big concern for Englishmen in the eighteenth century, and even people as famous as John "Handcock" could see their names rendered in novel ways. Various documents and accounts refer to the Seider family by the variant spellings Sider, Siders, Syder, and, indeed, Snider. But Seider appears most often in official records and accounts from people who seem to know the boy's family.

Statements about Christopher's age had political ramifications in 1770. Shortly after he was wounded, the Boston Chronicle, which supported the Crown (and was supported by funds from the Customs office), estimated his age as fourteen. Anti-Crown papers later reported he was eleven. No source said Christopher was twelve. Perhaps that number was derived from an average of the ages reported in 1770. Perhaps historians of the early 1900s couldn't believe a mere eleven-year-old had been caught up in a violent political demonstration.

But now we have solid records about Christopher Seider's family from two sources:
We now know that Christopher's parents were German immigrants who came to Maine with their families in 1752, then moved to Braintree, Massachusetts, and married. Christopher was their third child recorded in Braintree; three more siblings were born in Boston after 1761.

Christopher Seider was baptized in Braintree on 18 March 1759. The times between his older sisters' births and their baptisms were ten and thirteen days; if the family followed the same timing with Christopher, he was born in the first week of March. Since he was shot and killed on 22 Feb 1770, he was most likely still ten years old when he died.

ADDENDUM: Christopher Seider's work and reading habits in 1770.

5 comments:

bob ( from Bobville) said...

i think this is a neat site that tells you alot about Christopher Seider! However i would like a little more information about the backround. Like how it happened, where it hapened, you know "the details"

J. L. Bell said...

Check out the whole "Christopher Seider" category.

Th3 History T3ach3r said...

Excellent information. I attended a TAH Colloquia for secondary teachers which discussed in part, women's role just before the Revolution. Christopher Seider came up when the professor was discussing women's/mother's roles in mourning and participating in funeral processions. Many questions about his life, family background, and the sources for this information popped into my head, and this site has answered them. Thank you for sharing you work.

J. L. Bell said...

Thanks for the kind words. The death of Christopher Seider after a political demonstration was actually what got me interested in researching Revolutionary Boston in depth.

Anonymous said...

This is so sad