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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Monday, July 03, 2006

Ezekiel Goldthwait: fireworks victim

Ezekiel Goldthwait was born on 28 Mar 1767 and admitted to the South Latin School in Boston in 1779. Entrance at the age of twelve was late for a boy; scholars usually started at the Latin School at seven. But the war might have disrupted Ezekiel's schooling, and he might have been studying elsewhere.

Young Ezekiel didn't last long at Boston Latin, however. The town's public schools had sessions every day but Sunday, but on Thursdays and Saturdays the masters dismissed the boys in mid-morning. One Saturday young Ezekiel used his free time to buy fireworks "at a place called the Laboratory, where squibs were sold to the boys," according to Henry F. Jenks's Catalogue of the Boston Latin School, published in 1886. "Laboratory" was the period term for where artillerists assembled their explosive shells and gunpowder cartridges. There was a Continental Army Laboratory at Springfield, Massachusetts, during the Revolutionary War, which eventually grew into the Springfield Armory.

Back to Ezekiel buying his fireworks:

He procured some and put them in his pocket, where they exploded and burned him so badly, that he died after several weeks of intense suffering.
See another cautionary tale from the 19th century at City Record and Boston News-Journal. Let's be careful out there.


Anonymous said...

Presumably this unfortunate Goldthwait is the son of prosperous-looking Ezekiel Goldthwait who was painted by Copley.

The word 'squib' is still commonplace in England as a noisemaking firework (or 'banger')as opposed to a pretty firework like a Roman Candle.

Alas, Goldthwait is not a common enough name to be listed in the useful Surname Profiler http://www.spatial-literacy.org/UCLnames/default.aspx - but I'm sure it would point to an origin in the Danelaw - and probably the county of Yorkshire, where Thwaite (and other Thwaites such as Postlethwaite) are not uncommon.

Graeme Marsden

J. L. Bell said...

Thanks for the comment. Given the post-Revolutionary timing of his death, I suspect this boy was a grandson of Copley's Goldthwaits rather than a son.

In addition to Ezekiel, a prominent figure in the Boston courts and business, Copley painted a matching portrait of his wife Elizabeth. She looks very grandmotherly to me: "Would you like an apple? You're looking so thin. Are you sure you don't want an apple?"

Both Goldthwait portraits are at the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston.

Empy said...

I was very pleased to read about Ezekiel Goldthwaite. He was the sixth child of Benjamin and Sarah Goldthwaite and the grandson of Capt. Joseph and Martha Goldthwaite. If you’re interested I have an original portrait of poor Ezekiel that was painted shortly before his death. It’s been in my family for long before I was born. I would be happy to send a photo of the painting to anyone who might be interested. In the painting, he is holding some cherries.

Empy said...
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