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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Sunday, December 30, 2007

Another Cut at the Massacre

To show off and sell its useful but expensive Archive of Americana digital databases, the Readex company offers a few online samples, including this broadside about the Boston Massacre titled “Poem in memory of the (never to be forgotten) Fifth of March, 1770.” Click on the picture here to go to the appropriate page, and click on the picture there to download a PDF version.

I first saw this document reproduced on the wall of the Old State House Museum. The Readex version is a scan from a microfilm photograph of an imperfectly preserved printing, so it’s not pretty. In fact, I’m not sure it’s legible. Here’s my best guess at the second stanza:

Look into king-street: there with weeping eyes
Regard O Boston’s sons—there hear the cries!
There see the men lie in their wallow’d gore!
There see their bodies, which fierce bullets tore!
So as poetry it’s not readable, either.

Still, it’s possible to spot some interesting details.
  • At the top is a line of five coffins for the five people killed on King Street, whose names are also listed after the title. Like the dark borders, this was an obvious sign of morning.
  • Within the text another coffin appears, representing the death of Christopher Seider eleven days before the Massacre.
  • Seider’s coffin, like the one above marked “S.M.” for Samuel Maverick, has a scythe on it as well as a skull and crossbones. I believe that was supposed to symbolize that these boys had been cut down too soon: Seider at nearly age eleven, Maverick at seventeen.
  • The poem mentions another badly wounded boy, Christopher Monk, in the tenth stanza. He survived for several years, but people blamed his disability and early death on his wounds.
  • Stanza 8 calls for punishment of Ebenezer Richardson, who shot Seider. However, the poem doesn’t complain that he’s been convicted and not punished, which probably dates it to mid-1770.
Finally, this specimen of propaganda and the printing art was “Sold next to the Writing-School, in Queen-Street,” so Boston’s schoolboys probably got a good chance to cogitate upon it.

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