In his essay in the Colonial Society of Massachusetts’s publication Music in Colonial Massachusetts, volume 1, Carleton Sprague Smith posited that a lot of the early American verses printed on broadsides were actually meant to be sung to well-known tunes.
This is one of his examples. The verse is “The Life, and Humble Confession, of Richardson, the Informer,” words supposedly from the mouth of Ebenezer Richardson—adulterer, Customs informer and official, and killer of Christopher Seider. Smith matched the verses up (though not exactly, he admitted) to the old tune “Confesse.”
That tune would be thematically appropriate, to be sure. But is the melody indeed a good match for the words?
Injured BOSTON now awake,[I wrote an article explaining these references to Richardson’s life for New England Ancestors a couple of years ago. It was online for a while, but no longer.]
While I a true CONFESSION make,
Of my notorious sins and guilt,
As well the harmless blood I’ve spilt.
WOOBURN, my native place can tell,
My crimes are blacker far than Hell,
What great disturbance there I made,
Against the people and their Head.
A wretch of wretches prov’d with child,
By me I know, at which I smil’d,
To think the PARSON he must bare
The guilt of me, and I go clear.
And thus this worthy man of GODThat last line is a reference to how medical trainees sought out the bodies of hanged men to study anatomy, as Levi Ames worried about.
Unjustly felt the scourging rod,
Which broke his heart, it proved his end,
And for whole blood I guilty stand.
The halter now is justly due,
For now I’ve killed no less than two,
Their blood for vengeance loud doth cry,
It reach’d the ears of Heaven on high.
But yet still wicked, yet still vile,
I’ve lived on honest Merchant’s spoil,
For this I justly got the name,
The INFORMER, though with little gain.
Little indeed when I compare,
The stings of conscience which I bare,
And now I frankly own to thee,
I’m the INFORMER, I am he.
By my account poor BOSTON’S lost,
By me in only three years past,
Full sixty thousand pounds—yea more
May still be added to the score.
But what’s that to this last crime,
In sending SEIDER out of time!
This cuts my heart, this frights me most;
O help me, LORD, I see his ghost,
There,—there’s a life, you now behold,
So vile I’ve been,—alas so bold;
There’d scarce a Lawyer undertake
To plead my case, or for me speak.
On Tuesday next I must appear,
And there my dismal sentence hear;
But O!——my conscience, guilty cries,
For conscience never can tell lyes.
And now alas, my injur’d friends,
Since I can make you no amends,
Here is my body you may take,
And sell, a notimy to make.
So this could be a natural lead-in to either a series about Ebenezer Richardson’s tangled past or another series of C.S.I.: Colonial Boston. Which do folks prefer?