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, August 17, 2009

Sing Along with Ebenezer Richardson?

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,
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.
[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.]
And thus this worthy man of GOD
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.
That last line is a reference to how medical trainees sought out the bodies of hanged men to study anatomy, as Levi Ames worried about.

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?

4 comments:

Charles Bahne said...

His tangled past, indeed!

Caitlin GD Hopkins said...

+1 for Richardson, please.

Rob Velella said...

I love the CSI: Colonial Boston stuff, so that's my vote!

Emily said...

Kristin and Emily at the PRH would each like to vote for more on Ebenezer. RIP poor Christopher Seider!