Check out Caitlin G. D. Hopkins’s examination at Vast Public Indifference of this historic plaque near her home in the Watson’s Corner neighborhood of Cambridge:
The language of the explanatory plaque is extraordinary. The central paragraph portrays the skirmish as a an encounter between innocent civilians and bloodthirsty soldiers. . . .The language didn’t come from such an old book, but the details (except for the soldiers’ use of bayonets) did. Specifically, this account appears to be based on details collected in Lucius Paige’s History of Cambridge, published in 1877—so Caitlin was off by two years.
If I had to guess when this was written, I would guess 1875. I would be wrong — this sign was erected in 2002. Perhaps they just lifted the language from a 19th-century town history.
Paige names one of his sources as longtime Cambridge resident Royall Morse, saying in a footnote:
My informant was the late Mr. Royal Morse, born in 1779, whose memory of events which occurred during his life was remarkably comprehensive and accurate, and whose traditional lore was almost equivalent to authentic history.That’s rather circular, isn’t it? I rely on Mr. Morse’s stories because those stories were reliable.
Our daily infusion of unabashed gossip: Morse was born out of wedlock to Katherine Morse, a woman who had the job of cleaning the Harvard dormitories. His father was said to be Royall Tyler.