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, February 24, 2013

Seeing the Death of Christopher Seider

If I ever get the chance to curate an exhibit about Ebenezer Richardson’s killing of Christopher Seider in 1770 (with, of course, no limit on space or money), the portrait of Madam Grizzell Apthorp that I showed yesterday is one item I’d want to include.

Another would be the big broadside titled “Major-General James Wolfe, who reach’d the summit of human glory, September 13th, 1759,” that I described back here. According to the Boston Evening-Post, Christopher had a copy in his pocket when he died, showing early signs of “a martial genius.” So far as I know, the Massachusetts Historical Society owns the only copy.

A third item is the only contemporaneous visual depiction of that event that’s survived. It’s a woodcut picture that illustrates a broadside titled “The Life, and Humble Confessions, of Richardson, the Informer.” The Historical Society of Pennsylvania appears to be the only archive with a copy, and the image below comes courtesy of its website.

The paper hasn’t survived in great shape, and the the image and printing weren’t very crisp to begin with. But it’s enough to depict the whole event. At the left we can see the shop of Theophilus Lillie, helpfully labeled “Importer.” The giant head of an effigy stands on a stick to the right of the shop. Above it, a smoking firelock has fired out a window at the crowd on the right. One of the little figures representing boys is lying on the street in the right foreground—Christopher Seider, mortally wounded.

Some elements of this image echo the famous engraving of the Boston Massacre by Henry Pelham (copied by Paul Revere). There’s the general composition of the urban scene, with buildings slanting in on either side. In the background is a church steeple—perhaps the New Brick Meeting-House in the North End, known as the “Cockerel Church” for its weathervane.

In the foreground just below the gun barrel, a woman rushes into the scene. That’s probably a representation of Christopher’s mother, Sarah Seider, just as the Massacre print is said to include the widow Mary Maverick, come to look for her son. Mrs. Seider is carrying something which at first glance might look like a pitchfork, but I think it was meant to be a distaff, symbolizing her hard work at a respectable domestic craft.

This broadside was probably printed in 1772 as Richardson languished, neither hanged nor pardoned, in Boston’s jail. Al Young guessed that Isaiah Thomas carved it; Thomas did say he learned to carve such plates as an apprentice, not very well but adequately. In any event, it reflects the Whig interpretation of the event, which had foreshadowed and been overshadowed by the Massacre.


Waldo4me said...

Dear Mr. Bell,

I have no particular comment to make, just a word of thanks for your wonderful blog. I'm not a trained historian, far from it, but I enjoy reading and studying the revolutionary period very much. In fact, it has become one of the most enjoyable parts of my retirement. Although I live a couple thousand miles from Boston, I still find so many of your posts to be interesting and informative.

My very best to you and good wishes for your continued success with your blog.

Best regards,


J. L. Bell said...

That's very gratifying to hear, especially from a long-time commenter. Thanks!