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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Friday, February 22, 2013

The First News of Christopher Seider’s Death

On Thursday, 22 Feb 1770, the Boston News-Letter contained this item in italics at the bottom of its local news:
This Instant we hear that one Richardson having attempted to destroy some Effigies in the North End, the Lads beat him off into his House, and broke his Windows, upon which he fired among them, mortally wounded one Boy, & slightly wounded two or three others. Richardson is now under Examination.
The issue of the Boston Chronicle dated 19-22 Feb 1770 closed its local news this way:
This forenoon, a boy of about 14 years of age, was mortally wounded, and two others slightly wounded by a shot from a musket, fired out of a house at the north end.—Two persons, who were in the house from whence the gun was fired, are now under examination at Faneuil Hall.

*** The Western Post not arrived at 2 o’Clock
The wounded lad, who would die later that afternoon, was Christopher Seider. He wasn’t fourteen, as the Loyalist Chronicle guessed, but only about eleven. His wound was indeed mortal, as both newspapers said. There was only one other person wounded, Samuel Gore, though a sailor named Robert Patterson complained that pieces of shot went through his pants.

Because Ebenezer Richardson shot at the boys mobbing his house on Thursday, one of the two days when newspapers were printed in Boston, this is a rare example of being able to read a local news story written as it broke.

Furthermore, this story tells us a couple of things about the newspapers themselves. The Chronicle dated 19-22 February was published at the end of that stretch; in chronological indexes that issue’s often pegged to the start date. Furthermore, the Chronicle’s note that the printer was still waiting for mail at 2:00 show that newspapers were printed in the early afternoon of the date on their front pages. They weren’t ready first thing in the morning, at least these editions.

At the time, the Chronicle was being supported by the Customs service with stationery orders, advertising, and leaks. And it appears the newspaper’s printer, then John Fleeming, reciprocated by not mentioning Richardson even by last name: he was a Customs employee, and a notorious one.

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