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, May 25, 2015

The Last Relics of Crispus Attucks

William Cooper Nell wasn’t the only Boston author researching the Boston Massacre in the nineteenth century. Another was Frederic Kidder, who published his History of the Boston Massacre in 1870. In one footnote he wrote:
Crispus Attucks is described as a mulatto; he was born in Framingham near the Chochituate lake and not far from the line of Natick. Here an old cellar hole remains where the Attucks family formerly lived.
Kidder didn’t state a source for this information, but we can hope he went out to Framingham to see for himself.

In his 1887 history of that town Josiah H. Temple cribbed language from Kidder and added some more information:
Crispus Attucks...was a mulatto, born near the Framingham town line, a short distance to the eastward of the State Arsenal. The old cellar-hole where the Attucks family lived is still visible. He was probably a descendant of John Auttuck, an Indian, who was taken prisoner and executed at the same time with Capt. Tom, in June, 1676. . . . Probably the family had intermarried with negroes who were slaves, and as the offspring of such marriages were held to be slaves, he inherited their condition, although it seems likely that the blood of three races coursed through his veins. He had been bought by Dea. William Brown of Framingham, as early as 1747. . . .

[Temple here quoted the Gazette advertisement from 1750.]

A descendant of Dea. Brown says of him: “Crispus was well informed, and, except in the instance referred to in the advertisement, was faithful to his master. He was a good judge of cattle, and was allowed to buy and sell upon his own judgment of their value.” He was fond of a seafaring life, and probably with consent of his master, was accustomed to take coasting voyages. The account of the time says, “he lately belonged to New Providence, and was here in order to go to North Carolina.”

He was of huge bodily proportions, and brave almost to recklessness.
It’s notable that the words quoted from the Brown family descendant used some of the same phrases as in statements from 1857-1860: “well informed,” “allowed to sell and buy upon his own judgment,” and of course “faithful.” The family seems to have all been working from the same script.

Temple’s town genealogies offered this information about William Brown: He was born in Lexington in 1723 to Joseph and Ruhamah Brown, married and moved to Framingham in 1746, served in several town and church offices, and died in 1793.

Finally there’s the teapot this inquiry started with, the small pewter vessel now on display at the Boston Public Library. “Miss S. E. Kimball” donated it to the Bostonian Society about a century ago, and in 1918 that society donated it to the Society for the Preservation of New England Antiquities, now Historic New England. With the teapot Kimball gave a note that said:
This relic, once the property of Crispus Attucks, has been in possession of different members of the Brown family since his death. Deacon William Brown, who owned Crispus, was the younger brother of my mother's great-grandfather, Jonas Brown.
I believe that donor was Sarah E. Kimball, born 23 Jan 1831 and living in Westboro toward the end of the century. She was a daughter of Noah Kimball (1804-1876) and Martha Warren Brown, born in 1811 in Topsham, Maine. From what I see on the internet, Martha Warren Brown was a daughter of Gardner Brown (1769-1837), granddaughter of William Brown (1746-1829), great-granddaughter of Jonas Brown (1711-1772), and great-great-granddaughter of the same Joseph Brown who fathered the Framingham slaveowner. So that checks out.

(Incidentally, Jonas Brown married a daughter of the man who built the Munroe Tavern in Lexington. So there’s a family connection between the Boston Massacre and the fighting in that town five years later: the man who had owned Attucks and the man who owned that tavern in 1775 were first cousins. Massachusetts was a much smaller place in the eighteenth century.)

Historic New England also owns a small pewter cup, “twisted and dented,” said to have belonged to Attucks (shown above thanks to this Harvard site). Presumably this is the same “pewter drinking cup” seen in 1859, which Nell displayed as a “goblet” in 1860. The previous year, C. H. Morse told the New England Historic and Genealogical Register that Attucks had “worn” that cup when he was killed. But we don’t seem to have any information about how it was preserved or how it came to the society.

The powderhorn described in the 1850s has disappeared. And the cellar-hole has no doubt been filled in.

TOMORROW: So is that really Crispus Attucks’s teapot?


Liz Loveland said...

Be very careful with FindAGrave - the information on memorials is user-submitted and consequently is only as good as the submitter's sources and research skills. I have seen many incorrect memorials.

I found an 1828 marriage intention for Martha W. Brown "of Bath, Maine" and "Mr. Noah Kimball of Grafton" in the marriage records of Grafton, Massachusetts. I used that to locate an index that says their marriage was announced in the Columbian Centinel and that it listed "Gardiner Brown" as her father and the marriage location as Bath, but I haven't accessed the original to know if that's correct. Her death record lists her birth place as Topsham, Maine, and her parents as Gardner & Sarah (nee Warren) Brown (but of course doesn't say who supplied the information).

J. L. Bell said...

By saying “what I see on the internet,” I hope to signal that the information isn’t at professional standards, but at least there are leads to be checked out.

In the case of that Find-A-Grave link, it includes a photograph of a grave monument with the names of two generations of the family on different sides. (Different webpages show different surfaces of the stone.) Even that information may need verification, but it literally is carved in stone for everyone to see.

Liz Loveland said...

I've also found inaccurate information literally carved in stone. :-)

J. L. Bell said...

I don't doubt it. For this investigation, my question was whether "Miss S. E. Kimball" was really descended from the family that owned Attucks. For a moment I thought I'd found otherwise because that donor's likely descent came from another William Brown. But then I dug some more and learned that William Brown was a nephew of the William Brown who owned Attucks, and Kimball had described an exact relationship which is quite plausible. It would of course have been easier if the family had a name less common than Brown.