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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Saturday, February 18, 2017

“Exhibition at the Dwelling-House of Mr. PAUL REVERE”

Yesterday I passed on the news of activities next week at the Paul Revere House, which is now a historic museum.

But well before that building became a museum in the early 1900s, Paul Revere himself made it into a spectacle. That was on 5 March 1771, the first anniversary of the Boston Massacre. Less than a year after his family moved into that house, Revere used its windows to help his political movement.

In an unusually typset front page, Edes and Gill’s Boston Gazette described how the town observed that day. The Congregational meetinghouses (but not, by implication, the Anglican churches) tolled their bells for an hour starting at noon. And then:
In the Evening there was a very striking Exhibition at the Dwelling-House of Mr. PAUL REVERE, fronting the Old-North Square.—At one of the Chamber-Windows was the appearance of the Ghost of the unfortunate young [Christopher] Seider, with one of his Fingers in the Wound, endeavouring to stop the Blood issuing therefrom: Near him his Friends weeping: And at a small distance a monumental Obelisk, with his Bust in Front:—On the Front of the Pedestal, were the Names of those killed on the 5th of March: Underneath the following Lines,
Seider’s pale Ghost fresh-bleeding stands,
And Vengeance for his Death demands.
In the next Window were represented the Soldiers drawn up, firing at the People assembled before them—the Dead on the Ground—and the Wounded falling, with the Blood running in Streams from their Wounds: Over which was wrote FOUL PLAY.

In the third Window was the Figure of a Woman, representing AMERICA, sitting on the Stump of a Tree, with a Staff in her Hand, and the Cap of Liberty on the Top thereof,—one Foot on the Head of a Grenadier lying prostrate grasping a Serpent.—Her Finger pointing to the Tragedy.

The whole was so well executed, that the Spectators, which amounted to many Thousands, were struck with solemn Silence, and their Countenances covered with a melancholy Gloom. At Nine o’Clock the Bells tolled a doleful Peal, until Ten; when the Exhibition was withdrawn, and the People retired to their respective Habitations.
I’ve seen no report of a similar exhibition in Boston. It’s notable that it took place at Revere’s house in the North End rather than somewhere close to the center of town.

Perhaps Revere’s sideline of making and selling historical engravings was behind this event. The picture of the Massacre in his window could certainly have been based on the famous design he copied from Henry Pelham, and he could have had prints for sale. I suspect there were likewise models, perhaps British, of the other two scenes the newspaper described. Either that, or artist Christian Remick made them for Revere.

All that news from 1771 is a reminder that we’re coming up on the anniversary of the Massacre again. This year the reenactment will take place on the evening of Saturday, 4 March, outside the Old State House Museum. All that day there will be very striking activities.

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