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, March 10, 2019

Maintaining the Memory of the Massacre

We know that Boston kept the memory of the Massacre of 1770 fresh in people’s minds with an annual oration on or about 3 March until 1783. Those orations were published, so they remain visible.

The town had another way to highlight each anniversary of the Massacre which we can no longer see. That tradition started in 1771 when Paul Revere mounted an illuminated display in the upper windows of his newly acquired house in the North End. I quoted the full description of it from Edes and Gill’s Boston Gazette back here.

There were three pictures in three windows:
  • Christopher Seider showing his wound to weeping friends, with his bust on an obelisk that also listed the names of the Massacre victims.
  • ”the Soldiers drawn up, firing at the People assembled before them—the Dead on the Ground—and the Wounded falling,” which was of course was Henry Pelham and Paul Revere had shown in their prints published the previous year.
  • “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.” This is similar to the figure shown above, from the lower right of Revere’s engraving of the regiments landing in Boston in October 1768. But the illuminated America held a staff with a Liberty Cap, like the allegorical woman on the Boston Gazette masthead.
I believe Revere must have copied the Seider image from a British print, but I haven’t spotted the model yet.

The next year, the nighttime exhibit moved to the Royal Exchange tavern on King Street, a couple of doors west from the Customs office where the soldiers shot into the crowd. The proprietress of that tavern was a divorcée named Mary Clapham.

The 9 Mar 1772 Boston Gazette reported on that anniversary:
In the Evening a select Number of the true Friends of Constitutional Liberty, met at Mrs. Clapham’s in King-Street, and exhibited on the balcony a Lanthorn of transparent Paintings, having, in Front, a lively Representation of the bloody Massacre which was perpetrated near that Spot.

Over which was inscribed,
“The fatal Effect of a standing Army, posted in a free City.”

On the Right, was the Figure of America sitting in a Mourning Posture, and looking down on the Spectators, with this Label, “Behold, my SONS.”

On the left Side, a Monument inscrib’d,
“To the Memory of
Messrs. Samuel Gray,
Samuel Maverick,
James Caldwell,
Patrick Carr, and,
Crispus Attucks, who were barbarously murdered by a Party of the 29th Regiment, on the 5th of March 1770.”


At a Quarter after Nine, the Painting was taken in, and the Bells muffled toll’d ’till Ten.

The whole was conducted with the greatest Regularity; and the Spectators, though amounting in the Course of the Evening to some Thousands, behaved with that Gravity as well as Decency, which evidently show’d, that their Hearts were deeply affected with the Retrospect of so horrid a Transaction.
Of course, deeply affecting hearts was the whole point of the commemoration.

TOMORROW: Two more years.

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