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, January 14, 2008

"Where Mark was hung in chains”

Last April I quoted some of Paul Revere’s account of his ride: “After I had passed Charlestown Neck, and got nearly opposite where Mark was hung in chains,...” I wrote parenthetically that Mark had been executed in 1755 for committing rape. Boston 1775 reader Carl Zellner, formerly of the Charlestown Historical Society, reminded me that Mark was executed for helping to kill Capt. John Codman, so I’ve corrected that entry.

Because Mark and his fellow defendant, Phillis, had been enslaved to Codman, the legal charge against them was worse than murder. It was “petit treason,” on the grounds that slaves harming their master was tantamount to subjects attacking their king. Petit treason carried worse penalties than hanging. Phillis was burned to death, a very rare legal punishment in Massachusetts. Mark was hanged, and then his body was displayed near Charlestown common as a warning to others. That’s how Revere came to know “where Mark was hung in chains” twenty years later.

In 1883 Abner Cheney Goodell, Jr., wrote a study of the case for the Massachusetts Historical Society which is available through Google Books. It prints many of the legal documents from the trial, including interrogations of the ill-fated defendants.

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