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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Thursday, March 05, 2009

Memories of Samuel Maverick

Samuel Maverick was the youngest person to die in the Boston Massacre: only seventeen years old. Printers Edes and Gill of the Boston Gazette and their engraver Paul Revere highlighted Maverick’s youth in the woodcut to the left by decorating his coffin with a sickle and hourglass—symbols that he’d been cut down before his time.

I recently wrote a short script about Maverick’s death, which forced me to reconcile the three overlapping but different accounts of what he was doing before the shooting.

First, keg-maker Jonathan Carey provided a few details at the trial of the British soldiers:

Did you know young Maverick, who was killed by the firing in King street, on the 5th of March?

Yes, very well.

Did you see him that night?

He was at my house that night at supper with some young lads, and when the bells rung, as we all thought for fire, he run out in order to go to it.
Maverick wasn’t one of Carey’s apprentices, however. He worked for ivory carver and dentist Isaac Greenwood, and bunked with Greenwood’s son John.

In a 1922 publication of John Greenwood’s memoir, editor Isaac Greenwood (yes relation) included what is apparently that family’s memory of how Maverick went to his death:
Isaac Greenwood, Jr., the elder brother of John..., was a witness of the massacre, being then in his twelfth year.

Attracted by the ringing of bells, indicating a fire, Maverick and Greenwood were proceeding along hand in hand when, in King Street, Samuel left his companion and joined in the popular tumult about some soldiers at the custom-house. In the volley which ensued Maverick fell just as he was throwing up his arms and shouting, “Fire away, you d—— lobster-backs!”
The word “lobsterbacks” might well be an anachronism, and a sign that details of this tale had changed before it was written down, but its core can easily fit with Carey’s testimony from 1770.

Finally, William H. Sumner felt he was doing a great service to history when he put into his A History of East Boston an account of Maverick’s death that he’d heard from a son of Joseph Mountfort (1750-1838):
He, with Samuel Maverick, Peter C. Brooks, Samuel and Thomas Carey, were playing marbles in the house of Mr. Carey, at the head of Gardner’s wharf, near Cross street, at the time the bells rang the alarm, and were thereby attracted to State street before the British troops fired.

Here they observed that a tumult had arisen between some men and boys and the soldiers. Angry words were being exchanged, and missiles of various kinds were thrown. Some one threw pieces of ice, when the soldiers, exasperated by the boldness and taunts of their rebel opponents, discharged their guns at the crowd.

Young Maverick cried out to his relative Mountfort, “Joe! I am shot!” and ran down Exchange street, then called Royal Exchange lane, to Dock square, where he fell to the ground, and was conveyed to his mother’s house. He died the next morning. At that time the widow [Mary] Maverick kept a genteel boarding-house in Union street, at the corner of Salt lane.

It is not a little singular, that Mr. Mountfort’s name does not appear among the witnesses examined at the trial. . . . Yet, there can be no doubt as to the authenticity of Mr. Mountfort’s narrative. The writer has it from his son, Judge Napoleon B. Mountfort, of New York [1800-1883], who is well informed on the subject.
As Hiller B. Zobel pointed out in The Boston Massacre, Peter Chardon Brooks was only three years old and living in Medford in 1770. So he was very unlikely to have been playing marbles with the seventeen-year-old Maverick on the 5th of March.

Sumner got the impression that Joseph Mountfort was a “relative” of Samuel Maverick. I believe that became true only later, when Mountfort married Maverick’s first cousin Mary Gyles.

The Mountfort family seems to have been earnest in putting their ancestor on the scene of patriotic events. His name doesn’t appear on the earliest and most reliable list of men involved in the Boston Tea Party, but it surfaces in Samuel A. Drake’s Old Landmarks and Historic Personages of Boston (1876). Mountfort did not, however, make the roll in Francis S. Drake’s Tea Leaves (1884).

Nonetheless, the Mountfort family tradition does seem accurate in putting Maverick at the Carey house. I’m just not convinced that Mountfort was really there, too. This may be what I call a “grandmother’s tale”—a historical tale that older relatives embroider for children as a private entertainment or special lesson, yet is so vivid that the children grow up believing that every detail is true, that their relatives were in the thick of history, and that the tale should go into history books.

Curiously, the editor of John Greenwood’s memoir theorized that Greenwood and Mountfort encountered each other as prisoners of war, with Mountfort (remembered by the Greenwood family as “Mumford”) spilling hot soup on Greenwood. It was a small world.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Wow, nice blog. I was writing a short story about the Boston Massacre and I was thinking of doing it from Samuel Mavericks point of view or someone close to him, but I couldn't find a lot of information. This really helped! ^_^