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, September 26, 2010

Documenting the Massacre

As long as I’m talking out of season about one new book on the Boston Massacre, here’s another. Neil L. York’s The Boston Massacre: A History with Documents collects contemporaneous reports and commentary on the event with good summary explanations and illustrations.

This book is designed for use in classrooms investigating history through primary sources. Because the Massacre was a public event that led to both political arguments and criminal cases, it spun off an unusually large amount of discussion. There’s only a sample of eyewitness testimony in this book, but many summaries of the evidence from different views.

Particularly valuable are the versions from royal officials, including A Fair Account of the Late Unhappy Disturbance at Boston, published in London. While the Boston-based Short Narrative of the Horrid Massacre has been reprinted many times in the U.S. of A., those remarks from future Loyalists are still hard to come by.

The book closes with a couple of novel selections: part of John Fiske’s oration at the 1888 dedication of the Massacre monument on Boston Common, which no one visits anymore, and the National Park Service’s current summary of events, trying for balance and perspective. But to remind us the Massacre was at heart a deadly political controversy, the cover shows a detail from Larry Rivers’s 1968 protest painting.

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