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 06, 2011

“O’er thy Pile shall Flames celestial burn”

Yesterday, a couple of my favorite local blogs observed the anniversary of the Boston Massacre with complementary poetry. [Actually, one of the blogs observed the anniversary last year, with a tweet reminder yesterday, and I didn’t notice the older date. I should probably check the dates I’m writing on checks as well.]

Rob Velella’s American Literary Blog reprinted Phillis Wheatley’s poem on the death of Christopher Seider (which she spelled “Snider”) on 22 Feb 1770. It also mentioned her poem about the Massacre, known from its title but not in her first collection—most likely because that book was printed in London, where the event had a very different political value.

William Henry Robinson’s 1984 edition of Wheatley’s writings and a 1998 article in the journal The Explicator by Antonio T. Bly suggested that the lost Wheatley poem was in fact printed anonymously in the 12 Mar 1770 issue of the Boston Evening-Post. Yesterday Caitlin G. D. Hopkins’s Vast Public Indifference blog reprinted those lines along with some thoughts about how the newspaper presented them. Here they are:

With Fire enwrapt, surcharg’d with Death,
Lo, the pois’d Tube convolves it’s fatal Breath!
The flying Ball with heav’n-directed Force,
Rids the free Spirit of it’s fallen Corse.

Well fated Shades! let no unmanly Tear
From Pity’s Eye, distain your honour’d Bier:
Lost to their view, surviving Friends may mourn,
Yet o’er thy Pile shall Flames celestial burn;
Long as in Freedoms Cause the Wise contend,
Dear to your Country shall your Fame extend;
While to the World, the letter’d Stone shall tell,
How Caldwell, Attucks, Gray, and Mav’rick fell.
At the time, Patrick Carr was still clinging to life. He would die two days later, bringing the official number of victims to five. However, Christopher Monk, badly wounded and apparently disabled as a teenager, may have died of complications years later.

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