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, May 23, 2016

A Celebration Turned Tragic in Hartford

On 23 May 1766, the town of Hartford, Connecticut, celebrated the repeal of the Stamp Act with a day of thanksgiving. Church bells rang, cannons fired, and ships on the Connecticut River displayed flags. As in Boston and elsewhere, the holiday was supposed to end with a “general illumination,” including fireworks.

According to a city history published in 1886:
A number of young gentlemen had come together to make sky-rockets in an upper chamber of the brick school-house, while the powder stored in the room below was being distributed to the militia. Two companies of soldiers had just received a pound for each man, when the powder scattered by this delivery was thoughtlessly set on fire by boys, and in an instant the building was reduced to a heap of ashes, and twenty-eight persons were buried in its ruins, six of whom died after being taken out of the crumbling mass, and the others were more or less injured.
In 1836, John Warner Barber’s Connecticut Historical Collections cited the Connecticut Gazette of 31 May 1766 for this list of victims:
  • Mr. Levi Jones, John Knowles, (an apprentice to Mr. Thomas Sloan, blacksmith,) and Richard Lord, (second son to Mr. John H. Lord,) died of their wounds, soon after they were taken from under the ruins of the building.
  • Mr. William Gardiner, merchant, had both his thighs broken. [He died soon after.]
  • Mr. Samuel Talcott, Jun., very much burnt in his face and arms.
  • Mr. James Tiley, goldsmith, had one of his shoulders dislocated, and some bruises in the other parts of his body.
  • Mr. John Cook, Jun., had his back and neck hurt much.
  • Ephraim Perry, slightly wounded.
  • Thomas Forbes, wounded in his head.
  • Daniel Butler, (the tavern-keeper’s son,) had one of his ancles put out of joint.
  • Richard Burnham, son to Mr. Elisha Burnham, had his thigh, leg and ancle broke. [He was nineteen years old, and later died of his injuries.]
  • Eli Wadsworth, (Capt. Samuel’s son,) is much wounded and burnt, in his face, hands, and other parts of his body.
  • John Bunce, Jun., (an apprentice to Mr. Church, Hatter,) wounded in the head.
  • Normand Morrison, (a lad that lives with Capt. Tiley,) a good deal burnt and bruised.
  • Roderick Lawrence, (Capt. Lawrence’s son,) slightly wounded.
  • William Skinner, (Capt. Daniel’s son,) had both his thighs broke.
  • Timothy Phelps, (son to Mr. Timothy Phelps, shop-joiner,) had the calf torn off from one of his legs.
  • Valentine Vaughn, (son of Mr. Vaughn, baker,) had his skull terribly broken.
  • Horace Seymour, (son of Mr. Jonathan Seymour, Jun.,) two sons of Mr. John Goodwin, a son of Mr. John Watson, and a son of Mr. Kellogg, hatter, were slightly wounded.
  • Two molatto and two negro boys were also wounded.
Later newspapers added that Dr. Nathaniel Ledyard, a son of one of the town’s representatives in the colonial legislature, also died of his injuries. Like Jones and Gardiner, he was among the town’s “young and newly married men.” Here is Dr. Ledyard’s broken headstone and the ledger that he and his widow used for their accounts.

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