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, March 11, 2019

More of Mary Clapham’s Massacre Memorials

In the early 1770s, Mary Clapham managed the Royal Exchange tavern on King Street, near the center of Boston.

In this 1801 view of State Street, as it was renamed, the tall white building was the one that housed the tavern. The Boston Massacre had taken place in front of the red building across a small street. That made Clapham’s tavern an appropriate place for Massacre memorial displays, the Boston Whigs decided.

Yesterday I quoted the Boston Gazette description of the first such exhibit in 1772. The large “lanthorn” the Whig activists built, with strikingly painted scenes illuminated from inside, was similar to what the South End and North End gangs carted around on Pope Night, and to the paper obelisk made in 1766 to celebrate the repeal of the Stamp Act.

The Massacre exhibit was back at the Royal Exchange tavern in 1773, as described by the 11 March Massachusetts Spy:
At night a select number of the friends of constitutional liberty, met at Mrs. Clapham’s in King-street, and exhibitted on the balcony a lanthorn of transparent paintings, having in front a lively representation of the bloody massacre which was perpetrated near that spot on the 5th of March 1770, over their heads was inscribed, the fatal effects of a standing army being posted in a free city.

On the right, America sitting in a mourning posture, looking down on the spectators, with this label, Behold my Sons.

On the left, a monument, sacred to the memory of
Who were barbarously murdered by a party of the 29th regiment, on the 5th of March, 1770.

At a quarter after nine, the time of the evening when the bloody deed was acted, the paintings were taken in, and most of the bells in town tolled till ten.
That was the same display, described in the same words, as the previous year. The Boston Gazette reported one new feature: in a “Window East of the Balcony” was a translucent sheet decorated with a 24-line poem on the Massacre. I’ve decided to spare you that until another year.

In 1774 the exhibit was a little delayed, as the 7 March 1774 Boston Gazette explained at the end of its report on that year’s oration:
As this Anniversary happened on Saturday, the Evening of which is considered by many Persons as the Commencement of the Sabbath, the Exhibition Portraits of the Murderers, and the slaughtered Citizens, was put off till this Evening, when they will be exposed to publick View at Mrs. Clapham’s in King-Street.
When the exhibit finally appeared, it included a new visual element, reflecting the new political controversy over the salaries and letters of royal appointees Gov. Thomas Hutchinson and Chief Justice Peter Oliver. The Gazette stated:
On Monday evening the horrid tragedy of the 5th of March was observed with the usual solemnity, by exhibiting to pubic view a portrait of that inhuman and cruel Massacre perpetrated by [Capt. Thomas] Preston, and his infamous butchers;

on the right, a figure of America pointing to her slaughtered sons, on the left, a monument to the memory of Gray, Attucks, Maverick, Caldwell, and Carr.

In one of the windows was a representation of H[utchinso]n and J[udg]e O[live]r, in the horrors, occasioned by the appeared of the two ghosts of Empson and Dudley, advising them to think of their fate. They appeared to be worshipping their ill-gotting gold the modern deity of the North.
Ye TRAITORS; “Is there not some chosen curse,
Some hidden thunder in the stores of heaven,
Red with uncommon wrath, to blast the men
Who owed their greatness to their country’s ruin?
The poetry is from Joseph Addison’s Cato.

John Adams mentioned the display in his diary for 7 March:
This Evening there has been an Exhibition in Kingstreet of the Portraits of the soldiers and the Massacre—and of H[utchinso]n and C[hief]. J[ustice]. Oliver, in the Horrors—reminded of the Fate of Empson and Dudley, whose Trunks were exposed with their Heads off, and the Blood fresh streaming after the Ax.
Sir Richard Empson and Edmund Dudley were administrators for Henry VII executed for treason in 1510 under Henry VIII. They weren’t evoked often in American Revolutionary rhetoric, but one of the writers who did so was Adams himself.

In March 1775, with thousands of British soldiers stationed in Boston, the Whigs put their display away. Those troops stayed through the next Massacre anniversary. In 1777 the town of Boston once again commissioned an oration to commemorate the killings, this time from Benjamin Hichborn, but the Boston Gazette made no mention of an illuminated display.

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