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, February 27, 2020

“My Eyes never beheld such a funeral”

Yesterday I described how the Boston Whigs prepared for young Christopher Seider’s funeral procession on Monday, 26 Feb 1770.

The first newspaper published after that date was the 1 March Boston News-Letter, and it reported on the event this way:
a great Multitude of People assembled in the Houses and Streets to see the Funeral Procession;—it began about 3 o’clock from Liberty-Tree, (the Dwelling-House of the Parents of the deceased being but at a little distance from thence) the Boys from the several Schools, supposed to be between 4 and 500, preceded the Corps in Couples;—after the sorrowful Relatives and particular Friends of the Youth, followed many of the principal Gentlemen and a great Number of other respectable Inhabitants of this Town, by Computation exceeding 1300; about 30 Chariots, Chaises, &c. closed the Procession:

Throughout the Whole there appeared the greatest Solemnity and good Order, and by as numerous a Train as was ever known here.
Richard Draper at the News-Letter had evidently received complaints about his first report on the shooting, composed as the event unfolded, not condemning Ebenezer Richardson as much as people wanted. So this issue had more criticism of Richardson and mourning for his victim.

The Whigs supplied a longer, even more slanted report on the funeral to two Monday newspapers, the Boston Gazette and Boston Evening-Post. (The Boston Post-Boy printers, Green and Russell, had already stated, “We are extremely cautious of publishing any thing which may raise a Prejudice in the Minds of People” while a trial was in the offing.)

The Boston Whigs insisted that “About Five Hundred School boys” led the procession of, “in the Estimation of good Judges, at least Two Thousand of all Ranks, amidst a Crowd of Spectators.” Merchant John Rowe agreed with the latter number, which would be the equivalent of one of every eight people in Boston.

John Adams, having ridden to Boston from legal business in Weymouth, wrote in his diary:
When I came into Town, I saw a vast Collection of People, near Liberty Tree—enquired and found the funeral of the Child, lately kill’d by Richardson was to be attended. Went into Mr. Rowes, and warmed me, and then went out with him to the Funeral, a vast Number of Boys walked before the Coffin, a vast Number of Women and Men after it, and a Number of Carriages. My Eyes never beheld such a funeral. The Procession extended further than can be well imagined.

This Shewes, there are many more Lives to spend if wanted in the Service of their Country. It Shews, too that the Faction is not yet expiring—that the Ardor of the People is not to be quelled by the Slaughter of one Child and the Wounding of another.
The Rev. William Gordon later wrote that the procession was a quarter-mile long. It ended at what is now called the Granary Burying-Ground, and the small coffin was placed in a tomb owned by the town of Boston.

In the newspapers, the Whigs declared of Christopher Seider:
His tragical Death and the peculiar Circumstances attending had touched the Breasts of all with the tenderest Sympathy, a few only excepted, who have long shown themselves void of the Feelings of Humanity.
Tributes continued. Phillis Wheatley wrote a poem, “On the Death of Mr. Snider Murder’d by Richardson.” The Boston Gazette assured the public that
a Monument will be erected over the Grave of young Snider, with an Inscription, to perpetuate his Memory; A Number of patriotic Gentlemen having generously subscrib’d for that Purpose…the Overplus Money, if any, will be given to the Parents.
No such monument was built. Over a year later, in the 21 Mar 1771 Massachusetts Spy, a writer asked what happened to “the Money so collected.” That letter said the man who had collected the cash was “a Gentleman who had a considerable share in the popular transactions of the year past”—which sounds like William Molineux. By then he was developing money troubles.

The Whigs’ report on the Seider funeral appeared in the Boston Gazette and Boston Evening-Post on Monday, the 5th of March. The passionate description no doubt shaped the public mood that day and evening, which culminated in the Boston Massacre. Those deaths overshadowed Christopher Seider’s, and soon there were five more bodies in the tomb where his coffin lay.

[Photo from the Granary Burying Ground in winter courtesy of Boston Ghosts tours.]

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