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, February 24, 2020

The Life and Death of Christopher Seider

The younger boy hit by “Swan shot” from Ebenezer Richardson’s musket on 22 Feb 1770 was named Christopher Seider (although that last name also showed up as Snider and in other forms).

Christopher’s story starts with an effort to settle Maine. Around 1740, Massachusetts land speculators recruited German-speaking immigrants to live in the area around Broad Bay now called Waldoboro. At first this community was very small, but immigrant-laden ships arrived in Boston harbor beginning in November 1751.

The 25 Sept 1752 Boston Evening-Post reported:
a ship arrived from Holland with about 300 Germans, men, women and children, some of whom are going to settle at Germantown [in Braintree] and the others in the Eastern parts of the Province [i.e., Maine]. . . . a number of very likely Men and Women, Boys and Girls, from Twelve to twenty-five years old, will be disposed of for some Years according to their Ages and the different Sums they owe for their Passage.
In other words, some of the younger immigrants were to be indentured servants.

On that ship, the St. Andrew, came Heinrich Seiter, a farmer from Langensteinbach, and his family. Their home country was ruled by Charles Frederick, Margrave of Baden-Durlach. He was among the more enlightened of Europe’s noble despots, but Seiter was “very poor” and sought better opportunities. In that family, it appears, was a young man named Georg Frederich Seiter, born in 1727.

Around the same time, a woman named Christine Salome Hartwick, born about 1723, arrived with several of her relatives. That family’s name showed up in New England records as Hardwick, Hartig, and other forms.

Heinrich Seiter settled in the Waldoboro area. George Seiter may have lived with him for a while or gone directly to Braintree, where locals were trying to develop a little manufacturing center. Some of the new Germans were said to be glassmakers, and Joseph Palmer and Richard Cranch were building a glass factory.

We know that Georg Frederich Seiter married Christine Salome (soon Sarah) Hartwick on 20 Mar 1753 at Germantown. They had three children in Braintree:
  • Christina Elizabeth, born 26 Dec 1754.
  • Sophia, born 29 June 1756.
  • Christopher, baptized 18 Mar 1759.
By then the family name was written as “Sider.” If Christopher was baptized a week or two after birth, like his sisters, then he was born in early March 1759.

In 1755, the glass factory was struck by lightning and burned. Palmer and Cranch tried to keep the venture going, but in 1760 they gave up and mortgaged the land to Thomas Flucker. Some of the German workers went to Maine, some to a new town soon called Ashburnham—and George and Sarah Seider moved their family to Boston, where their daughter Mary was baptized at King’s Chapel on 10 June 1761.

The Seiders lived in a little house at the bottom of Boston Common on Frog Lane, later gentrified to Boylston Street. On the other side of the street was the giant elm that in 1765 the Sons of Liberty dubbed “Liberty Tree.”

As the 1760s came to a close, Christopher was no longer living with his family, however. He was in the household of the very wealthy widow Grizzell Apthorp, working as a servant. Apthorp was a pillar of the King’s Chapel congregation, which was probably how she came to know the Seiders.

There’s evidence that Christopher also attended a school of some sort. In the 1840s a woman named “Mrs. Preston” told a writer that she had gone to school with him, probably a reading school when they were younger. The Boston News-Letter reported that Christopher “was going from School” on 22 Feb 1770.

It’s quite clear that Christopher Seider was a reader. The Boston Evening-Post reported that he carried “several heroic pieces” or broadsides “in his pocket, particularly Wolfe’s Summit of human glory.” A broadside titled Major-General James Wolfe, who reach’d the summit of human glory, September 13th, 1759 is now on display at the Massachusetts Historical Society. The 17" by 24" sheet describes the taking of Québec in 1759, illustrated with a large colored woodcut of the general.

On the morning of 22 February, Christopher was among the boys outside Ebenezer Richardson’s house. It’s not clear how much he participated in the young mob’s attack on that house. Prosecutor Robert Treat Paine took notes that a witness named Jonathan Kenny said, “Syder threw nothing stood looking,” and “I was by Syder 5. minutes. Saw him throw nothing.” But Charles Atkins testified, “Syder was stooping to take up a Stone as I thought.”

Christopher must have been toward the front of the crowd when Richardson pulled his trigger because his torso was hit by eleven lead pellets. In addition, said the Boston Evening-Post, “The right hand of the boy was cruelly torn, whence it seems to have been across his breast.” Christopher fell and was carried into a nearby house.

The Evening-Post reported, “all the surgeons, within call, were assembled and speedily determined the wounds mortal.” Among the doctors we know examined the boy were the radical Dr. Thomas Young, the apothecary Dr. John Loring, and Dr. Joseph Warren, who afterward conducted an autopsy.

In addition, there were “clergyman who prayed with” Christopher. The newspaper praised “the firmness of mind he showed when he first saw his parents, and while he underwent the great distress of bodily pain, and with which he met the king of terrors.”

Christopher Seider died “about nine o’clock that evening.” Some reckonings say he was the first person killed in the American Revolution. He was probably just a few days short of his eleventh birthday.

TOMORROW: The older boy.

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